Outlook 2020 – it's a new year and a new decade, and with that come new challenges and opportunities. When it pertains to the housing industry and homebuying, we've boiled it down to a handful of items to keep your eye on. Here are five things you really need to understand about real estate – specifically the GTA market.
1 REAL ESTATE IS LOCAL
This is a good place to start, because it's a simple but important fact that escapes many consumers: Real estate is local. There is no such thing as a Canadian housing market, just as there's no Canadian traffic or Canadian weather.Sure, organizations such as the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) are mandated to analyze what goes on across the country. But what's most important to you is what's happening in your market. When you buy a home, you don't buy a national market. You buy one property, on one street, in one neighbourhood, in one city and region.If you live in Ontario, why do you care that Alberta's ongoing oil industry struggles are affecting sales and prices in markets in that province? Or that Vancouver's affordability challenges are even more serious than those in Toronto?Forget the national headlines. Examine what's happening in your market. The same applies to the economy.Why does this matter? Read on.
2 THE ECONOMY
Globally, geopolitical uncertainty and softening economic growth will mean Canada faces some challenges with export and investment, leaving the heavy lifting to the consumer, according to Craig Wright, senior vice-president and chief economist at RBC.RBC forecasts the economy to grow about 1.6 per cent in 2020. The unemployment rate remains at fourdecade lows, though may rise to 5.9 per cent in 2020 from 5.7 per cent in 2019. Companies are having difficulty finding skilled workers, leading to stronger wage growth.Ontario's real GDP growth is forecast to slow to 1.6 per cent for 2019 and 1.5 per cent in 2020, according to the Conference Board of Canada. Job creation remains strong, with the province adding more than 200,000 new jobs over the first 10 months of 2019, much of them in full-time work.Ontarians are among the most positive about the economic outlook, according to a recent public opinion survey from the nonprofit Angus Reid Institute, with 22 per cent of respondents indicating they believe the economy will improve. Only residents in Quebec, at 30 per cent, and BC at 23 per cent, are more optimistic. In Alberta, by contrast, 79 per cent of residents expect their economy to deteriorate over the next year.Keeping in mind what we wrote about real estate – and even the economy – being local, Ontario is looking strong on both counts for 2020."We continue to see strong employment gains, Ontario is leading Canada in terms of employment growth on a year-over-year basis, and strong population growth," Wright told Homes Publishing. "So, strong fundamentals supporting it, in a low rate environment."The GTA's robust population growth will continue to drive demand for both ownership and rental housing, Wright says.Housing markets in Southern Ontario, in fact, led in home price growth last year, and are expected to continue to do so in 2020, according to a new report from ReMax.
"Southern Ontario is witnessing some incredibly strong price appreciation, with many regions still seeing double-digit gains," says Christopher Alexander, executive vice-president and regional director, ReMax of Ontario-Atlantic Canada. "Thanks to the region's resilient economy, staggering population growth and relentless development, the 2020 market looks very optimistic."
Toronto is set to experience a strong housing market this year, thanks to lower unemployment rates, economic growth and improved overall affordability in the GTA. ReMax is forecasting average sale price growth of six per cent, two points higher than the increase from 2018 ($835,422) and 2019 ($880,841).The Niagara region is also showing strong growth, with average residential sale price increasing almost 13 per cent, from $378,517 in 2018 to $427,487 in 2019. Value-conscious consumers from the GTA are buying in droves, with many choosing to live in the region and commute to Toronto.
3 INTEREST RATES
In its most recent interest rate announcement, the Bank of Canada maintained its target for the influential overnight rate at 1.75 per cent, where it has been since October 2018. Though there is some global uncertainty, the Bank says, the Canadian economy is resilient, citing moderately expanding consumer spending, stronger wage growth and housing investment, increasing population and continuing low mortgage rates.Many experts foresee mortgage rates holding where they are throughout 2020 – if not declining.Indeed, James Laird, co-founder of Ratehub Inc. and president of CanWise Financial mortgage brokerage, predicts BoC will cut the overnight rate by a quarter point in the second half of 2020.In 2019, central banks around the world cut their rates, but Canada was not among them. Facing somewhat slowing economic growth driven by decreased exports and a slightly higher unemployment rate, Canada will follow this trend and cut the overnight rate by 0.25 per cent in the latter half of 2020, Laird says."These savings will be passed along to variable rate mortgage holders in the form of a lower prime rate," Laird says. "Therefore, Canadians who are in a variable rate will see their interest rate drop in the second half of the year."The Bank's rate policy will cause fixed mortgage rates to remain low throughout the year, he adds. This should provide peace of mind to Canadians who have a mortgage up for renewal or those who have plans to purchase a new home in 2020.
4 GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT
The Canadian Home Builders' Association, Ontario Home Builders' Association, Building Industry and Land Development Association, Toronto Real Estate Board – and other relevant industry bodies – are all lobbying hard for the various levels of government to address the issues facing housing. Ranging from the First-Time Home Buyers' Incentive Program, the mortgage stress test or land-use policies that affect the level of homebuilding – and therefore buying – one thing is clear: Federal, provincial and municipal levels of government are listening.(Many of the executives in our Outlook 2020 Q&As in the following pages touch on these issues, and we'll have another related special feature in our February issue.)At least one major source says governments have little choice but to take action. The Real Estate Investment Network (REIN), a real estate investment education, analysis and research firm, cites increasing immigration as the catalyst for change."An increase in the influx of migrants amounting to over one million people in three years is tantamount to increasing rental demand," says Jennifer Hunt, vice-president of research at REIN. "This is good news for rental housing providers, as migrants have higher tendencies to rent property rather than to purchase their own homes, especially within the first four years of settling in Canada."Once settled and secure in employment, however, many of these new Canadians want to become homeowners, which leads to higher demand for housing, including new homes and condos.
5 FTHBI & THE STRESS TEST
The First-Time Home Buyer Incentive is a shared equity mortgage through CMHC. The program is intended to reduce monthly mortgage payments for first-time homebuyers, without increasing the amount they need to save for a down payment.Though some recent adjustments to the program, including raised purchase limits for high-priced markets such as Toronto and Vancouver, have helped, some are calling for further improvements to the plan.REIN, for one, suggests watching for a potential increase of the FTHBI's purchase price limit to nearly $800,000 in high-priced markets.Ratehub is not convinced, expecting that the FTHBI will not be enhanced, and the existing program will see minimal traction."Less than five per cent of Canadians who are eligible for the FTBHI program will elect to use it," says Laird. "Most Canadians do not want the government to own part of their home."REIN and Laird agree the mortgage stress test, which many in the industry have been calling to be changed, will likely remain unchanged.