2019 Top-Tier Spring Outlook

 
 
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2019 Top-Tier Spring Outlook

Presented by Sotheby’s International Realty

Population growth and revitalized consumer confidence in the country’s largest real estate market is expected to drive Canadian top-tier real estate performance in spring 2019. New data compiled by Sotheby’s International Realty Canada reveal that Greater Toronto Area top-tier sales have stabilized from previous years’ unpredictability, with sales over $1 million down a nominal 2% year-over-year in the first two months of 2019. A shortfall in inventory over $4 million, as well as a shift of luxury real estate transactions to off-market and private channels resulted in a 38% decrease in MLS® sales compared to the first two months of 2018; however, demand for luxury housing remains robust leading into spring. While buyers’ market conditions remain entrenched in Vancouver as the city started the year with 52% and 50% declines in sales over $1 million and $4 million respectively, pent-up demand and a positive shift in market confidence are palpable.

There are strong indicators that home buyers and sellers are on the brink of re-engaging in Vancouver’s top-tier market; whether this occurs in spring will be dependent on whether housing prices adjust downward to meet current market conditions. Following a record-setting 2018, Montreal is projected to experience a stable spring market: sales of $1 million-plus real estate increased 6% year-over-year in the first two months of 2019, while the city’s market for condominiums over $1 million soared 53%. Top-tier market performance in Calgary remains burdened by excess inventory and soft demand. With sales over $1 million down 33% year-over-year in January and February, the city continues to endure a prolonged recovery.

“Toronto’s top-tier real estate market has gained consistent and steady traction in the early months of 2019, and is primed for healthy spring performance. The ceiling for sales activity will be determined by inventory, as consumer demand continues to rise,” says Brad Henderson, President & CEO of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada. “Vancouver remains a buyers’ market, but has transformed to one where pent-up demand is verging on activity. Consumer interest is solid, and so is confidence in the enduring value of Vancouver real estate. The question will be whether prices adjust to facilitate more transactions this spring, or in a later season.”

According to Henderson, Montreal’s luxury market maintains strong potential to set new records this spring, while Calgary’s top-tier market remains vulnerable to the region’s continued economic downturn, as well as its sharp build-up of housing inventory.

Key National Influencers:

  • Positive population growth remains an under-reported but defining influence on top-tier and conventional real estate demand in Canada’s largest metropolitans areas. According to Statistics Canada, annual population gains in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary outstripped the national average of 1.4%, rising 2.5%, 1.6% and 2.1% respectively in late 2018, while Montreal experienced a 1.3% year-over-year lift. With immigrants and permanent residents contributing the most significantly to population growth, the country’s leading gateway cities for new Canadians, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, will continue to see inflows that will bolster the need for housing.

 

  • Vulnerabilities in the Canadian economy, including below-anticipated performance in consumer spending, exports, and investment, are casting shadows on Canadian top-tier market performance this spring. According to the Conference Board of Canada, national GDP growth is expected to slow to 1.9% this year, while provincial growth forecasts have decelerated to 1.8% in Quebec, 2.1% in Ontario, and 1.3% in Alberta. British Columbia’s real GDP growth is projected to strengthen to 2.5% in 2019 as investment in the energy sector offsets a housing market correction. The Bank of Canada, in reaction to a deeper than expected economic slowdown in the fourth quarter of 2018, downgraded its forecast for the first half of 2019. In spite of these risks, local market fundamentals such as inventory and regional consumer confidence are expected to prevail as dominant influencers on top-tier market performance in the immediate future.

 

  • Following multiple rate hikes since 2017, the slowdown of the global and Canadian economies prompted the Bank of Canada to hold its target overnight rate at 1.75% in March, evoking speculation that interest rates may stabilize or roll back in 2019. While recent rate increases have had a negligible effect on ultra-luxury real estate consumers, steady or lowered costs of borrowing would soften the impact of rising housing costs and stricter lending guidelines for purchasers in the market for conventional and top-tier homes under $2 million, facilitating activity in the market.

 

  • As affordability remains a key concern in Canada’s major metropolitan real estate markets, calls for new housing regulations and taxes, including proposed increases to the Empty Homes Tax in the City of Vancouver and a foreign buyers’ tax in Montreal, add a degree of uncertainty to the top-tier market. The potential for governmental intervention continues to exacerbate consumer anxiety, keeping buyers, sellers, as well as viable housing supply from entering the market.

Montreal:

Following a 20% year-over-year increase in real estate sales over $1 million in 2018, the City of Montreal remains on pace to set new records this spring. With strong economic and political fundamentals driving local confidence and demand, top-tier sales escalated in the first two months of 2019. Overall $1 million-plus residential real estate sales (condominiums, attached and single family homes) were up 6% year-over-year to 111 units sold in January and February. Two luxury properties sold over $4 million during this time, up from zero over the same months in 2018.

