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Weights & measures

We need a tipping point soon if we're to see a balanced market for 2010. Will it come on the heels of higher rates, more listings--or will it come at all?

Helen Morris, National Post 
Published: Saturday, April 03, 2010

The days of exceptionally low mortgage rates are coming to an end as a number of banks announced higher fixed rates this week.

However, the higher rates may not immediately slow the Toronto housing market.

"I think that higher rates will be somewhat balanced by the fact that, in Toronto, people might rush into the market in order to beat the introduction of the harmonized sales tax [July 1]," says Marc Pinsonneault, senior economist, economy and strategy group, National Bank Financial Group.

Certainly, rising prices had not slowed the rush of buyers to the market in the early part of the year. This week's Teranet-National Bank National House Price Index, which traces resale numbers, showed a 0.7% increase in house prices in Toronto in January, compared with the previous month. The year-over-year rise was 9.4%.

Mr. Pinsonneault says Canadian Real Estate Association sales figures for February and into March show that the Toronto housing market remains tight as an increased number of buyers are bidding for a relatively small supply of homes for sale. However, he anticipates the market will ease as more homes come on to the market in the second half of the year as the expected June hike in variable-rate mortgages kicks in.

"My expectation is that, in the second half of the year, the market will be balanced in Toronto," says Mr. Pinsonneault. "The monthly price increases might slow, which comes with the fact that the market is more balanced. But I don't think prices will decline, no way."

Mr. Pinsonneault sees the rise in mortgage rates as positive for the health of the Toronto market.

"Too-low mortgage rates for too long would not have been good for the real estate market in Toronto," says Mr. Pinsonneault. "There was a risk of over-heating and of a bubble that would finally burst."

Across the country, the Teranet National Bank Composite Home Price Index rose 7.5% in January, compared with the same month last year. Month-over-month, the index crept up 0.5%, the smallest monthly increase since prices began rising again. However, January was the fourth consecutive month in which prices were higher than a year earlier. This followed 10 consecutive months of 12-month declines. For the first time in nine months, not one of the six metropolitan markets that make up the index showed a rise in excess of 1%. The Vancouver home price index rose 0.9%, Halifax was up 0.6%, Montreal rose 0.4% and Ottawa 0.3%. The home price index for Calgary fell 0.5%, leaving prices 9.7% below the previous peak.

South of the border, home sales numbers were encouraging, but analysts caution against reading too much into the numbers from a single month.

According to the S&P Case-Shiller 20-city composite home price index, prices in January this year rose a seasonally adjusted 0.32% month-over-month.

"This was well ahead of market expectations..., and is the eighth consecutive monthly advance in this indicator," notes Ian Pollick, portfolio strategist at TD Securities. "On a year-ago basis, home prices are down just 0.7% year-over-year, which is a far cry better than the 3.1% year-over-year decline seen in December."

A number of cities continued to struggle with low demand and hefty rates of foreclosures. The home price index year-over-year fell 17.37% in Las Vegas, 7.4% in Detroit and 7.39% in Tampa. However, prices rose year-over-year in San Francisco (8.99%), San Diego (5.87% ), Dallas (4.15% ) and Los Angeles (3.87%).

"This is not to say that housing market support is no longer needed... Various states such as California, New Jersey and South Carolina are introducing their own home-buyer assistance programs; overall prices are still 29.6% below their peaks," notes Jennifer Lee, senior economist, vice-president, BMO Capital Markets, Economic Research. "This report ... is encouraging, but as we've seen before, can turn on a dime."

Mr. Pollick is feeling some optimism, though.

"Despite our soft outlook for home prices for the remainder of the year, the characteristics of the data are strongly suggesting that next month's [results] might actually be positive on a year-over-year basis," notes Mr. Pollick. "Stay tuned."

Posted on Monday, April 5, 2010 at 04:27PM by Registered CommenterElaine in , | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

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