Toronto’s Epic Housing Bubble Turns to Bust

Prices of detached houses plunge C$207,000 from a year ago as sales collapse.

After having ballooned for 18 years with barely a dip during the Financial Crisis, Greater Toronto’s housing market, Canada’s largest (area map by HomeAds), and among the most inflated in the world, is heading south with a vengeance, both in terms of sales volume and prices, particularly at the high end.

Home sales in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) plunged 39.5% in March compared to a year ago, to 7,228 homes, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB), the local real estate lobbying group. This was spread across all types of homes, even the formerly red-hot condo sector:

  • Detached houses -46.3%
  • Semi-detached houses -30.6%
  • Townhouses -34.2%
  • Condos -32.7%.

While new listings of homes for sale fell 12.4% year-over-year, at 14,866, they’d surged 41% from the prior month, and added to the listings of homes already on the market. The total number of active listings – new listings plus the listings from prior months that hadn’t sold or been pulled without having sold – more than doubled year-over-year to 15,971 homes, and were up 20% from February.

At the current sales rate, total listings pencil out to a supply of 2.1 months. The average days-on-the-market before the home is sold or the listing is pulled without having sold doubled year-over-year to 20 days. Both data points show that the market is cooling from its red-hot phase, that potential sellers aren’t panicking just yet, and that potential buyers are taking their time and getting more reluctant, or losing their appetite altogether, with the fear of missing out (FOMO) having evaporated.

Sales volume has been plunging for months while listings of homes for sale have also surged for months. Prices follow volume, and prices have been backing off, but in February they actually fell on a year-over-year basis, the first since the Financial Crisis, and in March, they fell more steeply. This is what the report called a “change in market conditions.”

The average price for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) plunged 14.3% year-over-year to C$784,588. In other words, the average buyer in March a year ago is now about C$130,000 in the hole.

The average year-over-year price decline for the GTA split up this way:

  • City of Toronto: -8.9% to C$817,642 or down C$80,000.
  • Rest of the GTA without Toronto: -17.4% to C$763,674 or down C$160,000.

But different types of homes were affected differently, with the average price of the most expensive type of homes, detached houses, taking a massive 17.1% or C$207,000 year-over-year hit:

  • Detached houses -17.1% to C$1,005,779.
  • Semi-detached houses -8.8% to C$782,831
  • Townhouses -9.5% to C$638,558
  • Condos +6.1% to C$551,003

Condo prices are still gaining, though at a declining rate, as the plunge in sales volume is gradually catching up with pricing.

The average price was also impacted by the market freezing up at the high end: Sales volume of houses costing over C$2 million, according to the TREB, plunged by half year-over-year.

In addition to these average prices, the TREB offers its own proprietary “Home Price Index Composite Benchmark” (but it doesn’t disclose median prices). This index is fairly resistant to price declines, but it nevertheless fell 1.5% year-over-year for the GTA.

Real estate website offers all kinds of housing data, including median prices. And the median price for all types of homes in the GTA in March dropped 12% year-over-year.

The TREB report tries to put the debacle of declining home prices into perspective:

Right now, when we are comparing home prices, we are comparing two starkly different periods of time: last year, when we had less than a month of inventory versus this year with inventory levels ranging between two and three months. It makes sense that we haven’t seen prices climb back to last year’s peak.

But there’s always hope that needs to be propagated to keep the bubble going somehow:

However, in the second half of the year, expect to see the annual rate of price growth improve compared to Q1, as sales increase relative to the below-average level of listings.”

Then there are the lobbying efforts. Policy makers and regulators at federal and provincial levels have been trying for the past year to cool the various local housing bubbles, particularly in the GTA and in Vancouver, which reached such proportions that they not only price out new generations of Canadian buyers but also put the financial system at risk.

But the TREB doesn’t care about that. It wants those efforts reversed and says that “often inadvisable policy ideas and negative measures” that have already been implemented, “such as land transfer taxes, vacancy taxes, speculation taxes and second home taxes should also be thoroughly debated by all candidates,” after they’d already been thoroughly debated and passed by the legislatures and regulators under intense pressure from nothing other than the stark reality and risks of an immense housing bubble.

