Mid-Year market update shows stability

CREB® forecasts a process of recovery for the remainder of 2017

The first-half of 2017 marked a shift in Alberta’s economy from recession to recovery, with conditions supporting stability rather than expansion.

“Economic challenges continue to exist, as high unemployment rates, weak migration levels and more stringent lending conditions are weighing on the housing market,” said CREB® chief economist Ann-Marie Lurie.

“This will continue to cause some adjustments in the housing market for the remainder of this year. However, this is not expected to offset earlier gains supporting general stability in 2017.”

Resale sales activity is expected to total 18,401 units in 2017, a 3.3 per cent improvement over last year. The pace of growth is slightly faster than originally anticipated, due to the stronger growth that occurred in the first half of the year.

“We saw many of those consumers who delayed any purchasing decisions willing to re-enter the market as concerns regarding the economy eased,” said CREB® president David P. Brown.

“More potential buyers on the market helped move some of the product in inventory and started to create some price stability.”

Improvements in the supply demand balance, primarily in the detached and attached sector, caused prices to start to trend up. Demand growth through the remainder of the year is expected to ease relative to inventory levels. This should prevent further substantial shifts in pricing. Overall, annual city wide prices are expected to remain at levels comparable to last year.

Despite generally improving trends, difficulties continue to exist in the condo-apartment ownership market. Rising sales cannot keep pace with the growth in new listings, keeping supply levels high and placing continued downward pressure on prices. This area of the housing market will likely continue to face challenges well into next year, as it will take time to absorb additional inventory in the resale, new and rental markets.

“Improvements in the labour market are supporting the shift in the housing market this year. However, activity over the past two years was amongst the weakest we have seen since the financial crisis,” said Lurie.

“While the shift is welcome news for many, we continue to expect that process of recovery will be slow and dependent on the property type and location within the market.”

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Housing recovery remains a work-in-progress

Market sees modest inventory gains, but overall prices inch up

Sales exhibited stable growth through the first half of the year in the Calgary housing market, but the number of transactions slowed slightly in July compared to last year.

City-wide sales totaled 1,637 units, six per cent below July 2016 levels. Year-to-date sales activity totaled 11,957 units, nine per cent above last year.

“Sales growth exceeded expectations so far this year. Clients were re-entering the market after delaying decisions until there were some signs of economic improvement,” said CREB®president David P. Brown.

“However, this recovery will require patience. There continues to be many new and resale ownership options available. This reduces the sense of the urgency for many consumers.”

Easing sales were met with higher new listings, causing further gains in inventory levels. City-wide months of supply rose to four months, as inventory levels reached 6,675 units this month. This is 17 per cent higher than last year, but still below July highs recorded in 2008.

“Modest improvements in the labour market and net migration were necessary to support the turnaround in the housing market,” said CREB® chief economist Ann-Marie Lurie.

“However, current inventory levels and changes in the lending market continue to weigh on housing demand.  Easing demand growth combined with elevated levels of supply will slow the pace of price recovery in our market.”

Driven by detached and attached housing sales, city-wide prices in July improved over the previous month and the previous year. However, it is nearly four per cent below previous monthly highs. Year-to-date benchmark averages remain 0.44 per cent below last year’s levels.

Despite the current month activity, the detached sector continues to demonstrate conditions that are more balanced compared to last year.

Apartment condominium product continues to face oversupply in the resale and new home sector, causing further price declines. In July, the apartment benchmark price was $266,200. This is a three per cent decline over last year and nearly 12 per cent below peak prices.

For a full analysis of the Calgary housing market in 2017, please refer to CREB®‘s 2017 mid-year update to be released in mid-August.

June spells a gradual recovery

Stable prices in detached sector signal balanced conditions despite increased inventory

Calgary’s housing market in June saw a modest improvement in sales along with an increase in new listings.

However, demand gains have not kept pace with the amount of new listings coming onto the market. This caused inventory levels to increase to 6,659 units, which is 11 per cent higher than last year’s levels.

