By Garry Marr, Financial Post
November housing sales across the country are set to reach new highs based on fresh data from the country’s two most expensive markets.
The national numbers from the Ottawa-based Canadian Real Estate Association are not due out until mid-December but the Toronto Real Estate Board said yesterday it had its best November on record. Toronto’s news came on the heals of a Wednesday release from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver that said sales activity in the city rocketed up 252.7% in November from a year ago.
What the latest numbers will likely mean is an improvement in the national average sale price, which was up 20% in October from a year ago — the largest such increase in two decades. The two cities tend to skew the national average price up or down, based on levels of sales activity.
“You are going to see a very strong national number. It will be another double-digit increase for sure,” said Benjamin Tal, senior economist at CIBC World Markets. “You have to remember you are comparing all this against a very low base. Last year at this time we were talking about 1929. This was a dead market.”
In November 2008, the greater Vancouver area had a meagre 874 sales. This November that figure was up to 3,083. But there are some indications the temperature in the red-hot housing market is dropping; Vancouver November sales were down 16.8% from October, although the numbers are not seasonally adjusted.
Toronto has a similar story to Vancouver. Canada’s largest market had 7,446 sales last month, almost double the number from a year ago, but down from the 8,476 in October.
Despite the lack of listings in the housing market, prices eased last month. The average sale price in Toronto last month was $418,460, a 14% jump from a year ago, but a drop from therecord high of $423,559 reached in October.
In Vancouver, the average price of a home reached $557,384 last month, a 12.4% increase from a year ago. But at that level, prices in Vancouver are actually down 1.9% from the peak reached in May 2008.
“There is a ton of business being done but nothing was being done in November . The whole world stopped last fall, not just the real-estate world,” said Michael Polzler, executive vice-president of Re/Max Ontario-Atlantic Canada. “We should expect a very good year with a continued high number of sales. We don’t expect significant changes in interest rate levels.”
Record low interest rate levels have partially fuelled the market and prices, but so have low inventory levels. In Toronto, inventory levels remain 49% down from a year ago with November 2009 new listings the same as a year ago. In Vancouver, the total number of listings is still down 39% from a year ago.
As for the interest-rate part of the puzzle, the Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals latest statistics show consumers could find themselves exposed. In the past 12 months, only 20% of consumers opted for a variable-rate product but the overall numbers show 27% of Canadians still have mortgage tied to prime. “There is no questions rates and affordability have contributed to the market,” said Jim Murphy, president of CAAMP.