And here is an update on the most splendid housing bubbles in the US, where some flat spots are disappearing and new ones are forming. Read… Update on the Most Splendid Housing Bubbles in the US

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  56 comments for “Toronto’s Epic Housing Bubble Turns to Bust

  1. NAPA says:

    This is just the beginning people don’t make enough money to by million dollar ? shacks!

    • urmom says:

      100% correct. People in Canada after paying taxes definitely DO NOT KEEP enough of what they earn to afford million dollar crack houses. The incomes of a Canadian who is a teacher or nurse 20 years ago to today has risen from 40k to at best 80k. Net of taxes that is 30k and 50k. But 20 years ago a crack house was 200k and went to 1.2 million and do not tell me interest rates, the rates were 5 percent 7 then and are 3 now and Canada especially Ontario is a s hole, way better places in the world to live in and pay a mill and chill than give rear for 25 years in minus 30 to banks and taxes! Yea ok this makes perfect economic sense. It is all banks and govt manipulation and indebting ppl in way over their head. Canadians are the most indebted ppl on earth right now. Thanks to the govt rats and bank rats.

  2. bev kennedy says:

    Of course when tax assessments are calculated they will be up sending money to government coffers
    If the dip is prolonged there is a process to appeal to reduce property taxes which is also prolonged but can be helpful
    One interesting bench mark are the banks valuations as usually lower aka more conservative than the for sale price.
    We had this a couple of decades ago. I recall prices in houses in Oakville dropping by up to a third. one hundred thousand drop on a three hundred and a tad single detached home.
    And it happened ago almost a decade ago
    But prices recovered and move on. So if you purchased long enough ago even with the dip most likely you would be ahead if not as flush. It is always worth keeping an eye on property tax creep, and bank valuations as benchmarks.
    Although post the 1929 crash there was a drop and then levelling off in housing prices. People crept back in if they had money and then the big drop came and it took years and years to get back to the pre 1929 crash price. Many who weren’t wiped out by the stock market were in the second elevator drop. Rather like the quiet in the eye of a hurricane and then wham. Of course there were behind the scenes tinkering that it is said extended the depth of the great depression. Ditto for the recession prior to the 2008 crash were unreal interest rate finished many businesses

  3. raxadian says:

    The question is, how low can prices get? This is gonna be a “fun” tear for those looking for homes in Toronto.

  4. Rates says:

    So looks like Warren B was correct i.e. the Canadian banks will be able to take the hit with no probs.

    • robt says:

      As long as the Bank of Canada and the Fed can bail them out again like they did in 2008.
      In the ’90s a third of the Canadian Banking system was ‘merged’, in Bank-speak.

    • backwardsevolution says:

      That’s because the banks (because of CMHC) have privatized the gains and socialized the losses. CMHC needs to go. No way the taxpayers should be shouldering the risk for the banks.

      • Dar Robbins says:

        1) I agree 100% that CMHC should no longer insure mortgages.
        2) I would also like the BOC stripped of it’s monetary issuance privileges.
        3) Government deficits outlawed by legislation.

        Wishful thinking as none of the above will ever happen.

        • backwardsevolution says:

          Dar Robbins – yes, I agree on everything. All of it should happen.

  5. kam says:

    Canadian bank balance sheets have doubled over the past 10 years. Any questions about who is financing this march to debtors prison? It sure isn’t incomes.

  6. SimplyPut7 says:

    Rising rates and falling home values are starting to cause some problems for people.

    Many of the people who bought million dollar homes never were prepared to carry the mortgage on them when rates started to go north of 2% and sales started to fall. People always assumed they would be able to easily sell if the mortgage and housing costs were too expensive. This is new territory for many buyers who have never owned a home in a rising interest rate environment.

    IFRS 9 and B20 are complicating the downturn as banks are more diligent about who they have on their books. Banks and private lenders are going into survival mode and rejecting people at renewal or renewing mortgages at very high rates.

