TREB’s Data-Sharing Backlash, 2018 Price Predictions, and the Truth About Foreign Buyers: Weekly Real Estate News Recap

Data Sharing Sites Experience TREB’s Wrath

On December 1st, the Appeals Court of Canada upheld a previous Competition Tribunal decision that the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) must allow its members to publicly share historical sold data online.

While the real estate board claimed that sharing their database would violate copyright and client privacy, the court threw out those arguments, agreeing with the Tribunal that withholding the data was both anti-competitive to its members and a disadvantage to the public.

However, that doesn’t mean there’s been a data free-for-all since the ruling; TREB has indicated it will appeal once more to the Supreme Court of Canada and has applied for a motion to stop the distribution of data in the interim.

It also hasn’t been shy about going after entities who have pre-emptively shared it; realtor Fraser Beach, owner of Select/Plan Real Estate and distributor of the popular Just Sold email newsletter, was served a cease and desist letter from the board this week. It’s not the first time Beach has had to battle TREB – he was sent a similar letter last autumn and has been one of the most visible industry figures in the fight to free the data.

Said Beach to The Canadian Press, “The cease-and-desist letter has no validity. But TREB can knock me off the (Multiple Listing Service) basically, with a certain degree of impunity, any time they want… That’s the risk that you have in not honouring their letter.”

A handful of other sites, including HouseSigma and MongoHouse, have also released past sold information about specific properties, which TREB CEO John DiMichele said remains a breach of their user agreement.

“TREB cannot confirm whether these individual sites are obtaining such displayed information through any TREB authorized source or whether they are operated by a TREB member. If this information is being provided to these sites by a TREB member, then such use of the TREB MLS data is a breach of the authorized user agreement binding on all members,” he said.

Zoocasa, which is a virtual office website (VOW) member of the real estate board, has yet to display the data as it awaits the final decision from the Supreme Court of Canada.

Foreign Buyer Activity Lower Than Expected: StatsCan and CMHC

Foreign buyer activity has been long blamed as a main contributor to unsustainable price growth in Canada’s largest markets – but new data released this week throws cold water on that perception.

Numbers collected in partnership by Statistics Canada and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation reveal out-of-country buyers account for just 3.4 per cent of homeownership in the Toronto market, and 4.8 per cent in Vancouver. However, this varies by housing type, accounting for 7.2 and 7.9 per cent of condo ownership in each city, respectively, and 2.1 and 3.2 per cent for single-family detached homes. The study states that less than 1 per cent of all condo stock in the 17 markets measured are owned by foreign buyers.

It was also noted that the properties scooped up by foreigners tend to be newer and more expensive, at an average price of $944,100 in Toronto, compared to the $840,600 paid by locals, and $2.3 million versus $1.6 million in Vancouver.

This is arguably the hardest data collected thus far on foreign buyer activity; in March, the federal government announced $241 million to be spent on the creation of the Canadian Housing Statistics Program, in response to criticism that no efforts had been made to accurately gauge the impact of foreign buyers in Canada.

That the data was lacking was of particular concern when the BC and Ontario governments unveiled their respective foreign buyer taxes; while the impact of those measures has been minimal and temporary, this latest data shows interest is growing in markets that do not have a non-resident tax. Montreal, for example, has experienced the greatest increase in foreign buyer activity over the past year, from 0.9 to 1.5 per cent.

Stated CMHC Chief Economist Bob Dugan, “The lack of growth in Toronto and Vancouver, combined with the increase in Montreal, indicate the possibility of a shift from these centres after the introduction of foreign buyers’ taxes in Ontario and British Columbia.”

However, this data, which was obtained via a number of methods including land titles, property assessments, census information as well as property and condo management interviews, does not take into account unit sales made on assignment; because these sales occur – sometimes multiple times – before the original sale closes and a title is registered, it could effectively skew the level of recorded foreign activity in the pre-construction segment.

There Goes the Neighbourhood Mall

Good neighbours can make or break any homeownership experience – but would you want to live alongside the likes of Indigo or Sephora?

