The international media have finally clued in to the wackiness on Canada’s west coast, otherwise known as the Vancouver real estate market. Last month Bloomberg noted that when compared to median household incomes Vancouver homes are more expensive than even New York. The story linked soaring prices to the influx of wealthy buyers from mainland China. Today the Wall Street Journal retraces the exact same material. The warning in both pieces is clear: Vancouver’s housing market has become disconnected from reality and is primed to crash.
House price mania has been a major feature of the global economy over the last ten to 15 years. Canadians joined the party several years later than their counterparts in other Western countries. The early-1990s recession was still taking its toll on the country’s dole queues, and also on its domestic property market, right through to the middle of the decade.
But as interest rates tumbled, Canada caught the bug just like everywhere else. And how. The ‘real’, ie inflation-adjusted, price of the country’s homes has increased by an average of 85% since 1998.
Sure, house values stagnated at the height of the financial crisis in 2008. But by 2009, property prices were back on a roll, rising by almost 20%. Canada’s current housing boom has now become one of the longest lasting in the world, says the Bank of Nova Scotia.
Indeed, Vancouver is the second-least affordable city anywhere on the planet, according to the annual report from the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey 2012.
Like every other housing bubble, it’s been inflated by loose credit. Canadian household debt hit a new high last year. The average borrowing burden of Canadian families now stands at 153% of disposable incomes, according to Statistics Canada. To put that in context, that’s almost as much debt as US households had taken on at the peak of their own housing bubble.
In other words, the warning signs are everywhere. Canada’s housing market is plagued by “overvaluation, speculation and over supply.”
Canada's housing market will remain stable for at least two more years, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. predicted Monday, with the expected slow growth in the economy keeping house prices in check. CMHC, the Crown corporation that insures Canadian mortgages, expects little change during 2012 in prices and sales of existing homes.
Maybe it could be a sales gimmick. Buy a new condo at the Olympic Village, get a free CMHC pony?
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