Hot housing market tougher for buyers: broker

Daniel MacEachern
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Rise in housing prices plus stricter mortgage eligibility rules will keep mortgage payments rising

Jim Burton, Re/Max Plus Realty agent, speaks to the St. John’s Northwest Rotary Club luncheon at the Holiday Inn Tuesday. — Photo by Daniel MacEachern/The Telegram

Claude Sullivan of East Coast Mortgage Brokers had four words of advice at the St. John’s Northwest Rotary Club luncheon Tuesday: “Buy now. Don’t wait.”

Sullivan, along with Re/Max Plus Realty agent Jim Burton, spoke to a crowd of about 50 at the Holiday Inn on the evolution and affordability of housing in St. John’s.

Their message: with real estate prices currently on the upswing — plus the possibility of a slight rise in interest rates — people thinking about buying homes should consider making the plunge now, as houses are likely to get less affordable in the short term.

“Real estate prices are increasing. The potential — although we don’t expect it, but the potential is there — for interest rates to increase as well,” Sullivan told The Telegram. “So that would be a perfect storm for an increase in mortgage payments.”

But some of that reduction in affordability — with the federal government in recent years putting stricter qualifications on home-buyers — is what has helped Canada so far avoid the housing crunch in the United States, said Sullivan. In Newfoundland and Labrador, a strong economy has kept the housing market humming.

“With these megaprojects looking to employ thousands of people over the next few years, that makes our situation to be a little different from the rest of Canada,” Sullivan said. “Our economy’s so vibrant compared to the economy in other parts of Canada, that we don’t anticipate that the negatives in the other parts of Canada are going to affect us. We’re going to ride through it because of the strong economy and the strong projects.”

But Canada has gone from a nation of savers to a nation of debtors, Sullivan said. In recent years the biggest barrier to home ownership is not the size of a potential mortgage payment.

“The government, through (the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.) regulates what people will be able to qualify for, and that is to make sure that people don’t get in over their heads,” he said. “The biggest problem that we generally find is that mortgage payments, or mortgage debt itself, is not the crippling factor for most people when they experience problems; it’s the other debt. The other debt, though, is very hard to regulate and police, whereas mortgages are easier to control.”

Burton, who spoke before Sullivan, painted a picture of a St. John’s housing market that has seen the average price of homes go from just under $101,000 in 2000 to about $268,000 last year, an increase of 166 per cent. If you look at only new homes, said Burton, the average price is $340,000.

Three main factors are driving consumer confidence in the St. John’s area, Burton told the Rotary Club: population growth, income growth, and employment growth. St. John’s, he said, is the oldest community in North America to hold city status, but 30 per cent of the city has been built since 1990.

“The city is growing, and the downtown landscape is changing dramatically,” he said. “It’s nice to see the confidence that’s being invested on Water Street, with the new $50-million office building on the old Woolworth’s site (and) the hotel that is being built just up the street from that.”

The province’s economic strength is expected to continue at least through 2012, said Burton. “The positive growth will continue. The demand for housing will remain steady for 2012,” he said.

“Unit sales — we’re anticipating to see 3,700 MLS sales, which will be probably about four to five per cent higher than we had last year. Prices should move ahead about five per cent this year — average price we’re anticipating to be about $279,000.”

Twitter: TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Northwest Rotary Club, Holiday Inn, The Telegram Canada Mortgage and Housing

Geographic location: Canada, United States, Newfoundland and Labrador North America Water Street

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Recent comments

  • Turry from town
    January 17, 2012 - 14:57

    I bought my house and sold the one I moved out of privately.You can go online and get a purchase and sale agreement and work out the conditions with both parties.Then you take it to your perspective lawyers and they do all the work.You can save alot of money this way.Agents have dozens of customers so they don't give one person priority.All that agents do is stick a sign on your lawn and put a pic in the guide.Does anybody know a poor realestate agent? The more they can pump up the price of a house the better for them.That is what is driving the cost of houses here,greedy,selfserving realestate agents.

  • whatever bud
    January 12, 2012 - 12:27

    The Re/Max people are getting hungrier by the minute. More people ar eseeling their own homes,more people are using discount realtors. Why on earth would you pay 5-6% commission when you could be paying about 1.5%,the math is easy. The housing market is actually cooling right now and realtors know it. Newfoundlanders per capita,nore than any other place,either own their homes outright or have a mortgage (they do not pay rent).As a result,people get acclimatized to the fact that they SHOULD own their own house. In other major cities and especially in European countries,the vast majority of people rent,it's just the way it is.With todays prices,the average person (if they can possibly afford a mortgage) will be paying off their mortgage until they die (especially after a few refinances),that scenario is no different than paying rent until you die. In fact, I would rather give my money to a landlord (some of them are nice),than to a bank (none of them are nice). Interest rates will not rise significantly,the economy is in too much of a mess. Instead of investing in a house,try investing in being debt-free,it is certainly a better investment.

