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Toronto House Price Bubble Goes Nuts

by Wolf Richter, Wolf Street:

Based on fundamentals? You gotta be kidding.

Residential property sales in Greater Toronto soared 17.7% year-over-year to 12,077 homes, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB). New listings jumped 15.2% to 17,052. Prices for all types of homes, based on the MLS Home Price Index Composite “Benchmark,” soared 28.6%. The “average” selling price soared 33.2%!

That average selling price of C$916,567 is up from C$688,011 a year ago. Over the past five years, it has doubled!

The heavenly manna was spread across the spectrum. For condos, the average price in Greater Toronto soared 33.1% to C$518,879; for townhouses it soared 32.9% to C$705,078; for semi-detached houses, 34.4% to C$858,202; and for detached houses, 33.4% to C$1,214,422.

Even the house price bubble in Beijing cannot compete with this sort of miracle; new house prices there increased only 22% year-over-year in February. And Sydney’s fabulous house price bubble just flat out pales compared to the spectacle transpiring in Toronto, with prices up only 19% in March.

Vancouver has its own housing bubble to deal with. But there, the government of British Columbia has tried to tamp down on wild speculation with various measures, including a transfer tax aimed squarely at foreign non-resident investors, with “mixed” success.

Now the great fear in Toronto’s real estate circles is that the government of Ontario might impose similarly cruel and unusual punishment on the participants in this spectacle. Some measures are on the table, with folks wondering how to stop the bubble from inflating further and causing even greater harm to the real economy when it deflates, as all bubbles eventually do.

They’re reluctant. It seems they want to see how BC’s measures are washing out in Vancouver. The central government too is trying to fine-tune some macroprudential measures, but they’ve had absolutely no effect on Toronto’s housing bubble. And the Bank of Canada, which has been fretting about the housing bubble for a while – always couched in its very careful terms – refuses to raise rates. Everyone is talking. No one dares to do anything real about Toronto’s house price bubble.

In Toronto, according the real estate folks, it’s all based on fundamentals. It’s based on supply and demand and very rational calculated thinking, and there is no bubble in sight, lenders are just fine, and if Canadians are locked out of the housing market, so be it, it’s just a shortage of housing, really. So TREB President Larry Cerqua is glad the efforts to tamp down on it all have not come to fruition, in part due to TREB’s vigorous lobbying:

“It has been encouraging to see that policymakers have not implemented any knee-jerk policies regarding the GTA housing market,” he said in a statement.

“Different levels of government are holding consultations with market stakeholders and TREB has participated and will continue to participate in these discussions,” he said. “Policy makers must remember that it is the interplay between the demand for and supply of listings that influences price growth.”

Singing a similar tune, Jason Mercer, TREB’s Director of Market Analysis, explained the basic supply and demand problem:

“Annual rates of price growth continued to accelerate in March as growth in sales outstripped growth in listings,” he said. “A substantial period of months in which listings growth is greater than sales growth will be required to bring the GTA housing market back into balance.”

And he told policy makers to tread carefully: “As policy makers seek to achieve this balance, it is important that an evidence-based approach is followed,” he said. This is a gravy train, and it must be allowed to speed on until the last cent has been extracted.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this will end in tears. What we don’t know yet is when it will end in tears, and whose tears it will end with. But we already know: When it does end in tears, real estate organizations will first be denying it, and then they’ll be clamoring for a bailout of their stakeholders – so it will end in the tears of others.

Even the big Canadian banks are fretting. “Let’s drop the pretense. The Toronto housing market and the many cities surrounding it are in a housing bubble,” Bank of Montreal Chief Economist Doug Porter warned clients. But the bubble’s deflation would push the city into a fiscal and financial sinkhole.

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2 comments to Toronto House Price Bubble Goes Nuts

  • Bob

    My wife and I decided against buying in the metro Toronto area in 1997 because the house prices were nuts then. There hadn’t been a correction for years at that time, and we thought one was long overdue. Twenty years later, there still hasn’t been a correction, and house prices have more than doubled. So, naturally, the mindset in Toronto is, “This will never end; if I ever want a house I’d better jump in now.” Or worse, “This will never end, so I’m safe borrowing a million bucks to buy a house or two, then flip them to some greater fool or some rich Chinese dude. Free money!” They’re wrong, of course, and all Canadians will pay for their stupidity–or greed–when it all comes crashing down. But maybe that won’t happen for another 20 years, and a bunch a greedy morons will get rich while I sit here moaning about the gold price languishing. If I was off by 20 years, why not 40?

  • mac

    money laundering op…buyers of this “dirt” with a house on it will face massive capital losses…they seem oblivious to this? …or money laundering just wants cash and price not so important!

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