Despite the recent shift in inventory this month, second quarter activity continues to demonstrate improved supply-demand balance and price stability. City wide benchmark prices totaled $441,500 in June. This is a 0.5 per cent gain over last month and nearly one per cent higher than last year.

“The supply gain this month will be monitored. However, on a quarterly basis, inventory levels remain comparable to last year, sales have improved and there have been modest price gains. All of this remains consistent with expectations of a gradual recovery,” said CREB® chief economist Ann-Marie Lurie.

Year-to-date residential sales in Calgary totaled 10,322 units, which is 12 per cent above last year’s levels. New listings increased by three per cent over the same time period.

Overall, both the sales-to-new listings ratio and months of supply have trended down this year. This signals more stable pricing in the housing market this year.

“While there were many buyers waiting for lower prices to step into the housing market, there were also many sellers waiting until prices stabilized before listing their home,” said CREB® president David P. Brown.

“Some of this recent growth in listings will help provide more choice, particularly in the detached market where market conditions had significantly tightened over the past few months.”

Detached inventories and sales totaled 3,224 and 1,385 units, for a month of supply of 2.3 in June. Despite the recent rise in supply, over the first half of this year inventories have averaged 16 per cent below last year’s levels while sales are 13 per cent higher, keeping this segment in more balanced conditions.

While activity is also improving in the attached segment of the market, resale activity in the ownership of apartment-style product continues to face challenges with weak sales relative to listings and rising months of supply.

As of June, the unadjusted benchmark price for an apartment style product totaled $265,800. This is nearly four per cent below last year’s levels and 11 per cent below recent highs.

Housing market retains momentum in April

City-wide prices hold steady as labour market improves

Calgary’s housing market continued to show signs of stability in April. With improvements in the labour market and a balanced detached sector, city-wide benchmark prices reached $439,600 in April, similar to the previous month, but 0.90 per cent below last year’s levels.

“More jobs means less uncertainty for people who are sitting on the fence,” said CREB® president David P. Brown. “There also tends to be fewer people who need to sell when employment improves, and that can prevent inventory gains and further price reductions in the market. It’s a good scenario for sellers who are entering a spring market that’s in better shape than anything we’ve seen in recent years.”

While adjustments are still occurring in the apartment condominium sector, the detached segment of the market is improving across all price segments.

“Detached product has not faced the same supply pressure as the apartment sector,” said CREB® chief economist Ann-Marie Lurie. “Detached supply from new construction didn’t surpass previous highs. That helped prevent steeper price adjustments in the detached sector when demand eased.”

The relationship between sales and inventory will be a key driver for pricing in the months ahead. Total transactions improved to 1,917 units in April, while inventories totaled 5,495 units, pushing months of supply below three for the second consecutive month.

With sales up and overall market inventory down, months of supply has already pulled back from elevated levels recorded over the past two years. While activity continues to vary by location and product type, more balanced conditions will help to support overall price stability.

“Improvements in the employment situation were necessary to prevent further declines in the housing sector,” said Lurie. “However, economic recovery is still expected to be slow, impacting the pace and quality of job growth. Based on current expectations this should translate into a more prolonged period of recovery in the housing market.”

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Housing market set for favourable lead into spring

Detached prices stabilize as city-wide inventory trends down

After a long period of disconnect between supply and demand, Calgary’s detached housing sector is firmly in balanced territory. Sales were still 10 per cent below long-term trends in March, but above levels seen in recent years, while average inventory declined compared to last year, supporting price stability in the detached market.

“It’s not so much that demand went through the roof in March, but that we had less supply come onto the market, which is really helping to balance things out,” said CREB® president David P. Brown. “These changes are lifting the cloud of uncertainty for housing consumers and nicely positioning our market as we move into the more active spring season.”

Unadjusted detached benchmark prices totaled $503,900 in March, 0.4 per cent above last month and similar to levels recorded last year. Meanwhile, Apartment and attached prices continue to remain well below levels recorded last year.

