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Housing Affordability Improves Modestly across Canada: RBC Economics

Global economic uncertainty keeps interest rates low

TORONTO, November 25, 2011— After two consecutive quarters of deterioration, Canada's housing affordability has improved modestly in the third quarter, according to the latest Housing Trends and Affordability Report released today by RBC Economics. Heightened global economic uncertainty has kept interest rates low, which has been a contributing factor to housing becoming more affordable across the country.

"Elevated uncertainty relating to the European sovereign-debt crisis and the downside risk for economic growth have contributed to keeping interest rates at low levels," said Craig Wright, senior vice-president and chief economist, RBC. "The lower interest rate environment - which also includes mortgage rates - has played a part in slightly reducing the costs of owning a home in Canada in the third quarter."

The RBC housing affordability measure captures the proportion of pre-tax household income that would be needed to service the costs of owning a specified category of home at going market values. During the third quarter of 2011, measures for the national level fell for all housing categories tracked by RBC (a fall represents an increase in affordability).

Where housing affordability stands in Canada:

Standard condominium measures
Detached bungalow measures
Standard two-storey home measures

Earlier this year, deterioration in affordability at the national level was skewed by substantial increases in homeownership costs in Metro Vancouver. In the third quarter, RBC measures in the majority of provinces and cities experienced modest declines (less than 1 percentage point). More remarkable improvements materialized in a few local markets across Canada, including Montreal (for two-storey homes and detached bungalows), Manitoba (for two-storey homes), and Vancouver (for detached bungalows).

"Housing affordability levels are quite good in most parts of Canada and will pose little threat to overall housing demand," added Wright. "The Vancouver area market continues to be a major exception, with sky-high property values in upscale neighbourhoods making it both extremely unaffordable and the most at risk of a downward correction."

Going forward, RBC forecasts that interest rates will remain exceptionally low in Canada until mid-2012 and rise gradually after that.

"We expect to see further slowing in the pace of home price increases next year, as housing demand levels out," said Wright.

"These factors will set the stage for a period of relative stability in affordability trends in Canada."

The RBC report indicates that the cost of owning a home at market value remains close to historical norms in the majority of markets outside of British Columbia, implying that local markets are, for the most part, at worst, slightly 'unaffordable'. Affordability tensions emerged earlier this year in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal (particularly in two-storey homes) and continue to be in a slightly uncomfortable range.

RBC's housing affordability measure for the benchmark detached bungalow in Canada's largest cities is as follows: Vancouver 90.6 per cent (down 1.5 percentage points from the previous quarter), Toronto 52.1 per cent (up 0.1 percentage points), Montreal 40.9 per cent (down 1.3 percentage points), Ottawa 40.8 per cent (down 0.6 percentage points), Calgary 37.6 per cent (up 0.5 percentage points) and Edmonton 33.2 per cent (down 0.6 percentage points).

The RBC Housing Affordability Measure, which has been compiled since 1985, is based on the costs of owning a detached bungalow, a reasonable property benchmark for the housing market in Canada. Alternative housing types are also presented, including a standard two-storey home and a standard condominium. The higher the reading, the more costly it is to afford a home based on going market values. For example, an affordability reading of 50 per cent means that homeownership costs, including mortgage payments, utilities and property taxes, take up 50 per cent of a typical household's monthly pre-tax income.

Highlights from across Canada:

  • British Columbia: The combination of moderate declines in mortgage rates and softer prices for some housing types made it slightly more affordable to own a home in British Columbia in the third quarter. The RBC Affordability measures for British Columbia decreased between 0.3 and 1.2 percentage points in the quarter, but remain well above historical norms. The poor affordability picture in British Columbia will continue to weigh on local housing demand.
    • Vancouver continues to experience sky-high home prices, even though the RBC affordability measures fell between 1.5 percentage points and 0.8 percentage points. Current market prices continue to weigh on local homebuyers, as home ownership costs remain well above historical norms.

