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There's a new home price index on the market.
Brookfield RPS, a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management Inc., has quietly soft-launched its own Canadian home price index. It will go head-to-head with the country's two main price indices, one by the Canadian Real Estate Association and another by Teranet in partnership with National Bank.
Home price indices seek to go beyond average home prices to better gauge what's actually happening. That's because average selling prices are easily distorted. For example, a higher number of sales in a pricier neighbourhood causes them to rise, while more sales of condos – as opposed to detached homes – can cause them to fall.
David Lacey, chief executive officer of Brookfield RPS, had been looking for ways to make use of the company's information since joining the firm. "I got looking at this appraisal information that was really sitting in our databases and I went to the guys and said 'Look, we're actually sitting on a gold mine here,'" he says.
Things got serious toward the end of 2012 when Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. released covered bond guidelines. Covered bonds are issued by banks and backed by pools of mortgages. CMHC's guidelines said that the banks would have to update the value of the mortgages at least once a quarter. In other words, they'd have to mark their portfolio to market prices using a home price index.
"That's when we starting taking a lot of interest," says Yvonne von Jena, director of innovation and marketing at Brookfield RPS. "So in January, 2013, we started having conversations with the industry. We went to the heads of all the treasury departments, we talked to economists, rating agencies, investors, the Bank of Canada, the Canadian Bankers Association."
The feedback convinced Brookfield that there was room in the market for a new home price index. So it created one. The public version includes data on 13 cities. The private version, which banks and other corporations pay for (the company has so far signed up one of the big banks and one of the big mortgage insurers), covers the entire Canadian market and is broken down into 1,000 cities and towns plus 1,500 other neighbourhoods.
It has checked its public index against the two competing price indices, and they generally show the same trends.
"Everybody's got their secret sauce, everyone will tell you that their modelling procedure is the best," says Mr. Lacey. "I think we've probably got the best view of national housing data in the country."
The Canadian Real Estate Association, which represents the nation's realtors, would likely disagree. It owns the Multiple Listing Service, over which sales of existing homes are tracked.
Mr. Lacey is among those who say that public information about Canada's real estate market has been lacking.
"One of the reasons that there is a lack of information in Canada is just how tight some of these controlling groups are – be it the local real estate boards or the assessment authorities, for example," he says. "Compare and contrast that to the U.S. where there is so much information available, and there are companies like LPS and CoreLogic and DataQuick who buy up MLS data and who aggregate county-level records."