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2009 Year in Review - Outlook of 2010

By Andrew C. Zsolt, Broker of Record
Coldwell Banker Terrequity Realty, Brokerage

What a year! We started 2009 in the depths of a frightening recession and ended up with one of the most robust real estate markets seen in recent history. To help understand what kind of remarkable turnaround we have just experienced, we should compare the recent market to the market in January 2009.

At the end of December 2008, Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) reported sales of only 74,552 unit transactions – the lowest since 2001. Last January, the average (mean) price in the GTA had dropped to $343,632. We had approximately 20,450 listings on hand, which represented over 7.6 months of inventory. The GDP was plummeting, consumer confidence was at one of the lowest levels seen in years, and real estate just wasn’t moving.

Compare this to the most recent results in November published by TREB. The average (mean) price hit the highest point in the year with the average home selling for $418,466. This represents a remarkable 22% increase from the beginning of the year. Inventory of listings dropped to 13,827, representing a decline of almost 32%. Real estate was flying ‘off the shelf’, leaving less than 2 months of inventory on hand. TREB is on track to sell a whopping 86,000 listings by year end, which would be the 2nd highest sales total in history!

This remarkable turnaround raises two big questions. What happened? And perhaps even more important - What is the outlook for 2010?

First, what caused the turnaround? With unemployment approaching 8.5% and virtually a stagnant GDP, the overall state of the economy has not had a positive impact on the real estate market. The single biggest factor by a huge margin was the drop in interest rates. In November of last year, a 5-year fixed rate mortgage rate was available at 5.64%. Today, at the time of writing, the same 5-year fixed rate mortgage is available at an incredible 3.74%. This represents a savings of almost 34% per year in interest. By way of comparison, what would you think if your gas or food costs dropped by one third!

The second question (the outlook for 2010) is a tougher one to answer (because my crystal ball doesn’t work very well sometimes). There are a number of things, which could have a significant impact on the GTA real estate market. Some key factors include:

State of the U.S. economy
The U.S. continues to be our largest trading partner and our biggest export market. Any significant change in our economy (i.e. GDP growth) will not occur until the U.S. economy starts to stabilize and experience some appreciable growth. The good news is that the U.S. consumers’ spending (excluding auto) increased by 2.6% from May to October. There are some other positive signs starting to emerge, but most economists agree that significant improvement will be a long time coming.

Increases in GDP and their effect on inflation; The U.S. economy has still seen no growth in GDP. Canada, in contrast, experienced an increase in GDP in the third quarter by .04% annualized. This represents the first quarter the GDP has increased since the third quarter of 2008. Although this level of GDP growth is unlikely to have a significant impact on inflation, economists are predicting that the GDP will continue to improve (as it will in the U.S.), which could have a significant impact on inflation and ultimately interest rates.

Interest rates and the government
As the GDP continues to improve, inflation is a logical by-product. The Government of Canada 5-year benchmark rate was dropped to 1.52% in January 2009. This rate drop has had a dramatic impact on the rates banks charge homeowners when they arrange a mortgage. Over the course of the year, this rate has risen by 110 basis points. Clearly, the government intervention in this area has a huge impact on the interest rates available to consumers. Right now homebuyers are rushing to take advantage of near record low mortgage rates. The Bank of Canada has already hinted that an interest rate hike will likely arrive in June. If the expected increase materializes, higher interest rates combined with record high home prices will have an impact on home affordability. While interest rates will still be very attractive, we can reasonably expect the housing market may start to cool in the second half of the year as a result of this increase.

Impact of Ontario HST
On July 1st, 2010, the new Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) becomes law. This change will effectively introduce a new tax (what was formerly the old PST) on certain kinds of transactions – primarily services -- which were previously PST exempt. While there will be some breaks for more affordably priced housing, related services such as Legal Fees, Surveys, Home Inspections, Home Staging and yes, Real Estate commissions will all be affected. We expect to see a flurry of activity in the first two quarters of 2010 as people try to avoid the impact of the new HST.

While the stock market does not have a direct impact on the residential real estate market, it is an important economic indicator that should also be considered. The stock market also experienced phenomenal gains in 2009, and this has a ‘ripple effect’. The TSX Index started at 9234 and jumped to over 11,600 at the time of writing - an increase of over 26%. What the stock market does reflect is a huge increase in consumer confidence, and this increased confidence does have a big impact on activity of the real estate market.

If we were to use our crystal ball, what do we expect to see in the GTA real estate market in 2010 (please remember, crystal balls are quirky and cannot sometimes anticipate all the variables which come into play). Here are some likely events for the coming year:

- Prices of homes in the GTA are forecast to continue their rise during the first two quarters and the average (mean) price should exceed $400,000 for the majority of the year.

- The current shortage of listings is expected to continue, spurring bidding wars as the deadline for the HST approaches.

- TREB predicts sales will approach 90,000 units in 2010, due primarily to the results of the strong winter and spring market.

- Interest rates will continue to be extremely affordable until there is sustainable improvement in the U.S. economy. Nonetheless, interest rates are likely to edge up closer to 5% range before the end of 2010.

In light of these circumstances, is this a good time to jump into the real estate market? Absolutely! Providing you remember three things. First, buy for the long term and make sure your home will fit your expected needs for the next 5+ years. Don’t be a speculator as it may take a while to see appreciable gains in the price of your property. Second, lock in your interest rates for at least 5 years or stick with a variable rate mortgage for the same period of time. Based on what we know now, locking in two years from now will in all likelihood result in much higher interest costs than the first two strategies. Third, if you are looking for investment property, be careful - vacancy rates have increased dramatically (i.e. up to 3.1% from 2% last year), as people rush to leave the rental market to buy their own home. Given the increased vacancy rates and increasing prices, the return on your investment may be disappointing. Above all, share your plans and goals with your Coldwell Banker Terrequity Real Estate representative and take advantage of their advice before you decide.

Posted on Wednesday, December 30, 2009 at 04:21PM by Registered CommenterElaine in , | Comments2 Comments

Reader Comments (2)

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