Significant gains in the city’s luxury condominium market point to strong spring performance. Condominium sales over $1 million rose 53% year-over-year to 26 units sold in the first two months of 2019. Local end-user demand is expected to absorb the anticipated influx of top-tier condominium supply in 2019, as luxury condominium projects completed in recent years enter the resale lifecycle.

The shortage of top-tier housing supply in the city’s premier luxury neighbourhoods is hampering activity in the single family home market. In spite of healthy demand, sales of $1 million-plus single family homes in January and February 2019 stabilized from 2018’s record levels, contracting 4% to 50 homes sold. Likewise, top-tier attached home sales over $1 million remained consistent, contracting a nominal 3% from 2018 to 35 units sold. Diminishing days on market, bidding wars and sales above asking price are expected to persist through the spring, while modest price gains are projected across all top-tier housing types.

Montreal is uniquely positioned to gain ground as a Canadian real estate market leader through 2019. According to data released by the Canadian Real Estate Association, the value of transactions in Montreal reached $1.63 billion in the first month of the year, up 18% from January 2018 and the fastest rate of growth in a decade. Investments into city infrastructure and new luxury projects continue to elevate the value of the city’s high-end housing supply, while a strong employment market and growing global interest bolster demand for conventional and top-tier housing. With a median single family home price of $320,000 in February 2019, Montreal remains an affordable premium real estate market relative to Toronto and Vancouver. These factors continue to strengthen Montreal’s position into the year.

Greater Toronto Area (GTA):

The Greater Toronto Area (Durham, Halton, Peel, Toronto and York) top-tier real estate market is poised for a brisk spring, with consumer confidence and sales activity projected to surpass 2018 levels. Preliminary sales data from the first two months of 2019 reflect a market that has stabilized from previous years’ unpredictability, while industry experts have reported a shortfall of available inventory relative to demand.

Overall, GTA $1 million-plus residential real estate sales (condominiums, attached and single family homes) remained stable from 2018 levels over the first two months of 2019, dipping 2% year-over-year to 1,497 units sold. GTA sales between $1–2 million steadied with a nominal decline of 1% during the first two months of the year, while sales between $2–4 million contracted 5%. Luxury $4 million-plus sales decreased 38% to 20 units sold. This was due to a shortfall in supply, as well as a shift in luxury sales to exclusive and off-market transactions as homeowners seek to protect their privacy following Competition Bureau of Canada rulings that allow for broader release of real estate sales data.

City of Toronto top-tier sales also reflected stability. Sales over $1 million remained consistent between the first two months of 2019 and the same timeframe in 2018, at 690 units sold. Sales between $1–2 million rose a modest 7% to 565 units sold, while sales between $2–4 million contracted 21%. The luxury $4 million-plus segment fell 29% to 17 units; however, this was due in part to a transition in luxury real estate transactions to private marketing and sales channels.

Following sales performance in the second half of 2018 that saw top-tier condominium sales increase 12% from 2017 levels, while $4 million-plus sales increased 33%, the forecast for the spring $1 million-plus condominium market is positive for the GTA. In the first two months of 2019, condo sales over $1 million rose 7% year-over-year to 145 units sold in the GTA, and increased 3% to 134 units sold in the City of Toronto. Population gains, as well as affordability challenges that limit consumer access to single family and attached properties, continue to drive condo demand, particularly within the urban core and for larger units.

High demand is also projected for the $1 million-plus attached home segment in spring 2019, as sales volume experienced significant gains early in the year. Sales over $1 million soared 40% year-over-year in the GTA to 182 units sold, and increased 55% in the City of Toronto to 157 units sold.

Tight top-tier single family home supply limited activity in the first two months of 2019. In spite of solid consumer demand and confidence, sales over $1 million in January and February contracted 8% from the same period in 2018 to 1,170 homes sold in the GTA, and fell 13% to 399 homes sold in the City of Toronto. With home sellers seeking confidentiality away from the transparency of the Multiple Listings System (MLS®), data for luxury home sales over $4 million skewed downwards as more transactions shifted off market. Overall, sales of homes over $4 million decreased 39% year-over-year in the GTA to 17 homes sold, and 30% in the City of Toronto to 14 homes sold during the first two months of 2019.

With Ontario projected to experience some of the strongest job gains of the Canadian provinces in 2019, and with overall economic growth forecast to advance a modest 2.1% this year according to the Conference Board of Canada, the top-tier market is expected to remain sound through the spring.

Calgary:

Sombre buyers’ market conditions are expected for the City of Calgary’s top-tier real estate market in spring 2019 as the provincial economy endures a prolonged recovery. According to the Calgary Real Estate Board, persistently weak demand and excess supply are expected to cause further price declines in 2019; a similar trend is projected for the city’s high-end market in the coming months.

