Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Experts Split Over Future Housing Prices in Canada

With housing prices collapsing in parts of the United States, many Canadians are wondering if the same fate awaits the real estate market here.

Housing experts themselves are divided on that question.

Ted Tsiakopoulos, Ontario regional economist for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, laid out the optimistic case.

"We don't see a U.S.-style housing market meltdown in Canada for three very important reasons," he told Canada AM on Monday.
  • Canadian housing prices have grown in a "steady, sustainable way"
  • Mortgage arrears are at a low level, which suggests financial institutions have been prudent in their lending practices
  • Canada's overall economic fundamentals remain healthy

In mid-March, however, the Royal Bank reported that home ownership costs have risen to the highest point since 1990.

That year marked the "peak of the housing bubble," it said.

However, the bank was optimistic the current situation should ease. "Going forward, falling mortgage rates, cooler forecast house price gains and decent income growth should all lead to improved affordability across most markets," it said.

Tsiakopoulos said the CMHC sees moderate price growth continuing. But Ontario MP Garth Turner has a different view.

The author of a new book, "The Greater Fool: The Troubled Future of Real Estate," Turner thinks the pieces are in place for a real estate collapse in this country.

The U.S. financial sector has been rocked by subprime mortgages, which essentially provided a way into real estate for people who wouldn't qualify for conventional mortgages. But Turner told CTV.ca the real story is that housing prices in the U.S. got more expensive than Americans could afford.

In Canada, real estate prices have essentially doubled in five years. Turner said he didn't think that was a "reasonable" increase.

Over that period, household incomes have stayed essentially flat, he added.

Mortgages in Canada?

"What's been the Canadian response? Well, guess what? We've brought in a new kind of mortgage -- 40-year amortizations," Turner said.

You can also get a home for virtually no money down, Turner said. "You tell me what the difference between subprimes and a 40-year, no-down-payment loans in Canada is. The net effect is exactly the same. People buy houses who otherwise couldn't buy them."

In the biggest markets, people are unquestionably house-poor, he said.

The RBC's affordability measure for a detached bungalow in Vancouver is about 74 per cent and more than 47 per cent in Toronto.

Places like Calgary and Edmonton come closer to the national average of 41 per cent.

The affordability measure is the proportion of median pre-tax household income required to service the cost of mortgage payments (principal and interest), property taxes and utilities.

The measure has traditionally been around 30 per cent, Turner said. "We've got a very screwed-up personal financial situation right now, and I see some dangers in that," he added.

RBC's Amy Goldbloom told CTV.ca that an RBC study finds that for 2007, the U.S. situation was worse than here. Mortgage debt there was 119 per cent of disposable income versus about 79 per cent in Canada. Total household debt was also much higher in the U.S. than Canada. "Americans are more indebted and more leveraged," she said.

Goldboom said the RBC's analysis and prediction of moderate price increases took into account a slowing U.S. economy's effect on Canada. "We aren't forecasting outright declines in prices as we're seeing state-side," she said.

But Turner rolled off some troubling statistics, such as sales activity of resale homes in Canada falling six per cent in February -- although some critics have argued that blip could be due to stormy winter weather.

In his own riding of Halton west of Toronto, houses are staying on the market for up to 12 months and are falling in price, he said.

"Why you would want to be a new purchaser of real estate right now is beyond me," he said, adding that many young people have only known real estate to go up in value.

If you still want to buy a home, Turner makes the following recommendations:

  • Don't take out a 40-year mortgage
  • Aim for a 20 per cent down payment
  • Don't make monthly payments -- accelerate if possible
  • Consider what future homeowners will want to purchase (i.e., don't buy a huge, energy-hogging suburban home)
  • But if you don't own real estate right now, consider remaining a renter for the short term.

"We're into the most incredible renter's market coming up. If you simply want to make money and secure your finances, you're going to rent, because renting is far, far less than the cost of owning right now," Turner said. "And it will remain that way for the next couple of years."

Mar. 24 2008 8:35 PM ET Bill Doskoch, CTV.ca News

BC Mortgage Consumers Confident and Cautious in their Mortgage Choices

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) 2007 Mortgage Consumer Survey shows that the overwhelming majority BC residents who recently purchased a home are confident their mortgage choice was the best for them, and 79 per cent intend to pay off their mortgage as quickly as possible — on par with the national average of 78 per cent.

“This study confirms that British Columbians remain fundamentally cautious when it comes to managing their mortgage debt,” said Pierre SerrĂ©, Vice-President, Insurance Product & Business Development, CMHC. “Homeowners in BC are confident about their mortgage decisions and intend to pay off their mortgages as quickly as they are able.”

