What is a housing bubble? You’ve undoubtedly heard the term, but what does it actually mean, and is Canada experiencing one? Whether you already own a home, are considering buying one in the near future, or you’re waiting for the right time to sell, here we answer what is a housing bubble, what causes it, and how it may affect you.
A housing bubble happens when the price of homes rises quickly, at an unsustainable rate. Typically, a price-growth rate that’s in the high single-digits is considered to be healthy and sustainable. Under healthy conditions, homeowners continue to earn equity over time, sellers can make a profit on resale, and buyers can still afford to get into the market. This type of price growth can usually be explained by economic factors, such as an employment boom and favourable interest rates.
On the other hand, a housing bubble can happen as a result of non-organic growth. For example, if speculators were flooding the market, buying up homes to take advantage of rapid price growth, with the intention of selling in the near term for a hefty profit. When prices are deemed to have hit a high point, speculators list their properties for sale. This massive influx of listings, coupled with stagnating demand, causes prices to plummet and results in a “housing market crash.”
A housing bubble is a temporary event and prices eventually return to normal levels, when demand rises again and home-buying activity resumes.
During a housing bubble, homes become overvalued. When the bubble bursts, prices fall. Homeowners who have no intention of selling are unlikely to feel the direct impacts of the bursting bubble. However, these market conditions often indirectly impact other aspects of the economy, so to call homeowners who aren’t selling “free and clear” would be misleading. The ripple effects of a bursting housing bubble would likely touch most of us, in one way or another.
Homebuyers who purchased a home during a housing bubble likely paid considerably more than it is worth. Properties bought by end-users as a residence, with no intention of being sold in the short-term, will eventually rebound closer to “normal” values and at some point, return to positive growth.
A housing bubble poses the biggest risk to home sellers. Those who purchased in the bubble, but now find themselves forced to sell their home, will come up short on resale. They bought the home at a price that exceeds what they can recoup, putting them in the red with no asset to show for it.
For example, someone purchased at peak market prices, but due to circumstances such as a job loss or the inability to carry the costs for any reason, now has no choice but to sell in a down market. The seller still owes money to their mortgage lender on a home that they no longer own.
The Canadian housing market took a surprising upward turn during the COVID-19 pandemic, after coming to a grinding halt in mid-March. The slow-down was short-lived, and what followed through the remainder of 2020 was a a spike in demand for homes met by a shortage of supply. With 2021 well underway, there appears to be no end in sight.
There are a number of factors that indicate we’re not experiencing a bubble caused my market speculators, contrary to some media reports.
A recent online survey of RE/MAX brokers and agents in Western Canada, Ontario and Atlantic Canada found that speculators are not a factor in the Canadian real estate market at this time. In fact, more than 96% of RE/MAX brokers and agents supported this finding, confirming that the majority of homebuyers are end-users. Speculators tend to wait out hot markets, buying when prices are down and selling when they’re up again. The short-term investment opportunities they’re generally looking for are hard to find under current market conditions. Bully offers and bidding wars are commonplace, and we continue to see demand outpacing supply with the release of the monthly housing market data. These factors are generally inhospitable to speculators and investors.
For a housing bubble to burst, there needs to be a steep incline in inventory and new listings, and a decline in demand – neither of which is likely to happen any time soon.
The Canadian housing market is still feeling the impacts of the pent-up demand from 2017, when the government introduced the foreign buyer tax and the mortgage stress test as a means to cool the overheating market. These policies prompted many homebuyers to move to the sidelines, opting to wait and save, with plans to re-engage in the housing market in a few years.
Now fast-forward a few years to 2020. COVID-19 had a similar impact on the market, whereby many homebuyers delayed their purchase plans due to pandemic-related uncertainties. That pre-existing pent-up demand for homes continued to swell. With Canadians subject to stay-at-home orders with nowhere to go and spend their hard-earned money, they collectively saved historically high sums, which was injected back into the housing market once consumer confidence returned. The spending came in the form of record-high home sales and for those who were unwilling to face the competitive resale market conditions, renovations to existing dwellings. In fact, Canadian real estate was said to be the driving force behind the Canadian economy in 2020.
Savings, low interest rates and low inventory continue to put pressure on the housing market.
Now, consider the housing needs of the 1.2 million people who are expected to immigrate to Canada through 2023, per the government’s 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan.
Given all this, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll experience the influx of real estate listings needed for a housing market crash – and if we did see those listings suddenly come on stream, there should be plenty of buyers to absorb them.
Challenging market conditions and a still-present global pandemic have added some personal risk on the part of homebuyers and sellers. It’s important to remember that conditions vary across Canada, and can be dramatically different between provinces, cities, and even from one neighbourhood to the next. Now more than ever, it’s important to work with a trusted, experienced professional Realtor who can guide you though the buying and selling process.
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