RPT-INSIGHT-Canada's housing party plays on as world warns of risk

Wed Sep 10, 2014 12:14pm EDT
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By Andrea Hopkins

TORONTO, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Jeff Lowry and his family left a sedate housing market in Tennessee last year and moved to Canada in the midst of a housing boom, where bidding wars and soaring prices were an unpleasant reminder of his American roots.

Trading in his suburban home outside Nashville for a smaller $600,000 house in Waterdown, Ontario, about 40 miles outside of Toronto, the 39-year-old regional manager wonders if he's just bought into another bubble.

"Obviously it is risky, and we're concerned," said Lowry. "The housing market is skyrocketing and we wonder, are we paying the top price? Will what happened in the United States happen here? I don't know. I guess it's a gamble."

Experts ranging from Fitch Ratings and Morningstar to the International Monetary Fund and economist Paul Krugman have warned about the risks of the housing boom in Canada, where the average home price has doubled in 11 years. They point to record high household debt, cheap mortgages, and overbuilding as harbingers of the kind of doom seen in the U.S. housing collapse five years ago.

"Think of me as the designated driver at a party," said Dan Werner, an equity analyst at Chicago-based investment firm Morningstar. He warned in July that a house price correction is inevitable in the next five years that could send values tumbling by as much as 30 percent.

"There is this euphoria when you are within an up housing market," Werner said. "We fell into it that here. I don't want to say Canadians are in a party mode, but they are thinking, 'What can possibly go wrong if prices keep going up?' It's going to end badly."

Werner said the reason why a collapse is inevitable include: home prices are rising faster than personal income; low mortgage rates are unsustainable; household debt levels are at historic highs; and builders have erected so many houses that there will soon be oversupply.   Continued...