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First-time buyers balking in face of a volatile Toronto housing market

First-time home buyers are growing more uncertain about purchasing in the Toronto area in the wake of policy changes and new mortgage rules, new polling data show.

An Ipsos poll of home-buying intentions conducted for the Toronto Real Estate Board shows first-time buyers account for 41 per cent of people in the Greater Toronto Area who report they are likely to buy a home in 2018, a significant drop from 53 per cent in the same poll a year earlier.

In the city of Toronto, first-time buyers accounted for 46 per cent of those likely to buy homes in 2018 compared with 64 per cent a year earlier, while in the GTA region surrounding Toronto, first-time buyers accounted for 37 per cent of likely buyers in 2018, down from 44 per cent a year earlier.

TREB said first-time buyers have become uncertain about which way the market is moving amid volatility and have the flexibility to rent or live with family while they decide what to do.

Matthew Boukall, senior director of residential products at real estate analysis firm Altus Data Solutions, said polling data in May showed a decline in home-purchase intentions from first-time buyers as mortgage qualification rule changes from 2016 were taking effect. He said he wondered at the time if the trend was a "blip" or if it was the new reality as prices continue to rise in the Toronto region.

"It's been reaffirmed again in this [poll], so it wasn't a blip," he told a Toronto Real Estate Board market forecast event Tuesday in Toronto. "It's a new reality where fewer transactions involve first-time home buyers, likely because they aren't able to qualify or afford the home they would have even a couple of years ago."

The Ipsos survey was conducted in November based on 1,000 people who said they were "somewhat likely" or "very likely" to buy a home in 2018.

Over all, Ipsos polling showed 26 per cent of GTA residents surveyed said they were likely to buy in 2018, down from 28 per cent last year and 30 per cent in 2016.

Mr. Boukall said the overall buying trajectory is slightly downward, but still relatively steady even as prices climb.

Ipsos also polled 2,500 GTA residents who already own homes, including 1,000 who bought their homes in the prior 12 months. The results showed first-time home buyers accounted for 47 per cent of recent buyers, down from 51 per cent a year earlier. This was entirely a result of a drop in first-time buyers within the city of Toronto, where they accounted for 46 per cent of buyers compared with 60 per cent a year earlier.

Many recent first-time buyers appeared to favour the less-expensive 905 region outside Toronto, where the proportion of first-time buyers rose to 48 per cent from 43 per cent.

TREB's poll also found 40 per cent of existing home owners say they are likely to list their home for sale in the next year, up from 30 per cent in May.

The most common reason for listing is to buy a larger home, which could signal that some sellers feel it is a good time to try to trade up to take advantage of weak pricing in the detached-home market.

The Toronto Real Estate Board, which represents real estate agents working in the GTA, released the polling results on Tuesday while also unveiling its market forecast for 2018.

TREB predicted between 85,000 and 95,000 homes will sell in the GTA this year; there were 92,394 home sales in 2017.

TREB said the 90,000 midpoint of the forecast range would be a slight decline from 2017, with the market likely to see pronounced year-over-year declines in sales in the first four months of the year when compared with booming markets in the first four months of 2017, but then showing strong growth after April.

TREB forecast the average home selling price in Toronto in 2018 to be between $800,000 and $850,000, with a midpoint of $825,000 slightly more than the 2017 average selling price of $822,681.

Jason Mercer, TREB's director of market analysis, said buyers are still adjusting to the policy changes, which will likely keep prices flat for the first part of 2018.

"As we move through the second half of 2018 we'll probably see price growth normalize a bit up from where it is now," he said.

© The Globe and Mail

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