The Bank of Canada finally began an easing cycle on June 5, taking their overnight policy rate down 25 bps to 4.75%--the first major central bank to do so. The housing market has languished over the past year with extremely weak affordability.

The Multiple-Listing Service Home Price Index fell again in May and is now down 2.4% year-over-year and is off 14.4% from the early 2022 peak when the overnight rate was a mere 25 basis points. Average transaction prices are down 4% y/y and off nearly 15% from the high.

Except for Calgary, housing markets across the country are in a buyers’ market as inventories of active listings have risen and sales have slowed. Calgary prices were up just under 10% y/y in May, pushing new record highs by the month. In the meantime, Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal prices are all flat or down from a year ago, and they are still tucked below the levels seen at the early 2022 high.

The significant drivers in Calgary’s outperformance have been more substantial population growth (juiced by interprovincial inflows), better affordability, and valuations that might make some sense for investors.

Even with their lackluster performance since the Bank of Canada began hiking interest rates in March 2022, home prices are still high, having tripled in the past two decades, posting an average 5.7% annual rise, while inflation averaged only 2.2% per year over the same period.

Moreover, the total return on the Toronto Stock Exchange over the same period has been much higher still, averaging 7.9% annually over the past two decades. Despite the recent mini selloff in stocks, the TSX has boasted a more robust return than housing over time. And the US stock market has significantly outperformed the TSX.

Of course, there are significant differences between these two asset classes. Stocks are passive investments that do not provide a place to live or require repairs and maintenance. Housing is more than just a financial investment; it is a lifestyle choice that provides the necessary shelter.

The Bank of Canada will continue to lower interest rates as inflation reaches its 2% target. We expect the overnight rate to fall to about 3% by the end of the easing cycle. But even with only one quarter-point rate cut, bond yields have already fallen significantly in anticipation.

Many mortgage lenders, including three of Canada’s Big Six banks, are slashing fixed mortgage rates, a welcome development for those facing renewal in the coming months. Lenders have already started trimming rates in the wake of a nearly 40-basis-point drop in bond yields, which typically leads fixed mortgage rate pricing.

Over 70% of outstanding mortgages will be renewed within two years. Falling mortgage rates could help soften the payment shock expected for the estimated 2.2 million mortgages that will be renewing at higher rates in the next two years.

But just because rates are falling doesn’t mean all lenders will offer equally low rates in their renewal letters. Typically, they don’t just hand out their especially low rates. That’s where a mortgage broker provides real value, educating borrowers about alternative options, which can be used to haggle a better rate even if they decide not to switch lenders.

For insurable mortgages, the borrower does not need to re-qualify when switching lenders. However, for uninsured mortgage switches, OSFI head Peter Routledge recently rejected renewed calls to remove the mortgage stress test for federally regulated lenders. Knowing your options to improve your bargaining power with your existing lender still pays.

There is a record number of resale condos on the market, and new construction is at a record high. While there remains a longer-term shortage of affordable housing for rent and purchase, it will probably be another year before markets equilibrate and sellers have the advantage.

Housing activity has likely bottomed and will increase as interest rates fall.

Posted by Adam Chahl on
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