Sluggish Start to 2019 Provides Silver Lining for First-time Home Buyers in the Country’s Largest Cities
- National home price growth slowed to 2.7 per cent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2019
- Home prices in western Canada forecast to decline
- Price growth in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) remains steady, supported by low inventory
- Slowdown in Greater Vancouver driven by policy changes
- Greater Montreal Area home price growth continues to outpace the GTA and Greater Vancouver
- Ottawa home prices inch ahead of Calgary for the first time
TORONTO, April 4, 2019 – According to the Royal LePage House Price Survey released today, Canada’s residential real estate market showed slowing year-over-year price growth in the first quarter of 2019.
Early in 2018, Canada experienced the most significant housing correction since the 2008 financial crisis. Markets showed signs of recovery late in the year, yet the figures for early 2019 suggest that the market has once again slowed.
The Royal LePage National House Price Composite, compiled from proprietary property data in 63 of the nation’s largest real estate markets, showed that the price of a home in Canada increased just 2.7 per cent year-over-year to $621,575 in the first quarter of 2019, well below the long-term norm of approximately 5 per cent. When broken out by housing type, the median price of a two-storey home rose 2.6 per cent year-over-year to $729,553, while the median price of a bungalow rose 1.1 per cent year-over-year to $513,497. Condominiums remained the fastest growing housing type on a national basis, rising 5.4 per cent year-over-year to $447,260.
Looking ahead to the second quarter, Royal LePage expects national home prices to stay relatively flat throughout the 2019 spring market, with the national aggregate price of a home increasing 1.0 per cent over the next three months. Meanwhile, the housing markets in several larger Canadian cities have shown noticeable signs of slowing, with nearly half of the regions in Royal LePage’s Quarterly Forecast anticipating quarter-over-quarter price declines. Notably, Royal LePage is expecting home prices in Greater Vancouver to fall 1.4 per cent over the next quarter. Ottawa is expected to post the highest price appreciation during the spring market and is forecast to rise 2.8 per cent to $482,459 during the second quarter.
“We are expecting this to be a sluggish year overall in Canada’s residential real estate market, with the hangover from the 2018 market correction and weaker economic growth acting as a drag on home price appreciation, balanced by lower for longer interest rates,” said Phil Soper, president and CEO, Royal LePage. “There is a silver lining here. This slowdown gives buyers, and first-time buyers in particular, an opportunity to buy real estate in our country’s largest cities.”
The global economy hit a soft spot entering the new year. The economic downturns in China and Germany, ongoing trade disputes, and slowing U.S. growth support a relatively muted global outlook. The upside for the Canadian housing market is the increased likelihood that interest rate hikes are on hold for the foreseeable future.
“Canada is certainly affected by negative global macroeconomic trends, yet full-time job creation in our country is very strong, and full-time employment turns renters into buyers,” said Soper. “The medium-term outlook for housing remains very positive.”
In the federal budget tabled by Finance Minister Bill Morneau in March, the Canadian government announced three new or enhanced housing programs. The First-Time Home Buyer Incentive is a three-year, $1.25 billion shared equity mortgage program whereby the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CMHC) will co-invest up to five per cent of the purchase price of an existing home. Further, for the first time in a decade, there was an increase in the registered retirement savings plan withdrawal limits in the Home Buyers Plan. The increase, from $25,000 to $35,000, was the largest since the program’s inception in 1992. Finally, an additional $10 billion in financing over nine years was earmarked for the construction of purpose-built rental housing.
“Like many government initiatives, the new housing programs have supporters and critics,” said Soper. “Prospective home buyers and the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who directly or indirectly earn their living from real estate activity should remember that there were many policy areas competing for attention. In 2019, housing captured the attention and support of federal lawmakers, which is a welcome and necessary development.
Some critics believe that the narrowly focused federal housing initiatives will overstimulate already expensive markets. We disagree. Eroding affordability risks taking the dream of homeownership away from young Canadian families,” said Soper. “Without a healthy influx of first-time buyers, the entire cycle of real estate activity can stall. There is the chance, however, that activity levels in the spring of 2019 will be reduced as some delay purchases, waiting for the First-Time Home Buyer Incentive to kick-in.”
Driven by supply-side shortages, and augmented by an improving job market, home price appreciation in Ontario heavily influenced the national results in the first quarter of 2019. If Ontario is excluded from the Royal LePage National House Price Composite, Canadian price appreciation would sit at a modest 0.4 per cent increase compared to 2.7 per cent.
