LACKIE: In Toronto real estate, the party’s over

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I think we can all safely say that Toronto’s pandemic real estate boom is officially over.

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It isn’t a consensus we arrived at easily, to be sure, but even the denialists have finally come around to admit that what we are now seeing is far from the seasonal slowdown or simple “market recalibration” one might remember from the Beforetimes.

The market has pretty much ground to a halt with sales falling off a cliff. Average sale prices in some parts of the GTA are down over 20% from February’s peak. I’m not being dramatic or sensationalistic, that’s quite literally what the data shows.

The only debate right now is whether or not we now find ourselves in real estate crash territory or simply in the midst of a correction.

Well, given that the definition of a real estate crash is a sudden downturn resulting in a loss of value more than 10% from the 52-week peak value, we’re not quite there yet as year-over-year our numbers aren’t faring too badly. But looking month-over-month there should be absolutely zero question that we are in the throes of a strong correction.

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And given the froth of the past several years, I’m not sure anyone should be surprised.

What has been surprising to me, however, is how quickly this came on. Sure, there were signs this winter that buyer sentiment was shifting almost in lockstep with heightened anticipation of interest rate hikes, but this is not that.

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This [gesturing wildly] is a clear response to the Bank of Canada hiking interest rates far faster and far more furiously than anyone ever anticipated in response to out-of-control inflation. Add-in broader economic uncertainty, stock market instability, a war in Europe, and reasonable fears of impending recession, the almighty buyer sentiment couldn’t really be any worse.

Now, you’re likely expecting me to now launch into a tirade about how the sky is falling and we’re all doomed, but I am not there yet. I do, however, believe that what lies ahead is going to be messy and on the other side will almost certainly be a near-total wash of the pandemic gains to Canadian home values.

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Why? Because that’s pretty much the point at which our real estate market became wholly untethered from any semblance of market fundamentals. And given that housing values have risen 50% Canada-wide over the past two years, it will be a long descent.

But what it also means is that we are now heading into an entrenched downmarket, territory that many will remember but will almost certainly feel foreign to broad swathes of Canadians.

Once buyers manage to wrap their heads around these new rates, and in time they absolutely will, they will find that the game has changed.

Does anyone in Toronto remember the time before bidding wars? When great properties still took weeks and months to sell? When market value was based on comparables and not established on the basis of whatever some crazed buyer also at the offer table was willing to spend to outbid you?

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For all the talk of blind bidding being the driver of the madness, what say you now that multiple offers will likely be the exception rather than the rule in the months ahead? Would it be safe to say that blind bidding was merely a symptom rather than the disease itself?

The sellers who have gotten used to being in the driver’s seat are going to have to accept that this new reality is just that — their new reality. February prices are long gone. Offers will likely include conditions. And for those who have to sell right now, it will likely be a tough pill to swallow, particularly if they are depending on the proceeds to close on another property.

Moving forward, the smart move will almost invariably be to sell before even thinking about buying.

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And for the Toronto agents who have enjoyed the boom, especially the ones who rushed to get licensed during the pandemic, this business is about to get rough. The best are going to have to work infinitely harder to compete for a fraction of the business. And the ones who joined the party in hopes of catching the quick and easy deals will likely go back to their day jobs.

Professionalism, competency and ethics will mean everything in the coming months and years. And our relationships with one another will never matter more. I think it’s going to be a welcome change to get to flex our negotiation muscle again, a skill that became mostly redundant once success in a bidding war became almost entirely dependent on how much a buyer was willing to spend.

So yes, things aren’t great at the moment and will almost certainly get worse before getting better. And for those likely to be the most affected, the buyers who bought-in over the past two years and will be upside down on their mortgages for a while, we should all wish them well as they hunker down and ride this out.

For everyone else, let’s stop treating real estate like a national religion and return our focus to the things that matter again.

@brynnlackie

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