Canada's housing market is hot again — expect it to stay that way, economists say

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.



How foreign homeownership bans and major increases in immigration could impact the BC housing market.

If there’s one thing that every real estate agent, developer and homeseeker can agree on when it comes to the BC housing market, it’s that it’s always changing. 

From government interventions to leaky condos to a pandemic push to the suburbs, history proves time and again that it’s impossible to predict what’s next on our collective real estate journey. But a new report from the BC Real Estate Association (BCREA) stresses that challenging times are ahead if the province can’t significantly boost supply in the coming years, as immigration-driven demand is set to peak. The report says that a sustained 25% boost in supply would alleviate the rise in prices set to come, let’s take a look at the report and help guide you through their findings. 

 Two for the show. 

Over the next three years, there are two significant government policies that will affect housing demand in British Columbia more than any other. First on the list is the Foreign Buyers Ban, also known as the "No Home for You, Non-Canadians Act." It's like a vigilant bouncer at an exclusive nightclub, denying entry to non-Canadians seeking to snag residential properties. The goal? To cool down those sizzling home prices and prevent homes from turning into magical money-making machines. 

The real showstopper is the government's increased immigration targets. We're talking about welcoming a staggering 1.5 million new permanent residents here in Canada by 2025. B.C. alone is expected to open its doors to an estimated 217,500 new permanent residents from 2023 to 2025, nearly double the historical average immigration levels. It's a massive influx of talent, diversity, and demand storming the housing market. Brace yourselves, folks—BC is about to get cozy.


While the Foreign Buyers Ban has been put in place to prevent foreign investors from buying up homes and using them as speculative financial assets, the BCREA believes there is weak evidence that the ban will achieve its objective of lowering home prices. On the other hand, the association says that increased immigration targets will have five times more impact on demand than the Foreign Buyers Ban, necessitating a 25 percent increase in new home completions to offset the deterioration in affordability. Don’t kid yourself - that would be a massive increase. 

At the end of the day, the impact of the increase in immigration targets is much more significant than the decline in sales due to the prohibition on foreign buyers. The increased national target for immigration will translate to approximately 20,500 new BC households over and above average annual immigration. This means that there will be a 20,500-unit increase in demand for either ownership or rental housing just from permanent residents. Given the challenging affordability of many cities in BC, only a portion of the new households formed as a result of increased immigration will become homeowners.

Balancing act.

To alleviate the strain on the housing market caused by sudden changes in demand, the government can take steps to increase the supply of housing. Some of these steps may involve modifying zoning regulations to permit more construction, allocating more funds to affordable housing initiatives, and offering incentives to developers to construct additional housing units. If they’re committed to increasing supply, they need to act quickly - which is a word that, historically, most legislators around the country are unfamiliar with. 

The BCREA found that to keep up with the increase in immigration, new home construction in BC must increase by 25 percent over the next five years, reaching a record level of about 43,000 completions annually. Although that pace of completion is similar to what was achieved in 2020 and 2021, higher interest rates and weaker market conditions make that rate of completion much more difficult to hit. Additionally, the ban on foreign buyers has made it more challenging to finance new home construction without access to international capital markets.

Slow your roll.

Lowering price growth so that income growth can catch up to prices is integral to improving housing affordability in BC, and an appropriate supply response could offset the impact on affordability. On a longer time horizon, it can also help to make progress in permanently improving affordability. 

Instead of policies designed to limit demand through taxation or prohibition, the BCREA’s findings suggest that governments should pursue an abundance agenda for housing. An agenda that includes more housing, fewer obstacles to building more housing, and a streamlined process to get more housing to the market faster. Without such an agenda, it will only be a matter of time before the market is again facing accelerated price growth and deteriorating affordability as demand soars and supply struggles to keep pace.

Planning for success.

If you were having a dinner party and you only had eight seats at your table, you wouldn’t invite 12 friends over without bringing up your trusty folding table and chairs from the crawl space. Otherwise, your friends Barry, Ellen, Rocco and Sophia are going to end up eating Pasta Primavera on your brand-new Chesterfield, and we all know Rocco can’t be trusted not to make a mess. Especially with chocolate lava cake coming for dessert. It costs not to plan ahead. 

While immigration plays a vital role in the economy by supporting economic growth, creating job opportunities, and bringing diversity to communities, it also adds significantly to housing demand. As the population continues to grow and global migration patterns persist, it is essential to understand and embrace the positive impacts of immigrants in the broader economy while also planning for the impact on housing. 

Let’s get the table and chairs from the basement. The challenge lies in creating policies and programs that support and welcome immigrants while addressing the consequent pressures on an already stressed housing market. 43,000 new completions annually sounds like a good start. 


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