“Market conditions are quite different in the apartment sector,” said CREB® chief economist Ann-Marie Lurie. “The additional supply coming from the new home sector is not easily reversed and the added competition is continuing to weigh on prices in the higher density sectors of the market.”

City-wide inventory levels totaled 5,114 in March, 16 per cent below last year’s levels. This is primarily driven by the 25 and 17 per cent contraction in the detached and attached markets. Inventory levels in the ownership apartment sector remain three per cent higher then levels recorded last year.

“The housing market transition in the first quarter appears to be consistent with trends in the labour market,” said Lurie. “However, the way the rest of the year unfolds will be largely determined by what happens in the next two quarters, as nearly 60 per cent of all housing sales typically occur in that time frame.”

A Transition in the Making!

Detached sales activity boosts February housing market

After the first two months of the year, Calgary’s detached sector continues to drive a slow transition in the housing market. February sales totaled 1,342 units, which is still 19 per cent below long-term averages, but an improvement over the past two years.

As sales kept trending upward, detached inventory levels continued to ease in February. These conditions caused months of supply to fall to 2.4 months, putting less downward pressure on pricing. Unadjusted detached benchmark prices totaled $501,900 in February, which is one per cent lower than prices recorded last year, but slightly higher than January figures.

“There seems to be a new sense of optimism these days,” said CREB® president David P. Brown. “Some sellers are feeling upbeat about the changing landscape and the improved chances of selling their home. Other people are looking at the spring market with caution and wondering if we’re going to see a higher than expected surge of listings. While there’s less product on the market right now, sellers still need to be realistic with their pricing.”

The amount of excess inventory eased in the overall market in February, setting the stage for a transition to a more stable market this year. Months of supply totaled 3.4 months, down from five months over last February. At the same time, the sales-to-new-listings ratio trended from a near record February low of 39 per cent last year to 55 per cent this February.

With sales improving and new listings and inventories contracting—two key measures of market balance, there’s good evidence to show that the housing market has started a trend toward more balanced conditions.

“The transition in the housing market appears to be underway,” said CREB® chief economist Ann-Marie Lure. “However, it is important to note that this change is primarily being driven by improvements in the detached market and stability in the labour market.”

“It will take some time for these conditions to translate into all housing segments and achieve price recovery,” said Lurie. “But all indicators continue to point toward a slow transition from a contracting market toward one that is stabilizing at lower levels.”

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January market improves over last year!

For the fourth consecutive month, housing inventory levels have recorded year-over-year declines. At 4,112 total units, January’s inventory was 18 per cent below last year’s levels.

“While housing conditions continue to favour buyers, a slow transition toward more balanced conditions is helping to ease downward pressure on home prices,” said CREB® chief economist Ann-Marie Lurie. “Conditions have improved over last year, but people need to remember that last year’s market was one of the weakest on record. Despite the appearance of a major shift in activity, the transition in the housing market is going to be a slow process.”

January sales totaled 947 units, 24 per cent above last year, but 21 per cent below 10-year averages for the month. Sales activity improved across all product types, but only when compared to the near record lows that occurred in January 2016.

The detached segment of the market is demonstrating the most improvement. Sales activity totalled 584 units in January, a considerable improvement over the 466 sales recorded last year. Inventories have also declined pushing the months of supply to 3.2 months well below the 5.4 months recorded in January 2016.

“This past month showed how the market never stands still,” said CREB® president David P. Brown. “The market isn’t expected to be as unpredictable in 2017, but it’s early in the year and there are still lots of unknowns that will shape decision-making for consumers.”

“Every transaction is a personal decision and anyone going through the process of buying and selling real estate will be trying to make the best decision for their family. They need to consider their long-term objectives and think about the price they are willing to accept or pay for a home.”

City-wide benchmark prices totaled $437,400, 0.16 per cent lower than last month and 2.82 per cent lower than last year’s levels. Since recent highs in 2014, residential prices have declined from a low of 4.9 per cent in the detached sector to highs of 11.5 per cent in the apartment condominium market.

