National home sales and prices slowed slightly in October, pushed lower by the impact of this year’s mortgage stress test, combined with seasonal factors.
The latest report from the Canadian Real Estate Association reveals the number of homes exchanging hands in 17 markets across Canada fell by 1.6 per cent from September, with overall activity down 3.7 per cent from the same month in 2017. While CREA points out that’s stronger than what was recorded in the first half of 2018, sales remain below the 10-year average. Greater Vancouver and Fraser Valley saw the greatest decline in sales, which was partially offset by gains in the Greater Toronto Area and Montreal.
That’s led to softer prices, with the average home value decreasing 1.5 per cent to $496,800 – the first aggregate price drop since May. Removing Toronto and Vancouver from the equation, however, would reduce the average to just $383,000.
Tougher Mortgage Rules Drag Sales
The mortgage stress test introduced by the federal banking regulator in January, which requires borrowers to qualify for a mortgage rate roughly 2 per cent higher than the one they’ll actually pay, continues to be a major factor behind slower sales activity, say CREA’s analysts. However, its impact has been felt unevenly across the country; while it has brought some much-needed balance to overheated markets, smaller locales are experiencing significant chill, says CREA President Barb Sukkau.
“This year’s new mortgage stress-test has lowered how much mortgage home buyers can qualify for across Canada, but its effect on sales has varied somewhat depending on location, housing type, and price range,” she states.
Some Markets Hurt More Than Others
Chief Economist Gregory Klump adds that declines in the largest markets have effectively dragged down the national average, while sellers in slower markets are experiencing challenging conditions.
“National sales activity lost momentum in October. In part, this reflects waning activity among some urban centres in Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe region and the absence of an offsetting rise in sales in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia,” he stated. “Even so, the balance between sales and listings in the regions points to stable prices or modest gains. By contrast, the balance between sales and listings for housing markets in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland indicates a weak pricing environment for homeowners who are looking to sell.”
The number of newly-listed homes fell this month by 1.1 per cent, with the greatest contractions in the GTA, Calgary and Victoria, while rising in Edmonton and Greater Vancouver. However, it wasn’t enough to offset slower sales; the national sales-to-new-listings ratio fell very slightly from 54.4 per cent in September to 54.2 per cent – within the long-term average of 53.4 per cent, and indicating well balanced conditions. (This ratio, which is calculated by dividing the number of sales by the number of new listings, indicates the level of buyer competition within a market. A ratio between 40 – 60 per cent is a balanced market, with below and above that threshold signalling buyers’ and sellers’ conditions, respectively.)
Total national inventory, which is represented by the number of months it would take to sell off all available homes for sale, clocked in at 5.3 – that’s within the long term average, but varies by region, with supply much higher in the Prairies, Newfoundland and Labrador. Ontario and Prince Edward Island, however, have inventory below the long-term average.
By Home Type
Condos and apartments continue to lead housing market price growth, rising 7.4 per cent year over year. Townhouses followed at 3.9 per cent, while detached home prices remained relatively flat, with no growth in the two-storey segment, and one-storey dwellings posting only a 0.6-per-cent gain.
British Columbia: While home prices continue to rise, the pace of gains has started to moderate due to softer sales. Prices rose just 1 per cent in Greater Vancouver, though they had a stronger showing in Fraser Valley (+6.8 per cent), Victoria (+8.5 per cent), and elsewhere on Vancouver Island (+11.8 per cent).
Ontario: In contrast to BC, the pace of price gains has been rising in Ontario and especially within the Greater Golden Horseshoe, up 9.3 per cent in Guelph, 6.8 per cent for Hamilton real estate in Hamilton-Burlington, 6.3 per cent in Niagara, 3.6 per cent in the GTA, and 2.2 per cent in Oakville-Milton. While prices fell 0.9 per cent in Barrie and District, the pace of declines is starting to shrink, CREA says. Ottawa real estate continues to experience robust growth driven by demand for detached homes, with prices up 6.6 per cent.
Prairies: Prices are down across all major Prairie markets, falling 3.6 per cent in Calgary, 2.4 per cent in Edmonton, 3.6 per cent in Regina, while remaining relatively flat in Saskatoon at -0.9 per cent.
Eastern Canada: Montreal continues to be a boom down, with sales up 6.3 per cent, and strong demand for detached and luxury housing, while Greater Moncton saw an increase of 4.2 per cent.
Penelope Graham is the Managing Editor at Zoocasa, and has over a decade of experience covering real estate, mortgage, and personal finance topics. Her commentary on the housing market is frequently featured on both national and local media outlets including BNN Bloomberg, CBC, The Toronto Star, National Post, and The Huffington Post. 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, travelling abroad, or in the dance studio.