Monday, February 04, 2008

FVREB President Says "There Is No Bubble"

I saw this gem of an article in the Langley Times over the weekend. Bold comments are mine.

Rows of for-sale signs advertise new homes along 208 Street in the new Yorkson Neighbourhood area of Willoughby. What a classic graphic?! I see this scene in my neighbourhood on every other street. These home cost over $600,000.

Rob NEWELL/Langley Times

British Columbia has the dubious honour of having Canada’s least affordable housing, according to RBC Economics. New BC Motto - Best Place on Earth - Impoverishing or driving out one family at a time.

But prospective buyers waiting “for the bubble to burst” could wait a long time, says Kelvin Neufeld, president-elect of the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board. “There is no bubble,” said Neufeld on Wednesday. Now Mr. Neufeld where do you get your paycheque from? Is it perhaps based on the continual transacting of real estate business? Would your income decline or disappear if house prices declined? YES! Ding, ding, ding, mohican wins - Mr. Neufeld's pay is derived from the value of real estate and he has a vested interest in keeping prices high - not that he can do anything about it except flap his gums.

A new report on housing issued last week by RBC indicates that B.C. is the least affordable province in Canada in which to purchase a home. However, the province’s housing affordability is expected to improve modestly in 2008, barring the unexpected of course - like the housing market crashing, the report says.

Neufeld said he doesn’t see the market correcting itself in the dramatic manner experienced in the early 1980s - what only -25% or so. Neufeld, a long-time Surrey realtor with Macdonald Realty Olympic, said he was selling subdivision homes in January, 1980, at $130,000. By November that year, homes in the same subdivision were selling at $350,000 to future bankruptcy claimants.

In 1981 the real estate bubble did indeed burst, with interest rates reaching as high as 21 per cent later in the year. “We are not experiencing anything like that today,” said Neufeld.
Neufeld says there is really no bad time to “put a roof over your head,” - so why don't you rent, its cheaper so you can save your cash for another day - but advises that real estate is a long-term investment. “I recall when I bought my first house in North Delta . . . (it was) $21,900. I was a young man and my father-in-law told me I was a silly fool, prices couldn’t stay that high, and I was going to (lose everything) and take his daughter down with me.” Another question Mr. Neufeld, how much of your after tax income did it take to purchase that home?

According to the latest RBC report, B.C.’s housing market moved into uncharted territory last year, as affordability deteriorated to its worst levels since the bank began tracking conditions back in 1985, said Derek Holt, assistant chief economist, RBC.

At the same time, a U.S. public policy firm, Demographia, has announced that homes in Vancouver, Abbotsford, Victoria and Kelowna are “severely unaffordable” and among the top most expensive housing markets in six countries surveyed.

“We expect affordability rates to see some modest improvements in 2008 as the province’s housing market reached a peak stress point late last year,” said Holt. The RBC Affordability measure for British Columbia, which captures the proportion of pretax household income needed to service the costs of owning a home in the province, deteriorated across all housing segments as the detached bungalow moved to 67 per cent, the standard two-story home to 71 per cent, the standard townhouse to 50 per cent and the standard condo to 36 per cent.

Slower demand, coupled with a downward trend in the sales-to-listing ratio, has helped ease some of the upward pressures on B.C. home prices. As a result, price gains have started to level off, dropping from 18 per cent in 2006 to 12 per cent last year. An even softer rate of eight per cent is expected for 2008. RBC Economics uses funny math because a 8% increase is still a decrease in affordability according to my simple math.

Neufeld says he is still finding sales are strong in the valley, where not only prospective home buyers are searching for housing, but businesses and industry are relocating. The Canadian banking system is much stricter than the U.S. system, and Canada is not experiencing the sub-prime dilemma affecting both banks and mortgage holders there. The Canadian scenario of 1980-1981 is not in evidence here either. Neufeld said. In 1980, home prices skyrocketed almost overnight, then plunged as mortgage rates went through the roof, and the job market crashed. "We were having huge inflation, then the government put the interest rates up (as high as) 21 per cent.” The realtor Mr. Neufeld apparently is an expert on economic history and monetary policy.

Today, interest rates are in the range of about 5.8 per cent for a five-year term, he said.
And today, “immigration is still huge (myth debunked), and there are still jobs being created (in construction),” Neufeld said. The Lower Mainland is also an attractive place to live for Canadians from across the country. “What we find is, a lot of jobs are coming out here (from the Vancouver area to the Fraser Valley),” he said.

Neufeld said that he has encountered some young buyers who have clubbed together with another couple, or a group of friends buying, to make homes more affordable. Now that is a recipe for disaster. But mostly, younger or first-time buyers are taking advantage of (being enslaved to) a 40-year mortgage, over the traditional 25-year mortgage. In some cases, that can cut the monthly payment by as much as several hundred dollars (Oooooh . . . . can I have one - I want to 'save' a few hundred dollars a month too), he said. Amortized over 40 years, these mortgages can still have a variable term, renegotiable at intervals, just as the 25-year mortgages are, he said.