    • Hilarious
      January 12, 2012 - 14:58

      "WHATEVER BUD" hahaha you must not know much about discount realtors.. read the fine print and then you'll see. Obviously you've never bought a house using them! and I would love to know what signs show that the real estate in St. John's is cooling.. its a slow time of the year in winter if thats what you mean but thats an annual occurance. Have fun giving away your hard earned money to these nice landlords. hahahaha

  • jennifer
    January 12, 2012 - 06:54

    This is irresponsible journalism. Any journo course would teach that a reporter can't just report from industry insiders with a stake in the business...what about including an unbiased viewpoint as well? I hope the editor reviews this practice. I have many real estate friends who have said the market has really slowed over the last six months. You are seeing houses on the market for months on end. There was another story this week that said NL was expected to be the last in terms of growth in the country this year.

  • craigjoseph
    January 12, 2012 - 04:28

    When you're shopping quotes from lenders, beware of points that they'll try to impose on your refi. Each point is a fee of 1% on the amount you borrow. I worked with 123 Refinance search online for them. I would strongly recommend them since they got me 3.24% rate on my mortgage refinance.

  • Terry
    January 11, 2012 - 20:24

    No real estate salesperson is worth 5-6% of the selling price of a house. Not unless the property is the Amityville Horror!

  • Joe
    January 11, 2012 - 18:18

    It's easy to be optimistic when you're a multiple property owner, and the forcast calls for rent hikes and increasing property value, but try to find a decent starter home in this city for less than 250,000. In my scenario, and I'm willing to bet there are many in my boat, I have to somehow save 30000 for a down payment, on a 30 year old home that needs 50,000 worth of work. A starter home is something that I would like to move out of before I'm 35, but with those numbers, by the time I can invest enough into a house to make it liveable I'll be more than ready to move.. into a retirement home.

  • pfmurphy
    January 11, 2012 - 14:40

    Yesterday the Business section had an article on the drop in housing starts, while Garth Turner @greater writes, "Over the past months, most quietly, the nation’s largest bank has been preparing for a housing crash. The question: could the Royal Bank withstand a 25% dive in residential real estate values across the country?" but Mr Burton whose living depends on selling houses tells us, "Buy now. Don't wait." We are, as rational individuals, left to wonder whether Mr. Burton's conflict-of-interest is driving his advice and that he wants his percentage on the higher prices before they crash and sales dry up or is he really the St. John's Seer of housing futures. I wonder? And I further wonder what responsibility the Telegram assumes for publishing this panegyric of purchasing unquestioned should young people or anyone buy a house that winds up being worth significantly less than its mortgage value next year or next month. Perhaps the Telegram should guard itself by stating the article is solely the opinion of Mr. Burton who undoubtedly will put his personal finances in place to protect buyers should prices drop. I know were I on a jury should he be sued, I would certainly hold him responsible to some extent unless he were to revise his article to more clearly recognize the possibilities of his advice.

  • Mike
    January 11, 2012 - 13:47

    Mark, I think your comments are sound and I agree. People, check out average home prices in Europe. We are doing fine. I think its great that people are making a dollar in good times...and while we wait for the moratorium on cod to end, the energy sector is doing a great job of keeping us all going strong.

  • Moe St. Cool
    January 11, 2012 - 13:45

    First off, this story has a biased slant by posting verbatim quotes from industry insiders with a huge stake in having housing prices increase. There is no rebuttal/alternate viewpoint from any other housing authority to be found in this article. Why? Who knows. However, one detail that is striking is the cost of houses in 2001 to be a little over a 100 grand. While 268 000 is a high average home price, it can be considered more appropriate given the current fiscal position of the NE Avalon. It’s supply/demand and capitalism at work…for better or worse. As an aside , Realtors ( as we know them) are living on borrowed time. The age of 5-6 % commissions is going to pass, as people realized that they pay $ 15 -17 000 to sell a $300 000 home …for what ? To post a link on the MLS website and a crummy sign in your yard? It’s total nonsense. I sold my house last year (on my own) through hard work on local websites, an open house and posting signs wherever I could. I ended up with a bidding war for my house and sold it for over ask, despite 3 Realtors telling me not to do it. My marketing plan cost was $ 35 (the cardboard was free)….so the lesson is that maybe homes could be more affordable if we eliminate the middle man or at least cut the commission to 1.5 %.

