Tour through the board stats: March 2011

It’s that time of the month again.  Time to turn our eyes to the month end sales data from the big real estate boards.  Frankly these numbers may well be meaningless until a clear trend can be established next month.  With new mortgage rule changes coming into effect mid month, there was a significant chance that sales were front loaded during the month as some people no doubt rushed to beat the new rules.

With that in mind, let’s turn to the numbers and see how things are shaping up.  Click on the city name to see the press release for that particular board.  Many realtor boards are still frustratingly slow at releasing their month-end data.  I’ve included the largest realtor boards that have released their data as of today.  It’s unfortunate that at the time of posting, the boards in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Montreal had not yet posted their final month end numbers.

Victoria:

The fine folks at VREB did their best to spin the fact that sales declined 21% over last year, choosing instead to focus on month-over-month sales numbers which always rise at this time of the year anyways:

“Victoria Real Estate Board President, Dennis Fimrite, commented that the increase in sales last month, coupled with stable prices, shows continued consumer confidence in the market. “The latest figures offer further evidence of the return to balanced market conditions…”

Integrity at its finest.  And what of those stable prices?  You’ll note that the press releases chooses to instead use the 6 month average.  Why?  I have one idea.  Due to seasonality in house prices, the six month average can be highly misleading.  What we need is a year-over-year comparison.  Behold!

So much for ‘stable’.  I guess Mr. Fimrite (or is that ‘Fibrite’?) hasn’t read his own board’s Code of Ethics which states that its members are committed to, “Absolute honesty and integrity in business dealings”.  This is shameless manipulation of numbers and there’s no excuse for it.

New listings were also 11% higher than last year, a fact that Mr. Fimrite brushes off in the press release as a normal, expected rise in sales associated with the Spring buying season.

The sales to new listings ratio came in at roughly 0.4 or slightly into buyers market territory.  This ratio is calculated by comparing the number of new listings with the number of sales for any one month.  It is a measure of supply and demand.  Though there’s no broad consensus, a reading of roughly 0.5 is balanced, 0.4 or less is a buyer’s market, and 0.6 or more is a seller’s market.

Months of inventory came in at 6.6, lower than last month’s 7.6 month total and also slightly into buyer’s market territory.

Despite the best efforts of the fine folks at the Victoria Real Estate Board, there doesn’t appear to be a bottom under their market yet.  I suspect it has a ways to fall.

Vancouver

Crazy times continue in Vancouver, which registered a 30% jump in sales over last year.  Just how much strength can be attributed to the looming mortgage rule changes will be seen in next month’s numbers, though the recent activity seems to suggest a continued strong demand for Vancouver real estate.

The sales to new listings ratio was 0.60 or slightly into seller’s market territory.  Months of inventory also decreased to 3.2, well into seller’s market territory.

Prices for all housing types were up on a year over year basis by 5.4%.

It’s hard to know whether the March numbers are a signal of an extremely strong Spring buying season or the result of a rush to beat the new mortage rules.  Final April numbers will give more insight.

Calgary

An interesting month in Calgary as sales dipped very slightly compared to last year, but active listings tanked by 20%.

Meanwhile, average single family home prices shed another 2% while the median value was down 5% over last year’s numbers.  The condo market fared worse, shedding 5% off the average and 7% off the median price in the past 12 months.

Sales to new listings ratio for the month came in at 0.56 (balanced….thanks to the drop in new listings), while months of inventory came in at 3, perhaps slightly into what might be considered a seller’s market.

If the low levels of inventory can persist, it should slow the bleeding.  April will be a telling month.

Toronto

It appears that the rush to beat the new mortgage rules may have been seen most prominently in Toronto, where every district saw an unusually high bounce in their sales/new listings ratio.

Total sales were very strong at 9262, a modest 11% decrease from last year’s record numbers.  Sales to new listings registered at a healthy 0.6.

On the back of continued low inventory numbers, months of inventory was a paltry 1.8.  This is exceptionally low.  Inventory numbers are well below normal (usually 20-23K at this time of year, versus 16K currently) while sales are still very high.  Kudos to Guava for the graph.



This remains the great Toronto mystery.  As long as supply remains constrained, a strong floor will remain under Toronto house prices.  I have little doubt that demand will experience continued weakness, but it is now the supply side that is worth watching.  For now, no significant signs of stress in this market.

Conclusion

I debated even doing a tour through the board stats this month as I think the sales data will likely be largely skewed by the irrational rush to beat the new mortgage rules.  The true test will be April and through the rest of the summer.  Inventory remains largely suppressed by historic standards in many large centres.  This has been an 8 month theme now.  How this will play out going forward will indeed be the big question.  I am certain that sales levels will experience continued weakness through most large centres, though the inventory levels will be the determinant of how the weaker demand will impact prices.

Cheers,

Ben

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26 Responses to Tour through the board stats: March 2011

  1. Ahsan Zaman says:

    I am really starting to feel that listings were brought forward along with sales last year. Come summer sales will have last year’s lower sales numbers to lap thus the year over year declines will evaporate. I am starting to feel that this market will come through unscathed.

