Canada housing to slow, stagnate, but not crash -Scotiabank

Mon Mar 18, 2013 2:50pm EDT

* Bank says housing will continue to slow, but no crash seen

* Immigration, baby-boomers seen supporting demand

* Long stagnation in prices possible, even as U.S. recovers

By Andrea Hopkins

TORONTO, March 18 (Reuters) - A slowdown in Canada's housing market will continue through 2013 and years of stagnation may follow, but no crash is likely because demographic trends will support demand in the medium term, a report by Scotiabank said on Monday.

The report by Canada's third-largest bank said that home sales have already dropped more than 10 percent from spring 2012, with prices leveling off but not yet falling except in particularly hard-hit markets.

Housing, which slowed but did not crash as a result of the global financial crisis, helped sustain Canada's economy through much of 2010 to 2012 but is now starting to slide just as the U.S. housing sector has begun a clear recovery.

Scotiabank said the housing slowdown will trim a quarter of a percentage point from Canada's economic growth in 2013 and 2014, while the U.S. housing recovery is adding half a percentage point to annual growth rates there.

While Canadian home sales may continue to slump, the report said, prices will likely remain above year-ago levels until at least the second half of 2013, and will not drop as dramatically as they did in the United States.

Scotiabank senior economist Adrienne Warren said she expects a decline in prices of around 5 percent but that the drop will likely play out over the next couple of years rather than happen quickly.

She also said demographics, including steady immigration and the preference of baby boomers to remain in their homes, will support housing demand.

"Contrary to some dire predictions, population aging will not fuel a demographically induced sell-off in Canadian real estate. However, an aging population does point to a lower level of housing turnover, sales and listings," Warren said in the report, the bank's annual real estate outlook.

The report said today's seniors are healthier, wealthier and living longer than previous generations, and attached to their homes, making them less likely to sell in a down market since many will not need to tap into their principal residence to finance retirement.

Warren said immigration, which adds some 250,000-300,000 people to Canada's population every year, will increasingly be the dominant source of new household formation. And while immigrants typically rent on arrival in Canada, they seek home ownership after about five years and their rates of homeownership approach the 70 percent rate of native-born Canadians after 10 years.

Immigration is most likely to support house prices in big cities, Warren said. That should help put a floor under the market in Toronto and Vancouver, which had the hottest markets prior to the slowdown.

"Relative to their Canadian-born counterparts, immigrant households are more likely to reside in large and mid-sized urban centers, which could fuel relatively stronger housing demand and prices in those areas," Warren said.

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