Doom and gloom predicted for Vancouver house prices
Published Tuesday, August 31, 2010 5:08PM PDT
A new doomsday report warns Vancouver's housing market could be hit by a burst bubble -- and a drop in prices by as much as 30 per cent.
The threat of a giant, synchronized real estate bubble looms over all six of Canada's major cities, says the report released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
But Vancouver homeowners are poised for the biggest hit to their investments.
"Vancouver would be worst hit, in dollar value, losing almost $200,000," says a news release issued by the CCPA, which examined house price trends in six major markets over the last 30 years in a report called "Canada's Housing Bubble: An Accident Waiting To Happen."
It isn't the first time Vancouver has been the target of bubble talk.
Garth Turner, former MP turned finance author and speaker, has been predicting calamity for Vancouver's real estate market for the last two years.
"A 15 per cent to 40 per cent crash in prices, depending on the market -- with Vancouver and the Lower Mainland most at risk - is now a certainty," Turner told ctvbc.ca. "The real question is how long prices grind lower after that phase, and how many years it will last.
"Those who thought real estate would always rise in value were blinded by the industry and by the cheapest mortgage rates ever. All booms end badly, and all bubbles burst."
Local industry experts, however, aren't buying into the doom and gloom.
University of B.C. business professor Tsur Somerville, who specializes in real estate, says the CCPA report's prediction might have made sense more than two years ago, when prices were at a peak.
"I would have thought maybe two and a half years ago this was more of the story," says Somerville. "The places most ‘bubble-ish' in Canada are down in their peaks, and that's the Alberta market.
"We're still high," he adds. "But I found the use of the word ‘bubble' a little odd right now. Bubbles aren't just prices -- they are turnover, volume and transaction. I don't think anyone is out there lined up around the corner, sleeping three nights in a row to buy the first condo in Winnipeg. If you go back to 2008, that was the environment -- that is ‘bubble-ish.' That was Vancouver and Toronto as well."
It also follows that if interest rates are at a historic low, house prices would be higher than the standard, says Somerville.
"They are looking at prices and not looking at the other part of what is going on in the market."
Major markets Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal and Ottawa have all experienced a precarious hike in average house price compared to historical numbers, according to the report. Prices have held steady at around $150,000 to $200,000 on average in those cities -- but in more recent years, current prices average more than $300,000.
House prices are between 4.7 to 11.3 times the median income, and if mortgage rates climb, affordability is threatened, the report cautions. It draws comparisons with the collapse of the U.S. housing market. Calgary has experienced similar increases to some of the hardest-hit U.S. cities, for example.
Cameron Muir, chief economist for the B.C. Real Estate Association, questions the methodology of the report.
"There is no debate. The only one debating anything is the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives," says Muir. "All other economists don't foresee the kind of meltdown that is being proposed in this report.
"Inflation today is well within range of the Bank of Canada. Nobody thinks rates will climb dramatically. When you see very large declines in prices is when households are in over their heads when it comes to their ability to repay debt.
"The question I would ask is, in order to see this so-called 30 per cent price correction, what kind of shock is going to occur to induce that?"