  2. Dave says:

    Appreciate the comments on the VREB number that were presented. If only our local paper provided the insight you did. Mass psychology effects indeed.

  3. Leo Lee says:

    “Absolute honesty and integrity in business dealings”? Are you kidding me? Well that’s not fair. I know a few realtors who are absolutely honest and have the highest integrity and I will have no problem referring clients to them.

    • Leo, I see from your website that you are a Victoria realtor. This post in no way is meant to paint you all with the same brush. I have no doubt that there are many honest realtors who act with full integrity. If you are one of them, I’d suggest that you need to put the pressure on your board president to be more honest and forthright in his analysis. There’s no excuse for the blatant attempt to water down the stats shown in VREB’s latest press release. This is particularly true when we consider the high degree of information asymmetry in the realtor/client relationship. Unfortunately, this press release reflects poorly on all of you. Make sure your president hears that message.

      • MR. BOND says:

        Agreed. It’s too bad that the real estate industry isn’t regulated like the financial industry. A mutual fund would never be allowed to spin the numbers like that, as well it would have to make it quite clear that past performance is no indication of future performance. It’s too bad that most Real estate press releases urge buyers to get into the market as it ‘always goes up’.

  4. mac says:

    In my usual vein at being annoyed by people who take things personally, Leo, I suggest you unwind your underwear. Nowhere in Ben’s post did he attack you or other people you know who are Victoria realtors. He simply pointed out, in words and visuals, how your group head chose to represent the monthly numbers in a way that contradicts the ridiculous overpromise your board’s own credo.

    OK. He took a shot by calling him Fibrite. But it was just hanging there, like ripe fruit. So heavy. So juicy. Maybe it’s easier if you just ask Mr. Fibrite to re-write the Code of Ethics.

  5. abbywatch says:

    Hi Ben,

    Thanks for taking the time to crunch these numbers. Always great analysis.
    I am curious what your thoughts are on the monthly numbers put out by the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board. Although the Vancouver market seems to still be quite popular, here in Abbotsford, (about an hour east of Vancouver), the sales levels seem to be quite a bit less than they are in the City.

    • jesse says:

      “the sales levels seem to be quite a bit less”

      Not just that, in REBGV (Vancouver), price levels are only strong in the near-burbs. Move a bit farther out, Fraser Valley REB included, and things are not as chipper as the core. If this sounds familiar it’s because it is; creep spreads from the outside in just like what happened 3-4 years ago in the US.

      @Ben: “the recent activity seems to suggest a continued strong demand for Vancouver real estate”

      This is certainly true. Anecdotal reports to add to the mix:
      – There was a drop-off in total sales in the last week of March. We will see if this is a trend or just a blip.
      – Richmond market was exceedingly hot until the Japan earthquake. Richmond is built on a river delta and purportedly prone to liquefaction and damage from a large tsunami since it’s at sea level. Richmond has a high population of Chinese immigrants and money from China was purportedly buying significantly, at least until a few weeks ago when the fears of natural disasters came to the front of discussion. It gives a solemn indication on how fickle investor/offshore money can be.
      – Builders are extremely active with lower-priced listings in the “hot” areas of Vancouver.

  6. Paxtor says:

    “I know a few realtors who are absolutely honest and have the highest integrity and I will have no problem referring clients to them.”

    You work in the mortgage industry, so you probably know more than a few realtors. Are you implying that the others you know don’t meet this description?

  7. Ahsan Zaman says:

    There is something strange happening in Toronto. Where is the inventory? Spoke to a realtor in the Beaches. Not surprisingly bidding wars are back. The lack of inventory is quite noticeable here. I believe that inventory along with demand was pulled forward last year. If that is the case dont expect price declines anytime soon!

  8. Sams Mango says:

    As I have been saying since I have been following Ben, no matter what is said, prices in the main hubs of Van and Toronto continue to boom. You can laugh at those Chinese in line or the multi-bidders in Toronto. The prices I believe will continue to boom, along with the stock markets this year.

    That is my two cents, not advising anyone to jump in or jump out.

    • Ahsan Zaman says:

      I agree. In Toronto it is prime season and there is a scarcity of housing leading to bidding wars. Rising interest rates (if they do in fact rise) will have no impact in this market.

  9. raw facts says:

    The market seems very local still. Vancouver will find buyers until it makes a negative turn in the relations with foreigners. We often over look the small area that comprises Vancouver 49.5 square miles. From that it is cut in half for the west side. My concern for Vancouver is when the foreigners stop buying who can afford to pay the price they pumped it to?? The agent from Sotheby even stated “without the Mainland Chinese buying ” Vancouver would be in trouble. That doesn’t sound like a solid RE enviroment. WE all know it’ll stop at the rate we are seeing. One hiccup in the economy and or China and things may unravel very quickly. What would save RE then? Can’t go much lower on rates….. what then?

