Canada's national average home price was down five per cent and sales volume was down 16.9 per cent in February compared with a year ago, evidence that many buyers raced to purchase before new mortgage rules came into effect.
There was also a 6.5 per cent decline in transactions between January and February, the second month-over-month decline and the lowest reading in nearly five years, the Canadian Real Estate Association reported Thursday.
CREA's latest monthly statistics show that home sales were down in February in almost three quarters of all local housing markets tracked by the national association.
"The drop off in sales activity following the record-breaking peak late last year confirms that many homebuyers moved purchase decisions forward late last year before tighter mortgage rules took effect in January," said Gregory Klump, CREA's chief economist in a statement Thursday.
The number of homes sold nationally in December hit a record high, ahead of a new stress test for uninsured mortgages that requires potential buyers to show they can service their mortgage payments if rates increase.
The federal banking regulator's tougher rules, which took effect Jan. 1, now require a stress test to be applied even to borrowers with more than 20 per cent down payment.
To qualify for federally regulated mortgages, borrowers must be able to afford interest rates that are two percentage points above the contracted rate or the Bank of Canada's five-year benchmark rate, whichever is higher.
The stricter residential mortgage lending regulations introduced by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions were aimed at reducing risk in the market amid high housing prices.
Homebuying activity has also been dampened by the Bank of Canada's move in January to hike interest rates to 1.25 per cent. The quarter-point increase was the central bank's third since last summer, after hikes in July and September. In January, Canadian home sales fell by 14.5 per cent from the previous month, according to CREA's figures.
The national average house price for homes sold in February 2018 was just over $494,000, down five per cent from a year earlier. But excluding Toronto and Vancouver, the country's most active and most expensive markets, the national average price was just under $382,000, up 3.3 per cent from $369,728 a year ago.
The number of newly listed homes in February increased by 8.1 per cent, following a plunge of more than 20 per cent in the month prior. However, new listings across the country in February were still 6.4 per cent below the 10-year monthly average and 14.6 per cent below the peak reached in December 2017. New home listings in February were also below the levels recorded every month last year except January 2017.