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IMF study of house prices in Canada

International Monetary Fund study concludes housing prices in some provinces are overvalued while others are close to equilibrium.

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) working paper released this month asks: Is the Canadian Housing Market Overvalued? The study concludes that house prices in Alberta and British Columbia are now only 8% overvalued while house prices in Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan are close to equilibrium (as of end of the second quarter of 2009).

The IMF developed an econometric model from economic fundamentals such as disposable incomes, demographic trends, and mortgage credit for the period 1993 Q1 to 2009 Q2. It then used the model to compute equilibrium prices for housing in the five largest provinces.

The IMF study also looked at traditional valuation measures.At the end of June (before the recent spurt in prices), the house-price-to-income ratio was about 15% above its historical average (U.S. close to its historical average); the house-price-to-rent ratio was about 60% above its historical average (twice the U.S.).

The study mentions several factors that help to support house prices, They include:

  • revival in commodity prices
  • lenders have full recourse to borrowers which makes escaping loans harder (unlike U.S.)
  • loan-to value requirement of 80% for uninsured mortgages
  • mortgage-backed securities represent20% of the market in Canada (third of the U.S.)
  • government initiatives such as buying up mortgage-backed securities, expanding the Canada Mortgage Bond program to 10-year maturities, expansion of CMHC programs and a temporary home-renovation tax credit.

From trough to peak during the boom period, new house prices were up 97% in Alberta, 120% in Saskatchewan, and 41% in the rest of Canada. Existing house prices showed similarly huge increases during the run-up phases.