As we head into the all-important spring season, the ongoing cyclical correction will put the entire housing sector to the test. However, while the pain will likely persist for many homeowners and industry participants, there are encouraging signs on the affordability front in light of developments through the fourth quarter of 2008. The sharp deteriorating trend in RBC’s affordability measures from about 2004 to late 2007-early 2008 has reversed in the past year. At the national level, the RBC measures improved 2.3 to 3.5 percentage points between the final quarters of 2007 and 2008, with markets in Alberta and British Columbia showing more sizable repair (although this largely reflects the extent of the earlier impairment).
The improvement can be primarily credited to monetary policy during that period because lower mortgage rates account for the largest portion of the reversal in RBC’s measures in almost all major urban areas in Canada except for cities in Alberta. Rising family income also contributed positively across the country.
Only in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver was price a constructive factor in the year-over-year change – although price has played a wider beneficial role in recent more quarters. Higher utilities and property taxes have remained a modest undermining factor.
Going forward, low mortgage rates and persisting downward pressure on housing prices will continue to help repair affordability, but slowing income growth will act as a restraint.
Saskatchewan — Boom is over but no bust
The housing boom is officially over in Saskatchewan. Market activity has cooled considerably from the frenzied pace of 2006-early 2008 and prices have begun to come off the heights they reached during their spectacular run-up. However, the post-boom period so far has been a mostly orderly affair thanks to the province’s largely supportive economic and demographic fundamentals (Saskatchewan’s economy is the strongest in Canada and is forecast to remain so during 2009). These positive factors overshadow extremely poor affordability levels that have resulted from the spike in prices of recent years. While lower mortgage rates, income gains and, in more recent quarters, lower prices have helped improve affordability in the past year, RBC’s measures remain at worrisome levels compared to historical averages. This represents an element of risk if the province’s economic performance is weaker than expected.
Good news, bad news for home buyers: Star Phoenix
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