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2015 outlook: residential real estate market in Canada

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Canada’s real estate market started with a solid rise in both prices and number of transactions despite the economic downturn. In fact, the weakened Canadian dollar has created favourable currency exchange conditions, encouraging more buyers from abroad despite property prices spiking this year. So, as agencies prepare for some of the biggest price tags and highest amount of transactions, here’s a quick look at what’s going on.

Selective price growth

There is a lot of hope on the market at the moment with some stakeholders predicting record sales like Royal LePage, Canada’s largest real estate agency. While growth is expected to continue nationwide, the spread is uneven in terms of property type and location, putting single-family bungalows and two-storey homes in Vancouver and Toronto in the lead so far. The average price of residential property went up by nearly $30,000 (USD) over the last twelve months to reach $349,000. (CAD 453,560).

Residential property price growth in Canada from Q2 2014 to Q2 2015, %Source: Royal LePage

By the end of 2015, prices in Toronto and Vancouver are expected to have grown 9.6% and 9.4% respectively with a Canadian average of 6.1%, according to Royal LePage experts.

“The robust national average home price increases that we have seen in the second quarter are heavily influenced by activity levels in Toronto and Vancouver. The housing industry in both cities is founded on prosperous labour markets driving demand for housing that is in limited supply. Above average price growth isn’t going away any time soon,” said Phil Soper, Royal LePage CEO.

This trend is particularly true for full-employment cities like Toronto and Hamilton (near the US border, just 70 km from Toronto) where people feel optimistic about the future and the banks have relatively low interest rates. Mr Soper also points out that market players expect further interest rate reductions, which should fuel growth in demand and prices.

Even so, the Royal Bank of Canada is displaying less optimism, forecasting 3.8% average growth in 2015 and 1.6% in 2016.

Sales on the rise

Overall sales have been on the rise but market analysts are divided on how this trend will evolve. While they all agree that growth will be sustained throughout 2015, to what extent and for how long is yet to be determined due to the uncertainty surrounding the Canadian economy.

During H1 2015, there were 5.9% more property transactions than in H1 2014, setting a national record of 513,000 transactions according to the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA). Their estimates also say transactions will grow 5.2% for 2015 overall, and that the biggest growth this year will be seen in Vancouver (27.6%), Toronto (7.2%), Montreal (5.4%) and Ottawa (4.3%).

However, Royal LePage and the Royal Bank of Canada are also in disagreement over sales figures and forecast 3.3% and 1.5% overall growth in transactions for 2015 respectively.

Stability on the rental market

Vancouver is the most expensive city for rental property in Canada. In April 2015, monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Vancouver was $1,035 (CAD 1,345) on average. The cheapest rental rates were in Quebec’s Trois-Rivières district where a two-bedroom apartment costs $439 (CAD 571) per month on average.

The market is generally agreed to be steady. For Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), this analysis is based on the statistically insignificant change in the vacancy rate: 2.9% in H1 2015 compared to 2.7% in H1 2014. To evaluate this, CMHC experts rank rental market growth against diverse tendencies in the Canadian economy and economic potential of the country’s provinces.

However, the overall stability is not without exceptions. Due to the falling oil prices, demand for rental property is declining in provinces with fossil fuel activities. Based on CMHC criteria, resource-rich provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan have the highest national vacancy rates at 4.6% and 4.8% respectively.

Vacancy rates are also growing in the French-speaking province of Quebec. Far from the oil crisis, the vacancy rate has nearly doubled between 2014 and 2015 as it sprung from 1.8% to 3.2%. Slow employment growth combined with low immigration and higher emigration have led a rise in property on the market.

Comparatively, occupancy in Ontario and British Columbia, provinces with strong employment opportunities for young people, has increased since 2014. Vacancy rates in Vancouver were 1.4% in H1 2015, compared to 1.9% a year before.

Falling interest rates

The Bank of Canada cut interest rates to 0.50% in July, its lowest since 2010, following a scaled downgrade from 1.00% to 0.75% in January 2015 as plummeting oil prices in H2 2014 took their toll on the country’s economy.

Reduction of the key interest rate triggered a chain reaction in the banking sector. Five major Canadian banks cut prime lending rates by 0.10–0.15% on average, which brought down mortgage rates. Currently, the five-year mortgage rate in Canada is 2.59%, compared to 4.79% in just December 2014.

Nonetheless, while this decision by the Bank of Canada affects the mortgage market, particularly short-term loans, long-term mortgage rates are affected by the stock market and state bond markets. The key interest rate cut and the oil shock weakened the Canadian dollar against the US dollar, among others. The CAD/USD exchange rate fell to 0.76 in July 2015 from 0.86 in December 2014 to the benefit of foreign buyers in Canada. Real estate agents in Vancouver note that more Americans and Chinese have been showing interest in the local market.

Uncertainty on the construction market

Housing construction is slowing down which experts attribute to current economic situation. There were 4.7% less new constructions in Q1 2015 according to the CMHC. They forecast a general decline of 4.1% for 2015 compared with last year, from 189,000 units to 181,000.

Investments in the sector have increased by 8.8% in Q1 2015 compared to last year according to Statistics Canada, the national statistics agency. This surge is expected to pay off during the second half of this year. The number of new constructions is to grow by 3.3% and 3.1% in Q3 and Q4 respectively according to the CMHC.

The construction business is expected to reaffirm itself in 2016, fuelled by lower mortgage rates and housing demand, encouraging the price rise to continue.

What to expect

Five key factors will influence the real estate market in Canada over the coming years.

– Interest rates: cheap mortgages fuel access and demand for housing so watch out for changes to the key interest rate set by the Bank of Canada.

– Employment: Canada has a diversified economy which shields it from the effects of the oil shock. It is still capable of creating employment, especially as the US economy improves. By the end of 2015, unemployment in Canada is forecast at 6.7%, compared to 7.1% in 2014 and employment rates are expected to grow by 1.3% in 2015 and another 1.9% in 2016.

– Immigration: 260,000–285,000 new migrants are expected to cross the border with the intention to become residents which will contribute to property market growth.

– Demography: the share of 25–34 year olds (potential real estate buyers) is expected to grow while general aging of the population will continue. While fewer young people is a potential hazard to the rental market, more pensioners could fuel demand for suburban and holiday housing.

– Supply: demand for property in Canada still exceeds supply even though this gap has been reduced since May 2013. The shortage will contribute to growth in housing prices. However, if supply outpaces growth, the market could enter a risky period. Nevertheless, Joe Oliver, the Minister of Finance, said there was no housing bubble in Canada.

2015 is on track to become the best year for Canadian property in the post-crisis period and the market parameters (i.e., price behaviour, number of transactions, mortgage rates and construction pace) are still favourable despite current events which are affecting the country’s economy.

Canada is capable overcoming problems in the oil sector thanks to economic diversification and employment growth combined with selective immigration should fuel persistent demand for real estate over the coming years.

Ivan Chepizhko, Tranio

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