So far, 2020 has been largely defined by bans and restrictions that have stalled and stagnated many previously healthy markets. Amidst so much more, the global pandemic has ensued things like mandatory business closures, strict travel restrictions and bans, plummeting immigration levels, and a significant drop in foreign investments.
For years now, immigration-driven population growth has been credited with the strength of the housing markets in major cities, such as Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary. Since pandemic-related border restrictions came into effect in March, immigration into Canada has dropped significantly. According to information reported on by BNN Bloomberg, Canada accepted only 34,260 permanent residents in the second quarter of the year (April, May, and June), compared to 94,275 during the same time last year. That’s a drop of 64 percent.
Suffice to say, this is not what anyone expected, numbers-wise. According to Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, the 2020 target was 341,000, with another 351,000 or so to obtain permanent residency in 2021. So far in 2020, Canada has granted permanent residency to just 103,420 immigrants.
So, what does this mean for the real estate market in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area? This article breaks down the role of foreign money on the housing market, how COVID-19 is curbing housing demand, and what this means for those buying and investing at a local level.
Breaking down foreign interest
When it comes to foreign participation in the Greater Golden Horseshoe’s real estate market, there are a few factors at play. Below, I explain how immigrants, international students, and foreign investors contribute to the GGH’s real estate market and how they have been affected by the global pandemic.
Prior to COVID-19, strong immigration levels boded well for the health of the housing market. In 2019, Canada saw 341,175 new permanent residents in need of long-term housing. On the whole, immigrants own more condominium units than Canadian-born owners.
Today, vacancy rates are on the rise in downtown rental markets, pushing prices lower. According to a report compiled by TorontoRentals.com, landlords are asking $260 less per month for condominium rentals in the GTA in July 2020, compared to the same time last year.
Another driver of the GGH’s condominium market has to do with international students. There are approximately 640,000 international students in Canada. These students make up a significant portion of the rental and multifamily markets in Canada’s largest cities. According to numbers via CBC News, some school boards are seeing decreases in enrolments of international students by as much as 50 percent due to reasons relating to COVID-19.
Meanwhile, in the luxury home segment, properties that would have typically attracted rich foreign investors are garnering little interest to that end, also leading to price drops.
In March, data compiled by Sotheby’s International Realty Canada indicated that residential real estate sales in the GTA more than doubled within the first two months of the year, registering an increase of 107 percent year-over-year in January and February, while luxury sales over $4 million surged 75 percent during the same time period. That said, the month of April marked “generational lows,” with home sale activity falling by a record 56 percent compared to the month of March. Though mid-year findings in the Canadian Luxury Real Estate Market Report stipulate market resiliency, the luxury segment is taking a hit nonetheless on the foreign investor front.
Digitization is not always the answer
While the real estate industry on the whole was moving towards digitized processes long before the pandemic struck, many foreign buyers are apprehensive to make costly real estate investments sight unseen—particularly in these unprecedented times. Moreover, digital means—such as virtual listings and showings—do little to offset the disquiet spurred by the global pandemic. As such, Toronto agents are facing a new barrier to securing property sales: fear.
For an example, let’s look at prospective buyers and investors based out of China. Canada has had roughly double the number of COVID-19 related deaths compared to China. In many cases, Chinese buyers are skeptical to travel and reside in Canada due to fear of COVID-19 related risks. While Chinese buyers and investors may have previously flocked to Canada’s multifamily market, things like shared building ventilation systems might discourage them from the segment altogether. In other words, for the time being, the GTA’s housing market will be driven far less by the behaviour of foreign buyers.
Strong buying and selling at a local level
The appeal of tech-forward processes can be observed at a local level, where the internet was already the most common resource for buyer hopefuls looking to purchase a home. According to a poll commissioned by the Ontario Real Estate Association, nearly half of Ontarians who plan to buy a home in the next two years say that they are willing to close on a home they have only viewed virtually.
Though we are still weathering the numerous consequences and persistent setbacks of the coronavirus pandemic, the GTA’s real estate market has more than rebounded. According to information released by the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board in August, realtors in the Greater Toronto Area reported 10,775 sales in August 2020. That number is up by 40.3 percent from August 2019. This is thanks to healthy buying and selling at a local level.
What does this mean for real estate in the Greater Golden Horseshoe?
With the threat of COVID-19 looming, foreign interest on the whole is significantly less so than it has been in years past. But with the Greater Golden Horseshoe’s real estate market emerging strong—per data compiled by the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board for the months of June, July, and August—foreign interest isn’t the end-all-be-all. Furthermore, a lack of foreign players could actually be beneficial for homebuyers who were previously priced out of the market.
According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the average home price in the country will drop between nine and 18 percent over the next 12 months. Though this kind of data hardly bodes well for sellers, it could be incredibly advantageous for investors and buyers.
Given that construction was deemed an essential industry throughout the pandemic and that housing supply is being actively replenished, the availability of supply could become less of an issue than it has been in years prior. New supply, in conjunction with low-interest rates and access to credit, could play a part in solving the decades-old housing supply shortages in regions such as the GTHA and Niagara, and an across-the-board disparity between supply and demand.