According to the latest data from the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB), March was another record-breaking month for real estate in the Toronto Region. Home sales increased 97% y-o-y with 15,652 properties changing hands. This marks a new high for monthly transactions, outpacing other historic months like March of 2017 with 12,077 sales and September of 2020 with 11,083 sales.
March was the third straight record-breaking month for Toronto real estate, and with this has come questions of whether the government will intervene to cool prices in its next budget, due April 19. To help us understand the implications of past federal policy on the Toronto housing market, we reviewed the trends after previous cooling measures were implemented in 2017.
Spring 2021 Price Escalations Mirror Spring 2017 Increases
In 2021, The average GTA home sold for $1,097,565 in March, up 21.6% year-over-year. That’s up from record-breaking prices in February ($1,045,488), January ($967,885), and December ($929,699), respectively. This brings the average home price for the first quarter to $1,036,979, the highest it has ever been in the region.
This price point marks a historical high and it is increasing more rapidly than usual. Overall, prices have increased 9% from Q4-2020 to Q1-2021 for all product types. Broken down by type, this increase was 13% for detached homes, 10% for semi-detached, 11% for condo-townhomes, and 5% for condo-apartments. Prior to this quarter, the average price increase quarter-over-quarter was predominantly in the single-digits.
The last time we saw quarterly price increases in the teens across a variety of product types was Q1-2017, where the increase between Q4-2016 and Q1-2017 averaged 13%. This brought the average price of housing in the Toronto region to $854,432 in Q1-2017.
This previous record-breaking spring market led to government intervention in 2017, which is now leaving many financial analysts and even some of Canada’s larger banks calling for intervention as we move into Q2 and what could be the most active spring in real estate on record.
2017 Cooling Measures Led to a 13% Decline in Housing Prices
In reaction to Toronto’s hot market in 2017, the province of Ontario introduced the Non-Resident Speculation Tax in April of that year (otherwise known as the Foreign Buyer Tax) The 15% tax was applied to homes purchased in the Greater Golden Horseshoe Region by those who were not citizens or permanent residents.
The province collected $173 million in taxes through the purchase of 1,393 homes between April of 2017 and February of 2018 as part of the program.
Further to Ontario’s Non-Resident Speculation Tax, the Federal government implemented the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) Stress Test in January 2018.
The stress test —announced in October 2017 as part of the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institution’s (OSFI) B-20 mortgage guidelines—required potential uninsured mortgage borrowers (those with a down payment of at least 20%) to qualify at a higher mortgage rate than their contracted rate.
That meant these borrowers now had to prove they could afford a mortgage rate increase of 200 basis points (2%) or the Bank of Canada’s Benchmark 5-year fixed rate (whichever was higher at the time of obtaining their mortgage).
These cooling measures achieved their intended results.
As a result of these measures, the average GTA home prices cooled 13% across all home types in Q3-2017, dropping from an average of $859,539 in Q2-2017 to $751,352. Over the next two quarters, pricing stabilized back to Q4-2016 levels and remained relatively steady over the course of the next six quarters.
“In strong seller’s markets, like we’re currently in, we will see many new listings as sellers look to take advantage of high home prices and unlock the equity in their homes. However, the strong seller’s market can also have a limiting impact on inventory, as sellers who look to sell their primary residences find themselves in the buyers’ seat in an equally hot marketplace” explains Lauren Haw, CEO of Zoocasa.
Q2-2019 saw home prices begin to steadily increase once again, leading up to a record-breaking quarter in Q1-2021.
Today’s heated market has fueled speculation that similar policy measures might be announced in the near future.
Possible Cooling Measures Implemented in Spring of 2021
Financial experts have varying opinions on the right way for the government to intervene in the housing market, if at all.
“We are hopeful that listings will rise in coming months, Covid-19 lockdowns permitting, and that that will restore a better balance between sales and inventory,” Jean-Francois Perrault, Scotiabank’s chief economist, said in a report released early April. “If that does not occur, some form of action might be required.”
The report explains that housing prices have escalated in the last year largely due to sellers being concerned about the safety of listing amongst COVID-19 lockdown measures, and as the vaccine rollout continues, more supply will balance the market.
On the other hand, both the Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of Montreal say the housing market is getting overheated and action is needed from the federal government.
There has been speculation that an announcement, if any, would coincide with the Federal budget release expected on April 19th, 2021. However, there has been no official confirmation.
On April 8th, 2021 the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) restarted it’s consultations on the minimum qualifying rate for uninsured mortgages, causing potential changes to the CMHC Stress Test. OSFI will be reviewing feedback from interested stakeholders this May, and will be communicating the final amendments to the qualifying rates for uninsured mortgages on May 24th. Changes, if any, would likely come into effect on June 1, 2021.
Note: Comments and stats highlighting the Toronto Region as a whole are a reference to the areas covered by TRREB, which include: Durham Region, Halton Region, Peel Region, York Region, Toronto, Dufferin County and Simcoe County.
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