  • Joe
    January 11, 2012 - 13:14

    I agree, totally self-serving... but oddly enough they're right. Hebron personnel are starting to move to the province right now and Husky is out for bid on another GBS project. Buy now, or pay more in 6 months when we have two GBS projects in full swing.

  • Mike
    January 11, 2012 - 13:13

    I see we have the realtors drumming up the business again with more comments. Reators speak in terms of how much more room we have left for home prices to me, that only says one thing...greed..thinking and waiting for the chance to bump up the price another $10, 000 or $100, 000. As a past and future home buyer, I will never use their services again. Buy and/or sell yourself and save everyone this market, no one needs to throw all that money away on commission fees.

  • Mark
    January 11, 2012 - 12:25

    Julie, It's easy to see your rant is fueled by emotion, and not fact. You seem to blanket a lot of people in your generic response, that everyone is strapped and living on borrowed time, but very few people know that NLers have the highest wages in the Atlantic Canada, and the current housing index is far lower than our GDP suggest it could be. NS home values are almost identical to those in St. John's, yet their average weekly earnings are almost $100 per week less than those in NL. The values in NL could increase approximately 30% further before we match our GDP output and put any real strain on the overwhelming majority of current homeowners bottom line. When do you forecast interest rates rising? For the first time in history, the current state of the worlds economic affairs are all connected and when USA and Europe bleed, it effects us all. During uncertain economic times, rates are the last things that will rise, so unless you see a robust world economy around the corner, you might be waiting a while for all those people are forced onto the streets. The worlds thirst for our energy/ natural resources is only getting started and wages will increase this year as well. Putting your head in the sand won't make houses any less expensive. You can choose not to act, but you cannot deny the facts. A good rule of thumb is: in good economies home prices WILL rise. With NL's expected population and employment growth over the next 20 years, its not likely the prices are going to reduce as demand for housing is still rising and so are avg monthly rents. So, good luck with your strategy. I'm extremely confident with mine as a multple property owner, and with a vacancy rate around 1%, I'm eager to pick up even more.

  • RH
    January 11, 2012 - 11:34

    I am real tired of this type of 'news' from realtors and mortgage brokers. There message is self-serving in that they are trying to promote sales of homes by inducing fear with the "buy now" rhetoric through the media. It oozes of the sleaziness - they can making healthy earnings without having to stoke and already flaming market.

  • lisa bussey
    January 11, 2012 - 09:29

    Bitter, angry people. Intelligent comments would be welcomed, not hateful slurs. What ever happened to Newfoundlanders.

    • Julie
      January 11, 2012 - 10:08

      Lisa, of course I am angry. I am sick of being gouged, aren't you???

  • Julie
    January 11, 2012 - 08:14

    If that were only true and the government was actually worried about the amount of money that Canadians borrow then the banks wouldn’t be allowed to offer 20% more than what the average couple can comfortably afford and there wouldn’t be warnings about not taking the full amount that the bank offers. There is still too much room there. And funny how this advice comes from ReMax and a mortgage broker..’buy now, don’t wait’. This coming from people that make a living on people that buy now. They are not going to come out and say ‘hold out and save your money.’ I’d prefer to wait until the rates go up and all the people that are already house poor because they got roped into a mortgage that they cant really afford, are forced out on the streets. Then I will be able to buy your houses at fair market value-not the outrageously inflated price that the market has driven it to. What is going on in St. John’s is ludicrous. Do you think the cost of building supplies has gone up 166%? What about the cost of labor? Did any of the trades people get an 166% increase in salary? Who is getting rich here? How can a 25 year old house be worth $100, 000 in 2000 and $268 000 in 2012? It’s the same lot, the same roof, same material-only older. My advice to anyone that’s in the market to buy is hold out. If we all waited and committed to a buying freeze you’d see the prices come down pretty quick, especially when the banks, mortgage brokers and the crowd at ReMax starts to get hungry.

  • BR
    January 11, 2012 - 08:12

    Of course they will say that, more money for them. If I expect 200,000 for my house and the agent says I could get 250,000, I'll ask 270,000. Then he'll tell a buyer to buy before the price or interest rates goes up. Don't trust a real estate agent more than a politician. I don't know who is buying the houses but most young people today can't afford it with local salaries.