Business, Finance

Experts, investors see warning signs of real estate slowdown in Vancouver

 

The end of another month means one thing in real estate-mad Vancouver: word that housing prices have hit another jaw-dropping high. But behind the figures for June are some statistics that could suggest the market is finally slowing down.

While the benchmark price for typical single-family homes rose to $1.56 million, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, the number of sales of those houses dropped by about 19 per cent. In east Vancouver, detached home sales declined by 26 per cent, and on the west side, by 36 per cent.

Those declines come even as the number of listings rose. In the first six months of 2015, there were 72 sales for every 100 listings in east Vancouver. A year later, that dropped to 59 sales for every 100 listings. Similar changes were experienced in Burnaby, Richmond, South Delta and New Westminster.

Academics are reluctant to make predictions without a few more months of data, but a pair of UBC business professors say that the signs for a possible slowdown are evident.

“Declining sales matching with rising listings is exactly the type of first thing we start to see when markets start to change,” said Tsur Somerville. “We see sales changes, volume changes before we see price changes.”

His colleague Tom Davidoff agreed, but he pointed out the Bank of Canada’s prediction last month of a possible “correction” to the nation’s housing market could have spooked some buyers.

Still, there were already suggestions this spring from the Canadian Real Estate Association that the market may have “topped off” after a dip in sales in April.

There’s no hint in the numbers of prices cooling off so far, but there is scattered anecdotal evidence of homeowners dropping their asking price after they fail to get the desired offers. Ian Tang of Oakwyn Realty noted that in one extreme example, the list price of an east Vancouver home was recently cut by about $400,000.

“There are other instances where properties have been up for $1.2 million or $1.3 million, which seems reasonable in comparison to what’s been happening, but then they drop it (by) $100,000,” he said.

Fewer buyers are viewing listings now than in the past eight months or so, Tang added. Although that’s typical for the summer months, it does mark a change from 2015.

“Last year, we didn’t see a lull at all,” he said. “I was kind of expecting it to happen this year as well, but I think prices got to the point … that most people are kind of fatigued with the whole buying process.”

A small handful of investors are ready to call Vancouver’s housing market a bubble that’s about to burst. American short-seller Marc Cohodes told the Province a year ago that he was already making targeted bets against some alternative mortgage lenders.

Here in Vancouver, investor David LePoidevin of the LePoidevin Group says he is “nibbling” at shorting the real estate market by focusing on a handful of lenders.

He blames spiralling prices on three factors: low interest rates, foreign investment from China, and consumer behaviour based on the assumption that rising prices are a permanent trend.

“When you combine all three of those, it’s your classic bubble,” he said. “Right now, the numbers are so outstretched … that once it begins to turn, it could get nasty.”

LePoidevin has been predicting a bubble for years, but he believes he previously underestimated the effect of foreign money on the market.

“We might be getting to see the beginning of the money fleeing China slowing to a trickle,” he said. “The Chinese government are tripling their efforts to stop the flow.”

If he had to gamble on it, LePoidevin said he’d bet that the market has passed its peak, and said his company has responded by avoiding investments in Canadian real estate and preferring to work in the U.S. dollar, anticipating a heavy toll on the Canadian dollar.

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