May was ‘another sleepy month’ for homebuyers. Will a rate cut wake them up?

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Business Matters: May ‘another sleepy month’ for homebuyers. Will a rate cut wake them up?
Housing starts climbed 10 per cent in May compared with April, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) while Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) data shows it was "another sleepy month" for homebuyers. Anne Gaviola has these stories and more in Business Matters for Monday May 17, 2024. – Jun 17, 2024

The Canadian Real Estate Association says that homebuyers were sleepwalking through the spring, but the first interest rate cut in more than four years could serve as a wake-up call.

CREA’s home sales figures show transactions dipped 0.6 per cent between April and May. Home prices are also “largely sliding sideways,” with the average resale price floating just below $700,000 in the month, down four per cent annually.

Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatoon stand out as markets where prices have continued to trend higher so far in 2024, CREA said.

“May was another sleepy month for housing activity in Canada, although it may prove to be the last of those now that interest rates have moved lower,” said CREA senior economist Shaun Cathcart in a statement.

How will a rate cut affect the market?

May’s sales figures came in before the Bank of Canada’s decision at the start of this month to cut its policy rate by 25 basis points, broadly lowering the cost of borrowing and signalling the start of an expected easing cycle. The pace at which future cuts come, however, is uncertain.

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“The Bank of Canada’s June 5 rate cut may have only been 25 basis points, but the psychological effect for many who have been sitting on the sidelines was no doubt huge,” Cathcart said. “The question now turns to further rate cuts — specifically, how fast, and how far?”

Ipsos polling conducted exclusively for Global News after the Bank of Canada rate cut showed that most would-be buyers said they would remain on the sidelines despite easing borrowing costs, indicating more drops were needed before they would get into the housing market.

Click to play video: 'Small rate cut not enough to get most Canadians off housing market sidelines'
Small rate cut not enough to get most Canadians off housing market sidelines

John Pasalis, president of Realosophy Realty in Toronto, also doesn’t believe that one interest rate cut is going to be enough to see buyers flood back into the market.

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“Rates are still way too high to fuel demand to see buyers rushing in,” he says. Despite the cut, the Bank of Canada’s policy rate remains at 4.75 per cent, still decades-high levels.

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Prospective buyers would need more interest rate cuts to lower their mortgage rates and increase the size of loan they could qualify for from a lender before they could make a meaningful run at the housing market, Pasalis says.

Following the Bank of Canada’s rate cut on June 5, economists were divided about the pace for cuts going forward. Some projected the central bank would deliver back-to-back cuts at its next decision on July 24, while others forecast a more modest pace that would see monetary policymakers drop rates at every other meeting going forward.

For the Bank of Canada’s part, Governor Tiff Macklem has warned the easing cycle will be “gradual” and dependent on how inflation and other economic indicators unfold in the months to come.

Expectations for further Bank of Canada interest rate cuts have already affected yields in the bond market, which helps to set the rates lenders off on their fixed-rate mortgage products.

Declines in bond yields could help to firm up sales in June, according to TD Bank economist Rishi Sondhi. He said in a note to clients Monday that with “further rate relief in the cards,” the latter half of 2024 could see home sales pick up from the depressed spring levels.

Housing supply picking up

Most Canadian housing markets have seen an uptick in the number of homes for sale in 2024, CREA noted. The number of newly listed homes was up half a percentage point month-to-month in May. A slowdown in sales means homes are listed for longer with more choice for the scant buyers in the market.

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At the end of last month, there were roughly 175,000 properties up for sale on CREA’s multiple-listings service, up 28.4 per cent from the same time last year but still below historical averages.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. meanwhile said in a separate released Monday that the annual pace of housing starts in May climbed 10 per cent compared with April, helped by gains in Montreal and Toronto.

The housing agency says the seasonally adjusted annual rate of housing starts in May amounted to 264,506 units, up from 241,111 in April.

The move came as the annual pace of starts in Montreal more than doubled with an increase of 104 per cent and Toronto gained 47 per cent, both boosted by multi-unit starts. The pace of starts in Vancouver for May fell 32 per cent compared with April.

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Ontario new affordable housing definition may be too low for builders to take part

CMHC says the overall annual pace of urban housing starts was 246,111 units in Canada, up 11 per cent from 221,376 in April. The annual pace of multi-unit urban starts increased 13 per cent to 203,141, while single-detached urban starts rose two per cent to 42,970.

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The seasonally adjusted annual rate of rural starts was estimated at 18,395.

The six-month moving average of the monthly seasonally adjusted annual rate was up 3.8 per cent at 247,830 units in May compared with 238,859 units in April.

– with files from The Canadian Press

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