LET’S TALK ABOUT THE BUBBLE IN THE ROOM: WILL IT BURST?


LET’S TALK ABOUT THE BUBBLE IN THE ROOM: WILL IT BURST?




Speculation about the future of Toronto’s red-hot real estate market is an everyday conversation piece, with journalists, economists, real estate brokers, policy-makers, and investors all having opinions. Will the steadily rising property values in Toronto (often speculated to be a “real estate bubble”) continue to climb in the coming years? Will foreign investment play a larger role in occupancy, prices, and density? And in particular, will the condo market reflect the boom of non-condo residential property values, and to what extent?
First, consider the fact that this mythical bubble” is really not one at all. Robin Wiebe, a senior economist with the Conference Board of Canada, describes a bubble as “when people buy houses purely for speculative reasons, with the sole motive of making money,” and explains that’s not at all what’s driving Toronto’s market at the moment. Rather, genuine measurable housing demand and economic growth are the factors behind Toronto’s strong and stable market.
Let’s examine the hearsay, gossip, and speculation about “the bubble” to find out what’s really going on. The following central issues are a good way to think about the future of the condo market in Toronto:
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
While housing demand is projected to rise in the coming years (due to immigration, foreign investment, forecasted birth rates, and rural-to-urban migration, among other factors), supply cannot possibly keep up. Buildable land in densely-populated cities like Toronto and Vancouver is necessarily limited. While developers would love to be able to build enough housing to meet demand, it’s pretty much physically impossible without increased suburban sprawl, which doesn’t help city-dwellers who are committed to settling in the urban core. “High demand coupled with limited supply will continue to support the strong Toronto and Vancouver markets,” projects Gurinder Sandhuexecutive vice-president, RE/MAX Integra Ontario-Atlantic Canada region.
While you may think the supply-and-demand inequality is more relevant to the category of the coveted single-family home, the condo market is actually in a similar predicament. “It’s a myth that [the condo market] is oversupplied,” reports the CBC“The inventory of unsold condos is shrinking, and with first-time buyers nearly priced out of the housing market, the demand for condos remains steady.” As the cost of upgrading from a condo to a house is projected to increase, many buyers and residents are starting to think of condos as more permanent residences rather than simply “starter” properties.
Finally, demand is set to be bolstered by the nascent foreign-investment boom of recent years. Because of Canada’s stable economy, political climate, and regulatory environment, wealthy foreigners consider property investment in Canada to be a safe, secure, and smart place to hold value. As they increasingly move into the market, property values will grow and supply will be squeezed in the face of increasing demand.
LOCAL ECONOMIES
“Markets that are oil dependent [like Alberta and Newfoundland] will see more price reductions and a smaller number of transactions, which will push average [nationwide] prices down,” says Sandhu. While cities like Hamilton once boomed on the basis of manufacturing and industrial enterprises, those industries have fluctuated and shrunk in recent years due to labour automation and overseas production, among other factors. However, Toronto is a global business hub with a steady and lucrative financial industry as well as esteemed profit-generating art and culture sectors that have consistently grown alongside population and property values. Toronto’s economy is diverse enough, contemporary enough, and stable enough that neither economic production nor population is likely to decrease. In fact, the Conference Board of Canada forecasts economic growth of 2.8% for the GTA in 2017 and predicts employment will grow as well.
For property investors who are looking to create profit by renting rather than re-selling their condos, it’s good to remember that Toronto as an international business centre regularly sees significant demand for temporary accommodations like corporate housing, executive relocation suites, and apartments for individuals on temporary contracts (like film shoots, for example).
GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION
Government agencies are slowly implementing incremental measures to slow down the fast-appreciating housing markets nationwide in order to ensure that housing remains relatively available, accessible, and affordable. While this may alarm investors, such policies have not yet managed to have a discernible effect on the most steadily booming housing markets (primarily Toronto and Vancouver). “These regulatory changes are much less severe than an interest rate increase, and didn’t cool the hottest markets” says Alyssa Furtado, CEO of RateHub.ca.
Bottom line: the scope and breadth of policies being considered or implemented by the government have not yet been (and are not projected to be) significant enough to slow down the fastest-growing urban markets in Canada. Government economists and policy-makers are well aware that Canada’s real estate industry is one of the few prosperous and hardy markets left in the current troubled economic environment, so anything more than very, very incremental attempts to slow down the nationwide growth average could have catastrophic effects on the broader economy and the GDP.
Even a slight rise in interest rates won’t slow demand or value growth significantly. “It would take quite a significant increase in mortgage rates to trigger a crash,” said Sherry Cooper, chief economist at Dominion Lending. “I don’t think interest rates are going to rise dramatically.”
THE FINAL ANALYSIS
While it’s tempting to indulge in a doomsday scenario in which this mythical “bubble” bursts and the housing market becomes a free-for-all, such a result is highly unlikely. Experts from all fields agree that, first of all, the traditional definition of a “bubble” does not apply to the current Toronto market, and second of all, economies, populations, and densities are set to steadily increase in the coming years, taking property values up right along with them.

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