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GTA Residential Real Estate Market & the 2017 Ontario Budget

On April 20, 2017, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced measures under the Ontario Fair Housing Plan (see detailed plan)  affecting the Greater Toronto residential real estate market ahead of the Ontario Liberal government's 2017 budget scheduled to be tabled on April 27.  The multi-faceted plan is meant to help moderate demand, address supply, protect buyers and renters, and promote affordability in the provincial housing market - all of which is intended to increase market stability.

Political pressure has been mounting on the Liberals to intervene in the Greater Toronto residential real estate market given the very strong demand and continued double digit increases in price. In response, the provincial government announced the following policy measures:

Demand Cooling

Supply Boosting

Expanding Rent Control and Enhancing Standards

Commentary

We are awaiting further details regarding the above announced initiatives and more analysis will be required.  The following is some early commentary on what we know so far.

Tax on Foreign Speculative Activity

The new tax will levy a 15% Non-Resident Speculation Tax (NRST) on residential real estate transactions where a foreign buyer purchases a property and is deemed to be engaged in speculative activity.

Fortunately, foreign buyers who have work visas and students studying in Canada will be exempt from the tax.  There were unintended consequences from the foreign buyer tax introduced in Greater Vancouver that came into effect on August 2, 2016, which the BC provincial government subsequently reversed.

In addition, the new tax will apply to transactions initiated after April 20, 2017. This is unlike the Vancouver tax, which applied to closings after August 2, and unfairly impacted buyers who had entered into contracts before the tax was introduced, but where the completion of the contract fell after the tax's effective date.

While statistics are lacking, most experts agree that foreign buyers represent a small component of the market at somewhere between 5-10% of the market.  We estimate that foreign buyers engaging in speculative activity are +/- 1-3% of the total market.  We expect there may be a slowdown in activity as all buyers digest the change and determine its effect.  No doubt it will curb some pure speculative activity but in the longer run, the strong domestic demand combined with continued limited supply will keep upward pressure on prices.

While many point at the introduction of the foreign buyer tax in Vancouver as a policy success, it is too soon to gauge its ultimate effect.  So far, the policy has attracted a class action lawsuit - there is a fear that it will be challenged from a constitutional basis and that it may contravene one or more trade agreements.

Unlike the Vancouver foreign buyer tax, the introduction of a similar tax in the Greater Toronto Area will not be as shocking.  There has been considerable speculation in the press for some time.

Market observers have noticed that, while activity declined following the introduction of the Vancouver tax, most of that was due to market participants withdrawing and sitting on the sidelines.  This constrained supply particularly at higher price points.  This changed the mix of homes sold to the lower end of the price scale giving the illusion that market prices were moderating or decreasing, when in fact it was simply the average price of homes sold (rather than the average price of a home).

The Vancouver tax has done nothing to contribute to affordability and there is mounting evidence that pricing pressure is returning to the Vancouver market as buyers are coming to the belief that the market will continue to grow and supply constraints are still present.

Ban on Selling Pre-construction Units by Speculators

Most developers prohibit or dramatically restrict this practice.  We do not expect that this policy initiative will have a significant effect on moderating the demand for housing or prices.

Initiatives Relative to the Rental Market Control

The government announced a series of initiatives designed to restrict increases in rents paid by tenants, while at the same time increasing the stock of rental units.

While rent controls are a popular solution in the short term, most industry participants and economists agree that rent control will no doubt stifle new rental construction, encourage conversion of existing residential multi-unit stock to condominiums, and add to the demand for new condominium construction.  All of which will have the effect of reducing the stock of available rental properties in the longer run and not really contributing to affordable housing options.

On the other hand, initiatives designed to encourage continued and additional construction of rental units will provide relief to the tight vacancy conditions and some relief on rental rates.

Conclusion

We will be watching the market carefully over the coming months and reporting on our observations.  We expect a period of adjustment where we might see activity subside somewhat.  We expect the effect to be much less significant than what we observed in Vancouver.  Ultimately, the fundamentals of demand remain strong so until supply side measures take effect, we believe that there will continue to be more buyers than sellers, that many properties will continue to see multiple offers, and that there will continue to be upward pressure on home prices.

Brad J. Henderson
President & CEO
Sotheby’s International Realty Canada

*Disclaimer: This report is published for general information only and not to be relied upon in any way. Although high standards have been used in the preparation of the information and analysis presented in this report, no responsibility or liability whatsoever can be accepted by Sotheby’s International Realty Canada or Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates for any loss or damage resultant from any use of, reliance on, or reference to the contents of this document.

TREB Market Watch

 Strong Growth in New Listings in April

May 3, 2017 -- Toronto Real Estate Board President Larry Cerqua announced that Greater Toronto Area REALTORS® entered 33.6 per cent more new listings into TREB's MLS® System in April 2017, at 21,630, compared to the same month in 2016. New listings were up by double-digits for all low-rise home types, including detached and semi-detached houses and townhouses. New listings for condominium apartments were at the same level as last year.

Total sales for the TREB market area as a whole amounted to 11,630 – down 3.2 per cent year-over-year. One issue underlying this decline was the fact that Easter fell in April in 2017 versus March in 2016, which resulted in fewer working days this year compared to last and, historically, most sales are entered into TREB's MLS® System on working days.

"The fact that we experienced extremely strong growth in new listings in April means that buyers benefitted from considerably more choice in the marketplace. It is too early to tell whether the increase in new listings was simply due to households reacting to the strong double-digit price growth reported over the past year or if some of the increase was also a reaction to the Ontario government's recently announced Fair Housing Plan," said Mr. Cerqua. The MLS® Home Price Index (HPI) Composite Benchmark Price was up by 31.7 per cent yearover- year in April 2017. Similarly, the average selling price for all home types combined was up by 24.5 per cent to $920,791.

"It was encouraging to see a very strong year-over-year increase in new listings. If new listings growth continues to outpace sales growth moving forward, we will start to see more balanced market conditions. It will likely take a number of months to unwind the substantial pent-up demand that has built over the past two years. Expect annual rates of price growth to remain well-above the rate of inflation as we move through the spring and summer months," said Jason Mercer, TREB's Director of Market Analysis.

Click here to read the full report

Source:  Toronto Real Estate Board