In Vancouver, according to RBC, affordability deteriorated across all housing segments in 2007, but the pace slowed significantly mid-year. The combination of more modest house-price growth and improved income growth helped restrain the affordability deterioration. The city’s housing market remains robust, with annual price growth around 12 per cent and the sales-to-listing ratio skewed towards sellers.

However, with an increased supply of homes on the market helping to moderate price gains, Vancouver should see some affordability relief later in the year. The Housing Affordability measure, which RBC has compiled since 1985, is based on the costs of owning a detached bungalow, a reasonable property benchmark for the housing market. Alternative housing types are also presented including a standard two-storey home, a standard townhouse and a standard condo. The higher the reading, the more costly it is to afford a home. For example, an Affordability reading of 50 per cent means that homeownership costs, including mortgage payments, utilities and property taxes, take up 50 per cent of a typical household’s monthly pre-tax income.

The report also looked at mortgage carrying costs relative to incomes for a broader sampling of cities across the country, including Victoria. For these smaller cities, RBC has used a narrower measure of housing affordability that only takes mortgage payments relative to income into account. RBC’s Affordability measures for a detached bungalow for Canada’s largest cities are as follows: Vancouver, 72 per cent, Calgary, 46 per cent, Toronto, 46 per cent, Montreal, 37 per cent and Ottawa, 32 per cent.

According to the U.S. report by Demographia, high housing prices here are not the result of Vancouver being a desirable place to live. According to Demographia, the reason housing prices are so high in the Vancouver area is because of artificial restrictions on the supply of land.
Urban growth boundaries, (in B.C., that’s the Agricultural Land Reserve) should be removed, according to Demographia.


Jordan said...

I really like to see the author Rob NEWELL include the real facts of affordability in his article, which the average person probably isn't aware of. I just wish he would have asked this Kelvin Neufeld guy some hard hitting questions or put in quotes from an opposing viewpoint.

I follow your blog closely and the housing market for my own family. We're in the same situation as you Mohican. The tone of your comments feel very similar to my own feelings of the market, it's pretty frustrating right now.

I just keep wondering, why don't I just pack up my family and move to an affordable province. Having our kids near the grandparents is important, but how long should we sacrifice for?

Will you be content giving up the benefits of owning your own home for 5 years or more? I'm thinking if we can't buy a good SFH with $150k down, and a 20-25y amortization around $2200/month (ie: a reasonable price) in 2-3 years, we'll bail. What about you?

jesse said...

"I just wish he would have asked this Kelvin Neufeld guy some hard hitting questions or put in quotes from an opposing viewpoint."

If he did, do you really think Kevlvin Neufeld would grant him an interview next time he needs to write an article?

The "path of least resistance" and ensuring long-term relationships with sources is prevalent in the journalistic community as with other jobs. Locally there is not much support for good old-fashioned muckraking. If muckraking sold papers or lead to sustainable reputations I'm sure you'd see more of it.

mohican said...

Jordan - Your situation sounds identical to my own. The family is here so it is pretty difficult to move. This, in addition to work concerns prevent me from moving immediately. I will be content to rent for as long as it makes financial sense. Renting is so much cheaper than owning right now that it would take AT LEAST a 20% decline in prices for me to even begin looking.

jesse - I wish we saw some good muckraking in our local media. It would be a lot better reading than the tripe we get now.

Jordan said...

Are you renting a house, townhome or apartment?

We're in a non-profit apartment so rents are even less then market rates. But still it kills me that for the same monthly payment I could be putting it into a mortgage in a house with more space, and a yard for the kids to play in.

I don't know much about Ontario but looking at the houses you can buy on MLS, even near major cities like Toronto or Ottawa, is honestly heart breaking.

I think everyone agrees if price is price is equal, owning is better then renting.

Work wise I'm very lucky to work from home, but don't you work for a bank? Couldn't you get a transfer?

Owning is important to me and my wife, and her point is other people have to move away from home, and once the kids are in school they won't be seeing the grandparents & relatives as often anyways. They'll have friends and other things to do.

So I still wonder, how long do you hold on to being in Vancouver near family without the benefits of owning.

Dignan said...

fvreb numbers are out

Dignan said...
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jesse said...
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Anonymous said...
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Johnny-Dollar said...

Kevin Neufield's statement that there is "no bubble" is accurate, but mis-informing.

A "bubble" can only be called after the marketplace has shifted.

For example:

In the 1980s the marketplace dropped some 30 to 40 percent in 3 to 6 months. This is a real estate bubble popping.

In the 1990s the marketplace dropped some 10 to 20 percent over a one to two year period. This is a correction or a balloon deflating.

Obviously, one can only call the market a bubble after the fact.

However, I feel that his statement is misleading in that he should also have commented that the fundamentals are in place for a significant downward adjustment in prices, whether this will be over a short period of time (bubble) or drawn out over a longer period (correction)is still to be seen.