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Blog by Kevin Wong

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Expect a Fairly Stable Real Estate Market in 2012

Experts are calling for a bit of a mixed bag in Canadian real estate for 2012.  Housing market  prognosticators say next year will be marked by bursts of growth in certain hot regional markets throughout the country combined with a cooling trend in other areas, namely that of robust markets such as Toronto.

Look for mixed market signals in Canadian real estate as a market theme in 2012 as cities like Halifax and Edmonton and Calgary will begin to feel a marked increase in demand for real estate purchases, with average price increases beginning late in the year, according to says Vancouver real estate consultant Don Campbell. Toronto’s hot market will start to ease off next year, although its condo real estate market will remain stable.

“Sophisticated homeowners and investors will have to dig a little deeper, especially in 2012 and 2013, to find out how their region is performing because Canada is really going to be a tale of regions over the next few years,” says Campbell, a real estate investor and author. “Where one region is booming, the next may be underperforming.”

Expect price moderation in Toronto in the neighbourhood of five to 10 per cent, says Todd Hirsch, a senior economist with ATB Financial in Calgary. “There could be a little more worry of a small bubble (bursting) in Toronto,” says Hirsch, “because the Ontario economy in 2012 will likely cool off a bit, not tremendously, though. You won’t see a recession.”If you’re thinking the same for Vancouver, think again, advises Hirsch. Given that Vancouver is the destination of choice for Asian investors, prices there will remain far higher than what they are in Calgary and Toronto. This will likely continue into 2012, predicts Hirsch, who expects the Chinese economy will moderate next year although not enough to prevent its citizens from wanting to invest in Canada’s west coast real estate market.

But the markets in Toronto and especially Vancouver, which comprise approximately 40 per cent of Canadian real estate, should be eyed carefully by home buyers or investors. According to Campbell, time lines should run short at 12 to 18 months or long at five years or more as statistics show signs of market turmoil in the medium term (19 months to four years) as interest rates begin to edge up, inventory outstrips population demand. That’s when speculators will try to dump properties and market confidence will be lower. In Calgary and Edmonton expect stable prices, says Hirsch.  

Saskatchewan is where you’ll find the best real estate deals in the country with the average house price in Saskatoon running at $320,000. That province also has the lowest unemployment figures in Canada with unemployment pegged at three per cent in Regina.

Halifax and St. John’s are stand alone in Atlantic Canada as those two cities experience an unrivalled economic boom right now. House prices in those cities could actually gain a little in 2012.  

As for the rest of Atlantic Canada, notes Hirsch, much of it is a depressed economy in which its rural areas are being hollowed out as residents leave the countryside for jobs in urban areas.Quebec City’s economy is faring not too badly these days as its house prices are undervalued at about one third below the national average.

Still, growth in Quebec will be a bit sluggish in 2012 with no real strong real estate gains. While its economy will be sluggish, keep in mind the province’s housing prices are not as overvalued as in Toronto so you won’t see as much deflationary pressure as in Toronto. While the province is not looking at a recession in 2012, the year will be economically softer.

Strong real estate markets will be in Canadian regions where job growth continues, low unemployment rates continue to drop and where there’s a  migration of people with jobs (as opposed to retirees), says Campbell, who cites Halifax, Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge, Hamilton, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, St. John, Dawson Creek and Surrey as having the most stable markets.“Many Canadians will be fooled into thinking that their home value is either increasing or decreasing because of reports that are released discussing the ‘Average Price in Canada,’ “ he says, “producing either a false sense of confidence or a false sense of doom, depending on the report of the month.”

According to CREA, the national housing market is edging closer to being a seller’s market.“The Canadian housing market is proving resilient in the face of ongoing global economic and financial uncertainty, to the benefit of Canadian economic growth,” said Gary Morse, CREA’s president. “That said, some housing markets are picking up, while others are holding steady or consolidating.”

A quarterly economic forecast by TD Economics economist Francis Fong indicates that the low interest rate environment coupled with slowing jobs and income growth, especially in the first six months of 2012, will hold back resurgence in housing activity. Expect a slight pullback in homes sales and prices to the tune of one to two per cent. “Looking ahead, 2012 will likely be a much more subdued year for the housing market,” wrote Fong in her report released this week.