Toronto, Vancouver Home Affordability At ‘Risky' Levels, But Prices Forecast To Keep Rising

Home affordability in Toronto and Vancouver is approaching “risky” levels, according to a report from RBC, but low interest rates and even the falling loonie mean Canadians shouldn’t count on affordability improving in those two cities.

The cost of owning a home has been holding steady in most parts of Canada, but affordability declined during the second quarter in the two most expensive markets, Vancouver and Toronto, RBC said.

The gap in housing affordability between Toronto, Vancouver and the rest of the country widened to an all-time high. Affordability in Vancouver is nearing the worst on record, and affordability in Toronto is approaching the levels seen in 1990 before a long downturn, RBC said.

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But that slump in Toronto happened when interest rates were high and rising, an ingredient that’s missing from the market today. In a separate report released Monday, TD Bank said it expects a decline in Canadian borrowing rates in the first half of 2015 will likely boost demand into the early fall, but then have a waning effect in the late stages of this year.

In its latest analysis of housing trends, RBC also said Monday it expects prices will continue to rise in Toronto and Vancouver in the short term because of tight supplies of detached homes for sale.

The bank said supply and demand are more balanced in other Canadian markets and affordability has been close to the long-term average since 1985.

It says the low-rate environment has helped to keep markets "humming" in hot markets and reduce the impact of low commodity prices in other markets, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

And with the Canadian dollar hitting 11-year lows last week, some market insiders say foreign investors will be snapping up more real estate in Toronto and Vancouver.

Toronto developer Peter Freed, who is reportedly having his best sales year ever, told the Globe and Mail he’s seeing more interest from foreign investors in the wake of the loonie’s decline.

“It’s been our best year ever in our 20-year history,” he said. “We spent 10 years selling 2,000 units in King West and we’ve sold almost 2,000 units at Yonge and Eglinton in 24 months.”

TD said commodity-dependent regions such as Edmonton, Calgary, Regina and Saskatoon "have weakened considerably so far this year, but to a lesser degree than was originally anticipated."

"Elsewhere, markets that had embarked on soft landings over the last few years, including Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City, have seen activity either stabilize or perk up," TD said.

"The central theme for housing affordability in Canada continues to be the wide divide between stretched conditions in Toronto and Vancouver, and fairly neutral conditions in the rest of the country," RBC said in its report.

"The split, in fact, widened during the second quarter of 2015, with strong price increases for single-detached homes in Toronto and Vancouver squeezing affordability further in these markets, whereas a slow pace of appreciation — at best —kept the cost of home ownership mostly stable in the majority of other markets."

RBC said there was evidence that buyers were more confident in Alberta than they had been in the previous two quarters as a result of the dramatic decline in oil prices, but "prices still remained under slight downward pressure for the most part . . ."
"The picture was a little different in Saskatchewan where a recovery in single-detached home prices negatively affected the affordability of bungalows and two-storey homes."

In Quebec, RBC said home prices were "quite stagnant" and that contributed to improved housing affordability.

"Widespread improvements similarly took place in Atlantic Canada, although there remain few indications that housing demand is turning a corner in the region."

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