Speculators drive housing demand in GTA, but who will help?

By Staff, with files from The Canadian Press | April 12, 2017 | Last updated on April 12, 2017
3 min read

The Bank of Canada’s governor says there is increasing evidence of speculation in Toronto’s hot housing market, where the average price of a detached house has surpassed the $1.5-million mark.

Read: Why the BoC sees just 1.8% growth in 2019

Stephen Poloz says demand is being driven more by speculators or investors, rather than by people buying a home for themselves.

He says the market fundamentals can’t explain recent data that showed the average selling price for all properties in the Greater Toronto Area in March jumped 33% from the same month last year.

Poloz says when that happens, the rate of price increase is very unlikely to be sustainable, and he is reminding home owners and buyers that prices can go down as well as up.

Marc Pinsonneault, senior economist at National Bank, says the central bank could help “by ditching its dovish rhetoric and signal[ling] tighter monetary policy ahead to reflect improving economic data but also mounting risks to financial stability.” The comment was made in an economics note on housing prices.

He further notes that the proportion of double-digit price inflation across the country is similar to that observed in the U.S. in 2005 at the peak of its housing market.

As home prices and carrying costs climb, Canadians admit to feeling the pressure.

For example, an RBC home ownership poll reveals fewer Canadians believe they are well positioned to weather a downturn in the market (65% versus 73% in 2016) or a potential increase in interest rates (57% versus 63% in 2016). Another one-third of Canadians (36%) would be concerned if their mortgage payments went up by 10% or more.

Read: Canada one of four advanced economies vulnerable to housing

Cooling commitment comes from Ontario

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has said her government is very close to bringing forward a package of measures to address housing affordability.

On Wednesday, Wynne met with mayors from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area today to discuss issues around housing.

While there is no one measure that will change market dynamics, Wynne said she wants the government’s initiatives to “calm” the process.

“My hope would be that we can make the process of finding a place to live a bit more rational, a bit more predictable, a bit less frantic for people,” Wynne said Wednesday.

Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa has indicated a housing package will be in his spring budget, expected in the next couple of weeks. He has floated a number of possible measures, including implementing a tax on foreign buyers, speculators or vacant homes.

He said Wednesday that while market forces will do what is necessary to keep up with demand, he is looking at ways to speed up more supply becoming available.

Read: Housing starts reach highest level in nearly a decade

“People are frustrated,” Sousa said. “Families are pissed that they can’t win bidding wars. And, in times past, young families will get into the market with those entry market homes. They’re hard to come by. So we’re going to figure out a way to help do that, too.”

Wynne says she wants to see large home price increases come down, but she isn’t quantifying to what degree she hopes her plan will cool the market.

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Staff, with files from The Canadian Press

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