Canadian home prices to fall 40-50 per cent, financial author says

WATCH: Hilliard MacBeth, financial adviser and author, joins consumer affairs reporter Jamie Sturgeon to discuss why he believes the Canadian real estate market is poised for a crash.

Financial adviser and author Hilliard MacBeth believes Canadian home prices sit on the precipice of their biggest crash ever.

Puffed up by years of ultra-low borrowing rates, home values have bloated to levels so far out of sync with the underlying incomes needed to support them, it’s only a matter of time before one headwind or another blows over the house of cards.

His new book, When the Bubble Bursts, was released this month across the country, and is one of the most fulsome looks yet at the current state of Canada’s much-fretted over real estate market. His call is that Canadian real estate is poised for a painful 40 to 50 per cent drop in value when the bubble pops.

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MacBeth, a portfolio manager for Richardson GMP in Edmonton, sat down with Global News to lay out his case for why believes the housing market is grossly overvalued, and where homeowners go from here:

How did we get here – who or what caused this “bubble”?

“The availability of financing. Canada is unique in the world in the availability of government insurance through CMHC [Canada Mortgage and House Corp.], that’s allowed the lenders to lend a phenomenal amount of money. [Household] debt levels have gone from one trillion dollars to $1.8 trillion, just in 15 years.
“I think the government has genuinely tried to encourage the housing market and home ownership, which started after the Second World War. But in the last 15 years it’s kind of taken on a life of its own. It’s this monster that nobody can really tame. The reality is, lenders don’t really take any risk, so they keep on providing more and more [loans].”

MORE: Sturdy as a house of cards? A look at Canada’s property boom

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Are ultra-low interest rates inflating prices?

“I was talking to a young couple in their 30s from Edmonton, where I’m from. They were offered more than $600,000 in mortgage financing. To me, it’s borderline insane they should be [borrowing] that much money.
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“Years ago, we had interest rates of 10 per cent. There’s no way [that couple] could get $600,000 in loans with an interest rate of 10 per cent, unless their incomes were much higher.”

Many say strong immigration numbers are supporting growth. Your take?

“Immigration is fairly easy to counter. Canada has been a leader in immigration growth. But the second-fastest [market] was the United States, and they had a boom and bubble and huge crash. The foreign investor theme is somewhat different. As soon as there is a downturn in the market, they’ll look elsewhere. They’re not particularly tied down to Canada.”

What could cause the Canadian bubble to burst?

“Two things. Interest rates rising. But that doesn’t look like it’s imminent. The more likely cause would be recession. Incomes would drop, and already Toronto is like six or seven times incomes [in average mortgage loan vs household income]. Some borrowers will get into the position where they can’t afford to keep the house they have.”
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With oil prices crashing, is Canada headed toward a recession?

“We’ve had recessions in Canada every four or five years since the Second World War. And it’s been over five years since we’ve had one.”

What’s the book’s advice for homeowners or buyers?

“Everybody’s situation is different. But anyone who’s highly leveraged to real estate, I would encourage them to sell. It’s not going to be fun for them. Older people like myself, who have their mortgage paid down or off … it’s important to diversify away from those sectors that are tied to housing, if the housing bubble bursts.”

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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