Calgary

Calgary real estate market could see more 'significant price drops' than CREB forecasts

Calgary Real Estate Board's 2016 forecast was hardly sunny — but the reality could be worse, experts warns

Calgary Real Estate Luxury Homes

A for-sale sign advertises a luxury home for sale in Calgary in December 2015. Some experts suggest prices will fall much further than the Calgary Real Estate Board predicted in its 2016 forecast, with one warning we could see price declines of up to 40 per cent if lenders take over. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

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From the days of heated bidding wars 20 months ago to now seeing houses sit idle with a 'for sale' sign on the front lawn — how quickly real estate can change.

The white hot market in Calgary is clearly in the rearview mirror as homes take much longer to sell, buyers are hunting for bargains and some properties are taken off the market after few inquiries.

It's what happens when oil plummets.

The Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB) released its forecast for 2016 on Wednesday, but its numbers only tell part of the story. 

Frank Hickey has seen the many ups and downs as head of the Concord Mortgage Group. One his clients had a property appraised at $2.5 million dollars two years ago. It's now appraised at $1.6 million.

A different client entered into a rent-to-own proposal one year ago. He made a $5,000 payment and also contributed part of his rent towards eventually purchasing a home. But now, the value of the house has dropped below all the money he has paid, so the client will likely walk away.

"The attitude in the market is if buyers have to buy, they'll buy. But many are saying, 'Maybe we'll wait,'" said Hickey. "The higher market has been impacted the most." 

It's difficult to generalize where the real estate market is in Calgary because some houses still do sell close to the asking price. But a five per cent drop is common and some are selling for 10 or 20 per cent less. 

2016 forecast

CREB is much more pessimistic now than one year ago when it estimated sales of 24,503 in 2015. In the end, 18,830 actually sold.

The association's annual forecast is based on many different factors such as the economy, population movement, and commodity prices.

The 2016 forecast suggests oil will average $50 US a barrel this upcoming year. It's a rosy prediction considering several different forecasters said in Calgary this week the crude price should be closer to $40 US, but could fall from its current level of around $30 US to around $20 US. 

CREB 2015 and 2016 forecast information

CREB's 2015 forecast predicted higher sales than actually occurred. (CBC)

Sticky sellers

Some experts suggest prices will fall much further than CREB predicts. Buyers are hunting for deep deals, but so far, sellers have been hesitant to lower asking prices significantly. But as the downturn drags on, sellers are relenting and that gap is starting to narrow.

"We'll see people come to the realization that they need to price their homes to market and as a result, we will see softer prices," said Phil Soper, the CEO of Royal Lepage.

Prices could also fall as discounted properties start hitting the market as banks take over homes from people who couldn't pay their debts. Albertans routinely have the highest debt loads in the country.

"We could see 20, 30, or 40 per cent in declines if lenders take over," said Hilliard MacBeth, a real estate expert with Richardson GMP. "It sounds like a lot but that would only bring us back to levels seen in 2005."  

The condo market is in particularly rough shape with sales down around 30 per cent and prices declining about five per cent, according to John Andrew, with the Queen's University Real Estate Roundtable.

"[The sales number] is a very, very dramatic drop," he said. "That 5 per cent decline in prices, I think that's the tip of iceberg and we will see significant price drops in that market."

Forecasts are never easy to make, especially estimating the real estate market based on whether oil will go up, down or sideways. Experts, however, are unanimous in suggesting with certainty home prices will fall in Calgary this year.

Real estate forecasts are never easy to make, especially when based on a volatile commodity such as oil. If crude prices go up, down or sideways, real estate in Calgary could quickly follow.

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