In short, RBC provides a half decent view on the current housing situation. They pull a couple punches when it comes to pointing out how ridiculously unaffordable BC and specifically Vancouver is but that is what I expect from the bank. This is what they have to say about BC:
Housing downturn — Canadian-style
Canadians have watched with amazement for nearly two years now at the collapse of the housing sector in the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries that experienced overvalued housing prices with the sense that markets in this country stand on much more solid ground. After all, the sub-prime business never represented more than a marginal phenomenon here; Canadian households, while carrying heavier debt loads than in the past, were not financially overstretched; Canadian banks emerged islands of stability amid the global financial storm; incomes remained well supported by steady job creation and a strong domestic economy; and the influence of speculation — especially on new construction — was deemed to be subdued.
Then, late in 2007, red-hot Alberta markets began to slide, followed earlier this year by British Columbia’s markets. Most recently, Saskatchewan, last year’s hotspot, and areas in Ontario joined the weakening trend. All of a sudden, Canada no longer appeared immune to a generalized housing downturn. In fact, the souring of economic conditions, eroding consumer confidence and, in some instances, past excesses are creating a downdraft that the majority of Canada’s housing markets will be hard-pressed to resist.
As a sluggish economy threatens income growth and makes households much more skittish about major financial commitments, issues of affordability are coming to the fore. Much of the market correction taking place in British Columbia, Alberta and, now, parts of Saskatchewan can be traced to very poor affordability levels in those provinces.
However, high home ownership costs are not unique to western Canada. RBC’s affordability measures lie above long-run averages in all provinces and across all housing segments, which suggests that the downdraft will be felt widely.
Still, the extent of “unaffordability” varies substantially by province, with measures running as high as 48% above average in the B.C. standard townhouse segment and as low as 6% above average in the Quebec detached bungalow segment. Overall, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Alberta remain the least affordable markets in Canada (relative to their respective historical norms).
While the Canadian housing sector is undoubtedly entering a cyclical downturn, the risk of experiencing a U.S.-style meltdown is remote. The supportive factors mentioned above are still mostly in play and should provide enough backing to prevent markets from spiraling down even as the Canadian economy slips into recession.
Not too bad for a bank economist! This is what they have to say about Vancouver:
British Columbia — In full-blown correction mode
The situation is unraveling fast in British Columbia. Provincial housing markets are correcting from extremely tight conditions that built up during the boom and drove prices sharply higher (more than doubling between 2002 and early 2008). By the first quarter of this year, RBC’s housing affordability measures for
British Columbia ranged from 38% to 50% above long-term averages — the most inflated ownership costs of all provinces (the higher the measure, the least affordable is home ownership) and clearly an unsustainable position. Demand has subsequently dried up, while elevated prices have attracted more sellers, swiftly shifting pricing power to buyers. Prices began to decline in the spring, a trend that gathered speed through the early fall. This has helped improve affordability modestly in the second and third quarters, but levels in British Columbia still suggest that further price correction should be expected in the near term.
Fairly balanced and they do allude to further price drops. The report properly lays blame on unaffordability for the price decreases in the local real estate market. It is outrageous that prices have gotten to these current high levels and the current correction is going to be very severe out of the necessity to bring affordability back for average families in Greater Vancouver.
Vancouver — Bumpy ride on its way back to earth
Despite price declines since the first quarter, valuations in Greater Vancouver continue to reign supreme atop Canada’s housing markets. In the third quarter, prices were roughly double the national average for most housing types, with standard condominiums the exception at “only” 70% above average. Meanwhile, median family income in Vancouver is estimated to exceed the Canadian norm by just 8%. Poor affordability is nothing new to the city, as its home ownership costs have long been the highest in the country. However, the significant deterioration in the past three years or so has exacerbated the situation, attaining unprecedented levels by the start of 2008 and adding tremendous stress on the local market. Price drops so far this year have brought some minor relief but much more is likely coming. With qualifying income estimated at more than $150,000 for a standard two-storey home and $135,000 for a detached bungalow, the vast majority of Vancouver families are effectively shut out of those market segments. The only option for many remains standard condominiums where the cost of ownership is not as steep.
Not content to let sleeping dogs lie, Cameron Muir had to weigh in on the affordability discussion with some BCREA talking points. Here are the quotes from the Financial Post:
Cameron Muir, B.C. Real Estate Association chief economist, said that affordability has actually improved more than the RBC report suggests because the report is based on third-quarter data and more information has since been collected. "We've seen prices erode even further," Muir said. Sales numbers are unlikely to go much lower than those seen last month, he said. Muir anticipates that after the first quarter of next year, if not before, sales numbers will pick up.
Home prices will edge down as long as there's an imbalance between the number of buyers and number of sellers, Muir said. Over the next several months, he predicts that gap will narrow and "home prices will firm up." By the second quarter of 2009, Muir said "we expect to be in a situation where home prices are fairly flat," and home sales will begin to increase on a year-over-year basis.
We'll hold you to that prediction Cameron. It is now enshrined forever and we'll see how your rose coloured crystal ball works compared to some eyes-wide-open analysis.