As the greater Toronto housing market continues to show slow sales volumes and declining values for some home types, the pressing question for many has been: how brutal was the price correction of 2017?
Home prices dropped 14.3 per cent in March, compared with March of last year (the market peak). Price growth fell every month between March and October of 2017, and since then has been mostly in negative territory. That means that a pricing correction has been under way for the better part of a year.
Scott Ingram, a realtor with Century 21, tried to answer the broad outlines of who might be most affected in a blog post titled “How many people got burned by the 2017 correction?” In it, he calculated that, across Toronto in 2017, about about 9,500 sales transactions for detached and attached single family homes were made in months when the average price was more than $10,000 higher than the benchmark prices as of January, 2018.
Mr. Ingram says he interprets those figures conservatively: that represents only about 1.3 per cent of the city’s stock of homes, and it also doesn’t mean all 9,500 overpaid. “It’s still down for those people who bought at the height, but a lot of what I write is sort of to bring people back in the middle,” he says, explaining why he doesn’t like to talk in terms of markets soaring or plunging depending on one month’s data. “I think people go too crazy ... too gangbusters on the way up, and they’ve also overreacted on the way down.”
There is a more bearish way to examine the market, often with anecdotes shared on Toronto real estate Twitter accounts focused on examples of financially-crushing real estate losses.
The twitter account ExtraGuac4Me, for example, run by investor and lawyer Joey Evans, is fond of tweeting the real estate equivalent of car crash scenes that show recent transactions that resulted in multi-hundred-thousand-dollar losses in a single year.
He shared a recent example of a court case featuring a buyer who walked away from an April, 2017, agreement to purchase a house for $2.25-million. The home was resold for $1.78-million, and the original buyer was sued and ordered to pay the difference to the seller: $470,000.
“I’m pointing out examples of what’s actually happening; these are real examples, these are real people, real families – huge amounts of money on the line,” says Mr. Evans, who lived in the United States during the sub-prime mortgage crisis of the mid-2000s and finds eerie parallels between those days and now.
When Mr. Evans and a small group of like-minded tweeters share these cases of houses selling for less then they were purchased for, the subtext is that a real estate speculator is getting their comeuppance, or that the market may have produced more losers than observers realize.
“This is cherry picking the extremes,” says John Pasalis, president of Realosophy Real Estate Inc., who expects to see fewer of these examples crop up the further we get away from the period of peak price drops that happened in the summer of 2017. “The floor fell out in a number of weeks ... at this point it’s a history lesson because prices have been pretty stable lately.”
When it comes to detached and semi-detached homes in Toronto, the year-over-year drops in March were 15 and 10 per cent respectively, according to data from the Toronto Real Estate Board. And as Mr. Pasalis points out, a lot of the bearish tweets over deals gone wrong seem to come from the northern part of the city, or in the 905 suburbs, such as Richmond Hill, Markham and Newmarket, which also seem to have been the centres of speculative buying during the boom market.
In his Realosophy blog, Mr. Pasalis recently shared some data that suggests those areas that saw the highest amount of investor-buying activity between 2012 and 2016 also saw the fastest price corrections in 2017-2018. In markets like Newmarket where more than 30 per cent of buyers were investors, house prices are now down 25 per cent from the same time last year, Richmond Hill’s declines were steeper at 27 per cent and Markham prices slid 22 per cent.
Mr. Pasalis’s take is that a declining market simply exposed some of the risk that was always there. “A lot of people were making bad decisions and they were able to get away with it for a long time.”
Mr. Evans acknowledges that what he’s finding often points back to last year, but he says the source of continuing concern is how a still-tightening credit market impacts buyers whose mortgages are upside down on their home’s valuation.
“We haven’t seen situations where people are underwater with their mortgages; we haven’t seen situations where there’s no more money left to borrow,” he says, pointing out that after Ontario’s 1990s housing correction it took several years for sellers to start seeing real estate price growth return. “What I’m trying to show is that a lot of people think all is well; there’s a possibility that maybe not all is well with the market,.”
But Mr. Ingram points out that anecdotes about the health of the market run both ways. He highlighted the case of 452 Montrose Ave. near the Christie Pits neighbourhood, a small two-bedroom house that failed to sell in 2017 despite the seller lowering asking prices from $1.1-million in May to $949,000 in October.
To his surprise, the sellers came back and listed for $929,000 in March, held offers, and were rewarded with a $1.05-million selling price right in the teeth of of what is one of the slowest markets in 20 years.
Says Ingram: “If you came to Toronto, from any other market in Canada – except Vancouver – and you see that 35 per cent of houses are selling over asking, you’d say: ‘What a crazy hot market.’ ”