    It’s starting to turn very quickly in Toronto. Most of the cheap mortgage rates are gone and the cheap rates that are left are more teaser rates to get you into a mortgage with a lender who have very strict terms and only allow you to get out of the mortgage with them when you sell the property.

    • NoEasyDay says:

      I don’t see much if anything regarding Australia’s or Canada’s housing woes in the U.S. mainstream media. Are we being mislead?

      • SimplyPut7 says:

        Only a handful of cities/areas in Canada have house prices that are not proportional to the salaries of the people who own them.

        I’m not sure if you can see this if you are outside of Canada, but this is one of our news channels in Toronto reporting on the changing market.

      • Clive A Marks says:

        Wash your mouth out with soap! House prices in Australia only ever go up. Only doomsayers and nuts talk about corrections in the housing market. You can become rich in Australia just by taking out a massive loan to pay off a concrete dog box in Sydney. Our PM is a merchant banker and his side-kick an ex-real estate spruiker. I kid you not.

        BTW the entire media industry in Australia is propped up by real estate advertising. Most of that media is owned by a bloke called Rupert Murdoch. Media in Australia is “news” appended to a real estate puff piece.

        And you wonder why you have not heard much about the Aussie real estate catastrophe?

        Go ask Rupert.

        • castor says:

          Canada bust could be the external shock Australia needs to go pop… Aussies realizing it can actually happen.

      • AJB says:

        Australia has had a real estate boom on the back of the banks and brokers cooking the books (anyone surprised?). Household expenditure is calculated on the basis that families live on a few hundred dollars a week:

        • AJB says:

          To give some perspective….

          “Current benchmarks used in 75pc of loans expect Sydney family of four to have expenses lower than income of aged pensioners.”

      • Ray says:

        The US media is obsessed w/ Trump. But there is a bubble here and the needle is now touching that bubble. Sub prime auto loans are crashing along w/the small banks that financed these loans. The rumor is our banking system is ready to collapse. The banks (Central) are just printing money to loan to the government then they charge interest. We have nothing more than a Ponzi scheme here in the good ole USA. War is on the horizon also.

  7. HBGuy says:

    I moved from Toronto to California in 1990, just before the NDP was elected. Detached house prices fell nearly 40% then, and condos even more. The price run-up that preceded it wasn’t nearly as grand as what’s occurred in the past several years, but more importantly, debt/income ratios weren’t nearly as high.

    So, when considering how far prices could drop, remember that the Toronto (and Vancouver) markets are probably much more precarious now than they have been in the recent past, and the controls placed by the Wynne gubment on foreign purchasers have removed many potential buyers.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least a 40% drop, and more for condos, before the cycle runs its course.

  8. OutLookingIn says:

    Financing the Bubble. Where does the buck stop?

    The Canadian mortgage market is governed under the National Housing Act (NHA) administered through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) which oversees issuing of Canada Mortgage Bonds (CMB) by the Canada Housing Trust (CHT) where Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) are complied and sold.

    So, who buys these MBS’s? Which is another name for derivatives or Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) with their bundled mortgages.

    Both private and governmental.

    Meanwhile, that is not the complete mortgage market. There is the not-so-small matter of reverse mortgages and home equity loans, that has become a high financial risk factor. As home owner’s become increasingly underwater on their mortgage totals, watch for “jingle mail” to make a come back.

    throwing house keys through the bank door.

  9. Maximus Minimus says:

    Just adding to the woes, the Canadian economy shrank in January led by resources and surprise…housing sector, while financial conditions are still super loose. And housing prices are still above the means of even high wage earners. Can someone push those NAFTA talks through lest the Canadian dollar ends up in the basement. But then, on the positive side, we know how to make up the inflation number.

    • With or without the NAFTA the Canadian dollar will end up in the basement. Poloz will make sure the dollar finishes the year in the 50 cent range. The big question is what month does the Bank of Canada cut interest not raise interest rates?

  10. DK says:

    Wasn’t a Canadian bank recently busted for making liar loans?

    • Laurentian Bank and likely Home bank and Home trust. The real question is are there any Canadian banks that didn’t make liar loans… I’d bet my last dollar not a single one. The big 5 would never be exposed.

