Photo: Michel Rathwell/Flickr

Low mortgage rates, strong employment figures and population growth are keeping homes flying off the shelves across Canada. But those shelves aren’t getting restocked.

As RBC pointed out earlier this week, the latest home sales data for November shows that Ottawa, Halifax and Montreal are firmly in seller’s market territory, while Toronto and Vancouver are marching quickly in that same direction.

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And, with home sales climbing for the ninth consecutive month in November without a comparable boost in new listings, the number of months of inventory on the market sunk to its lowest level in over 12 years. The Canadian market hasn’t seen a dearth of listings like this since 2007.

This state of affairs came out of left field and was unusual enough for RBC senior economist Robert Hogue to call the lack of housing supply “the main housing story in Canada.”

The “thin” supply, as Hogue puts it, is already leading to home prices appreciating at a faster rate in most major Canadian markets and he doesn’t see any sign of a cooldown on the horizon.

Even BC, where the ailing Vancouver market has seen persistent home price declines over the last year, is reversing course. While prices remain down when compared to year-ago levels, the rate of the decline is slowing and may shift directions upward in 2020.

The broader story here is the dramatic about-face the Canadian housing market has pulled in 2019. Only a year ago, many were prepared to write off 2019 as a period most in the real estate industry would prefer to forget, characterized by slumping sales and price declines in all but a handful of fortunate markets. But things turned a corner quicker than expected and now housing economists — many of whom already rewrote their 2019 forecasts mid-year — are singing a very different tune than they were last January.

“Essentially, after a couple of challenging years for housing, the market has picked itself up, brushed itself off, and is now looking at steady gains ahead,” wrote BMO Chief Economist Douglas Porter in a note earlier this week.

With home sales momentum showing no signs of fading in the new year, all eyes will be on the supply side of the market in January. Can it start keeping up? Or will housing affordability continue to worsen as sales climb while many would-be sellers stay on the sidelines?

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