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CMHC to issue first-ever ‘red’ warning for Canadian housing market: What that means for you

New condominiums being constructed, Montreal, Monday, April 18, 2016.
CMHC is poised to issue a "red" warning for Canada's housing market. But what does that mean for homeowners?. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Graham Hughes

Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation CEO Evan Siddall said in an op-ed in the Globe and Mail this week that for the first time ever, the federal agency will be issuing a “red” level warning for the entire Canadian housing market.

The announcement will come in CMHC’s quarterly Housing Market Assessment on Oct. 26.

READ MORE: Here’s why Canada’s red-hot housing market may be cooling, but won’t be crashing

According to CMHC, a “red” warning indicates evidence of problematic conditions in the housing market. To assess the risk, the agency looks at four things:

  1. Overheating of demand, where sales outpace new listings
  2. Acceleration of house prices
  3. Overvaluation in house prices, where prices are not fully supported by income, mortgage rates and population
  4. Overbuilding
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These factors have to be strong in order for a high-risk warning to be issued.

But according to TD economist Diana Petramala, home owners shouldn’t be too worried yet about a housing crash.

“It’s very odd to be coming out with a red reading now that the economy is doing well and market activity has slowed,” she said.

READ MORE: Vancouver tops housing ‘bubble risk’: report

To her, CMHC’s upcoming warning is more of a signal to policy makers than a warning to consumers.

“I think in particular though, CMHC’s research is mostly meant to help drive policy around housing and we’ve already seen the reaction from the federal government on Oct. 3. I think that for the most part this is going to be, ‘Yeah we knew this already and something’s been done.’”

She expects that the new mortgage rules announced on Oct. 3, which notably introduce income-testing for insured mortgages at a higher interest rate, will have a moderating effect on the housing market.

READ MORE: Failed the mortgage stress test? Alternative lenders await — at a price 

Already, Vancouver has seen a deceleration in home prices due to its new land-transfer tax, she said.

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“We’ve always had embedded in our own forecasts a slowdown to more normal housing activity and we think these new mortgage regulation rules are the way we will get there.”

TD Economics forecasts a 10 per cent drop in Vancouver home prices, which Petramala calls a “normalization” and doesn’t anticipate that it will have much of an effect on the overall economy.

CMHC is just trying to flag the risks, she said.

“To some degree they have a bit more of an interest in potential downturns because they’ve insured a great deal of mortgages.”

Buyers not slowing down — at least in red-hot Toronto

The impending “red” warning has had little direct impact on buyers, according to Beth O’Donoghue, sales representative with Brad J Lamb Realty.

“I think the alert is bogus,” said O’Donoghue, in a message to Global News. “I haven’t heard much anxiety.”

It’s been business as usual since buzz of the alert began, she said. Supply remains the major issue, and pre-construction sales are “super strong” across the GTA.

READ MORE: Ottawa looks to shift some mortgage loan default risks from taxpayers to banks

The new mortgage rules are the real damper right now, at least for first time home buyers, said O’Donoghue, who runs the blog Miss Toronto Condos. She says the new rules are likely to “kill” the first-time home buyer in major markets, and have little impact on the people already in the market for million-dollar homes.

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People have been adjusting expectations.

“If you are unable to save at least 20 per cent it’s going to be harder,” said O’Donoghue. “They’re going to be approved for less, so more compromises.”

Only the next few months — or years — will really tell how the measures will alter Canada’s housing market. But along with the new measures, buyers and sellers can soon expect a slowdown seen annually in the fall and winter.

Something buyers, and even those in the sales business, can look forward to.

“The market in general will start slowing down now,” O’Donoghue said. “Maybe less bidding wars, which would be nice.”