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Canada home prices to cool in 2018 as rates rise, mortgage rules hit

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12/20/2017 | 06:47am CEST
FILE PHOTO: A real estate for sale sign is pictured in front of a home in Vancouver

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian home prices are expected to cool significantly next year as tighter mortgage rules come into effect and as further expected interest rate hikes are likely to dampen a market that has been stoked by cheap borrowing, a Reuters poll found.

While home price gains in Toronto and Vancouver are also expected to slow, they are anticipated to remain stronger than national prices despite recent local government efforts to rein in the hot markets.

Canada's housing market has been robust in the years since the global financial crisis of 2007-2009, supporting economic growth but also spurring record levels of household debt compared to income.

With tougher new rules on mortgage lending to take effect at the beginning of next year and the Bank of Canada expected to raise interest rates again, economists are watching to see how indebted consumers will cope.

Home prices are expected to grow by just 1.9 percent next year after a gain of 8.5 percent in 2017, according to a Reuters poll of analysts. Home price inflation is expected to pick up slightly from there with a 2.6 percent increase in 2019.

Analysts said the impending mortgage rule changes imposed by Canada's banking regulator are likely to have the biggest impact on the most expensive markets.

"The rule change will be significant, but largely concentrated in higher-priced markets of Toronto and Vancouver," said Michael Dolega, senior economist at TD Bank.

Still, the impact in British Columbia may be diluted by the large number of credit unions in the province that are not subject to the rule changes, Dolega said.

Toronto price gains are forecast to cool to 2.0 percent in 2018 and edge up to 3.0 percent the following year.

After touching an annual rate of over 30 percent earlier this year, home prices in Toronto have come off the boil since the Ontario government announced a number of measures in April to cool demand, including a foreign buyers tax.

But Vancouver, which implemented its own tax on foreign buyers last year, is seen notching price gains of 6.0 percent next year before cooling to 4.6 percent in 2019.

The rebound in Vancouver prices since the tax was introduced suggests further measures are needed in British Columbia, said Sebastien Lavoie, chief economist at Laurentian Bank.

While the majority of analysts surveyed said the new mortgage rules will have a "significant" impact on housing market activity, most said higher interest rates pose the biggest risk.

The Bank of Canada raised rates twice this year and while policymakers have said they will be closely watching how consumers and the economy absorb the higher costs, the central bank is expected to continue to hike in 2018.

With household debt as a share of income hitting a record high of 171.1 percent in the third quarter, some economists and consumer advocates are worried Canadians will find it hard to shoulder their debt at a higher cost.

"Rising interest rates, alongside record indebtedness, together pose significant risk to both the financial system as well as the overall economy," said Dolega.

Despite the anticipated slowdown in prices, groundbreaking on new homes is seen remaining robust with housing starts forecast to stay at or above 200,000 until the fourth quarter of next year.

Housing starts defied expectations of a slowdown this year and economists expect new construction to continue to contribute to economic growth in the coming quarters.

(For other Reuters poll stories on housing markets,)

(Polling by Anisha Sheth, Indradip Ghosh and Vivek Mishra; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

By Leah Schnurr

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