The steep increases in Canadian home prices might not last for much longer as affordability comes to a head with rising mortgage rates, according to a new report from Capital Economics. 

“House prices still look extremely stretched relatively to implied affordability and that gap will widen as mortgage rates rise further,” said Stephen Brown, senior Canada economist at Capital Economics, in a note Thursday titled “A last hurrah for housing."

“Accordingly, we continue to think that the housing market will lose substantial momentum next year, particularly if the most recent strength is indeed due to buyers rushing to transact at lower mortgage rates, as that would reduce the pool of potential buyers in a few months’ time.”

Housing affordability and the impact of real estate investors have been in the spotlight, arguably more than ever before, as home prices in both urban and rural regions across the country skyrocketed to new records during the pandemic. 
In a Nov. 23 speech, Bank of Canada Deputy Governor Paul Beaudry warned, the “sudden influx of investors in the housing market likely contributed to the rapid price increases we saw earlier this year."

"In such a case, expectations of future price increases can become self-fulfilling, at least for a while," Beaudry said. "That can expose the market to a higher chance of a correction.”

The latest Canadian Real Estate Association data shows national home sales jumped 8.6 per cent in October from the prior month while the MLS Home Price Index rose 2.7 per cent. 

Some realtors have noted that home buyers are indeed rushing into the market to lock in their pre-approved mortgage rates before the contracts expire. 

Brown agreed and said “there are probably still many buyers hoping to transact in November and December before their pre-approved deals expire,” suggesting demand could continue to outstrip supply and push prices higher.  

“By our calculations, the rise in mortgage rates since September has reduced affordability by six per cent,” Brown said. 

“If mortgage rates rise back to their pre-pandemic level in 2022, as our bond yield forecasts imply, that will reduce affordability by a further five per cent. Put more simply, the question is whether the housing market can withstand a return to pre-pandemic mortgage rates, even though prices have surged by 33 per cent in the interim?”

Brown says there is some support for higher home prices as people were able to save for bigger down payments during the pandemic, and some buyers are more willing to allocate more of their budgets to housing because they’re now increasingly working from home.

However, he added, the combination of higher prices and mortgage rates will still undoubtedly eat into buying power.

He predicts that home price growth will fall to five per cent by the end of next year and be just above zero by the end of 2023. 

“This still implies that house price inflation will average 12 per cent in 2022, but that will mainly reflect the large gains over the second half of this year," he said. "By 2023, we expect house price inflation to average just 1.5 per cent.