The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) largely blames tighter mortgage lending rules for the slow housing market in March.
Sales dropped 4.6% year-over-year to levels not seen since 2013. Sales were 12% below the 10-year average for March, and 20% below the average for British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. But there was a glimmer of good news from Quebec and New Brunswick, which saw above-average activity.
The average home price remained stable, down 1.8% year-over-year to $481,745, or $383,000 once you exclude Toronto and Vancouver.
“…Many prospective homebuyers remain sidelined by the mortgage stress test to varying degrees depending on where they are looking to buy,” says Jason Stephen, CREA’s president.
CREA has continually blamed the new mortgage rules for a soft housing market since they came into effect on January 1, 2018.
Canadians must now qualify at 5.34%, or 2% above their contract rate, whichever is higher. This has severely reduced affordability, especially for first-time homebuyers, and has—perhaps unfairly—impacted residents outside of the hyper-expensive Toronto and Vancouver areas.
But the regulation was intended specifically to reduce the risk borrowers pose to the economy at large. When interest rates rise, borrowers may find themselves overextended and spending so much on their mortgage they have little else to spend on consumer goods, thus slowing the economy.
For now, the rules remain firmly in place, although borrowers can circumvent them by choosing a credit union or private lender, or finding a co-signer.
And it makes sense that affordability is an issue, regardless of the stress test, considering almost all Canadian cities are up in price over the last five years, most of them significantly.
Overall, the benchmark price is up almost 40% in the 19 markets CREA tracks, with the Fraser Valley up 80% and the Niagara region up 77%. Only four cities are down from five years ago, and they are all in the Prairies, which is suffering (from a seller’s viewpoint) from oversupply: Calgary (-5.19%), Edmonton, (-5.24%), Regina (-12.09%) and Saskatoon (-9.26%).
Therefore, it’s likely that March will prove to be a short-term blip and housing will remain an excellent long-term purchase and investment. To see how each local market performed this month, check out the infographic below: