What Conclusions Can We Draw From April?

April is in the books, although it looks like the April showers aren’t quite finished.  When was the last Mother’s Day with nice weather, anyways?

The TREB monthly statistics are also out, and while I try to shy away from regurgitating the TREB Market Watch like every other agent in Toronto who CTRL-C’s their way to content creation, I do want to look at the numbers themselves, and see if we can draw any conclusions about where the market was, and where it’s heading.

Oh and in case you’re wondering, next Sunday – Mother’s Day, calls for rain

AprilShowers

Those four paragraphs from the TREB Market Watch must be the most over-shared content in all of real estate.

For some odd reason, I’m on the mailing list for a number of Toronto real estate agents, and it’s amazing how every month, I get an email with their name and face, and a copy-and-paste of whatever Jason Mercer and Larry Cerque drew up at TREB.

For what it’s worth, I do a monthly e-newsletter in case any of you are interested.  It’s a recap of the monthly stats, my top blog posts, the top real estate articles, and my thoughts on the month that was, and the month ahead.  You can sign up somewhere on the site.  Let me look for it………ah, right, it’s at the top.  Or HERE.

The TREB Market Watch statistics mean a lot to some people, and next to nothing to others.

I tend to think it’s like fundamental versus technical analysis in the stock market.

Now right off the bat, I know I hit a nerve with at least a couple of you reading this.

Those of you that work your tails off, analyzing financial statements, and trying to make sense of earnings reports, absolutely cringe at the thought of technical analysis.  You think it’s a farce, it’s lazy, it’s corner-cutting, and it’s not “real” analysis.

But those of you who do subscribe to technical analysis, probably feel bad for the saps who think that the intrinsic value of a company is reflected in their share price.  You don’t care why a stock is doing what it’s doing; you merely care what it’s doing, and going to do.

Either way, fundamentalists and technicians have always been like the Capulets and Montagues, although I’m not sure who is who.

And every month, when TREB numbers come out, there are real estate agents that say, “I really don’t care what the numbers say, I’m going with my gut.”

For experienced agents, who do high-volume, I really, truly think their “feel” for the market tells a more authentic story than what the TREB numbers say.

A busy agent interacts with a hundred market participants per week.  That agent will deal with buyer agents asking questions or providing feedback on their listings, they’ll deal with buyers and their sentiments, and then mortgage brokers, home inspectors, other agents in the brokerage and in the industry, all the while, seeing what other people think about the market.

As we moved out of April and into May, there was this “feeling” that something was different about the market.

I gave my thoughts on the April market in a Toronto Star piece last week, which you can read HERE.

Kudos to the author to making it abundantly clear, that as per my suggestion, “There’s been a shift in the market, but it’s a change, not a downturn.”

It’s funny because with the average price of a home increasing a whopping 24.5% this past April, over the same month in 2016, there were people who actually suggested the market was “down.”

Come again?

How do you figure?

Somebody told me, “The average home price was up 33.2% in March, and only 24.5% in April.  The market is down!”

Right.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it, I suppose, although I don’t think it’s correct.

And since the average home price in Toronto was $920,791 in April, compared to $916,567 in March, I think we can put that theory to bed.

In any event, there were two numbers that jumped out at me this past April that I wanted to share with you.

One, was the number of sales.

Two, was the number of active listings.

Here are the percentage increases, from the month in 2017 over the month in 2016, for both sales and active listings:

SALES:
January: +11.8%
February: +5.7%
March: +17.7%
April: -3.2%

ACTIVE LISTINGS:
January: -49.5%
February: -50.5%
March: -35.2%
April: +3.0%

Shocking, eh?

We came into 2017 with a noticeable pattern: sales are up, listings are down.

Listings, in fact, were down catastrophically.

Imagine seeing 50% fewer active listings from the same period last year?

That’s not a dip.  That’s not a decline.  Fifty-percent is a sixteen-wheeler going off a cliff!