    • robt says:

      A lot of ‘ruined’ stories in the last year. And it hasn’t even really begun yet.
      If it really gets bad, the builders (and private sellers) will start suing for closing, something that usually doesn’t happen when the market’s hot because it takes so long.
      Heck, in the old days you even used to get your deposit back.

      • backwardsevolution says:

        That’s why sellers will be wanting a much bigger deposit put down on the table, just in case people back out. If you don’t have a big deposit, you really don’t have a deal.

        And it’s always easier to sue a seller who wants to back out of a deal (because prices have increased since they sold) than to sue a buyer who wants to back out (because prices have decreased since they bought).

  11. R2D2 says:

    During the financial crisis Canada’s real estate was not affected by much; but this time they are just ahead; the real estate in the rest of the world including US will follow with 1-2, maybe 3 years lag. But they will be in hole as well; it’s just a matter of time specially with many people losing their shirts on crypto mania.

    • Javert Chip says:

      Somehow I don’t see a huge overlap between crypto “investors” and homeowners. I could be wrong…

    • HBGuy says:

      Canada avoided a steep downturn during the 2008-09 financial crisis in part because Jim Flaherty was Minister of Finance. He was one of the most competent Canada had since WWII.

      Contrast that with the current bumbling Finance Minister, Bill “I wouldn’t know a conflict of interest if it stared me in the face” Morneau, who can’t even speak for himself when on the same stage with PM Boy Blunder. I wouldn’t count on Canada having smooth sailing this time.

      • Paulo says:

        Property Brothers to the rescue! Hopefully, they’ll drop that stupid show off tv when folks figure out you can’t really buy a million dollar fixer-upper, throw a suite down in the basement, and live happily ever after.

        The colpase should be good for renters, though.

      • backwardsevolution says:

        Jim Flaherty, Mark Carney, the federal, provincial and municipal governments turned themselves into pretzels to make sure that housing didn’t go down. Flaherty allowed amortizations to go from 25 to 30 to 35 to 40 years. The banks were bailed out to the tune of $125 billion (proportionally the same as the $1.25 trillion for the U.S.)

        No doc, no down payment, cash back. Interest rates were reduced to never-before-seen levels. The kitchen sink has been thrown at housing.

        It was party time in a declining interest rate environment, a speculator’s bonanza. Money laundering through casinos, corrupt foreign money.

        Jim Flaherty (may he rest in peace) was the cause of much of the carnage that’s about to come.

      • Dar Robbins says:

        Jim Flaherty bailed out the Canadian banks and GM with the public purse running an unprecedented $50 billion dollar deficit. IMO, he was the most financially treasonous Minister of Finance Canada has ever had.

  12. SimplyPut7 says:

    Now, what do the people who own two (or more) homes do?

    ‘Declining real estate sales in the Toronto region has meant the buyers have not been able to sell their existing homes for the amounts they anticipated when they contracted to buy new houses in Mattamy’s Preserve development near Dundas St. West and Fourth Line. After they failed to sell when the market plunged or they took lower-than-expected prices, they say they couldn’t get larger loans to cover the difference.’

    The same problem will exist with all of the condos being built. Condos in Toronto take 3 – 5 years to be built. Many were bought by people hoping to flip them, others bought new units hoping to downsize from their house or move up from their existing condo. Most never planned to be taking ownership of the condo in a rising interest rate environment.

    ‘The number of condo developments under construction in the Greater Toronto Area increased to 215 projects and 58,900 units at year-end 2017. There was also a multi-decade high for purpose-built rental construction, which reached 22 projects and 7,184 units. Total combined apartments under construction of 66,084 units was a new record for the GTA — and it’s about to grow even higher.’

    • Nicko2 says:

      That story is as old as time. Don’t buy a new house without selling your old one first. On the other hand, my millennial sister and her executive-type husband pooled family resources and have one house and three investment properties in Alberta, half purchased with cash, the rest at low interest rates, and they just purchased a larger family home. As with every market correction, some will come out on top.

