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Pundits sift Toronto home sales numbers for clues to 2014 Add to ...

With just a few weeks left in 2013, industry pundits are making their predictions about how Toronto’s real estate market will finish out the year.

Thrown into the mix is the spectre of federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty intervening to tighten mortgage rules once again.

Buying and selling always slumps in December and January, but some expect the slowdown to be sharper than normal this year in advance of a market downturn in 2014. The optimists believe the lull during the holiday season and traditional January deep freeze will give way to a lively spring market.

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This month’s activity hasn’t been very helpful to those trying to detect a trend as the market has continued perform in an erratic fashion: Some properties languish on the market while others attract a dozen or so offers. The divergence between single family houses and condos partly explains the gap – but not entirely. Agents acknowledge they are at times perplexed when a detached house fails to sell on offer night or a fairly ordinary condo sparks a bidding war.

In the first two weeks of November, sales in the Greater Toronto Area jumped 21 per cent compared with the same time last year while the average price rose an eye-popping 11 per cent.

Listings, meanwhile, have shrunk by more than 4 per cent compared with the same period last year.

Over at the Toronto Real Estate Board, president Dianne Usher sees November’s results as an indication that people remain comfortable with the costs of home ownership.

“If not for the persistent shortage of listings for most home types, we would likely be experiencing an even higher level of sales as more buyers would be able to make a deal on a home meeting their needs.”

Jason Mercer, TREB’s senior manager of market analysis, points to the smaller number of listings driving buyers to compete, which in turn leads to the accelerating pace of price growth.

The number of new listings edged up slightly in the 905 area code and down slightly in the 416.

The 3,131 sales tallied in the GTA in the first half of November slipped from the 3,460 transactions recorded in the first half of October.

At Capital Economics, economist for Canada David Madani warns that Mr. Flaherty’s latest musing appears ill-timed.

Mr. Madani believes that Mr. Flaherty could overreact to what is just a temporary spurt. Recent sales have picked in many cities across Canada, he surmises, because buyers have been spooked by rising interest rates. They’ve been rushing to buy before the lower rates offered on their preapproved mortgages expire.

That’s a view shared by many economists and market watchers.

Mr. Madani continues to believe that Canada’s housing market is severely over-valued.

However, with listings increasingly scare and a recent upswing in sales, he expects prices to continue their climb for a while yet.

Bank of Montreal chief economist Douglas Porter is unruffled: He sees surprising calm in the broader trends.

Mr. Porter notes that Canada-wide sales were slightly softer than expected on a seasonally-adjusted basis.

He sees two trends emerging: bigger cities are hotter than small, and the west is warmer than the east.

Mr. Porter is looking past the wild swings in the past year. He points out that total sales across the country so far in 2013 are basically flat compared with a year ago and prices have risen by modest single digits in most cities.

“The moderation in national sales from September’s hot level suggests underlying conditions remain balanced,” he says. Somewhat softer activity through the fall should avert another run-up in prices.”

Follow on Twitter: @CarolynIreland

 

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