“Alice Soo is developing a case of spring fever for real estate.
In 2011, five years after graduating from university, she made a final payment to erase $25,000 in student loans. At the same time, she has been a disciplined saver, with $30,000 now socked away. Ms. Soo, a clinical secretary at Vancouver General Hospital, is eager to use it for a down payment on a condominium in the suburb of Burnaby, and soon.
Why the urgency? Condo prices in Greater Vancouver have slipped 3 per cent over the past year, but Ms. Soo believes the softness in the market won’t last. “I’m worried about keeping pace. I’m worried that no matter how long I keep saving, the prices will keep climbing and I’m never going to be able to catch up. That is my main concern.”
Such is the psychology of the first-time buyer in Vancouver, the country’s most expensive property market. Prices here have soared 24 per cent since the summer of 2009, according to the Teranet-National Bank house price index, and the price of a typical detached home is still about $900,000. But prices have cooled and sales activity is way down – there were nearly 30 per cent fewer transactions this February than a year earlier – so Ms. Soo’s concern about missing out may be unwarranted….
“For every first-time buyer, there’s an owner who`s looking to sell and trade up, and for every upgrade, there`s a retiree looking to cash out. The “trickle-up” effect can make the difference between hot and cold in the market.
This year, the big question is: Will the first-timers come back?”
For Ms. Soo, who is now renting the basement of her sister’s home, the first choice is to buy a Burnaby condo priced at roughly $300,000, preferably close to a SkyTrain rapid transit station. Given her modest annual pretax salary of $39,000, Ms. Soo is excited by the prospect of moving into her own place by the time she turns 30 this summer. But price remains the sticking point for buying a condo this spring. She and her agent, Eddy Shan of Homeland Realty, are finding that sellers aren’t budging much from their asking prices.”
– this anecdote from ‘Will nervous first-time buyers make this spring housing market bloom?’, Tara Perkins and Brent Jang, Globe and Mail, 9 Mar 2013 [hat-tip OH YAH]
We agree that this FTB’s “concern about missing out may be unwarranted”. She is still living in the not too distant past, and continues to suffer from the “buy now or be priced out forever” fever. It’d be interesting to know more about her knowledge of current market conditions, and to understand her sources of information.
The current market action is precisely what one would expect through a topping process: sales declining, prices sticky but beginning to give, buyers waiting and watching. Sales volumes always lead prices.
And there will always be some buyers, at any point in the descent, thinking they have “bought the dip”.
The most vulnerable owners in the coming downturn will be the over-leveraged, the latecomers, and the retirees with far too much RE for their life-stage. If Ms. Soo buys, she’d be both over-leveraged and a latecomer.
Some further excerpts of interest from the same article:
“Will McKitka, a real estate agent with Macdonald Realty, said the spotlight has turned on the slump in property sales in February, but prices haven’t collapsed. “People use the B-word, in terms of a housing bubble. Vancouver isn’t in one,” Mr. McKitka said. Monthly sales volumes are being crimped by stalemates over pricing, he noted.
Two of his clients watched negotiations fall apart last month, even though the asking and offering prices were tantalizingly close. “Not close enough,” he said. But Mr. McKitka insists that buying into the Vancouver area’s cooled-off housing market makes sense. Gone are the days of huge jumps in home values, but for those able to save for a down payment in 2013, it will be a better financial decision to own than rent, he argues.”
“It still seems that the much greater risk is that sales weaken further, not that they surprise to the high side,” BMO Nesbitt Burns economist Douglas Porter said in a research note this week.
Prices remain stubbornly high in most urban markets. Fitch, a ratings agency, said this week that prices nationally are about 20 per cent too high. Such headlines add to the fear among first-time buyers that, even if they can afford to get into the market, now might not be the time.”
“Large marketing campaigns and incentives on the part of mortgage lenders are likely to play a significant role in driving the market this spring. “People buy payments, they don’t buy house prices,” says Toronto-based mortgage planner Calum Ross. “There is a huge psychological impact of five-year mortgage rates dropping below three per cent.” Mr. Ross adds that he’s now seeing “massive” amounts of marketing by mortgage lenders.”
“Phil Soper, CEO of real estate agency Royal LePage, said the slowdown is a good thing, because the market was too hot, but he thinks that the changes that Mr. Flaherty made in July went too far. “It pushed things for young people, for first-time buyers, to a place it didn’t need to be,” he said.
Now, he says, the impact of the change has largely been felt. “Young people have had eight months to either save up a larger down payment or look farther afield for a home,” he says. “As long as the cost of mortgage financing remains very low, we’re going to attract financially stable young people, first-time buyers, into the housing market. The desire to own one’s home hasn’t changed one bit.”
Will McKitka’s comment added to the ‘What Bubble?’ sidebar collection of bubble denier quotes.
We agree with Doug Porter’s observation that “surprises” are more likely to be to the downside.