  10. paradox says:

    Looking at what is going on in White Rock / South Surrey that I follow closely, I can say with confidence that April will see stronger sales than March and higher prices. Homes are selling quickly here, and many more inventory coming back to the market at much higher listing prices is selling with multiple offers.
    I don’t see this as a weak market.
    Maybe it is just the spring fever but this has been going on for so long, it is simply mind boggling.

    • raw facts says:

      Where do you find r areas with most action? I have watch the area around Morgan creek and to the west Southport development. I have found very slow sales in that area. Some with price reductions, mind u they r overpriced to start.

    • jesse says:

      Depends who you ask about White Rock. As a Realtor who is listing a property there with three others on the block already for sale said, “Dunbar [a hot Vancouver neighbourhood] it is not.” Richmond is weak. Outskirts are generally weak. Weird market.

  11. John in Ottawa says:

    I’m curious about something Garth says and I’ve seen said here. Decreasing listings and increasing prices means a market top. This justified against what stock market technical analysts call a divergent bear market; increasing prices against falling volume.

    But isn’t there a difference between the relatively low volume, low liquidity real estate market and the relatively high volume, very high liquidity stock market?

    Generally, as supply drops, prices increase. How did we go from this general rule to it being a sign of a divergent bear, a market top?

    I think it would be better to look at why listings are decreasing. I’ve read that new construction is down, but new construction is only 10% of the market, so existing dwellings make up the bulk of the decrease in listings. Why are there fewer listings? If prices are holding up and increasing, it doesn’t seem like it should be some market top signal.

    Why do people list their homes for sale? In my case, it was a desire to move up, to take on more house, and in turn, more debt. I can certainly see why people may be reluctant to do that during these uncertain times. If I am already feeling the pinch of debt, have a decent mortgage locked in, and can manage in the house I’m in, why would I take on more risk right now? So I wouldn’t be inclined to sell or buy.

    I might want to sell to move to a job in a new location. However, jobs are still tight and I suspect there is a lot less job mobility right now than there has been in the past. If I’m not moving to a new city I’m not going to list.

    I’m sure there are a lot of other good reasons why people don’t want to sell. People don’t sell houses just to lock in a profit as they might in the stock market. However, if the number of listings is down, those people who want to buy will expect to pay more for a house. It isn’t an abstract divergent bear market from technical analysis. It is simple supply and demand.

    Of course, if supply is tight because the economy is weak, supply should be expected to increase as the economy improves (as people become confident the economy will stay improved) and prices will come back down a bit. Not a crash, but a normal cyclical correction. You know, from slightly into a seller’s market to slightly into a buyer’s market.

    I think it is going to take a while for people to develop a long term positive outlook on the economy. I suspect a lot of people are still nervous about keeping their job. There is a lot of turmoil in the world and in spite of any one or two quarters of good economic news, it may be that a lot of people are content to sit tight and wait.

    Disclaimer: Nothing I have written here is meant to imply I have any opinion about what may happen in magic mushroom land.

    • paradox says:

      I dont usually call people names, but with regard to investment, Garth is an idiot. Anyone following his advise has been big time looser.
      You cant expect anything less from a politician turned into fear salesman.
      There is one thing common to all his posts, inconsistency and incoherence.
      And he will censor any well thought challenging argument to his ideas. Dont waste your time reading Garth.
      Ben has way better stds and his posts are much more informative despite their slight bearish bias.

      • I don’t know if I’d be that hard on Garth. At worst, the man has been the most influential voice alerting people to danger in the housing market. Granted his investment advice may not always be sound, and I’ve had a number of my own posts censored, but I’m happy to give him credit where credit is due.

        As for me, what do you mean that I have better stds? That just sounds wrong! You’re also probably being way too kind describing my posts as having a ‘slight’ bearish bias….but thanks for the kind words.

      • John in Ottawa says:

        I read Garth for the pictures.

  12. “I read Garth for the pictures.”

    John, you pervert! Does your wife know?

  13. paradox says:

    Well, I prefer when you present the facts, the figures, the charts and your analysis versus Garth’s method of publishing fictitious mail he supposedly receives from his admires telling him how great he is and how he saved their life with his advice.

  14. raw facts says:

    You need to do your own homework and feel comfortable in whatever choice you make. Too many people are quick to blame others for there poor choice, example olympic village pre sale buyers who stood in line. These blogs are one persons opinion and agree or disagree if you can become the wiser and share thoughtful experiences it helps all. I happen to like Garth. I agree with some of his thoughts and other I don’t.

  15. Sams Mango says:

    The reason why I believe listings are down because the inventory available was crap. People want a turnkey ready house. So I might be able to get a great price for my upgraded home, but I expect the same from the market and that just is not the case. That is why prices are higher, everyone wants the same thing. A new feeling house with no projects or fixer upper needed. This explains prices and lower listings. People are removing unfinished homes and doing work to get high prices

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