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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Toronto in a 1980s Style Housing Bubble

Bank of Montreal economist Doug Porter says Toronto is the midst of a housing bubble, and is making comparisons to the housing bubble of the 1980s - which ended in a collapse and a recession.

"There’s nothing tentative about the red-hot housing market in Toronto and neighbouring areas," says Porter, in a note out Monday.

Porter is referring to the 22 per cent price appreciation of existing homes over last year's prices. He is now predicting a 19 per cent increase in condo prices in the Greater Toronto Area (during 2017) and says to watch for double-digit gains in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

"An apparent influx of foreign wealth, coupled with record-high demand and a shortage of detached properties, are driving the frothiest price increases since the late 1980s. Prices are even accelerating in segments and areas without shortages."
 
"Admittedly, condo supplies in the GTA are down sharply from prior elevated levels, but a record number of units are now under construction…so why the froth?" asks Porter.

Porter also notes that Montreal and Ottawa have entered a lengthy period of stagnation, that Alberta is stabilizing.

And that there should be "some further softening in Vancouver’s prices", compared to last years 33% increase in Vancouver prices.

The national average price for homes sold in January 2017 was $470,253, up only 0.2 per cent from a year ago and carried mostly by sales in Toronto and Vancouver.

However if you ignore Greater Toronto and Greater Vancouver, the average price of a home in the country is reduced by almost $120,000 to $351,998.

Counting adjustments for inflation and the lack of increases in housing prices across most of Canada, the cost of homes across most of Canada is actually going down comparatively. The GTA and GVA are inflating the national average and skewing the results. Which is similar to what happened in the 1980s. The average prices across Canada stagnated and went down first, while Toronto and various cities experienced a real estate bubble.

And then the bubble burst, economic chaos and a recession resulted. The stagnation across Canada was basically the canary in the coalmine, warning of the impending disaster.

2010s Vs the 1980s, What is Different?

Toronto and Vancouver's real estate bubbles are now mostly driven by foreign investors. That is what is driving the prices to ridiculous heights. That means that the rest of the country could go into a recession and as long as Toronto/Vancouver's prices continue to balloon upwards, the investors will just keep investing.

In British Columbia, Vancouver is trying to curb that by introducing a 15% land transfer tax on foreign investors.

In Ontario, Toronto has rejected the idea of a land transfer tax and has embraced the status quo for now...

But then Toronto Mayor John Tory announced recently that he would be increasing property taxes in Toronto by 2%.

Which gave me an idea.

Don't increase the property taxes for regular Torontonians.

Increase the property taxes for foreign owners of Toronto residential real estate instead. By say... 22%. Or more. Perhaps 27%.

You will note that this would only effect residential investors.  It would still allow for foreign investors in commercial and industrial real estate, which means they are investing in Canada's economy.

If the prices of homes in Toronto are going up by 22%, increase the property taxes on foreign owners of by a like amount (plus maybe an extra 5% to make it 27%).

So if prices in 2017 go up 19%, the property tax for foreign owners should be 19 to 24% higher than people who actually live here.

The thing about property taxes is that it is every year. The land transfer tax is only an one time thing.

Now property taxes are not a huge amount, but those property taxes would mean the mayor wouldn't need to raise taxes on Torontonians (people who might actually vote for him) and only harms non-voters who don't even live in Toronto.

Over time the property taxes on foreign owners could be increase gradually until Toronto's housing market stabilizes to a more reasonable and normal growth. Which means Toronto ends up with a stable and sustainable housing market that can withstand global and local recessions - instead of an ever ballooning market that will burst the moment the local economy hits a recession.

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