Economic commentary provided by Alberta Central Chief Economist Charles St-Arnaud
After some moderation, the level of activity in the housing market rebounded in October to a level well above its pre-pandemic one, supported by changes in housing preferences and historically low interest rates. The latter is likely the main driver of demand. Moreover, historically low inventory levels in many markets continue to push house prices higher across the country.
In Alberta, the housing market remains strong, with the number of transactions still close to a record. However, the province’s price increases continue to be weaker than in the rest of the country due to already poor housing market conditions before the pandemic, a higher unemployment rate and a bigger increase in inventories. However, the continued improvement in the oil sector, with the value of oil production reaching records in recent months, will be a tailwind on household income and the recovery, providing some support to the housing market in the coming months.
It is clear that low interest rates are now the main driver of the housing market and it raises questions as to what impact a normalization in interest rate will have (see Rising interest rates to make many Canadian cities unaffordable. However, continued lack of supply in many regions and increased immigration are expected to continue to provide support.
Activity in the Canadian housing market rose by 8.6% month-over-month in October. This is the strongest monthly increase since mid-2020. Despite the moderation earlier this year, the number of transactions remained elevated, about 30% higher than on average in 2019. It is important to note that all the year-on-year comparisons are distorted by the sharp boom in activity a year ago and, as a result, we will focus on the changes compared to pre-COVID in February 2020. The monthly increase in activity was led by Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and BC, while sales activity eased in Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland. In Alberta, the number of transactions rose 9.4% month-over-month and is about 60% higher than in 2019.
The level of activity in every provincial market remains well above the level seen pre-pandemic, as pent-up demand, changing housing preferences and low interest rates continue to support sales activity. Compared to the average level of 2019, the number of transactions is above its pre-pandemic level by 31.6% in Canada, led by Alberta (+60%), Newfoundland (+59%), BC (+51%), and Saskatchewan (+49%).
New listings rose by 3.2% month-over-month in October. Almost all provinces saw a growth in new listing, except for Quebec and Nova Scotia. The most significant increase in new listings were in Manitoba (+17% month-over-month), Saskatchewan (+9% month-over-month), New Brunswick (+9% month-over-month), and Newfoundland (+5% month-over-month).
With listing activity stronger than sales in many regions, the month-of-supply measure eased to 1.9 nationally, well below historical norms. Based on this measure, all provinces are seller’s markets in Canada, led by New Brunswick, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Ontario. With a monthly supply at 3.1, Alberta’s housing market is close to its tightest since 2007.
With the continued solid sales performances and the low month-of-inventory, we see further upside pressures on house prices. The pace of appreciation accelerated in September with the MLS House Price Index increasing by 2.7% month-over-month in October. Compared to last year, house prices rose nationally by 23.5%. The biggest monthly changes were in Oakville-Milton (+6.3% month-over-month), Greater Toronto (+4.8% month-over-month), Barrie (+3.3% month-over-month), and Hamilton-Burlington (+3.0% month-over-month). On a year-over-year basis, the most significant increases were in Barrie (+36%), Moncton (+35% year-over-year), Oakville-Milton (+35%), and Niagara (+34%).
In Alberta, benchmark prices rose by 0.7% month-over-month in September both in Calgary and Edmonton (+5.1% year-over-year). Both cities continue to have some of the weakest price increases in the country and have yet to surpass their previous peaks reached in 2015, as stronger inventories than elsewhere in the country continues to hold back prices.
In Alberta, the housing market remained solid in October, with the level of transactions still well above their pre-pandemic level and close to the peak seen in 2015. The number of transactions is higher than the same month last year in most regions. (see table below for details). Compared to the average level of transactions in 2019, activity in the province increased by 60%, led by Lethbridge (+134%), Calgary (71%), Central Alberta (+65%), and Edmonton (+54%). Activity is the weakest in Lloydminster (+9%).
New listings have increased in most regions of the province but are generally lagging the increase in sales. Compared to the average level of new listings in 2019, new supply in the province increased by 10%, led by Lethbridge (+82%), Calgary (13%), Medicine Hat (+11%), and Edmonton (+10%). New supply is the weakest in Western Alberta (-20%), South Central Alberta (-20%), Fort McMurray (-15%), and Lloydminster (-12%). With sales stronger faster than new listings, many areas have seen a tightening of their housing markets. The primary seller’s markets are Lethbridge, Calgary, South Central Alberta, and Alberta West, while the main buyer’s market are Lloydminster, Grande Prairie, and Fort McMurray.
With the further tightening of the housing markets, average house prices have risen in some regions on a 3-month moving average. South Central Alberta, Central Alberta, Grande Prairie, and Fort McMurray. On the flip side, Western Alberta, Lloydminster and Medicine Hat saw declines in average house prices over the same period.
 The month of supply measures how many months is would take at current sales volume and without an increase in listings to bring inventories to 0. It is a good measure of the amount of “slack” in the housing market and of pressures on prices.
The views and opinions expressed in this publication are solely and independently those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of any organization or person in any way affiliated with the author including, without limitation, any current or past employers of the author. While reasonable effort was taken to ensure the information and analysis in this publication is accurate, it has been prepared solely for general informational purposes. There are no warranties or representations being provided with respect to the accuracy and completeness of the content in this publication. Nothing in this publication should be construed as providing professional advice on the matters discussed. The author does not assume any liability arising from any form of reliance on this publication.
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