The slowdown in the Canadian housing market that marked much of last year appears over as prices and sales increase, and that strength is likely to continue, clipping affordability even more, according to economists at Desjardins Group.
A spike in home sales and prices across Canada, brought on in part by the Bank of Canada’s pause in interest rate hikes earlier this year along with a lack of listings, is no fluke, said Desjardins economists Randall Bartlett and Hélène Bégin in their residential real estate outlook headlined, “For better and for worse, Canada’s housing market is back.” The economists said strength in prices and sales will have “staying power,” which will ultimately dent affordability even more. But the Bank of Canada can’t be blamed for this round of strength. Instead, a number of other factors are at play, including strong population growth, a resilient labour market and continued flush household savings accounts, built up during the pandemic, the economists said.
For one thing, immigration to Canada is growing, and newcomers to the country are flooding into the housing market. The group plays a strong role in housing market dynamics and are even more likely to own some types of dwellings, such as condos, than people born in the country, Desjardins said. But it’s not only immigrants driving demand, and non-permanent residents, the numbers of which have also surged, are searching for places to live, too. That’s spilled into the rental market, causing rents to spike. Then, as home prices fell last year and rents rose, more people found it made financial sense to invest their money in buying a home instead of shelling out the equivalent of a mortgage payment to a landlord. The result is more people entering the housing market, sending prices and sales higher.
A strong labour market is also helping to ignite housing further. Increases to wages and job security mean people are building more wealth, and buying homes with their money. At the same time, the jobs market shows no sign of slowing down in a meaningful way, the economists said, amid continued high vacancies and a low unemployment rate all while the country welcomes an influx of immigrants. That will help keep the housing market humming along. Meanwhile, wealth gains are also coming from massive amounts of savings built up over the pandemic. Of course, it’s high income earners who still have much of these savings. They’re also more likely to deploy that money into the housing market, helping keep the rebound going.
There’s another major factor contributing to high prices: supply. Housing starts have been higher than usual, but that won’t last, Desjardins said. What’s more, the housing that’s being built isn’t what buyers really want. Most starts are condos and they are shrinking in size even as detached homes, which carry the heftiest price tag, grow bigger and bigger. The result is a “missing middle” in supply, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. If homebuyers can’t find the types of houses they’re seeking, that will send home prices heading even higher, as competition grows for a limited number of properties. And don’t expect prospective buyers to be saved by government initiatives designed to boost housing starts. “Despite ambitious policy announcements to the contrary, there is little meaningful relief in sight from any level of government,” the report said.
Still, higher interest rates might cool the market, at least a little. The Bank of Canada raised interest rates another 25 basis points in a surprise hike in June, bringing the key policy rate to 4.75 per cent. Desjardins expects the central bank will hike by another 25 basis points at least once more, with an increase coming as early as July. That might work to keep some people on the sidelines, helping to dampen price increases and sales. The economists also caution that the full effect of interest rate hikes has yet to be felt by people with fixed-payment variable-rate mortgages, whose banks have been adding any extra interest owed to the mortgage principal instead of requiring higher payments now, thereby extending amortization periods and kicking “housing and economic pain down the road.”
It won’t be enough to take the steam out of the market completely, however. “Despite higher interest rates, housing demand is expected to remain strong for the foreseeable future,” the report said.
All those factors are playing out differently in housing markets across Canada, with some areas feeling the effects more than others. For example, British Columbia and Ontario have experienced a spike in prices and sales amid an influx of immigrants. That’s pushed younger homebuyers from those provinces to other markets in search of affordability, and Alberta, along with the Prairies and Atlantic provinces, have benefited from the migration. But now that’s causing those regions’ home prices to creep higher. As far as Quebec goes, it’s not experienced much migration, but a lack of housing starts is eating into supply, threatening affordability, the economists said. That trend is also occurring across the country and is expected to impact affordability for years to come — and not for the better.
“Unless something is done urgently to increase supply, affordability will get a lot worse before it has any hope of getting better,” Bartlett and Bégin said.