A sustained rise in interest rates of just one per cent could cause Toronto area home sales to tumble by 15.3 per cent and prices to decline by 5.8 per cent by 2015, predicts a veteran housing analyst.

Even a half point rise in rates, which have been edging up incrementally the last few weeks, could translate into a 9 per cent slump in sales and a 2.6 per cent drop in prices by 2015, compared to where the market stood in 2012, notes economist Will Dunning in a rates-impact assessment released Wednesday.

“Once house prices start to fall, the outcome is unpredictable,” depending on how consumer confidence is affected, he says.

“It could be that once consumers start to expect prices to fall, the reduction in demand will be larger than it needs to be (based on economic fundamentals) and therefore price reductions will be larger than they need to be.”

“Moreover, because “housing wealth” is a very strong driver of job creation, what starts as a small drop in house prices can turn into a major event for the broader economy.”

Dunning is chief economist for the Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals, the umbrella group for mortgage brokers.

But he stresses that he did this analysis on his own because he’s been asked so many times lately what could happen to the housing market – which has already suffered a slump in sales and an easing of growth in prices since tougher mortgage lending rules were introduced last summer – if interest rates inch up from historic lows.

Many economists believe Toronto’s decade-long housing boom has been largely credit-driven and that, as rates start climbing, the bubble could burst, especially in what the Bank of Canada has warned is the city’s over-supplied condo sector.

Dunning recently cautioned that Ottawa’s attempts to cool Toronto and Vancouver’s overheated housing markets, by making it tougher for first-time buyers to qualify for financing, is likely to result in a 25 to 30 per cent decline in housing starts by 2015 and 150,000 fewer construction jobs across the country.

And that dire prediction came before many of the big banks had started incrementally increasing rates on their fixed-term mortgages in the wake of market reaction to U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s recent warning that $85 billion (U.S.) in monthly bond buying may be coming to an end this year.

As of Friday, BMO’s five-year fixed mortgage climbed 0.20 per cent to 3.59 and RBC’s was set at 3.69.

Dunning believes the rate increases aren’t justified and that they could retreat somewhat in the next few months. But he adds that “if the rises persist, the risks (to the housing market) are increased.”

Dunning says that Toronto Real Estate Board sales numbers for June, being released in a few days, will likely show there has been a rush of buyers into the market recently, trying to fast-track house purchases armed with pre-approved mortgage rates negotiated before rates started increasing.

He calls that “borrowed activity from the future.”

“The real test will come in the fall,” says Dunning, when those pre-approvals have expired, especially if rates hold at their new or even slightly higher levels.

But it looks like times are still good …

Toronto house prices up 5% in June

Sales fall slightly, but short supply hikes prices by 4.7%, Toronto Real Estate Board says

CBC News

Home prices in the Greater Toronto area were up 4.7 per cent in June compared to a year ago, according to a report by the Toronto Real Estate Board that also showed a slight drop in sales over the same time period.

The rise in prices was driven by single-detached and semi-detached homes — particularly in the city of Toronto. The board called the price growth “in line with the 2013 norm,” in its report.

The city’s condo market, which many see as oversupplied and ripe for a drop, saw a 0.3 per cent price hike while sales decreased by four per cent.

The average price of a condo in the city of Toronto was $366,532 while one in the outlying areas known as the “905” region after the local telephone area code, is priced at $288,604.

In the overall market, the number of new listings dropped more than sales, which the board says suggested that market conditions became tighter. New listings in the city of Toronto dropped by 11.7 per cent while listings in the 905 area slipped by just 2.3 per cent.

The board remained optimistic about the housing market.

“The sales picture in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) improved markedly in the second quarter of 2013,” board president Dianne Usher said in remarks accompanying the report.

“While the number of transactions was still down compared to 2012, rates of decline were substantially improved compared to the first quarter.

“As a growing number of homebuyers, many of whom put their purchase on hold due to stricter lending guidelines, now reactivate their search, the expectation is for renewed growth in home sales in the second half of 2013.”

Supply shortfall pushes up prices

Jason Mercer, the board’s senior manager of market analysis, said the rise in prices was in large part a result of inadequate supply of detached and semi-detached homes in many parts of the GTA, particularly in the city of Toronto.

“We have also seen enough buyers in the better-supplied condo apartment market to provide support for selling prices at current levels,” Mercer said in remarks accompanying the board’s report.

The report’s breakdown by market segment showed that detached home sales in Toronto’s 416 area code were down 6.9 per cent at 1,137 in June, but the average price was up 8.1 per cent at $866,326.

That compared with a 3.2 per cent increase in sales to 3,411 in the 905 area, where year-over-year prices were up 4.9 per cent at $598,708.

The semi-detached market in the 416 area saw a 3.1 per cent decrease in sales to 380, but a 9.5 per cent increase in prices to $618,194, and a 0.8 per cent increase to 623 in the 905 area where prices were up 3.7 per cent at $411,877.