Will Dunning consults on the economics of housing markets and is chief economist for Mortgage Professionals Canada.
I have been analyzing housing markets since 1982, but I've only been active in the market a few times. During those 34 years, I have lived in seven different homes and apartments. Now that I'm looking to buy a home in Toronto, what I see in the numbers is becoming personal.
Our needs and expectations are modest, a small home suitable for dad and two teenagers, and a yard where we can play with two energetic dogs. And that is the character of most of the houses in the city.
The problem is that there are vastly more buyers than sellers. Every home that's caught our interest has gotten multiple offers and sold for more than we can afford (and sometimes for considerably more than my research tells me is their market value).
We're lucky, in that we currently live in a rental apartment that suits our needs. We're not going to panic. We are getting frustrated, but we won't make a mistake. There are many other families, however, whose situations are more pressing.
I expect it will take a long time to find the house we need at a price that makes sense to us. Here's what the numbers tell me:
In the Toronto housing market, there is a healthy balance between buyers and sellers when the ratio of sales divided by new listings is 53 per cent. Data from the Toronto Real Estate Board and the Canadian Real Estate Association show that, over the past two decades, that ratio has averaged 61 per cent, meaning the market has been chronically undersupplied. The consequence is that during that same period, the average price for a resale home in Toronto rose by 5.9 per cent a year.
The situation has gotten worse. In February of 2016, the ratio rose to 71 per cent and prices were up by 11.3 per cent from a year earlier.
The Greater Toronto Area is still a growing community, and it needs to see matching growth in its housing inventory. Housing production has been far from adequate. The supply issue became especially acute about 10 years ago. My research indicates that production of new low-rise homes (single detached, semi-detached and town homes) has been at least 10,000 units a year less than it needs to be.
There is a crisis of supply for low-rise housing in the Toronto area, which is having serious and escalating consequences.
This is an area of provincial responsibility. The Ontario government needs to get involved in a serious discussion.
First, it needs to acknowledge that there is a problem for low-rise housing. (It should not dodge this by pointing to the burgeoning supply of new condominium apartments – most families expect to live on the ground, not in a tower.) Second, it needs to review its own policies and see what can be done to improve the supply situation. Third, it needs to engage with other key actors – the municipalities, land owners, and home builders – to find solutions.