There is currently a certain fatigue felt in Vancouver regarding our Real Estate market. We get bombarded daily now by shocking news of unethical shadow sales deals, risky shadow lending, money laundering, property bought and sold like commodities, empty properties that could ease the scarce rental market and foreign buyers avoiding capital gains taxes on real estate gains. Many younger Vancouverites have given up hoping to ever own a home, while others have become instant millionaires recently by selling their west-end condos as a group to developers.

While this is happening, you can see cranes and construction at every corner of the city. Building towers are going up, and single family homes are being torn down to be replaced by multi-family dwellings. It’s everywhere and it is scary to see prices continue to go up, despite the common wisdom that this does not make sense. One of my clients is an architect for one of the prominent Vancouver developers. I asked him recently what his firm was doing right now in view of the current market. He responded: “We continue to build as fast as we can go”.

The recent foreign buyer taxes introduced by our city and government to attempt to cool it off seem to be working somewhat. It is still too early to tell, but this Greater Vancouver Real Estate sales price graph shows that prices have come down in August. Numbers of sales are also down.

gvrd-real-estate-graph

To gain some perspective, I looked at the Toronto real estate crash in the late 80s. I found a lot of similarities to our current situation.

According to Toronto Real Estate Board data, between 1985 and 1989 the average price of a house in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) increased by 113%. Low unemployment, large inflow of immigrants and investment speculation helped to inflate the bubble.

“In (the) late 80s everyone thought that the housing prices were going to rise indefinitely. More people jumped into the market hoping to make a fortune causing an artificial increase in demand. Suddenly housing became scarce, which further increased the price. Developers decided to profit on this illusive scarcity by building condos left and right – many of them in downtown Toronto. During the peak of the bubble the borrowing cost started increasing and the 5-year fixed mortgage reached 12.7%. Coupled with the early 90s recession, a spike in unemployment and a drop in the inflow of immigrants to the area, housing prices in the GTA collapsed. Between 1989 and 1996 the  average price of a house in GTA  declined by 40% adjusted for inflation. Downtown of Toronto was hit the worst with over 50% decline in value of a home. Unaccounted for inflation, it took 13 years for the average house price to recover in the GTA.” (*)

Looking at the graph above, similar drops happened in Vancouver in the 80s and 90s.

Real estate markets are tightly influenced by interest rates. While current interest rates are far from the double-digits of the early 90s, a rise of 2% or 3% can have a dramatic impact, as I described in my interest rate article. When interest rates start rising, our real estate market will cool off, hopefully gradually.

So what can you do to prevent financial hardship? It is impossible to know if, and when, the real estate market will crash. The market could tumble next year or it could simply cool off gradually. We just don’t know.

So, to avoid financial distress, make sure to buy real estate for the long-term. Think with a 10-year window to make sure you can ride the potential downturn. Make sure that you can afford your mortgage, even if rates go up to 5% or 6%. Finally, only buy if your job is secure or you have sufficient short-term savings to be able to meet mortgage payments for at least 6 months in the event of a job loss or sickness.

Talk to us before buying a property. We can help you confirm whether your cash flow can safely cover the mortgage, property taxes, insurance, lifestyle and savings for retirement and children’s education.

 

(*) Read the full story here about the Toronto Real Estate bubble in the late 80s.