The 2007 national survey focused primarily on recent purchasers and also for the first time included questions on homeowner behaviour regarding mortgage debt re-payment since arranging their mortgage.

Recent purchasers in BC are taking steps to reduce their mortgage debt. Nearly half are making weekly or bi-weekly mortgage payments, and the vast majority of these are on an accelerated basis which has the effect of shortening the time required to payoff the mortgage. In addition, 39 per cent are planning on reducing their mortgage amortization period when their mortgage comes up for renewal.

CMHC’s survey indicated that 93 per cent of British Columbians who recently purchased a home felt that the mortgage choice they made was the best option for them, compared to the national average of 89 per cent. As well, more than half agreed that, whenever possible, they would use extra money to pay down the principal on their mortgage. Among BC residents who either purchased a home, renewed, or refinanced a mortgage, 86 per cent are confident in their ability to manage their debt.

Mortgage consumers in BC are also more likely to use the services of a mortgage broker when purchasing a home. In 2007, 43 per cent of purchasers in BC used a mortgage broker to arrange their mortgage, well over the national average of 33 per cent.

The survey also reveals that 89 per cent of mortgage consumers in BC are satisfied with the services they received from either their mortgage lender or broker, compared to 81 per cent in 2006.

CMHC March 20, 2008

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Canadian Mortgage Consumers Manage their Debt Responsibly

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) 2007 Mortgage Consumer Survey shows that 78 per cent of Canadians who recently purchased a new home intend to pay off their mortgage as quickly as possible, and many have already taken steps toward that goal.

“This study confirms that Canadians remain fundamentally cautious when it comes to their mortgage debt,” said Pierre SerrĂ©, Vice-President, Insurance Products and Development, CMHC. “The fact that new homeowners are working to pay down principal early and are accelerating payments is a good indication that this responsible behaviour will continue throughout the life of their mortgage.”

The 2007 survey focused primarily on recent purchasers and also for the first time included questions on homeowner behaviour regarding mortgage debt re-payment since arranging their mortgage. More than half of recent purchasers agreed that, whenever possible, they would use extra money to pay down the principal on their mortgage. CMHC’s survey revealed recent purchasers are acting on these intentions, with one-third at some point having made a lump sum payment to their mortgage. Also, well over half reported making weekly or biweekly payments, and the majority of these (84 per cent) are being made on an accelerated basis, which has the effect of shortening the original amortization period.

CMHC’s survey also indicates that Canadians continue to be well served by the mortgage industry, with 85 per cent of respondents expressing satisfaction with the mortgage process. Eighty-four per cent felt they had access to suitable housing options, 88 per cent felt confident they could manage their debt, and 89 per cent of recent purchasers felt that the mortgage choice they made was the best option for them.

Relationships with financial institutions remain very important to mortgage consumers. 2007 has seen a slight increase in mortgage consumer loyalty with, on average, 74 per cent remaining with their current lender. However, this increase was most pronounced among first-time purchasers and those who refinanced their mortgage. The majority of those who chose to switch to another financial institution when arranging their mortgage did so to obtain a better interest rate, but those who stayed with their existing lenders cited both a good interest rate and good service as the predominate reasons. In addition, the proportion of purchasers using the services of mortgage brokers has risen to 33 per cent from last year’s level of 27 per cent.

CMHC's Mortgage Consumer Survey is conducted each fall to examine consumer behaviour, attitudes and expectations when acquiring, renewing or refinancing a mortgage. The survey is based on a national probability sample of more than 1,400 recent active mortgage consumers comprised of first-time buyers, repeat buyers, mortgage renewers and refinance consumers. The results for the entire sample are accurate within 2.6 percentage points 19 times out of 20. As Canada’s leading mortgage insurer, CMHC shares a wealth of knowledge and housing expertise for the benefit of Canadians. CMHC's mortgage insurance has opened doors for millions of Canadians, giving them the assurance and piece of mind that comes with homeownership.

CMHC March 19, 2008

Friday, March 14, 2008

Province Introduces Geen Building Code

Victoria -- B.C. has introduced a building code to create safer, greener buildings.
Housing Minister Rich Coleman says the change allows the government to make bylaws to conserve energy and water, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve building accessibility for disabled people.

He says the amendments allow for the use of building specialists trained in new building technologies such as rain screen and green building techniques.

Professional associations that govern engineers, geoscientists and architects will now have authority to create building specialist designations and determine the level of knowledge needed for certification as a specialist.

The changes also allow the housing minister to designate an official to make binding interpretations of the B.C. Building Code.

The amendments follow three years of consultations with the building industry, local governments and consumer groups to improve the way buildings are regulated.

