Entries from May 2017 ↓

The nation

Never say this is not an amusing country. First the Cons, thrown out of office for being too rigid, too right and too Harper, elect an alt-right flatlander social conservative because Quebec dairy farmers who want a monopoly defeated their own guy. Then the Dippers and the Greens team up to take BC winging to the margins, defeating the centrist Libs who actually got the most votes.

What does this mean for the economy, and our national house porn addiction?

Probably nothing too good. The left coast going left is news the resource industry didn’t want. Now BC can be just like Alberta, watching investment dollars leave town, returning to budgets awash in red ink, and embarking on a bold new agenda of social spending. As for real estate, the NDP has been vocal about deflowering speculators, both foreign and domestic (the Chinese tax would be doubled and made province-wide), hiking property tax, taxing flippers and spending billions of tax dollars on ‘affordable’ housing in the most unaffordable place on the continent. Yes, that means tax increases, and huge market risk. Get out.

Nationally, Mr. Sheer (I know the dude) was a dedicated foot soldier for Stephen Harper, a mouse in caucus and a passable Speaker. I think there was champagne and weed in 24 Sussex on the weekend. Just the news the T2 gang were hoping for.

Meanwhile, what kind of country do our leaders have dominion over?

A less confident one, it seems. People are losing faith in the economy, with just 19% thinking it will improve in the months to come and 81% believing it will be stagnant or decline. The latest Nik Nanos polling data, via Bloomberg, also underscores an erosion of faith in the No.1 investment asset here in Beaverland. A few weeks ago a majority of people polled thought house prices would increase. Now a majority believes the opposite. And that has driven overall consumer confidence down for the first time in months.

Why? You know. Home Capital. Downgrades of our big banks. NAFTA trouble looming. Anti-bubble measures. Static income. Rising debts. It’s all being reflected in the falling house sales, bloated listings and price weakness that realtors wish they didn’t have to reveal. And now we have a political schism emerging reminiscent of the Trump-Democrat divide which polarizes the USA.

Sigh. This is why it’s time to make one of those periodic portfolio adjustments, sucking a little weighting out of American assets and adding it into the European column. Assets there are better valued as major economies move ahead and the disruptive forces of populism have their asses handed to them by the majority of voters.

But enough politics and macroeconomics. Let’s talk about Nelson’s babe. He has a problem. Needs GreaterFool 911. I’ll leave the advice tonight for the blog dogs.

Love your blog…been reading it for years. I’m 39 years old, never owned real estate, and have been renting since 2006 while slowly building equity and saving for retirement.  While there has and will always be pressure from friends and family to buy a house, I’ve crunched the numbers and know that the benefits of renting will often outweigh the benefits of owning (unless you can put a value to the self-righteousness that comes with owning).  However, I’m at a crossroads and I never thought I would be one of those guys who email you asking for your advice on how to calm a spouse who seems almost desperate to buy a house.  We’re recently married and have a 3 month old son.  We looked for a house back in the summer of 2016 but it was a futile attempt as there was so little inventory and so few quality houses.  Our search was limited to Toronto as our jobs and family are here and moving to the burbs and commuting is not really an option.  Since we had the little guy coming and wanted more space than what my 740 sq ft 1bed+1den+2wr downtown condo provided, we gave up and decided to rent a 1000 sq ft condo in a nicer/less busy area of Toronto.  The idea was to rent for a couple of years and see how things shake out while we figure out this parenting thing.  Financially we’re in a pretty good place and sitting on about $500k in a variety of conservative/low risk/diversified/liquid financial vehicles, no debt, and are cash flow positive even with my wife on maternity leave.

Once the bambino was born in February, everything changed and my wife is constantly checking realtor.ca and is sending me listings in between feedings of million dollar moldy shacks in scummy areas that she wants us to look at.  For now, I’m humoring her and telling her to wait until the end of summer to re-engage our realtor but deep down I’m not optimistic.  While there may be a recent uptick in listings, prices haven’t yet followed and it seems greedy sellers are still holding onto their lottery ticket until some external force moves the pendulum (like more gov’t intervention or rising rates).  My fear is that we’ll settle for a dumpy place with pre-war electrical or plumbing (or worse, mold or termites), overpay while the market slides, and most importantly need to delay / re-finance our retirement.  I don’t want to throw away all my years of financial diligence and foresight and worst of all, end up resenting my wife or leaving our son with nothing (other than an education) when we die.