And with sales actually going up, it means that there are more buyers, fighting for fewer listings.

The combination was an absolute disaster, and I believe that from January 1st to April 1st, the average price in Toronto was up 20%.

That’s 20% in three months, for those of you skimming this.

We see numbers like “25%” used to describe the year-over-year increase in average home price in a given month, and we think that is a significant number.

But inside of three months?  20%?

Yup.

Just look at the average home price:

January: $770,745
February: $875,983
March: $916,567
April: $920,791

Wow, that’s a 19.6% increase.

And swear on my soul, it wasn’t until this very moment, writing this blog post on Sunday night, that I actually sat down and calculated that January-to-April increase.

See what I mean about the “feeling” some agents get?

The sentiment out there in January was, “There’s some crazy sale prices!”

By February, it was, “This sh!t is real.  This isn’t one or two sales, this is legit, and the market is one fire.”

By March, it was, “The market is seriously going up 5% per month.”

And by the time we hit April, myself, and a lot of agents out there, were saying, “The market just went up 20% inside three months.”

Crazy, yes.  But we don’t make the market – we just work in it.

So here we are, with April in the rear-view mirror, and suddenly we’re looking at numbers that show April, at least compared to Jan/Feb/March, was somewhat “normal” by real estate standards.

Sales were down from April of 2016, which is in part because the Easter long weekend fell in March in 2016, and April this year.

But the massive increase in listings was just shocking.

Even if sales weren’t down, and they were in fact up, I still think the amount of active listings would have kept the market somewhat normalized.

Now, if you want a contrarian view, or some sort of argument that the market was just as hot in April, I suppose we could look at the MLS Home Price Index Composite Benchmark:

January: +22.6
February: +23.8%
March: +28.6%
April: +31.7%

Using the HPI Benchmark, which some believe is a “smoother, truer” average, we could argue that prices were up more in April than even in March.

But I think it’s fair to say, you can make numbers say anything you want.

And then we go back to that good old place, that just simply can’t be wrong: your gut.

 

My sense is that prices will continue to rise.

But how much is the question.

We need one more month of data, and “feel,” in order to really get a sense of this market.

The sheer number of listings last month was unexpected to say the least, and if that trend continues through May and June, we may actually see a more balanced market.  Not a buyers market, and not a market with a lower average home price than the month before (let alone last year), but home prices will appreciate at a decreasing rate.

Perhaps it bears mentioning here, after my blog post last month comparing Toronto and Vancouver, that the Vancouver HPI Detached Benchmark was up again, which means that the seven months of lower month-to-month prices has now been followed by two successive months of higher month-to-month prices.

Those seven months, of course, followed the introduction of Vancouver’s foreign buyer’s tax.

So the reaction was felt, but after a half-year, prices are up again.

I think there are a lot of people in Toronto who feel that the Liberals’ “Fair Housing Plan” might have an effect on the market here in Toronto, and they’re not wrong.

I think the combination of Easter/Passover in April, plus the Fair Housing Plan, plus the Home Trust story, plus the miserable and rainy weather, made for a really strange month in the real estate market.

That Liberal announcement did get the attention of a lot buyers and sellers, and while most people agree that the actual FHP itself won’t affect the market, the announcement itself might have put a few buyers on the sidelines, and lit a fire under a few sellers.

We’ll see if the market goes back to its old ways in May.

I’ll make a point of looking at the same numbers in an early-May blog post, and comparing to what we’ve discussed here today.

19 Comments

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  1. David Ursino says:

    I came to a similar conclusion in my market looking at inventory data. We’ve had two short periods of a balanced market over the past 7 years lasting 4-7 months. The rest of the time has been a strong seller’s market.
    We’re probably going to head into another short balanced market for a few months. Hopefully home buyers will recognize this and take the opportunity rather than wait for a “crash” that won’t happen.
    Feel free to take a look at the graph on my site for Vaughan real estate http://davidursino.com/video-blogs/item/now-is-the-time-to-buy-and-so-was-20-years-ago-but-you-dont-own-a-time-machine

  2. JCM 800 says:

    I thought that the so-called “lack of supply” was the factor driving the market to such frothy heights? With so many new listings (i.e., supply), doesn’t Econ 101 dictate that prices will fall?

    The torrent of new listings seems to have increased dramatically in May. I would be very surprised if prices don’t correct to 2016 or 2015 levels by October. It’s supply and demand, after all.

    Also, the suggestion that the Non-Resident Speculators Tax is toothless is either uninformed or a misrepresentation. The NRST contains strong anti-avoidance provisions (including for non-resident-controlled corporations and residents acting as trustees for non-residents). In addition, it is administered through Teranet, requiring a lawyer to sign-off on each transaction. The Vancouver tax, on the other hand, has a work permit loophole and depends on self-assessment.

    People without a connection to Toronto will no longer be gambling in the Toronto real estate market. Take it to the bank. It’s done.

  3. Condodweller says:

    I just heard that Home Capital is planning to sell their mortgage book and don’t plan to hold mortgages after they sold them going forward.

    Questionable underwriting practices, securitizing mortgages, hmmmm…..where have we heard that before? Right before the 2007/8 financial crisis.

  4. Condodweller says:

    I recently watched someone downsize and they bought a place at the “frenzy” price then FHP came out and all of a sudden they were concerned the proceeds wouldn’t cover the new place. Fortunately they benefitted from this ~20% increase in the last few months and ended up getting a much higher price for their house than they thought they were going to get based on comps a few months ago.

    My gut tells me that a lot of investors are cashing in at what they perceive to be near the top prices. The building in which the people I mentioned above bought, hardly had a listing over the last few years, and this spring there were two new listings each week for several weeks.

    David, regarding technical vs. fundamental analysis a smart investor uses both. You use fundamental to select what to buy and technical for when to buy. Technical analysis only is for traders, not investors.

  5. Kyle says:

    Assuming the changes to buyer and seller behaviour in April was just due to “normal” buying and selling intentions (and not a response to the FHP changes) then this is probably a good thing for the market. If however, the FHP announcements resulted in sales being pushed up sooner and buyers taking a temporary “wait and see” pause then there is a pretty good chance that this could whipsaw back to March-like conditions, once buyer confidence returns.

  6. Joel says:

    I have noticed a couple of newer trends. One is that in the last 2-3 weeks there has been a huge increase in the number of listings, which I am assuming is going from better weather and people looking to cash in as they think this may be the height of the market with the ‘government cooling plan.’

    Secondly, I have seen more houses selling for below asking price.I think this is more people asking a fair or higher value, then the lack of desire to buy. Prices are up, but not from bidding wars.

    I think we may start to see well done, prime homes sell on offers and other homes listed at a reasonable ask price and selling form there.

  7. Chris says:

    Anyone who claims the market is about to crash because of one month’s statistics is just as delusional as one who claims it will perpetually climb 30% y/o/y.

    That being said, it does seem many in the Toronto detached and townhouse market are trying to crystallize their gains. From Zolo as of today:

    Toronto Detached
    New Listings: +43% y/o/y
    Sold Listings: -8% y/o/y
    Active Listings: +59% y/o/y

    Toronto Townhouse
    New Listings: +26% y/o/y
    Sold Listings: -10% y/o/y
    Active Listings: +31% y/o/y

    Toronto Condo
    New Listings: +5% y/o/y
    Sold Listings: +2% y/o/y
    Active Listings: -43% y/o/y

    Need more months’ worth of data to determine the trend. For now, this is only an interesting blip.

  8. Ed says:

    I’m sure that in different parts of the city the market is reacting differently but here in Etobicoke I’m seeing prices down almost 10% from the Feb/March highs.

    1. Steve says:

      Hey Ed. Are those the listing prices or the sold prices?

      1. Ed says:

        Sold prices.

