Photo: James Bombales

2017 was a year of record highs and worry-inducing lows for the Canadian real estate market. Huge demand pushed prices up to an all-time high in April, before Ontario’s Fair Housing Plan cooled everything down for awhile. So how far have prices fallen from last spring’s buying frenzy?

According to a recent report from the TD economics team, the average Canadian home price now sits at roughly 3 per cent below its April 2017 peak.

“Existing home sales rose to 4.5 per cent in December, the fifth consecutive monthly gain. The sales slowdown that followed provincial housing actions this past spring is now in the rearview mirror,” writes the team. “Home prices also continued to recover, rising for the fifth consecutive month as well.”

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But the December bump in activity is unlikely to continue in 2018. As the team notes, new mortgage rules and a hike of the overnight rate to 1.25 per cent is likely to cool both sales and prices in January.

“Although still historically low, higher mortgage rates could work to exacerbate an expected decline in housing activity this year,” they write. “Indeed, [new mortgage rules] should have a negative impact on activity. The last time posted mortgage rates were this high was in February 2014.”

The effects of the policy changes can already be seen in the GTA market. According to data from the real estate website Zoocasa, Toronto was plunged into a buyers market in the first two weeks of 2018.

“We did anticipate that the GTA market would be off to a slower start in 2018,” Zoocasa managing editor Penelope Graham told BuzzBuzzNews. “With the new mortgage rules, you have people who are hesitant to buy or to list, until things settle down.”

There was a 21 per cent year-over-year drop in condo sales in the first two weeks of January, while detached home sales fell by 20 per cent.

It remains to be seen if other Canadian markets will follow a similar trajectory, but many economists are predicting just that.

“The more stringent qualifying rules for uninsured mortgages will raise the ownership bar significantly for many buyers,” writes RBC senior economist Robert Hogue in a recent note. “These changes may prompt some buyers to delay their buying decision.”

As for higher interest rates? Hogue believes they will likely add to the cooling as well. “This will raise the ownership bar even higher at a time when affordability is already stretched in some of Canada’s major markets,” he writes.

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