British Columbia

B.C.'s dud homebuyer loan program further inflated condo prices, professor says

SFU's Andrey Pavlov says prices for eligible condos accelerated faster than more expensive units

March 07, 2018

Condo prices in the Vancouver area have been soaring over the last year. (Christer Waara/CBC)
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To put it mildly, the response to B.C.'s now-defunct loan program for first-time homebuyers was underwhelming. But it still influenced the soaring condo market, according to a finance professor who's crunched the numbers.

There were just 3,000 applications for the Home Owner Mortgage and Equity Partnership program in the 13 months it's been available — just a fraction of the numbers projected by the previous provincial government.

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Even with the low participation numbers, SFU real estate finance professor Andrey Pavlov stands by his misgivings about the loans.

Like many academics in this province, he has been warning the program would only inflate prices from the moment it was announced in late 2016.

"It appears to me, doing a very quick analysis here, that it did have an impact," Pavlov told CBC News. "The effect is small … but it is statistically significant."

The cancelled program offered loans of up to $37,500 for the purchase of a home priced as high as $750,000.

To calculate the impact on the real estate market, Pavlov compared the increase in prices for condos above and below that $750,000 threshold in the six months before and after the loans were available.  

"The lower-priced condos appreciated a little faster than the more expensive condos," he said.

Andrey Pavlov argues that the B.C. Home Owner Mortgage and Equity Partnership program helped inflate condo prices. (David Horemans/CBC)

The difference isn't huge — he estimates that starting prices of condos eligible for the government loans increased about 1.5 per cent faster than units at the higher end of the market.

But even that small acceleration in prices calls into question former premier Christy Clark's prediction that the loans would make it "easier for first-time homebuyers to find their way into a really tough housing market."

Instead, Pavlov argues, the program did little or nothing to increase affordability.

On the other hand, he admits another dire prediction he made about the program did not play out as he expected.

That warning was that the loans would endanger new homebuyers by encouraging them to take on unsustainable levels of debt.

Instead, those who took advantage of the loans now find themselves sitting on a rapidly appreciating asset.

Sales prices for condos at every price point have spiked dramatically in the last 12 months, following years of modest increases compared to single-family homes.

In green, a graph from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver shows a sudden acceleration in condo prices beginning in about January 2017. (Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver)

The latest statistics from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver show that the benchmark sale price for Lower Mainland apartments was $641,800 in February, up 31 per cent from a year earlier.

On Vancouver's west side, the benchmark was a whopping $835,800.

The loan program may have played a small role in inflating those numbers, but Pavlov doesn't expect the rocket ride in the condo market to end anytime soon.

"I'm concerned about the real estate market, and maybe that second prediction which has been wrong so far may still come true in the future," he said.

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