The Vancouver region's real estate market could be headed for its first year of price declines since 2012 as home sales extend their slide.
Average residential prices have risen for four consecutive years in the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver's territory. But if January is any indication of what is in store for the rest of 2017, there will be a pattern of lower prices this year compared with the market's peak last summer.
"The sales-to-active listings ratio for January, 2017, is 21 per cent. This is the lowest the ratio has been in the region since January, 2015," the board said Thursday. In the Vancouver region, real estate agents consider it to be a buyer's market below 12 per cent for a sustained period and a seller's market above 20 per cent.
Last month's ratio places Greater Vancouver barely on the side of sellers, with the pendulum swinging toward being a buyer's market.
The number of sales of detached houses, condos and townhomes fell to 1,523 transactions last month, down 39.5 per cent compared with January, 2016. It marks the 10th consecutive time that sales declined month over month and the seventh month in a row that they fell year over year.
Last month's sales volume rang in 10.3 per cent below the 10-year average for January.
Amid falling home sales, prices are sagging. The benchmark price for various housing types slipped last month to $896,000, down 3.7 per cent since July, but still up 15.6 per cent from January, 2016. The benchmark price is an industry representation of a typical property.
Since last July, the benchmark price for detached houses sold in Greater Vancouver has dropped 6.6 per cent to $1.47-million.
Fewer luxury mansions are selling, dragging down average prices. The average price for detached properties sold in the region tumbled to $1.5-million last month, a 17.8-per-cent decrease from the record high of $1.83-million in January, 2016.
Last February, the B.C. government introduced a higher tax rate on the portion of a property that sells above $2-million. In August, the province implemented a 15-per-cent tax on foreign home buyers in Metro Vancouver, which includes the sprawling suburb of Surrey and most of the Greater Vancouver board's territory.
The Fraser Valley Real Estate Board reported Thursday that it had 976 sales in its territory in January, down 27.1 per cent from a year earlier. The average price for detached houses sold in the Fraser Valley board's turf dipped to $890,117 last month, or a 2.7-per-cent drop from December, 2016, though still 4.6-per-cent higher than a year earlier.
Some industry observers say pain for the real estate industry in Vancouver might be translating into gains in the Victoria region and Greater Toronto Area, in part due to some foreign buyers starting to shift their attention to those less-expensive Canadian markets.
"Conditions were already in place for strong activity in Victoria and Toronto, but I think it's more than coincidence that prices have moderated in Vancouver and they have accelerated in Victoria and Toronto," Bank of Montreal chief economist Douglas Porter said in an interview.
In October, the federal government tightened mortgage rules, adding a new standard for gauging whether buyers can handle an eventual increase in interest rates.
Dan Morrison, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, said it has been a lukewarm start to 2017 in his region.
"While we saw near record-breaking sales at this time last year, home buyers and sellers are more reluctant to engage so far in 2017," he said in a statement.
The price for residential properties sold last year averaged $1.07-million in Greater Vancouver, up 39.3 per cent since 2012.
In Surrey, which is part of the Fraser Valley board's territory, the price for detached homes sold averaged $958,539 last month, down 5.7 per cent compared with December.
"Prices continue to adjust to match more typical demand, albeit slowly," Fraser Valley board president Charles Wiebe said in a release.