Nationally home prices in Canada up 17% year on year

Residential property sales across Canada edged upwards from December to January with annual transactions increasing by 8% compared to a year ago.

The data from the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) also shows that home prices were up 17% year on year but not everywhere with British Columbia and Ontario seeing values fall slightly.

Month on month sales increased by 0.5% and this lifted national sales activity to the highest level since late 2009. The number of local housing markets was almost equally split between those where sales were up from the month before, and those where sales were down.

Monthly sales increases in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Lower Mainland of British Columbia fuelled the national sales increase and offset monthly sales declines in Calgary, Edmonton and the Okanagan Region.

‘Single family home buyers in the GTA and Lower Mainland of British Columbia had been expected to bring forward their purchase decisions before tightened mortgage regulations take effect in February 2016,’ said CREA president Pauline Aunger.

‘If listings in these and nearby markets were not in such short supply, January sales activity would likely have reached even greater heights. Meanwhile, other major urban housing markets have an ample supply of listings, particularly where some home buyers have become increasingly cautious amid an uncertain job market outlook,’ she added.

CREA chief economist Gregory Klump pointed out that single family homes in the GTA and Greater Vancouver areas were in short supply amid strong demand in contrast to side lined home buyers and ample supply in a number of Alberta housing markets.

‘Tighter mortgage regulations that take effect in February may shrink the pool of prospective home buyers who qualify for mortgage financing and cause national sales activity to ease in the months ahead,’ he added.

A breakdown of the figures shot that actual, not seasonally adjusted, is now 2.6% above the 10 year average for the month of January. Activity was up compared to January 2015 among roughly two thirds of all local markets. B.C.’s Lower Mainland and the GTA again contributed most to the national increase.

Greater Vancouver saw the biggest rise in annual prices with growth of 20.56% followed by the Fraser Valley up 16.94% and Greater Toronto up 10.69%. Home prices in Victoria increased 7% and were up 5.5% in Vancouver Island.

By contrast, home prices fell by 3% in Calgary, by 2% in Saskatoon, and by less than 1% in Regina. While home prices have begun to decline in Calgary and Saskatoon only fairly recently, they have been trending lower in Regina since early 2014.

Prices crept higher on a year on year basis in Ottawa by 1.10%, increased by 1.48% in Greater Montreal and were up 6.57% in Greater Moncton.

The actual, not seasonally adjusted, national average price for homes sold in January 2016 was $470,297, up 17% year on year but continues to be pulled upward by sales activity in Greater Vancouver and Greater Toronto, which are among Canada’s most active and expensive housing markets.

If these two housing markets are excluded from calculations, the average is a more modest $338,392 and the year on year gain is reduced to 8%. Even then, the gain reflects a tug of war between strong average price gains in housing markets around the GTA and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia versus flat or declining average prices elsewhere in Canada.

If British Columbia and Ontario are excluded from calculations, the average price slips even lower to $286,911, representing small a decline of 0.3% year on year.

The number of newly listed homes fell by 4.9% in January compared to December which more than reversed monthly gains that were posted in the final two months of 2015. Canada’s largest urban housing markets contributed to the monthly decline in new listings, including the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Calgary, Edmonton, the GTA, Hamilton-Burlington, Ottawa and Montreal.

The national sales to new listings ratio rose to 59.2% in January due to the drop in the new supply of listings, the ratio's highest since November 2009. A sales to new listings ratio between 40% and 60% is generally consistent with balanced housing market conditions, with readings below and above this range indicating buyers’ and sellers’ markets respectively.

The ratio was within this range in about 45% of all local housing markets in January. A little over one third of all local housing markets recorded a ratio above 60% virtually all these housing markets in British Columbia and Ontario.

The number of months of inventory is another important measure of the balance between housing supply and demand. It represents the number of months it would take to completely liquidate current inventories at the current rate of sales activity.

There were 5.3 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of January 2016, down from 5.4 months at the end of last year and the lowest level in nearly six years. The national figure is being pulled lower by increasingly tighter housing markets in B.C. and Ontario. This is particularly true in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, the GTA and Hamilton-Burlington, where months of inventory are currently sitting at or below two months.

Two storey single family homes continue to post the biggest year on year gains with growth of 9.97% followed by one storey single family homes up 6.86%, townhouse/row units up 6.46% and apartments up 5.16%.