Those who consider the mall to be their second home could soon realize that reality, as Canada’s largest shopping centre owners plan to add condo and apartment units to their properties. Merging residential and retail is a solution that both alleviates tight housing supply and gives empty storefront space new purpose; the demand for retail real estate has declined as online shopping reduces the need for brick and mortar locations. Adding housing units will also help offset the demise of big box anchor stores, such as Sears.

It’s a solution with clear benefits for both sides says RioCan REIT Chief Executive Ed Sonshine to the Financial Post. “The population is growing and there’s no real land left. Demand for retail space isn’t growing… It makes perfect sense on so many different levels.”

RioCan is embarking on the development of ePlace, a Toronto retail centre that will also include 1,100 residential units and office space. The company has plans to add 10,000 more units by 2025 to 50 properties.

Yorkdale, one of Toronto’s largest luxury malls, is also getting in on the action, with 1,496 units to be added in the mall’s next revamp. Meanwhile, Cadillac Fairview will spend $2 billion to add units to four of its existing malls.

A similar trend has been unfolding in B.C’s Lower Mainland, where developable land is extremely scarce; a slew of towers are being erected on former parking lots, as malls sell off the land to developers.

Housing Affordability Hits 27-Year Low: RBC

RBC Economics has released the fourth quarter edition of its Housing Trends and Affordability Report, and its findings might be tough for home buyers to stomach. According to its affordability index, which calculates the percentage of income required to carry the monthly cost of an average home, affordability hasn’t been this steep since 1990.

Skyrocketing home values in Vancouver, Toronto and Victoria are mainly responsible for the increase, says RBC.

“While the deterioration of affordability conditions was broadly based across the country, it was developments in Vancouver, Toronto and Victoria that had the greatest impact on the national scene,” says Craig Wright, senior vice president and chief economist at RBC. “These three markets were the only ones with affordability measures exceeding the national average.”

Nationwide, the aggregate measure rose for the ninth consecutive quarter, to 48.7 per cent.

Not surprisingly, Vancouver remains the least affordable with a percentage of 87.5 per cent, up from 82.6 per cent last quarter. Neighbouring Victoria rose to 61.5 per cent from 58.8 per cent, due to a bustling job market and hot economy that continue to support real estate demand.

Toronto’s persistent unaffordability is an indication that the Fair Housing Plan and other measures may be falling short of making the market more accessible, says Wright. “The continued erosion in affordability in Toronto was a disappointment,” he says. “There was scope for some improvement given the significant cooling in resale activity since April’s Fair Housing Plan, but all we got was the slimmest rise in ownership costs in two years.”

Reuters Poll Predicts Real Estate Prices to Slow Over Next 2 Years

Will policies intended to cool Canada’s hottest real estate markets actually be effective? A new Reuters poll says their impact, especially that of new B-20 mortgage qualification rules, will be felt throughout 2018 and 2019.

Price growth will slow dramatically, the agency says, as heavily-indebted borrowers grapple with tougher home financing hurdles and rising mortgage rates. The latter will be especially painful, as an entire generation of home buyers have become accustomed to cheap debt, Reuters says – and while the resulting real estate boom helped pull the nation out of the 2007 – 2009 global recession, it also fueled record amounts of household debt.

The current debt to income ratio hit 171.1 per cent in the third quarter, up from 167.8 per cent, to a total of $2.11 trillion owned by Canadian households. Mortgages led that debt accumulation, followed by credit cards and LoCs, and non-mortgage loans.

The poll finds price growth will shrink to just 1.9 per cent in 2018, compared to 8.5 per cent this year, though it will pick up slightly to 2.6 per cent in 2019.

The deepest cuts will be felt in the most expensive markets, experts predict: “The rule change will be significant, but largely concentrated in the higher-priced markets of Toronto and Vancouver,” said Michael Dolega, senior economist at TD Bank.

Prices will decrease 2 per cent next year, and 3 per cent in 2019. Vancouver, however, will be comparatively robust with 6 per cent next year, and 4.6 per cent the following.

About Penelope Graham

Penelope Graham is the Managing Editor at Zoocasa. A born-and-bred Torontonian and quintessential millennial, she has over a decade of experience covering real estate, lifestyle and personal finance topics. When not keeping an eye on Toronto's hot housing market, she can be found brunching in one of the city's many vibrant neighbourhoods. Find her on Twitter at @pjeg14.

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