The national average home price shows a market still growing but increasingly that figure is hiding the fact that it’s barely treading water in many Canadian cities.
Added together, these three cities are responsible for a third of all sales in the country and almost half of the dollar value of deals. Find out more
Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver continue to drive the Canadian housing market, but there is little the federal government can do to cool them off without impacting the rest of the country, say economists.
“We have very strong markets in three of our biggest cities and almost the rest of the country is mediocre at best,” said Doug Porter, chief economist with Bank of Montreal. “Some of these cities, by some measures, are quite weak.”
The Canadian Real Estate Association said Monday the average sale price of a home in August reached $398,618, a 5.3% increase from a year ago.
Vancouver August sales were up 18% year over year while Toronto and Calgary were up 4.2% and 13.6% respectively. Added together, the three cities are responsible for 33% of all sales in the country this year. However, the dollar value of the trades year-to-date have so far been worth about 48% of all activity.
Mr. Porter noted the deepening divide happening across the country. “On the sales side, almost half the major markets reported declines last month,” he wrote.
The federal government, which has moved four times to tighten regulations in a effort to slow down the housing market, might be hard-pressed to do so again given the market differences.
“I’m not sure [any] markets are so hot they need dousing,” said the economist. “If you hit the market with something like tighter mortgage rules, that could send some already weak markets into a tailspin. Policy makers are in a tough bind.”
Ottawa-based CREA made special note in its monthly release about how the big three real estate markets were driving the overall number.
“Sales picked up in some of Canada’s most active and expensive real estate markets, which fuelled another national increase,” said Beth Crosbie, president of CREA. “Even so, the national increase in sales does not reflect local trends in many markets across the country.”
Prices were down in August from a year ago in six of the markets surveyed. Another eight markets were near the rate of inflation, in terms of price increases.
For August, national sales were up 1.8% from July. It was the seventh consecutive month sales have grown and the highest level for sales since January, 2010.
Finn Poschmann, vice-president of research with the C.D. Howe Institute, noted that though Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary are dominating the data to produce increasing values, it hasn’t always been that way.
“If you look back over five years, things are a little different. Calgary had the biggest hit over 2008-09, and spent late 2010 through summer 2011 in negative territory as well. Vancouver went through a cooling phase from summer 2012 through summer 2013. The GTA though is the relentless monster — prices marched steadily since September 2009, with a five-year annual growth rate of 7.5%. That adds up fast,” said Mr. Poschmann, who thinks the eventual interest rate rise on the horizon should produce “some cooling” in the coming year..
He says Ottawa could control individual markets if Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. introduced risk pricing into its mortgage insurance model. That would raise costs in those markets.
“Governments absolutely should not target specific markets. It is implausible that Ottawa could be the better judge of a sustainable market, or at what prices the market should clear,” he said.
Ottawa may not have to intervene based on the view of CREA’s chief economist who says some of the increased activity is a bit of a one-time blip.
“Sale activity in recent months has remained stronger than was anticipated earlier this year,” said Gregory Klump, chief economist with CREA. “Listings and sales this spring were deferred due to unseasonably harsh weather which subsequently supported activity once the delayed spring home buying season got into gear. This trend was reinforced by a decline in mortgage interest rates.”