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CMHC hiking mortgage insurance premiums for third time in four years

TAMSIN MCMAHON – REAL ESTATE REPORTER
The Globe and Mail

New home buyers taking out insured mortgages will have to dig a bit deeper into their pocketbooks as Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. announced it will hike mortgage insurance premiums for the third time in the past four years.

The government-owned mortgage insurer said the increases would amount to an extra $5 a month for the typical insured mortgage. The changes apply only to new insured mortgages and would kick in as of March 17.

The move is a response to stricter new capital requirements for mortgage insurers that the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions introduced at the start of the year, part of a broader move to make the mortgage industry more responsive to what regulators see as potential risks to the housing market.

Federal rules require lenders to take out mortgage insurance for any loan in which the borrower has a down payment of less than 20 per cent. The insurance protects lenders in the event that a borrower defaults on the mortgage, but the premiums are typically passed onto borrowers and folded into monthly mortgage payments.

Unlike past premium increases, which have predominantly affected borrowers with small down payments, the changes that take effect in March are more significant for home buyers with bigger down payments.

Home buyers with a 5-per-cent down payment will see their premiums increase by 40 basis points, while premiums will rise by 100 basis points for borrowers with down payments of 15 per cent. (A basis point is 1/100 of a percentage point.)

For example, a home buyer with a 5-per-cent down payment on a $150,000 mortgage pay an extra $2.82 a month on average, while monthly premiums will rise by nearly $40 a month for a buyer with a 15-per-cent down payment on an $850,000 mortgage.

Roughly two-thirds of home buyers taking out a CMHC-insured mortgage have down payments of less than 10 per cent, meaning for most new home buyers the changes will be “negligible,” said Steven Mennill, the Crown corporation’s senior vice-president of insurance.

“We are not doing this to affect housing markets or valuations,” Mr. Mennill said. “That’s not the objective. The objective is simply to preserve the returns on capital in the mortgage industry in a competitive environment.”

However, the premium increases come at a time when first-time buyers are facing mounting challenges to achieving home ownership thanks to mortgage rates that have jumped roughly 50 basis points since November, along with stricter income-testing criteria for insured mortgages and new restrictions on portfolio insurance that lenders sometimes take out on mortgages with down payments greater than 20 per cent.

“On top of the stress test requirements and mortgage rates starting to push up and home prices at all-time highs, I think that 2017 will be the most difficult year for first-time home buyers to enter the market in the last 10 years,” said James Laird, president of mortgage brokerage CanWise Financial.

CMHC’s move will likely come as a relief to the agency’s private-sector competitors, who had been pressing for premium increases to ease the pressure of OSFI’s higher capital requirements. As the dominant government-owned mortgage insurer, CMHC is a price-setter in the mortgage insurance industry and typically makes the first move when it comes to raising and lowering insurance rates.

“We do have a responsibility to make sure that the premiums in the industry are such that the competitive environment is maintained, being the largest mortgage insurer and historically the centre of the pricing industry,” Mr. Mennill said.

The announced increases are slightly higher than what analysts had expected and should be a positive move for private mortgage insurers Genworth MI Canada Inc. and Canada Guaranty, Geoffrey Kwan, a Royal Bank of Canada analyst, wrote in a note to clients on Tuesday.

“We view mortgage insurance price increases as an effective tool to increase mortgage insurer profitability and capital positions yet is unlikely to materially impact the housing market,” he said.

Neither private-sector insurer announced premium changes on Tuesday, but both are expected to follow CMHC. “The price adjustments are reasonable given increased regulatory capital requirements and will support a healthy industry,” Andrew Charles, chief executive of Canada Guaranty, said in an e-mail.

The premium changes represent the latest move in an effort by regulators to protect the financial industry and consumers from rising household debt and soaring house prices in some markets.

After leaving mortgage insurance premiums virtually unchanged for more than a decade, CMHC has raised them three times in recent years. It hiked premiums by an average of 15 per cent in May, 2014, and then raised rates an additional 15 per cent in June, 2015, for borrowers who had down payments of 10 per cent.

