Canadian home sales edge lower in December

According to statistics released today by The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), national home sales edged lower in December 2015 compared to the previous month, but held above year-ago levels.

Highlights:

  • National home sales edged back by 0.6% from November to December.
  • Actual (not seasonally adjusted) activity was up 10% compared to December 2014.
  • The number of newly listed homes rose 2.2% from November to December.
  • The Canadian housing market remains balanced overall.
  • The MLS® Home Price Index (HPI) rose 7.3% year-over-year in December.
  • The national average sale price rose 12% on a year-over-year basis in December; excluding Greater Vancouver and Greater Toronto, it increased by 5.4%.

The number of homes trading hands via MLS® Systems of Canadian real estate Boards and Associations edged back by 0.6 percent in December 2015 compared to November. Activity nonetheless remains close to a six-year high.

December sales were down from the previous month in slightly more than half of all local markets. Monthly sales declines in Calgary, Edmonton, the York Region of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Hamilton-Burlington offset monthly activity gains recorded elsewhere.

“An increasingly short supply of listings in Vancouver and Toronto blunted the impact of changes to mortgage regulations announced in December that were aimed at cooling these housing markets,” said CREA President Pauline Aunger. “Buyers there had been expected to bring forward their purchase decisions before new regulations take effect in February 2016, but they faced a growing shortage of supply. Meanwhile, supply is ample in many other major urban markets, particularly those where buyers have become cautious amid economic uncertainty. All real estate is local, and REALTORS® remain your best source for information about sales and listings where you live or might like to in the future.”

“December mirrored the main themes of 2015, with strong sales activity and price growth across much of British Columbia and Ontario offsetting declines in activity among oil producing regions,” said Gregory Klump, CREA’s Chief Economist. “The recent decline and uncertain outlook for oil prices means that housing market prospects are unlikely to improve in the near term in regions where job market prospects are tied to oil production.”

Actual (not seasonally adjusted) sales rose 10.0 percent on a year-over-year basis in December 2015. Activity was up compared to December 2014 in about 60 percent of all local markets, led by the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, the GTA and Montreal.

Sales activity in the fourth quarter of 2015 advanced by 2.0% quarter-over-quarter and hit the highest quarterly level in six years. Annual home sales in 2015 were up 5.5 from the previous year and reached the second-highest annual level on record – just 3.0% short of the annual record set in 2007.

The number of newly listed homes rose 2.2 percent in December compared to November. The monthly increase built on the 3.3 percent gain logged in November and lifted new supply to the highest monthly level in almost six years. December’s increase was driven by gains in the Fraser Valley, Calgary, Edmonton, the GTA and Montreal.

The national sales-to-new listings ratio eased to 55.5 percent in December – its lowest reading since March 2015. A sales-to-new listings ratio between 40 and 60 percent is generally consistent with balanced housing market conditions, with readings below and above this range indicating buyers’ and sellers’ markets respectively.

The ratio was within this range in about 40 percent of all local housing markets in December. Slightly more than one-third of local markets recorded a ratio above 60 percent, almost all of which are located in British Columbia and Ontario.

The number of months of inventory is another important measure of the balance between housing supply and demand. It represents the number of months it would take to completely liquidate current inventories at the current rate of sales activity.

There were 5.4 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of December

2015, unchanged from November and the lowest level in nearly six years. The national figure is being pulled lower by increasing market tightness in B.C. and Ontario. Many of these markets, particularly around Greater Vancouver and the GTA, ended 2015 with a record low or near-record low number of homes listed for sale.

The Aggregate Composite MLS® HPI rose by 7.27 percent on a year-over-year basis in December – the largest gain in over five years. Year-over-year price growth accelerated for single family homes and townhouse/row units but slowed for apartment units.

Two-storey single family homes continue to post the biggest year-over-year price gains (+9.15 percent), followed by one-storey single family homes (+6.63 percent), townhouse/row units (+6.12 percent) and apartment units (+4.96 percent).

Year-over-year price growth continued to range widely among housing markets tracked by the index. Greater Vancouver (+18.87 percent) and the Fraser Valley (14.35 percent) posted the largest gains, followed closely by Greater Toronto (+10.01 percent). By comparison, Victoria and Vancouver Island prices posted year-over-year gains in the range from six to eight percent.

By contrast, prices retreated by about two percent on a year-over-year basis in Calgary and Saskatoon and by nearly four percent in Regina. While the home price declines in Calgary and Saskatoon are a fairly recent trend, prices in Regina have been trending lower since early 2014.

Prices crept higher on a year-over-year basis in Ottawa (+0.62 percent), rose modestly in Greater Montreal (+1.81 percent) and outstripped overall consumer price inflation in Greater Moncton (+3.88 percent).

The MLS® Home Price Index (MLS® HPI) provides a better gauge of price trends than is possible using averages because it is not affected by changes in the mix of sales activity the way that average price is.

The actual (not seasonally adjusted) national average price for homes sold in December 2015 was $454,342, up 12.0 percent on a year-over-year basis.

The national average price continues to be pulled upward by sales activity in Greater Vancouver and Greater Toronto, which are among Canada’s most active and expensive housing markets. If these two housing markets are excluded from calculations, the average is a more modest $336,994 and the year-over-year gain is reduced to 5.4 percent. Even then, the gain reflects a tug of war between strong average price gains in housing markets around the GTA and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia versus flat or declining average prices elsewhere in Canada. If British Columbia and Ontario are excluded from calculations, the average price slips even lower to $294,363, representing a year-over-year decline of 2.2 percent.

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