Ottawa's clampdown on mortgage borrowing is now gripping high-end homes, not just the entry-level market.
The federal government eliminated the approval of 30-year amortization periods on government-backed mortgages in June – and the decision's impact can now be seen most vividly in the cooling off of Greater Vancouver's market, with sales falling for everything from entry-level homes to luxury houses, Bank of Montreal senior economist Sal Guatieri said Tuesday.
"The rule changes are affecting the entire housing market – high end, low end, mid-range," Mr. Guatieri said. He pointed out that the maximum amortization for a government-insured mortgage has fallen to 25 years from 30, which in turn effectively raises monthly payments and forces out potential buyers who would have formerly qualified to buy more expensive homes.
Real estate sales across Greater Vancouver are sinking. There were 1,516 residential properties that changed hands in September in the region, down nearly 33 per cent from the same month last year. In West Vancouver, where the posh British Properties are located, the number of detached homes sold fell to 43 last month from 71 a year earlier.
Despite the slump in Greater Vancouver's total sales volume, benchmark index prices slipped only 0.8 per cent to $606,100 last month from September, 2011, for detached, attached and apartment properties. For single-family detached homes, the index price for a typical property was $935,600 last month, or down 0.5 per cent from a year earlier. On Vancouver's upscale west side, the benchmark index price for a single-family detached home was $2.09-million in September, or a 6.5-per-cent decline from a year earlier.
Still, Mr. Guatieri said there has been a domino effect in the Vancouver region, as condo sellers who can't unload their places in turn aren't able to purchase larger residences, resulting in a dampening effect in the overall market. Even in the higher end of real estate, buyers who could borrow heavily in the past are no longer able to qualify for as much mortgage funding, he said.
Ottawa also no longer allows high-ratio mortgages above $1-million in a move that has helped ward off highly leveraged borrowing, affecting a relatively small number of potential purchasers but noticeable in a fragile market for expensive homes, analysts say.
"The gap has widened between what buyers are willing to buy at and what sellers would like to sell at, so the transactions are slowing because of that," said Patricia Mohr, the Toronto-based vice-president of economics at Bank of Nova Scotia.
"Some potential sellers may hold off because they feel it's not a good time to be selling." said Ms. Mohr, who grew up in Vancouver.
Cameron Muir, chief economist at the B.C. Real Estate Association, said the Vancouver-area housing market remains healthy, and he doesn't see any major economic shocks on the horizon.
"It's a short-term lull in the market," Mr. Muir said. "It's a case of prices on the west side of Vancouver coming back down to earth a bit after having a phenomenal year in 2011."
In B.C.'s Fraser Valley, there were 414 sales of detached homes in September, down 33 per cent from the same period last year. But the benchmark index price for a typical detached home climbed 3 per cent to $549,500.
Lucas Stolba, who co-manages the Bikes for All retail shop in Vancouver, said his family would love to buy a home, but even with the softening in the Greater Vancouver housing market, it remains a waiting game.
"We're going to rent for a while yet. Right now, we really can't afford to buy because prices are only down slightly. This is the most expensive city to buy a home in Canada, so prices would have to go super-down," Mr. Stolba said.
And then the parking
Uncertainty about housing prices bringing you down? According to the latest study, the cost of parking isn't much better. The average median rate for an unreserved spot climbed 2.7 per cent over the past year in Canada to $241.72 a month, according to the study released on Tuesday by Colliers International.
As happened last year, Calgary still holds the "dubious title" as the most expensive in Canada, Colliers said. The real estate firm compared the centre of the oil patch to other major cities on the continent and found the monthly median at $439.93 (U.S.), second only to New York and well ahead of Boston and San Francisco.
While Calgary may be the most expensive site for parking in the country, costs rose just 2 per cent, compared with almost 12 per cent in Montreal, 8.3 per cent in Regina and 7.3 per cent in Edmonton. Toronto prices fell almost 5 per cent, while Vancouver fell by 3.5 per cent."The limited availability of new parking spots in major city centres across Canada is also reflected in parking lot waiting lists," the company said.