Tuesday, July 22, 2008

House prices to rise 3.5 per cent in Canada

The strong housing market of the last few years has now cooled down as supply and demand have come more into balance, but prices will still rise this year, though not by double digit figures of the past, says CEO Phil Soper of Royal LePage Real Estate Services.

Through the rest of this year and into next, he said, Royal LePage's second-quarter statistics released Thursday suggest that average prices will creep up by about 3.5 per cent.

"When you're looking at the real estate market, it's important to look at not just house price changes, but also the changes in activity levels," he said.

"There are significantly fewer homes trading hands now than there have been in the boom years of this decade," he said. "It's a moderate market."

Royal LePage's report followed one from the Canadian Real Estate Association on Tuesday indicating that average house prices in June fell 0.4 per cent compared with a year ago for the first time since early 1999.

CREA's figures suggested that house prices were "basically flat" in June, said Soper, adding they were somewhat skewed by the fact that the association was unable to include Montreal in their results due to a reporting foul up.

He estimated Montreal is about 10 per cent of the country.

"If you look at our numbers, Montreal had a price increase year-to-date in the four per cent range," Soper said.

While prices are forecast to move higher, the country's largest real estate company predicts the number of transactions this year will fall by 11.5 per cent to 461,000 units.

Along with an easing of pent-up demand, it also attributed the slowdown to jitters among prospective buyers because of economic uncertainty following layoffs in the manufacturing and forestry sectors due to the subprime mortgage fiasco in the United States and worldwide credit crunch.

Avery Shenfeld, senior economist at CIBC World Markets, said earlier this week that there has been a noticeable softening of the housing market over the past few months.

"Some of that is coming in cities where prices had gone through the roof in the previous one or two years," he said.

In the second quarter, the average price of detached bungalows rose by 5.6 per cent from a year earlier to $351,587. Two-storey properties increased 5.2 per cent to $418,943.

"After several years characterized by a persistent shortage of listings, home buyers have felt the pressure of bidding wars and take-it-or-leave-it counter offers ease during 2008," Soper said.

"Home sellers have had to come to grips with the longer time it is taking to sell properties, but can take comfort in a market that continues to support reasonable price increases."

The survey of 17 cities across the country found lower prices in two major markets - Edmonton and Calgary.

In Edmonton, the average price for a bungalow dropped 14.5 per cent while an average Calgary two-storey dropped six per cent.

The greatest price increase was in Regina, which has seen home values surge as higher commodity prices have driven the regional economy.

In Regina, all types of housing saw higher prices, even though inventory of homes increased five-fold, the survey said.

Across the country, said Soper, some regions are slightly oversupplied right now with houses, in particular Calgary and Edmonton. Meanwhile, supply shortages are still being reported in Regina, Saskatoon, St. John's and Winnipeg.

For most of Canada, however, the number of people looking for homes is approximately equal to the number of homes available for sale.

"The housing market is a cyclical one," said Soper. "We've gone through an extended period of excess demand which has caused prices to rise at an unusually high rate."

"What we're seeing at the end of the cycle is that there are fewer numbers of new buyers in the market because they've got their homes."

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