[Today] very few homes are held on spec and any anticipated increase in interest rates is expected to be very modest. Mortgage rates may even go down. Canadian banks make a significant share of their profits from mortgage lending and it is a low risk part of their business since their prudent lending standards reduce the chance of default. Also, many mortgages are guaranteed by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).
The cost of housing in Vancouver is not likely to change dramatically for the foreseeable future.
February sales in Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley are still below trend, but are higher than they were in January and attendance at open houses has been rising. The housing industry has been expressing optimism about housing sales and prices.
Retirement age baby boomers across Canada hope to spend their golden years in this small corner of Canada where you don’t have to shovel snow... They [are] one of the main reasons why a housing crash will not occur. Any drop in prices will lead to retirees entering the Vancouver housing market, putting a floor under prices.
Those in the international community do not seem to mind our house price levels. When looked at in a global context, home prices in Vancouver are not unreasonable. Ask anyone from London or Hong Kong. And people from around the world see not only good value in our real estate, but also an open society, a pleasant climate and a stable political environment.
Finally, the majority of people in greater Vancouver already own real estate, benefit from current housing values and would be hurt by a crash or any serious drop. They do not want to see the value of their biggest asset decline. Home equity often forms a large part of retirement savings and people count on it in their financial planning.
Even though the market contracted, 2006 still didn't bring the first yearly price drop since the National Association of Realtors started tracking the statistic in 1968.
Leerah: Nope. It's amazing isn't it? People thought we'd get it because they thought the bubble was going to burst, but it never happened.
Do you think it will happen in 2007?
Lereah: I don't because we're already seeing some parts of the real estate market picking up again. It looks like we've bottomed out. The worst was the fourth quarter of 2006.
For the past two months now the inventory numbers actually improved for the country. Mortgage rates are still low. The Fed is going to behave. So there are a lot of good signs that the worst is over for housing.
So when it's all said and done, this contraction in housing is probably going to be the least severe contraction we've ever had, which is going to surprise a lot of people.
But many think we still have a long way to go.
Lereah: If you look at local areas, that statement is true. California has a long way to go. I expect them to continue to experience pain all throughout this year. Southern Florida, same thing. Las Vegas is probably going to take a little longer to correct as well.
A quarter of the country is still feeling pain, and I can't guarantee that it's going to be over by the end of 2007 for some of those areas.
So they could decline into 2008 or longer?
They could. It's hard to tell right now. The real key for some of these areas that are having problems is prices. Prices need to come down to bring buyers back to the market. And until they do, they're going to experience drops in sales. California is experiencing some serious drops in sales - 30% drops in some places.
So when we talk about real estate are you talking about local or national?
Lereah: If you're talking about national, I think we've bottomed out, and it looks like we're going to come back very modestly throughout this year. And then in 2008, it will be back off to the races again in my opinion. But for a quarter of the country, that's not the case.
So you don't think California and Florida could bring the whole country down?
Lereah: They'll bring themselves down. But will it bring the whole country down? No. The real key here is the economy. The difference between the contraction today and any other contraction we've ever had is that the economy is healthy.
But Robert Shiller, author of "Irrational Exuberance," says we might have gotten so far out of whack that it has to come down no matter what.
Lereah: I know. That's Bob. That's what he says. We disagree. He thinks psychology will play a major role here, and my view is no. We haven't strayed from the fundamentals. The only part where we strayed from the fundamentals was the speculative investors coming in during 2005. And that exaggerated everything in real estate.
What surprised you about the boom?
Lereah: The share of second home buying. It was 40% of the market in 2005. I was in shock. When you have a lot of second home buying, that's volatile, whereas when people buy a primary residence, they're buying it to live in.
I never anticipated that type of market share in second home buying. That proved to be the end of the boom.
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