By: Sam Reiss
We’re all waiting for the bubble to burst. Well, maybe not burst exactly, but at least develop a slow leak and get a bit soft.
The housing industry affects economies, employs thousands, and supports nations, and so is watched avidly, pontificated upon endlessly — and is inevitably a cyclical affair. What goes up, must come down.
The Chicken Littles of the media have been predicting dramatic real estate doom for as long as prices have been climbing — and they’re up nearly 50% in the last seven years.
This week, the Globe and Mail is reporting the start of a nice, Canadian-style slide into normalcy. Quoting “industry experts and insiders,” the Globe says developers are starting to abandon or rewrite their plans for new projects.
The deputy chief economist at CIBC says in the high-end market, prices are gradually declining, and that the effect will trickle down to lower-priced units.
The TD Bank says they’re expecting a price correction of at least 15% in the next two or three years, at least for Toronto and Vancouver. They say it’s shrinking demand, and not oversupply, that will put downward pressure on house prices. Interest rates, they say, will rise, and Canadians will work on reducing their debt. They don’t expect a U.S.-style fall-off. Previously, the bank estimated that the Canadian market is overvalued by about 30%.
I think we’ve been lulled into thinking house prices can just go up and up — they certainly seem to. Don’t we all know some now-elderly couple who bought their Scarborough bungalow for less than $30 grand five decades ago? But in the short term, a correction must come. It’s just a matter of when.
A gentle correction is not such a bad thing. While some negative fallout is inevitable, there are those who would benefit, and the changes it would bring to the market wouldn’t be unwelcome. Entry-level home owners who haven’t over-borrowed will be sitting on some genuine equity, and while they don’t stand to lose much from a correction, they do stand to gain by moving up into bigger, nicer houses they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Corrected prices would offer more bang for the buck to those buyers looking upward.
And then they get to be the ones who make a bundle when prices start to rise again. New buyers get in on the bottom rung, and the whole cycle begins anew. If you don’t do anything crazy and keep one eye on the future, all you have to do is hang on and enjoy the ride.
Toronto Life’s cover story for July is provocatively titled “Trouble in Condoland,” and offers a litany of builder blunders. The subhead “Falling glass, leaky walls, multi-million-dollar lawsuits and other true tales from the dark side of the condo boom” is pure sensationalism, but it’s certainly attention-grabbing.
The story itself is a fascinating tale of a city whose skyline changed virtually overnight. We’re now a city of skyscrapers, of vertical living, in a way we never were before.
Some of it — like the infamous falling glass, ultimately attributed to manufacturing flaws — is part of the inevitable growing pains of an industry gone wild. Some may indeed be pure greed at work. Some borders on fiction. There will always be “good” builders and “bad” builders.
On balance, our condo boom has gone fairly smoothly. After all, there are 520 completed condos within the boundaries of the old Toronto alone, and another 162 buildings currently in the sales and construction phases, according to the magazine. That they came up with half a dozen lurid tales is hardly surprising.
As for all the conspiracy theories, some might even be true — but some are just the nature of the beast: government processes that are slow (hello?), big business that is self-interested, newbie boards that are mishandled, buyers that are disgruntled.
At the end of the day, our experiences of the last few years will lead to some welcome changes in legislation and building practices. Some things will remain the same. Some people will make a ton of money; others will lose. Some people will love their new homes, and some will suffer buyers’ remorse.
Whether or not the bubble bursts any time soon, there’s no question that the last decade has irrevocably changed the face of the city, but this city, like this business, remains dynamic, diverse, and never, ever boring.Google+