        1. Ed says:

          I should mention too that I do not mean ALL of Etobicoke is down, I really couldn’t say, but the area I’ve been watching certainly is.

          1. andre says:

            Agree ed, been watching an etobicoke area near kipling station for a client. Some shocking sold prices for sure.

  9. Jack says:

    “That Liberal announcement did get the attention of a lot buyers and sellers […] most people agree that the actual FHP itself won’t affect the market …”

    I think this is saying that FHP affects expectations but not fundamentals. But in a speculative market expectations are more important than fundamentals. Besides, many people have said that some parts of FHP (viz. rent control) will alter fundamentals.

  10. Buck says:

    Good one. ONLY thing I disagree with is the “Agents just work in the market and don’t make the market” statement.

    WHAT? ME? WHAT DID I DO?

    I mean, c’mon. You guys add premium unleaded to the fire.

    1. lR says:

      I totally agree

    2. Al says:

      How do agents add fuel to the fire?

      1. vancouverite says:

        IMO RE agents add 3 things to the fire. First, their ridiculous fees do impact price expectations from sellers. Second, in any RE transaction there are 4 parties involved, 2 of which work on commission so therefore they want to get as many deals done as possible in the shortest amount of time. Whether buyer agent or seller agent, they use tactics for their own interests. As we all know, high sales volume leads to higher prices which sets off FOMO…and we get where we are today. Third, no doubt that most realtors are RE investors/speculators themselves, and being part of the market they have advantages over their clients(ie. access to listings, essentially receiving 50% cutback on fees respective to their own clients). In summary, realtors are both directly and indirectly part of this problem we have and have too much power within the system. I wish society, both buyers and sellers, would change their thinking about the current broken system to cut out the middle men. Their knowledge isn’t worth 50K….just think a police officer/fireman/doctor would have to work 6 months for the same pay.

        1. Al says:

          Vanvouverite.
          You’re first 2 points may be somewhat valid but the 3rd one is questionable. I have a few friends who are realtors and they are some of the hardest working people I know. Realtors or majority of them aren’t shady and try to use their powers to take advantage of clients or receive 50% cutbacks. What cutbacks? Also in order to get a $50k payday, you’d have to sell a $3,000,000 property to come close to clearing that. Most don’t double end and with the competitive nature, I think they probably get around 2% commission. Then after they pay their brokerage fees (anywhere from 5-30%), marketing and advertising, gas, time, insurance, overhead and board fees it starts going down quickly. Everyone wants a realtor to work for free or give a discount. For those that don’t use a realtor, sure they can save 4-5% TOTAL commission but end up losing out on getting top buck. You pay peanuts and you get a circus. That’s my opinion and we obviously disagree.

          1. vancouverite says:

            The 50% cutback I’m talking about is, when a realtor sells his own property he will ask his coworker to list it for him, to make it appear the transaction is at arms length. Now instead of the seller(realtor) paying 5% total in commissions, he’s only really paying 2.5%, hence giving him an monetary advantage over everyone else. Same would apply if the realtor wants to buy a place, he/she will get a coworker to put in an offer. Please don’t tell me this doesn’t happen because I’ve heard it straight from a friend’s mouth who’s a realtor himself. You may say, well everyone gets advantages with regards to the field they work in, but in real estate the stakes are higher. Some realtors are in the know, and get first pick of certain properties. Realtors are essential stock brokers without all the regulation when it comes to insider trading, keeping the profit cycle going.

            As for your ideas of brokerage fees, gas, parking, etc…when you’re making 20K for spending 10 hours selling a property, I don’t really feel bad if you have to pay fees, gas, parking, meals (which I’m sure is all tax deductible, even the portions used for personal use – again heard it straight from a realtor friend). I agree that we should agree to disagree, and that not all realtors are millionaires(yet) but the way society works, they are definitely somewhat in control and willing participants in the crazy market we currently have.

            My only wish is that society goes a pair of balls and slowly phases you guys out, first by making mls information public and then doing private deals.

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