Top-tier residential real estate sales during the first two months of 2019 reflected consumer hesitancy as sales activity declined in spite of rising inventory. Following a 10% year-over-year decrease in $1 million-plus real estate sales (condominiums, attached homes, and single family homes) in 2018, top-tier sales fell further in the first two months of the year. Sales over $1 million saw a 33% decrease to 62 properties sold, compared to 92 units sold in the same period in 2018. One property sold over $4 million in the first two months of the year compared to zero in the year prior.

The majority of top-tier activity was seen in the single family home market, with sales in this segment comprising 84% of all residential real estate sales over $1 million. 52 single family homes sold in January and February, a 32% decline from the 76 homes sold in the same period in 2018. Attached home sales remained quiet but stable from 2018 levels, with seven $1 million-plus homes sold in the first two months of 2019 and 2018.

Oversupply continues to burden Calgary’s luxury condo market, which is projected to experience challenges into the spring. Three condominiums sold over $1 million in the first two months of 2019, compared to nine units sold in the same period in 2018.

The conventional real estate market is expected to stabilize in 2019, but the transition is projected to take most of the year. While the outcome of the May 31 provincial election may affect market psychology, underlying economic and supply vulnerabilities position Calgary to endure buyers’ market conditions well into 2019.

Vancouver:

As Vancouver evolves as a global city, the residential real estate market continues to negotiate the growing pains of elevated real estate prices, acute need for affordable housing, and repercussions of policy intervention intended to address the imbalance.

Following years of government and regulatory changes, the first two months of 2019 saw continued buyers’ market conditions across the City of Vancouver, with price reductions reflected across the condominium, attached and single family home markets. However, a significant shift in consumer sentiment occurred within the top-tier real estate market leading into spring. There are strong signals that consumer interest and demand is rebuilding, and that home buyers and sellers who have remained on the sidelines are poised to return. The timing of their re-entry into the market, and whether they do so this spring, will be contingent on whether prices decline to match current buyers’ market realities.

Overall, $1 million plus-sales volume (condominiums, attached and single family homes) saw a 52% reduction in the first two months of 2019 to 279 properties sold compared to 576 sold in the same period in 2018. The $4 million-plus luxury segment experienced a similar slowdown, with sales decreasing 50% to 18 units sold in the first two months of the year compared to 36 sold in the same period in 2018. Price reductions continue to be experienced across all top-tier housing types, while multiple downward price adjustments on listings have become common.

In the first two months of 2019, sales of single family homes over $1 million fell 35% from 2018 levels to 146 homes sold compared to 223 homes sold in the same period the year prior. The $1–2 million segment of the market saw the most activity, however, sales experienced a 21% reduction to 82 homes sold, compared to 104 homes the year prior. The most significant percentage decline occurred in the market for homes $2–4 million, which saw a 48% decline to 48 homes sold, compared to 93 homes sold in the first two months of 2018. Luxury home sales over $4 million remained quiet as prospective buyers postponed purchases. As a result, this segment of the market saw a 38% year-over-year reduction to 16 homes sold, compared to 26 homes sold in the same period the year prior.

Vancouver’s previously resilient condo market saw the greatest retraction in top-tier sales activity. Sales over $1 million fell 66% to 86 units sold in the first two months of 2019, compared to 254 sold in the same period in 2018. Sales in the $1–2 million and $2–4 million condominium market decreased 68% and 45% respectively. One condominium sold over $4 million during the first two months of the year compared to nine units in the same period in 2018.

$1 million-plus attached home sales declined 53% to 47 homes sold during the first two months of 2019, compared to 99 homes in the same period in 2018. The slowdown in the condo and attached home markets can be partially attributed to a decrease in demand from the downsizer market, as sellers delayed listing single family homes in anticipation of more favourable future returns.

Market anxiety is expected to underscore Vancouver’s top-tier real estate market this spring. A proposal by City of Vancouver staff to amend and improve the effectiveness of the Empty Homes Tax is injecting new uncertainty into the market, provoking concerns of additional intervention with unknown consequences. Furthermore, measures aimed at addressing housing affordability by the recently elected municipal government are still to be seen.

In spite of these headwinds, the noticeable lift in home buyer interest in the preliminary months of 2019 foreshadow the potential for real estate consumers to re-enter the market to take advantage of price declines. Active open houses and an uptick in property enquiries signal pent-up demand that may translate to a renewed market at adjusted prices this year.

Download the 2018 Year-End Top-Tier Real Estate Report (released January 2019)

Disclaimer* The information contained in this report references market data from MLS boards across Canada. Sotheby’s International Realty Canada cautions that MLS market data can be useful in establishing trends over time, but does not indicate actual prices in widely divergent neighborhoods or account for price differentials within local markets. This report is published for general information only and not to be relied upon in any way. Although high standards have been used in the preparation of the information and analysis presented in this report, no responsibility or liability whatsoever can be accepted by Sotheby’s International Realty Canada or Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates for any loss or damage resultant from any use of, reliance on, or reference to the contents of this document.