Canada housing agency sees overvaluation in most cities

Residential and commercial buildings are pictured in Vancouver, British Columbia June 20, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Lee (Reuters)

By Andrea Hopkins TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's housing market is overvalued in most major cities, with prices in Toronto and Vancouver accelerating faster than economic fundamentals, and prices have remained high even in cities where the economy is struggling, the federal housing agency said on Thursday. In a report that highlights the nation's uneven real estate market, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp said there is strong evidence of overvaluation in Toronto, the nation's largest market, while evidence of overvaluation in Vancouver has ratcheted up to moderate from low three months ago. While those two cities have long been Canada's hottest housing markets, there is also overvaluation in many other centers - but for a different reason, the CMHC report showed. In the case of western Canadian cities like Winnipeg, Regina and Saskatoon, prices remain high even as the economy sags. “The most prevalent issue detected in 11 of the 15 centers covered by the HMA is overvaluation," Bob Dugan, CMHC's chief economist, said in the agency's quarterly Housing Market Assessment (HMA). "The continued rise in house prices (in Toronto) has not been matched by growth in economic and demographic fundamentals giving rise to strong evidence of overvaluation," the report noted. Canada's housing market has been in a prolonged boom since 2009 and economists have repeatedly warned that the sector is at risk of a correction, though they disagree over whether the market will manage a soft-landing or will crash. Canadian home prices have climbed 45 percent since April 2009, according to the Teranet-National Bank Home Price Index. Toronto prices have climbed 72 percent in that period and Vancouver prices are up 51 percent. While slow economic growth and a drop in oil prices have cooled some markets, low interest rates have continued to support demand, particularly in Toronto and Vancouver, where CMHC said price acceleration at the most expensive end of the spectrum skews average price data. Even where the economy has slowed, as in the resource-dependent cities like Calgary, Saskatoon and Regina, home prices have not fallen to reflect the weaker fundamentals, the report showed. When four factors were considered - overheating, price acceleration, overvaluation and overbuilding - Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina and Saskatoon showed the strongest risk of problematic conditions, the report concluded. But Canada's overall housing market showed low evidence of overheating, price acceleration and overbuilding, and only moderate evidence of overvaluation, the report showed. (Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Chizu Nomiyama)