      • In guess your sister and her husband will learn the phrase jingle mail. If they were smart they would have handed the keys over to the bank/banks long ago on any property in Alberta. Well they’ll be be starting anew in 5 to 7 years when they get their credit back and learn a good lesson. Alberta real estate will fall every year forever. Resale townhouses and resale apartments in Edmonton, Alberta are selling for less than half of what they sold for in the summer of 2007 almost eleven years ago. If you want to rent out a second or third property in Alberta Casper the friendly ghost doesn’t visit the province of Alberta. Last I looked the true vacancy rate in Calgary, Alberta was forty percent. Units for rent but didn’t rent.

  13. chris Hauser says:

    while i disagree that the average price represents the average buyer, there does seem to be more sellers than buyers.

    the boom is over. back to basics. who’s your daddy?

    take your pick, or choose them all.

  14. TropicalSunset says:

    From what I understand the crazy prices are mostly just in Vancouver and Toronto. The rest of Canada like Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, etc… not so much. Van and Toronto likely heavily affected by foreign Chinese buying (like Sydney, Auckland, California, Seattle, etc…). Especially Vancouver.

    • intosh says:

      I’ve heard anectodally that the phenomenon has moved to Montreal. People overbidding one another on condos in downtown.

    • SimplyPut7 says:

      The media and realtors control most of the real estate data in Canada we don’t have Zillow, getting sold data is very hard. Getting data from sources that haven’t changed the benchmark prices or appraisal values to not let homeowners know how much prices have decreased is even harder.

      Media outlets in Canada are owned by a few companies and local news coverage has been slowly disappearing over the past 20 years. When the nightly news talks about the housing market, if you are in the province of Ontario, it’s mostly from the perspective of Toronto and no other area in the province.

      But most real estate outside of the greater Toronto area (GTA), such as a 2 hours to 3 hours drive out from downtown Toronto, have many homes in the range of 150k – 250k, and that’s with the very low interest rate and the government giving financial support (CMHC mortgage insurance) for people with less than 20% down payment.

      As for Montreal, headlines that appear online make the influence of foreign buyers looks greater than it real is:

      Title: ‘Foreign buyers are starting to drive up home prices in Quebec’

      But the actual article states:

      ‘Non-Canadian residents generated 1,307 property transactions in Quebec last year, representing 1 per cent of all deals, finance ministry documents show. That’s little changed from 2008, when they made up 0.8 per cent of the total. ‘

      The size of Quebec compared to the rest of Canada

      The size of Quebec compared to Europe

  15. Night-Train says:

    Slightly off topic, but I saw that a condo in the sinking SF building sold for a $1,000,000 less than asking. If I remember correctly, that was about 20-25% less than asking.

    It is hard for me to understand how this fiasco could happen in SF. I would think with the seismic threat baked in, that the engineering for each project and how any new project might affect existing structures would be first rate.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      A lot of people are wondering how this fiasco could have happened. The Millennium Tower is now tangled up in multiple complex lawsuits, and I just hope that I, as taxpayer here, don’t get tasked to bail out owners, developers, engineers, architects, insurance companies, and city officials.

      When I first wrote about the Millennium Tower (“the Leaning Tower of San Francisco”) about 18 months ago, the thing was leaning two inches at the top. Now it’s leaning about 14 inches at the top. This is a lot of movement in a short time. A fix remains elusive, though there are some ideas.

      • Nick Kelly says:

        With that increase in lean in that time I’m surprised it hasn’t been condemned for habitation. Surely it’s save to assume it no longer meets earthquake codes. since it is teetering by itself. Who signs off on that I wonder.

  16. Nicko2 says:

    Toronto is a unique market in Canada. They receive an average of 60,000 new immigrants per year, every year. That’s a captive audience. Housing will correct….but no crash.

    Meanwhile, down the road in Ottawa, or further afield in Montreal – the local RE is on fire.

    • backwardsevolution says:

      Oh, if things go down hill, immigration numbers can change on a dime. I wouldn’t be banking on that.