What can I do to distract my wife until the market is more balanced and prices start to decline?  I’ve already put forth a pretty strong case for renting another year or so but she’s willfully blind to the long-term benefits of waiting a bit longer and doesn’t seem to care much about retirement or your blog (sorry, I tried).

Is Nelson pooched? Should he stand firm? Just give it up, and buy? Isn’t running the country easier?

Just like that

Michelle Makos has been a realtor for years. Director of the ginormous Toronto Real Estate Board, partner in a Pickering-based brokerage, and once named to be among the “25 Most Influential Women in Canadian Real Estate.” Yeah, she probably bought the title. But still, you have to admire a businesswoman whose logo is a pink stiletto.

  Her blog post, “And just like that…silence”, made the rounds over the weekend, confirming what this pathetic blog’s been yapping away about for months. This market is pooched. It’s also interesting coming from a veteran house-flogger who works in one of the areas of the GTA which has been most lightly hit by the collapse in real estate activity in the past five weeks. But even in Durham Region the lights are also going out.

Some of her comments:

“It would appear that everyone who wanted to sell their home, waited until after Easter weekend and it seems that the we are now saturated with listings. By looking at the listings and the sold listings it would appear the ratio is about 10:1… meaning for every 10 homes listed, ONE home sells within a week…”

“Let’s not panic. The Buyers now have great opportunity to purchase homes without the bidding wars and without paying crazy over asking prices. They may even be able to get a home inspection. Those days were unheard of a few months ago.. hell, even a few weeks ago. But it has definitely shifted and Realtors need to face the reality that the Sellers are no longer in the driving seat…..The BUYERS are… but many of the buyers were frustrated and didn’t want to play anymore and have retreated.”

“There are homes out there selling for UNDER asking now. Homes are being listed at the price they are expected to get and not silly under value prices and encouraging bidding wars. Those days are slowly disappearing. This is good news for buyers. On top of all the uncertainty, we are also seeing some Buyer Remorse out there. Buyers who haven’t closed yet on their deals and now seeing all the choice out there are feeling they overpaid.”

By the way, another realtor (John Pasalis) crunched the sales numbers available to insiders like him, and reports that in the 30 days following Ontario’s bubble-busting assault, buyers have freaked. Across the region sales plunged 26%, but in some areas – like the northern exurbs where speculation and buying were the most frenzied – things are colder than Kim Jung Un’s frosty little ticker. The sales declines were 62% in Richmond Hill, 46% in Markham, 44% in Newmarket, 34% in Vaughan and 31% in Aurora. Ouch. Giant Mississauga and Brampton not spared either, with plops of 27% and 15% respectively. Mighty 416 even saw 23% fewer deals.

At the same time, listings are going nuts. With sales falling and more homeowners trying to take advantage of historic prices, inventory is piling up in a way not seen for decades. Maybe ever. The choice for buyers literally doubled in a few weeks.

And while Ontario followed BC’s lead and slapped on a foreign buyer’s tax equal to 15% of the entire purchase prices, Pasalis says that’s not behind the crash. Rather the bull was dying of old age all on its own, with the 33% year/year price romp in March being the final indignity, and now speculators are jamming the exits.

As he told reporters:

“They disappeared – no one is talking about buying money-losing rental properties any more. The whole excitement and euphoria is kind of gone right now. The whole mood of the market has changed, and that is the bigger factor. People are spooked – investors are spooked, buyers are spooked – and I think that’s the huge issue. Our agents are getting calls from listing agents begging them for offers, just begging them, because the seller is freaking out because they already bought something and they need to sell their house.”

So, you can see when veteran agents and brokers throw in the towel so quickly that this correction may have legs. Toronto prices were down about 3% month/month, and the stats to be released at the end of this week (Vancouver) and the start of the next one (GTA) will be fascinators.

Sales can crash, sellers panic and realtors fret, but will valuations follow? Is this the start of a national housing event that will shave 20%, a third or half off property prices? Impossible to tell, but the odds favour a substantial decline rather than a mild dip. US rates are rising, our key trade deal’s in question, household debt is insane, the average Toronto new-build just hit $1.8 million, incomes are slipping behind inflation and by every measure our real estate’s delusionally over-valued.

But, I hear you cry, what about Vancouver? The Chinese dudes tax there had nothing but a temporary effect, with prices heading higher again. Why can’t the same happen in Toronto?

Of course it can. So, as Michelle says, go ahead and buy. Be a man. But first check out the “bull trap” below. When human emotion changes, you can ignore this chart. But not yet.