The Canadian Press March 11, 2008

Monday, March 10, 2008

Housing Starts Move Higher in February

The seasonally adjusted annual rate1 of housing starts was 256,900 units in February, up from 222,700 units in January, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

“New home construction in February was boosted by the significant rise in multiple-family starts,” said Bob Dugan, Chief Economist at CMHC’s Market Analysis Centre. “The robust results achieved this month are mainly attributed to increased condominium starts, which reflect strong condominium sales over the past year or two. Despite this sizeable growth in February, we continue to expect that the trend in housing starts will decrease gradually between now and the end of 2008.”

In February the seasonally adjusted annual rate of urban starts increased 18.0 per cent to 223,700 units compared to January. Urban multiples jumped 30.3 per cent to 140,700 units in February, while singles rose 1.8 per cent to 83,000 units.

The seasonally adjusted annual rate of urban starts increased in four of Canada’s five regions in February. Urban starts registered an increase of 45.2 per cent in British Columbia, 26.2 per cent in Quebec, 16.9 per cent in the Atlantic region and 16.4 per cent in Ontario. The Prairies bucked the trend and registered a decline of 9.6 per cent in February. Urban multiple starts were up in all regions except in the Atlantic and the Prairies. Urban singles were up in all regions except British Columbia and the Prairies.

Rural starts were estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 33,200 units in February.

Actual starts, in rural and urban areas combined, were up an estimated 8.1 per cent in the first two months of 2008 compared to the same period in 2007. In urban areas, actual total starts increased by an estimated 10.4 per cent year-to-date. Actual urban single starts from January to February 2008 were down 11.0 per cent compared to the same period in 2007, while multiple starts grew by approximately 25.9 per cent over the same period.

CMHC March 10, 2008

1. All starts figures in this release, other than actual starts, are seasonally adjusted annual rates (SAAR) — that is, monthly figures adjusted to remove normal seasonal variation and multiplied by 12 to reflect annual levels.
As Canada’s national housing agency, CMHC draws on over 60 years of experience to help Canadians access a variety of quality, environmentally sustainable, and affordable homes — homes that will continue to create vibrant and healthy communities and cities across the country.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Expect Balance

What a difference a year can make. This time last year, BC housing markets were showing signs of fatigue: inventories were edging up, sales were trending down and moderation in housing demand appeared imminent. While affordability was the largest constraint to home ownership, the economy was still firing on all cylinders, with no trouble on the horizon. So, what happened?

Instead of slipping back, housing demand accelerated and, by year end, the province recorded its second highest level of annual MLS® transactions. Firsttime homebuyers remained a powerful
force in the market, backed by 40-year mortgage amortizations and a housing stock that was increasingly oriented toward condominiums. Second home purchases by equity-rich empty
nesters buoyed urban apartment markets and drove up sales and prices in the recreation and retirement markets of the Kootenays, Okanagan and Vancouver Island.

The rapid ascent of the dollar surprised everyone, except the most radical doomsayers, leading one institutional economist to quip he was giving up forecasting exchange rates because “it makes us look like fools.” The high dollar boosted the purchasing power of BC consumers during the holiday season, but was devastating to the forest industry. BC exporters of all stripes felt the pinch of falling profits brought on by exchange rate parity with the US.

Many US housing markets slumped as a result of the subprime debacle. The promise of easy credit for homebuyers ended disastrously when interest rate resets came home to roost. Investors from around the world, including ICBC and UBC, that had shoveled billions into
securitized subprime portfolios saw their investments shrink to pennies on the dollar, at best. Plummeting housing demand south of the border put the brakes on home building and caused a free fall in lumber prices. Economists are now scrambling to reduce their forecasts of BC economic growth for this year.

BC homebuyers likely didn’t notice the real cost of borrowing increased more than the posted rates suggested. The spread between mortgage rates and bond yields increased dramatically, reflecting higher risk premiums demanded by investors. In addition, mortgage rate discounts, now commonplace for good credit borrowers, went from deep to shallow in a matter of months.

In 2008, will BC housing markets suffer a similar fate of many in the US? No. While the province is not immune from the trials and tribulations south of the border, demand is expected to remain
strong in markets not dependent on the forest industry.

Home sales likely won’t post any records this year—eroding affordability will see to that. However, the number of transactions is expected to be above the tenyear average. Home prices still face upward pressure, but that pressure is waning. After six years of a bull real estate market, a return to more balance between demand and supply may be the best scenario for the long term.

T h e B u l l et i n • f eb r u a r y 2 0 0 8 V o l u m e 3 1 , n u m beR 1 f eb r u a r y 2 0 0 8
By Cameron Muir, BCREA Chief Economist