The Greater Toronto Area is poised for another year of rising home prices as buyers compete amid a scarcity of listings.
The price for all housing types sold in the GTA averaged a record $729,922 last year, up 17.3 per cent from 2015. It marks the 20th consecutive year that average house prices have gone up in Canada's largest housing market.
The average home price in the GTA has not fallen year over year since 1996, when it slipped to $198,150, a 2.4-per-cent drop from $203,028 in 1995, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board's historical data.
In recent months, the ratio of sales to active listings in many neighbourhoods has been high, said Jason Mercer, director of market analysis at the board.
"The market conditions are tight enough that even if we saw a dip in sales in 2017 versus 2016, you're still going to see extremely tight conditions," Mr. Mercer said in an interview on Thursday.
"In a lot of neighbourhoods, you're going to continue to see fairly healthy price increases. When you have that kind of supply situation up against strong demand, it is difficult to see a dramatic one-year turnaround in terms of pricing," Mr. Mercer said.
Sales volume in the GTA hit a new high of 113,133 transactions last year, an 11.8-per cent jump from 2015.
By contrast, the combined British Columbia sales of the Greater Vancouver and Fraser Valley real estate boards rose slightly, to 63,890 transactions last year, up 0.7 per cent from 2015.
In the City of Vancouver, the price for detached houses averaged $2.6-million in December, down 11 per cent from July, but up 7 per cent from a year earlier.
Industry observers are watching for evidence of Vancouver-style price fatigue in the GTA.
The price for detached houses sold in the City of Toronto last month averaged $1.29-million, down 4.4 per cent from the record $1.35-million in November but up 23.7 per cent from a year earlier. In the GTA as a whole, the price for detached properties averaged $1.01-million last month, a 4-per-cent decline from November but up 23.1 per cent from December, 2015.
Mr. Mercer cautioned against reading too much into seasonal variations in prices and sales. "To extend that to say there is a slowdown doesn't make any sense," he said, noting that sales in December increased 8.6 per cent compared with the same month in 2015.
In October, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. issued a "red warning" for the country's real estate market as a whole, with prices in and around Vancouver and Toronto among its top concerns.
Forecasting and advisory firm Oxford Economics said this week it sees "reasons to be cautious on the outlook for house prices" in the Vancouver region and GTA.
"Tighter macro-prudential policies will weigh on foreign purchasers," it said. "Furthermore, a stricter regulatory environment and more reluctance on the part of banks to lend will further weigh on home sales."
Oxford Economics said there are indications that foreign buyers and speculative demand helped drive up property prices from 2014 to 2016 in the Vancouver region and GTA. Price growth is bound to slow, although factors that could support the two markets include steady economies, strong population growth and limited housing supply, the firm said.
The Toronto Real Estate Board said on Thursday that foreign buying plays a minor role in the GTA, based on an Ipsos survey in October of its members.
"Only an estimated 4.9 per cent of GTA transactions, in which TREB members acted on behalf of a buyer, involved a foreign purchaser. In the City of Toronto, the share of foreign buyers was five per cent," board president Larry Cerqua said in statement.
At the end of January, the board will release more information on the survey and detail its outlook for 2017.
The B.C. government implemented a 15-per-cent tax on foreign home buyers in Metro Vancouver in August. In the seven weeks leading up to the tax, purchasers who were not Canadian citizens or permanent residents accounted for 13.2 per cent of Metro Vancouver's total number of buyers who closed their deals. Since then, the influx of foreign buyers has slowed to a relative crawl, the B.C. government said.