Thursday, January 17, 2008

Canadian Home Sales: House of the Rising Price

Canadian Home Sales: House of the Rising Price

After a blockbuster year, the Canadian housing market showed some early signs of fatigue as 2007 wore down. Today's December existing home sales data from the Canadian Real Estate Association show that resale activity faded 2.5% from the prior month and was a bit below year-ago levels as well. That's a big turnaround from the steady stream of solid gains through most of last year, which lifted sales to a record annual high and a hefty 7.9% above year-ago levels for all of 2007.

Last year's increase stands in stark contrast to the estimated 12.6% drop in U.S. existing home sales. And while Canadian sales may have lost a bit of momentum late in the year, prices just kept chugging right along. Average home prices were up 13.1% from year-ago levels in December, with 13 of 24 cities reporting double-digit increases. Average price gains have been somewhat skewed up by the mammoth 46% jumps in Regina and Saskatoon, but even the median city saw a 10.4% y/y price increase in December.

All cities west of Lake Superior reported double-digit price increases last year, with Saskatchewan cities firmly taking the baton from Alberta. However, price gains seemed to fade a bit right at the end of the year in Winnipeg and Vancouver. Elsewhere, prices actually gained speed at the end of 2007, despite the growing pressure on central Canada from the surge in the loonie and slowing U.S. growth. Toronto, Ottawa, Sudbury and Quebec City were among those cities in Ontario and Quebec that posted double-digit price gains from a year-ago last month.

Meantime, the previously steaming hot Alberta markets cooled further sales in both Calgary and Edmonton fell steeply from a year ago (Calgary down 27.8% y/y, Edmonton down 20.2% y/y), while new listings continue to rise. That's not a favourable backdrop for prices, although both are still hanging onto double-digit price gains as of December. Still, who would have believed at the start of 2007 that Toronto home prices were poised to rise faster in the next twelve months than in any of Calgary, Edmonton or Vancouver?

The Bottom Line: Even with the slight sag in December, Canadian home sales still easily hit a new annual high last year, in staggering contrast to the deepening trauma south of the border. Housing is very unlikely to provide as much support to Canadian growth in 2008, but it's also highly unlikely to follow the U.S. market's due-south lead either.

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A. Mark Argentino
P. Eng. Broker
Specializing in Residential & Investment Real Estate

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