For a few years, concern has been expressed about house price increases in Canada, which have been disproportionate compared to household incomes.
In this regard, the latest, semi-annual Bank of Canada Financial System Review points to the overbuilt multi-unit market, especially the Toronto condominium market, as having the potential to inflict serious harm on the economy (see A Toronto Condo Bubble?), including “reduced household net worth.” In its report, Canada’s central bank said:
“…the total number of housing units under construction remains significantly above its historical average relative to the population. This development is almost entirely attributable to multiple-unit dwellings (which include condominium units). In the Toronto condominium market, the number of unsold high-rise units in the pre-construction and under-construction stages has remained near the high levels observed since early 2012. If the investor component of demand has boosted construction in the condominium market beyond demographic requirements, this market may be more susceptible to shifts in buyer sentiment. Furthermore, if the upcoming supply of units is not absorbed by demand as they are completed over the next 12 to 30 months, the supply-demand discrepancy would become more apparent, increasing the risk of an abrupt correction in prices and residential construction activity.
Any correction in condominium prices could spread to other segments of the housing market as buyers and sellers adjust their expectations. Such a correction would reduce household net worth, confidence and consumption spending, with negative spillovers to income and employment. These adverse effects would weaken the credit quality of banks’ loan portfolios and could lead to tighter lending conditions for households and businesses. This chain of events could then feed back into the housing market, causing the drop in house prices to overshoot.”
(Emphasis by author)
Canadian analysts have long been concerned about the potential for its rising house prices to collapse, as occurred in the overheated US markets. Just as the housing bust in California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada threw the US economy and that of the world into the worst economic decline since the Great Depression, a housing price bust could inflict serious damage to the Canadian economy, which has performed strongly in recent years.
In the United States, the housing bust led to a nearly 20 percent reduction in household net worth, while recent reports show that the loss has been recovered. However, this recovery has been anything but equal. Many households who suffered losses, such as in investments intended to finance retirement, have not seen their wealth restored.
There is plenty about housing market distortion for Canada to be concerned about.