CMHC also announced that it was hiking premiums for “non-traditional” insured mortgages, such as those to home buyers with borrowed down payments, which it said it expects to grow in popularity as Canadians struggle to get a foothold in the housing market.

“There is some activity in that borrowed down payment area out in the marketplace, so this is a product that we expect to be used more going forward than it has been perhaps previously,” Mr. Mennill said.

CREB® forecasts a slow transition for housing in 2017

After a long period of economic downturn, Calgary’s housing market is expected to see some price stability in 2017, but not across all market segments and property types. Both detached and attached prices remain unchanged over 2016 levels, while apartment is forecasted to contract by another two per cent.

“The transition in the housing market will be a slow process,” said CREB® chief economist Ann-Marie Lurie. “We are entering the year with high unemployment rates and the possibility that job growth will not occur until the latter portion of 2017. These conditions will continue to weigh on housing demand, but supply is adjusting to weaker sales activity, which will eventually translate into price stability.”

City-wide sales are forecasted to total 18,335 units in 2017, a three per cent gain over 2016, but 12 per cent below long-term averages. This modest demand change will merge with declining listings and easing inventory in the new home market to support more balanced conditions and prevent further downward pressure on prices.

“This year is about moving away from extremely challenging conditions,” said 2017 CREB® president David P. Brown. “The transition is going to take some time, which means sellers need to stick with the fundamentals of pricing their homes correctly against other comparable product in the market. There’s still lots of choice out there for buyers, but major price declines are unlikely in most segments.”

Alberta’s economy was much softer than many predicted over the past two years, as prolonged weakness in energy weighed on other sectors of the economy, including housing. Since the start of the downturn in late 2014, price adjustments have ranged from a low of nearly five per cent in the detached sector, to a high of 11 per cent in the apartment sector. The amount of price change between these different areas of the market was based on how much oversupply there was in each sector at any given time.

Our housing market is moving toward a new equilibrium, but that shift is heavily dependent on stability in the energy sector and overall labour markets. There is also considerable risk from recent government policy changes that could derail expected gains in the second half of 2017. It’s a new outlook this year, but the market risks shouldn’t be overlooked.

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Home sales rebound in October

For the first time in two years, sales activity in October resembled normal levels. City-wide sales totaled 1,644 units, which is an increase of nearly 16 per cent over last year.

“The shift in sales activity this month is likely related to the new mortgage rule changes, inventory gains in the lower price ranges and further price adjustments,” said CREB® chief economist Ann-Marie Lurie. “The combination of all these factors may have encouraged some purchases to take advantage of the market conditions, particularly in the lower price ranges. However, with several factors at play, the monthly shift in demand may be temporary and will need to be monitored over the next several months.”

Sales activity rose across all product types in comparison to last year, but the largest gain in sales occurred in the detached sector at 18 per cent. There was a noticeable shift in sales activity by price range in October. In the detached market, homes priced between $300,000 and $400,000 saw the largest improvement in sales, while attached and apartment sales growth was mainly occurring in the lower price ranges.

“This year has been a challenge for many sellers,” said CREB® president Cliff Stevenson. “So when we have a rise in sales, it means more buyers got into the market and more sellers got out, which is a positive for consumers on both sides of the transaction.”

“Sales activity changed direction in October, but we need to see some consistency next month and the month after to call it a trend,” adds Stevenson. “For now it’s a nice building block.”

Despite the monthly rise, year-to-date sales activity in all sectors remained lower than last year’s levels and well below longer term trends. In fact, year-to-date sales activity has totaled 15,642 units, which is 6.3 per cent below last year’s levels.

While increased activity in the lower price ranges had a greater impact on the average and median price, benchmark prices once again edged down in October. The city-wide unadjusted benchmark price totaled $438,900, or 0.34 per cent below last month and four per cent below last year’s levels.

Since the start of the downturn, home prices have declined from a low of 3.8 per cent in the detached market to a high of 9.4 per cent in the apartment condominium sector. And, despite the rise in October sales, monthly prices continued to decline for most product types in the market.