      • With the oil industry in taters and a housing market where the average family needs fifty years to save for a down payment things in Canada changed a long, long time ago. Canada is a country running on no cylinders and it will get much, much worse as the Canada dollar falls to the 50 cent range.

    • annette howey says:

      The house building just north of Toronto in Aurora is phenomenal. Thousands upon thousands of new builds on former carrot and onion fields is a sight to behold. Whether they are pre-sold I don’t know. Six years ago, my daughter thought she was buying into a quiet bedroom community. I dislike going there now because it is too crowded.

      • WT Frogg says:

        Same down in the Niagara Falls area. Crap shack wartime bungalows on a postage stamp lot going for $200,000 +. Brand new 2 story nondescript Boxes on 27′ wide lots going for upwards of $450,000. Rush hour traffic on the 70 mile commute in towards Toronto is brutal and getting worse. Our provincial spendthrift govt has promised to spend $Billions they don’t have (nor can they justify based on ridership) on extending the GO Transit rail service to the Falls. Who in hell wants to spend up to 6 hrs /day commuting to work ??? Not me.

    • SimplyPut7 says:

      The same number of people have been moving into the city since the 1990s when prices were much lower. The run up in prices is mainly about locals thinking ‘this time is different’ and all levels of government, media, realtors and banks/private lenders turning a blind eye to the risks they saw people take on and encouraging buyers to take on more debt.

      We were called a world class city in 1990, just before our housing crash.

      Ottawa and Montreal still offer detached houses at 3 or 4 times a family’s gross income. Ottawa also has a higher median family income than Toronto. Montreal has warned they will implement a foreign buyers tax, if prices get out of hand.

    • cv5 says:

      “Housing will correct….but no crash”

      When liquidity/credit dries up of course it will crash.

  17. WES says:

    Your comments are 100% correct! The 2008 financial skullduggery in Canada vastly exceeded by more than 2Xs anything in the US!

    The house next door is a poster child for what is happening here in Toronto! Bought for $920K now maybe $750K and unoccupied now for over 8 months! Somebody is being financially killed!

    Bank lines of credit at TD Bank were over 5% more than two years ago so I would hate to know what they are now!

    • Nick Kelly says:

      ‘The 2008 financial skullduggery in Canada vastly exceeded by more than 2Xs anything in the US!’ it didn’t. There was no equivalent of a Country Wide in Canada.
      There were no teaser rates marketed to a lot of mostly black folks in Detroit etc. who didn’t understand the rate would reset in a year or two.

      There were no people suddenly getting a foreclosure notice in the mail because their mortgage holder had gone bankrupt, even though they had made their payments on time. There were no people who didn’t know who actually held their mortgage because it had been bundled with hundreds and sold to another lender.
      (OK recently in Toronto there was an situation something like this where the developer sold units and went bust but it was rare enough to make national headlines)
      There were no mass robo-assembly lines of foreclosures.

      There have been no massive fines like those paid by US lenders for mortgage fraud because it didn’t happen.

      The Canadian Banks aren’t angels but compared to the US they are mighty clean dirty shirts.

  18. Gil says:

    I just comparing prices people are selling in Oakville now vs last year, and so far I don’t see decreases. It takes longer to sell, but homes getting sold with $50k less of asking price. I’m talking about homes prices at $1.3M

    All this talk reminds me my old friends talking about bubble for decades, well they still renting, while many of us already owning.

    GTA is #1 destination for all immigrants in Canada, #1 with job opportunities and highest salaries. And not only new immigrants, but also may people within the Canada moving to GTA as there are much more opportunities. I did this, and many of my friends did the same.

    I do see housing prices improving now, are up for 3 consequent months. All comparisons to March-April 2017 is wrong thing to do. Last year these month’s prices jumped 30%, that was abnormal spike. If you compare prices to Feb 2017 we are up today.

    The only people who are talking about bubbles are the ones missed the train.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Your comment is so full of industry propaganda and worn-out BS it’s hard to find a place to begin responding to it… So I’ll just reply to your first line, Oakville: the median price in Oakville at C$930,000 is down 22% from a year ago.

Comments are closed.