Potential Immigration the wild card in Metro housing market
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
March housing sales skyrocketed more than 126% higher than in March 2020 – the month the COVID-19 pandemic began – to the highest monthly sales pace ever recorded in Greater Vancouver.
The composite benchmark home price leaped 9.9% in March from a year earlier and detached house prices surged nearly 18% higher to all-time high of $1.7 million.
The unprecedented action of 5,843 sales in the month – more than 174 sales every day – blew past housing forecasts and eclipsed the former all-time sales record set in March of 2016, long recognized as the peak year for housing sales in the region.
Dexter agents have been running on the frontline of the current pace, and we are detecting some buyer fatigue, which is understandable. This market can’t continue at this level forever and, as we’ve seen in previous years, March can be the high point of the year for housing sales.
There could be some truth in that theory, but this year and this market is consistently shattering all the traditions.
We believe there is one wild card yet to be played and it could shift the housing market into hyperdrive later this year. This is a potential rebound of international buyers and immigration, which were credited for sparking high home sales in the mid-1980s and in 2016-18 and could do so again in 2021.
In March of 2020 foreign buyers accounted for 24 residential property transactions in Metro Vancouver, despite the provincial 20% tax on homes. But, after COVID-19 travel restrictions hit, that dropped to single-digits per month. We believe pent-up demand and a war chest is building and it could be unleashed on the Vancouver-area housing market later this year.
For instance, according to recent report from the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), $43.6 billion was transferred from troubled Hong Kong to Canada in 2020, and this, FINTRAC said, does not include transfers via cryptocurrencies, between financial institutions, or transfer under $10,000.
As well, Canada was posting the highest population growth in the developed world prior to COVID-19, according to Statistics Canada, with its 1.4% annual growth rate in 2019 more than twice as high as the U.S. and Great Britain, which tied for second place. The Canadian government has increased its annual immigration quota to 400,000 people per year. The inflow has been stalled by the pandemic but when that ends the rush into Canada will begin. Wild as the current Metro Vancouver market is right now, it may be the calm before the storm.
And with some calls to cool the market, and concern over low interest rates creating challenges when rates do eventually rise, we have to remember that Canada has one of the soundest lending practices in the world and with the current Stress Test in place, buyers are qualifying at rates much higher than we are seeing in the market place right now. So, while demand side measures are easy for governments to tinker with and implement, supply side realities need to be a focus or this rush of demand will once again be pushed into the future and create challenges yet again.