Just six months ago, many Canadians were confident in their understanding of the housing market. Historically-low borrowing costs were showing no signs of moving higher, Calgary continued to suffer under the weight of low oil, and price gains in Vancouver and Toronto looked unstoppable. A lot has changed since then. Here are five things changing our understanding of the Canadian real estate market.
Mortgage rates on the rise
The accepted wisdom among homeowners gathered around backyard barbeques this summer – that rates were not going higher any time soon – sounded awfully convincing. The Canadian economy was underperforming, leaving the Bank of Canada on hold, and global bond yields were stuck at historic lows. And then Donald Trump, against the odds, took the White House. The U.S. yield curve steepened as Trump’s policies were seen an inflationary, and the yield on the Canadian five-year bond followed suit. Remember, banks price fixed-mortgage rates off bond yields. RBC moved first, hiking fixed rates between 25 and 40 basis points. Suddenly, without much warning, Canadians are facing higher borrowing costs, thanks to Trump and Ottawa’s recent regulatory moves.
Ottawa makes it harder to get a mortgage
Concerned about the risks to the financial system posed by the housing market, Ottawa decided to tighten mortgage regulations once again. In early October, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced a stringent stress test for all insured mortgages. Here’s an example of what that did to a Canadian family’s home purchasing power, courtesy of Ratehub.ca:
A family with $100,000 of income that saved up $40,000 for a down payment could afford a $665,000 home before the new rules kicked on Oct. 17. Now, that same family can only afford a $505,000 home. That’s a difference of $160,000, representing a 24 per cent drop in affordability.
Ontario doubles tax rebate
Soaring home prices and strained affordability had the Ontario government under pressure to take action. Targeting foreign buyers with a tax similar to the one in Vancouver wasn’t on the table. Instead, Finance Minister Charles Sousa opted to double the maximum tax rebate already in place for first-time buyers, from $2,000 to $4,000. The move effectively means anyone buying an Ontario home for $368,000 or less (and that’s more than half of first-time homebuyers in the province) will not pay any provincial land transfer tax. The rebate, however, is only available to Canadian citizens and permanent residents.
Vancouver housing market goes cold
It felt like a sudden shift for what had been Canada’s hottest housing market, but the signs had been there for months. The number of Vancouver homes changing hands had peaked in early 2016, but astonishing double-digit, year-over-year price increases grabbed all the headlines. For many, it felt like Vancouver home prices would never fall back to earth. Then the B.C. government, on the heels of several other moves, slapped a 15 per cent tax on foreign buyers in the city. Sales volumes fell off a cliff and prices are now falling on a month-over-month basis. National Bank Financial is now forecasting a 20 per cent correction for Vancouver detached home prices in the next 12 months.
Hard-hit Calgary begins to stabilize
The crash in crude oil prices that began in late 2014 hit the unofficial energy capital of Canada hard. Sales volumes plunged and prices retreated. And while it is early days, the number of homes changing hands rose almost 16 per cent in October compared to the same time last year. The Calgary Real Estate Board warns it could be temporary, but notes sales activity in the city is starting to resemble normal levels for the first time in two years.