Pattie Lovett-Reid: Bubble fears around the Canadian housing market
I've been worried about the housing market for a while.
We have witnessed the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting economies and real estate markets around the globe. Here in Canada, in the last decade and even right through the pandemic, housing has been hot. Prior to the pandemic, Canada enjoyed high levels of immigration, low unemployment and ridiculously low interest rates all conspiring to move housing prices higher. Add to this Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem has provided a rare rubber stamp to go out and borrow as rates will be lower for longer.
Through this period you have to wonder if the real estate market moved too far too fast given the realities of the current economic situation.
Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC) head Evan Siddall thinks so. He is cautioning that the CMHC has done all they can for now to cool down the housing market. He fears highly-leveraged Canadians are still gaining access to mortgages by way of big banks competing for market share with private lenders who have chosen not to implement the stricter guidelines implemented on July 1. Those guidelines would reduce eligibility criteria for borderline potential homeowners due to higher credit score requirements and lower debt levels.
In other words, eligibility requirements were put into place to reduce the opportunity for Canadians living too close to the margin and getting in over their heads with homeownership should their financial landscape change.
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The real fear is that Canadians who really shouldn't be in the housing market are still rushing in for fear of missing out, lack of supply and ultra-low interest rates with lenders are all too willing to support this.
CMHC is predicting by late 2020 prices will fall once the government benefits wind down, and the potential for unemployment ticks higher. If this in fact plays out, the economic recovery that is still precarious could be compromised.
The alarm bells are ringing. Lenders that are focusing on short-terms gains can have unintended consequences on the long-term economic recovery of the country.