Bill Doskoch, ctvtoronto.ca
When you look at GTA housing prices and sales statistics, it's almost like there had never been a recession.
As 2009 wound down, homebuyers were partying like it was late 2007, which illustrates the V-shaped path the market followed when the recession started to bite in the fall of 2008.
The recession is generally considered to have started in October 2008. For that month, the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) reported that GTA sales were down 35 per cent over the same period in 2007.
Toronto average home prices were down 13 per cent over the same period in October 2007, while 905 homes prices declined about eight per cent.
But if you look at the median house price for a detached GTA home, it only really collapsed in December 2008 (the median is the price point at which 50 per cent of homes either sold for above or below that figure. It's less prone to distortion than the average price):
- October 2008 - $377,000
- November 2008 - $379,000
- December 2008 - $300,200
- January 2009 - $365,000
- February 2009 - $370,000
The median price continued to rise throughout the year, ending at $445,000 in November, 2009 (the December figure will be available in early January).
"I find it very strange," consultant Barry Lyon told ctvtoronto.ca.
When 2008 ended, Lyon said he was very conservative in his forecasting of GTA condominium demand for 2009 -- but he had to revise it upwards three times.
"I'm happy to be low, I'll tell you, but I don't know anyone who didn't think we were in more of a U-shaped recession rather than a V-shaped," he said. "I think we've all been quite amazed by the strength of the recovery and how quickly it's happened."
One factor could be the service nature of Toronto's economy. From October 2008 to November 2009, the service sector of Ontario's economy lost only 0.4 per cent of its jobs. Goods-producing jobs contracted by 10.5 per cent.
Some job sectors -- finance, insurance, real estate, leasing; professional, scientific and technical services -- actually saw net job growth during the recession. Those jobs have a heavy presence in Toronto.
Obviously, people felt confident enough in their prospects to purchase real estate.
In a Dec. 1 report, TD Economics said housing usually follows a "first-in, first-out' cycle during economic downturns.
Nationally, the robust recovery had economist Pascal Gauthier wondering whether a bubble could develop and whether affordability had significantly eroded -- something that could adversely affect future demand.
"The misalignment of home prices with their fundamental drivers, such as demographics and income, cannot last. That much is known. What is less clear is the exact timing of when and precise channel by which the two will eventually realign," he wrote.
That being said, he didn't see a high risk of a correction in the short term.
In Toronto, more supply in the form of new house and condo completions could help moderate price hikes, he said.
TD Economics also said by its calculations, the pent-up demand that developed during the uncertain early days of the recession had exhausted itself by November. Lyons agreed with those assessments.
Lyon said one thing that's pushing price growth is the lack of listings across all types of homes.
"I find that puzzling, because a lot of people are sitting on a nice uplift," he said. "Why wouldn't they use that to either trade up or trade out of the market?"
When you drive up and down the streets, there are no signs. "My real estate agent friends are really uptight because they just can't get the listings," he said.
Everyone has a multiple-offer bidding story.
If there were more properties on the market, prices wouldn't be rising as fast, he said, adding he'll be interested to see if there's a big upsurge in listings come spring.
"We still have an affordable product mix here but we always get nervous when prices start climbing, because we don't want to lose Toronto's affordability," Lyons said, noting Vancouver is a city with real affordability issues.
Unlike Vancouver, Toronto has plenty of land available for high-rise condominiums -- although there is a shortage for single-family homes, he said.
Younger people are flocking to the lower eastern area of inner Toronto as they can live easily without a car while accessing their workplaces downtown. Employers are investing in office development downtown to accommodate this talent pool, he said.
With new immigrants continuing to flow into Toronto and hoping to get into the housing market, and the investor sector holding in, real estate values should hold up in 2010, Lyon said.
"Not an outstanding year, but a good year on balance, with an emphasis on Toronto city proper and in the resales ... anything in desirable neighbourhoods, around transit, is going to keep doing very well," he said.