“The City of Toronto is still one of Canada’s fastest appreciating real estate markets,” said Soper. “Detached home prices are rising in line with inflation, but condominium prices are increasing at near double-digit levels as vertical living has become the primary new-build option in this growing, world-class city.”
Median home prices in the City of Toronto rose 5.8 per cent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2019. Two-storey home prices and bungalow home prices rose 4.8 per cent and 2.5 per cent year-over-year, respectively, while condo prices rose a weighty 9.3 per cent year-over-year. The overall GTA’s aggregate home price rose 3.4 per cent over the same period.
Real estate values in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe region continued to appreciate at a brisk clip, as local economies grew and workers from the GTA looked to trade commuting time for lower house prices. Niagara/St. Catharines, Hamilton, and Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge aggregate prices were up by 6.9 per cent, 6.3 per cent and 8.9 per cent, respectively.
In eastern Ontario, Ottawa home prices appreciated by 7.7 per cent year-over-year. One of the principal advanced technology regions in North America, and home to much of the federal government’s labour force, household formation in the national capital region has been robust. The aggregate price of a home in Ottawa has now surpassed that of Calgary for the first time, a trend unforeseen five years ago.
Other notable price increases for Ontario cities include Kingston at 10.3 per cent increase, and in western Ontario, London and Windsor both experienced double-digit home price increases, rising 10.7 per cent and 12.4 per cent year-over-year, respectively.
While the overall provincial economy remains strong in British Columbia, its housing market remains vulnerable as government intervention continues to drive down real estate activity. For the first time since 2012, Greater Vancouver home prices declined year-over-year, with the aggregate price dipping 1.5 per cent for the first quarter of 2019 to $1,239,306, while overall listing volumes are increasing.
“The Greater Vancouver area remains one of the most desirable places to live in the world. Population growth is driving household formation and employment levels high. Yet policy intervention has induced a drop in home sales to levels not seen in three decades,” Soper said. “Hammering consumer confidence and artificially choking off demand with a series of new taxes and restrictive regulations doesn’t eliminate the need for new housing, it simply sidelines families in the short-term and fuels a disruptive boom-bust cycle.”
Some of the most desirable regions in Greater Vancouver are seeing home price declines. Properties in the region’s higher-end markets like West Vancouver, North Vancouver, Burnaby, and the City of Vancouver are all declining in price offering buyers seeking luxury housing a rare window of opportunity to enter some of Canada’s highest priced markets.
Despite a recent rally in world oil prices, activity levels in the Canadian energy sector remain muted. While it is unlikely that the province will enter a technical recession, economic activity in Alberta is forecast to remain sluggish. The aggregate price of a home in Calgary, Edmonton, and Fort McMurray fell marginally by 1.5 per cent, 1.0 per cent, and 0.8 per cent to $468,974, $371,782 and $576,211, respectively.
In the first quarter of 2019, the aggregate price of a home in the Greater Montreal Area increased 5.5 per cent year-over-year to $406,332. The rate of home price appreciation in the Greater Montreal Area once again surpassed rates seen in the GTA (3.4 per cent), Greater Vancouver (-1.5 per cent) and the national average (2.7 per cent). All three reported housing types saw gains this quarter, with median home prices for two-storey homes, bungalows, and condominiums rising 6.4 per cent to $514,412, 3.7 per cent to $316,159 and 5.2 per cent to $328,488, respectively.
Economic activity in Atlantic Canada remains a mixed bag. Prince Edward Island is seeing solid economic growth, but persistently high unemployment rates have resulted in an aggregate price increase for a Charlottetown home of only 0.7 per cent year-over-year to $288,230. The demographics in Nova Scotia are favourable, as the province is benefiting from higher immigration and interprovincial migration numbers, and the region has a strong export sector. The aggregate price for a home in Halifax increased 1.6 per cent year-over-year to $318,733.
Meanwhile, the outlook for New Brunswick is mixed, with forecasters anticipating gains from an improving commodity sector will offset a declining population and an 8.5 per cent unemployment rate. In the first quarter, the aggregate price of a home in Saint John increased 1.9 per cent year-over-year to $213,290, while the aggregate price for a home in Moncton decreased 1.3 per cent year-over-year to $192,185. Similarly, the economy in Newfoundland and Labrador is sending mixed signals, as the current unemployment rate is 11.8 per cent but natural resource projects like the syndicate-operated Hebron Project, Husky’s White Rose oil field, and Vale’s Voisey’s Bay nickel mine are all expected to ramp up production. The aggregate price of a home in St. John’s decreased 5.6 per cent year-over-year to $324,955.