* Home sales up 2.4 pct in March from February
* Down 15.3 percent from a year earlier
* Price index up 2.2 pct, smallest gain in more than 2 yrs
By Andrea Hopkins
TORONTO, April 15 Sales of existing homes in
Canada rose in March from February even though year-over year
sales fell sharply, data on Monday showed, offering more signs
that the post-recession housing boom may have turned into a
Prices were up 2.2 percent from a year earlier, the smallest
increase in more than two years, the report from the Canadian
Real Estate Association (CREA), the umbrella group for real
estate agents, said.
Sales were up 2.4 percent in March from the month before.
Actual sales for March, not seasonally adjusted, were down 15.3
percent from a year earlier, the report said.
The March month-on-month uptick in sales, after a 1.1
percent drop in February, and the modest rise in prices raised
hopes Canada's housing market may be on track for a soft landing
rather than a U.S.-style crash.
The market was sizzling a year ago, but has cooled sharply
since the federal government tightened mortgage rules in July
2012 to prevent a U.S.-style real estate bubble. The changes
shortened the maximum mortgage length, making it harder for
Canadians to take on too much debt to get into the expensive
real estate market.
It was the Conservative government's fourth such move in
four years as it grew alarmed by record high household debt
"Today's print helps to placate some of the concern that the
housing market is in for a crash following an appreciable
slowdown in sales and construction activity since the
implementation of the fourth round of tighter mortgage
regulations last summer," Mazen Issa, Canada macro strategist at
TD Securities, said in a research note.
"We expect the theme of stabilization to take hold over the
coming months to reflect shifting fundamentals."
CREA said there was some noise in the data, including the
Easter holiday, which may have held sales back.
"National sales have been holding fairly stable since last
summer," CREA President Laura Leyser said in a statement.
"We'll be watching closely as the spring market picks up to
see whether the March sales increase marks the beginning of
an improving trend."
The CREA report showed the national sales-to-new listings
ratio was little changed at 49.9 per cent in March from 50.3 per
cent in February. This measure has held fairly steady around
this level for the past eight months, CREA said.
Nationally, there were 6.5 months of inventory at the end of
March 2013. This was down from 6.7 months reported at the end of
February, resulting from the increase in sales combined with a
third consecutive decline in the overall supply of homes for
sale, the report showed.
The national average price, not seasonally adjusted, for
homes sold in March 2013 was C$378,532 ($373,500), up 2.5
percent from the same month last year.