  • Alberta: Impressive gains in Alberta's economy contributed to a stronger provincial housing market in the third quarter of this year. Home resales and housing starts reached their highest levels in over a year, thanks to renewed demand for housing in the province. RBC affordability measures for Alberta remained mostly unchanged and the lowest among the provinces in the third quarter.
    • Affordability measures in Calgary deteriorated slightly for most housing types in the third quarter, rising between 0.2 and 0.5 percentage points. Nonetheless, Calgary-area homebuyers continue to benefit from attractive affordability, which remained the best among Canada's major cities.

  • Saskatchewan: In the third quarter, there was widespread improvement in housing affordability in Saskatchewan. RBC measures fell for all housing types between 0.8 and 0.9 percentage points, reversing part of the increases from the previous quarter. Home resales picked up significantly in the province, with strong gains registered in Saskatoon and Regina. The Saskatchewan housing market will continue to be well-supported by strong economic growth in the coming year.

  • Manitoba: Housing affordability continues to be attractive in Manitoba, showing some of the most significant improvements in the country in the third quarter. The RBC measures for two-storey homes fell 1.5 percentage points, while the measures for detached bungalows declined by 1.2 per cent and for condominium apartments by 0.8 percentage points. Homebuyers took advantage of the greater affordability in the third quarter and boosted home resales by 5.3 per cent.

  • Ontario: Ontario's housing affordability experienced very little change in the third quarter of 2011. Condominium apartments were the only housing type to see any movement, with the RBC measure decreasing by a mere 0.1 percentage point. Affordability in Ontario stands just slightly worse than the historical average in the province. Home resales in Ontario increased at a robust 3.8 per cent rate. Market activity in Ontario is balanced at the moment, and home prices are increasing at a steady yet moderate pace. The number of homes for sale in Ontario is on the rise, which will likely slow the pace of property appreciation in the period ahead.
    • The Toronto area remains a sellers market even as RBC measures clearly stand above long-term averages for the area. In the third quarter, measures for Toronto were little changed, increasing by a mere 0.1 percentage point for detached bungalows, declining by 0.3 percentage points for two-storey homes and staying flat for condominiums.
    • Ottawa measures decreased over all housing types in the third quarter from 0.2 to 0.6 percentage points. The earlier cooling in market activity in the area has almost entirely reversed in the latest period, as home resales rebounded by eight per cent.

  • Quebec: RBC measures for Quebec declined between 0.1 and 1.4 percentage points, reversing some of the back-to-back deteriorations in affordability seen in the first and second quarters. All measures in Quebec stand slightly above their long-term averages, and more so in the case of standard two-storey homes, corresponding to a moderate strain in affordability in the province.
    • Montreal's affordability measure for standard two-storey homes fell the most among Canada's largest cities in the third quarter, dropping by 2.3 percentage points. The measure for detached bungalows also fell substantially (by 1.3 percentage points), while condominium affordability was largely unchanged (a marginal increase of 0.1 percentage points). Despite the improvement in the latest period, the Montreal-area market still faces some stress, as affordability levels continue to be somewhat worse than they have historically been, on average.

  • Atlantic: Atlantic Canada's housing market continues to be among the most affordable in Canada, with further modest improvements in the third quarter: the RBC measures eased between 0.4 and 0.6 percentage points. Although many markets in New Brunswick have displayed signs of cooling in the last two quarters amid deterioration in the province's labour market, overall, home resales increased marginally in the region. With slow economic growth projected in Atlantic Canada next year, housing trends are likely to remain largely stable in the region.

The full RBC Housing Trends and Affordability report is available online, as of 8 a.m. ET today, at www.rbc.com/economics/market/.

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For more information, please contact:

Craig Wright, Senior Vice-President and Chief Economist, RBC,
416 974-7457

Robert Hogue, Senior Economist, RBC Economics Research,
416 974-6192

Elyse Lalonde, Manager, Media Relations, RBC,
416 974-8810

 

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