Will the roof cave in on Toronto's condo market?
It may feel wrong, but the fundamentals for a sustained boom seem to be holding up.
It's easy to feel like Chicken Little these days. Especially if you're the governor of the Bank of Canada.
For all the repeated warnings from Mark Carney about the perils of record household debt and the dire consequences when interest rates start to rise, Canadians just don't want to hear about it.
In the first three months of 2012, non-mortgage debt grew by 3.4 per cent over the same period a year ago. Consumer debt is now over 150 per cent of income — and that doesn't include the cost of paying home loans.
If the appetite for borrowed money isn't worrisome enough, there's also the ongoing boom in real estate markets, particularly the urban condominium market.
Recent data shows that the gap between new high-rise construction and new single-family homes is the largest it's been in 20 years: Last year across Canada, condo starts jumped 17 per cent while starts of detached homes dropped about 12 per cent.
By the measure of supply alone, there's cause for concern — especially if interest rates start to rise. And all the more if there's a speculative edge to the current demand.
That said, the GDP of most cities is expected to grow in 2012. (Calgary by as much as 3.6 per cent and jobs by 2.8 per cent.)
But even by the standards of a hot national condo market, Toronto is a pretty singular case.
In 2011, high-rise sales accounted for 62 per cent of new home sales, compared with just 25 per cent of sales in 2000. Toronto has now eclipsed even Vancouver, which was once the record-breaking condo capital of Canada.
(According to a Genworth Financial report prepared with the Conference Board of Canada, Vancouver's re-sale condo market has been a buyer's market since 2008. New construction activity has cooled and the inventory build-up during the boom of the last decade has fallen. Still, Vancouver had the highest median condo prices in Canada in 2011 at $373,050.).
For a city located in a province that's been thoroughly gutted by the global recession and the rise in value of Canada's currency, Toronto's condo market performance has been remarkable. It underscores the fact that as a world-scale financial center, the city stands alone and apart more than ever before.
In March, the number of condo construction starts in Toronto was almost twice the Canadian average for all homes and almost 30 per cent higher than a year ago. (There are now 148 high-rise buildings under construction and 400 planned developments — a North American activity record.)
Last September, according to the Building Industry and Land Development Association, Toronto condo sales were up 52.9 per cent over the same month in 2010. Some 2,652 units were sold in the month alone compared with 1,120 traditional homes. In the first nine months of 2011, a record-breaking 20,964 condos were sold.
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