Canada’s ‘Energizer Bunny’ Housing Market: 2021 Forecasts

The Canadian real estate market defied gravity last year in spite of a global pandemic and nationwide lockdowns.

The year ended with the seasonally adjusted MLS Home Price Index up 13% year-over-year with the average house price surpassing the $600,000 mark.

“It’s official, despite all the challenges, 2020 was a record year for Canadian resale housing activity,” Costa Poulopoulos, Chair of the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), declared.

But where do prices go from here?

Will prices finally fall, as many have been predicting since early last year? Will they moderate and return to more sustainable growth, or is it still full steam ahead?

Nobody knows for sure, of course. But we’ve compiled a rundown of some of the many (and varied) 2021 house price forecasts to get an idea of what some of the smart minds in the industry think.

Keeping in mind the fallibility of forecasting the future, we’ve also included some of the 2020 forecasts where possible.

In case we need a reminder of how “off” forecasts can be, one need not look further than the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) prediction of a 9% to 18% decline from the pre-COVID peak by the end of 2020. That was a prediction that did not age well.

CREA

  • 2021 forecast: +9.1%
    • 2020 forecast: +6.2%
  • Commentary: “(We are) anticipating healthy housing price growth in 2021, with move-up and move-over buyers continuing to drive activity in many regions across the Canadian housing market. An ongoing housing supply shortage is likely to continue, presenting challenges for homebuyers and putting upward pressure on prices.”
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CMHC

  • 2021 forecast: -9% to -18% (pre-COVID peak-to-trough decline)
    • The agency first released this forecast last spring at the height of the first wave of the pandemic. While the timeframe has been been pushed out, CMHC continues to stand by this forecast.
    • 2020 forecast: an average MLS Price of between $506,200 and $531,000
  • Commentary: “When I say I stand by our forecasts, it’s really with respect to what are the broad trends we expect moving forward,” CMHC Chief Economist Bob told reporters in September. “When I look at the housing market there are a tremendous number of risks.”
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Real Estate Firms

Royal LePage

  • 2021 forecast: +5.5%
    • 2020 forecast: +3.2%
  • Commentary: “Across the country, a large number of hopeful buyers intent on improving their housing situation were not able to find the home they were looking for this year, as the inventory of properties for sale came nowhere near to meeting surging demand. With policy-makers all but promising record-low, industry-supportive interest rates to continue, we do not see this imbalance improving (this) year. The upward pressure on home prices will continue.”
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RE/MAX

  • 2021 forecast: +4% to 6%
    • 2020 forecast: +3.7%
  • Commentary: “(We are) anticipating healthy housing price growth in 2021, with move-up and move-over buyers continuing to drive activity in many regions across the Canadian housing market. An ongoing housing supply shortage is likely to continue, presenting challenges for homebuyers and putting upward pressure on prices.”
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The Banks

RBC

  • 2021 forecast: +8.4%
  • Commentary: “We see little that will stop activity or prices from reaching new heights in the year ahead…Yet we also expect cooling signs to emerge, which will come into fuller display in 2022. The main restraining factors will be a lack of supply, waning pandemic-induced market churn, a modest creep-up in interest rates and an erosion of affordability. Call it a 2022 soft landing.”
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TD

  • 2021 forecast: +5.8%
    • TD is calling for an initial plunge in home prices of 7% in early 2021, before recovering in the latter part of the year to post an overall year-over-year price gain.
  • Commentary: “Canadian prices will likely drop through the first half of 2021 by around 7%, before regaining some traction later (in the) year. While this sounds like a big hit, it would still leave the upward trend in prices, established prior to the pandemic, in place. Some added pressure on prices could emerge on the supply side. Case in point, the end of mortgage deferral programs is likely to spark some additional supply on the market.”
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CIBC

  • 2021 forecast: +2.4%
    • This is based on an average of the bank’s upside case of an 11.2% price gain vs. its downside case of a 6.9% decline over the next 12 months.
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National Bank of Canada

  • 2021 forecast: -5.2%
    • This is based on an average of the bank’s upside case of a 1.5% price decline in 2021 vs. its downside case of a 9.9% decline.
  • Commentary: “We were pleasantly surprised by the performance and house prices so far during the pandemic. Although in our forecasts, particularly in the pessimistic case, we don’t assume strength in the housing market. I think for the macroeconomic scenarios, and that which goes into generating our allowances, you can consider those scenarios quite prudent.”

BMO

  • 2021 forecast: +6.6%
    • This is based on an average of the bank’s quarterly MLS Home Price Index forecasts, ranging from +11.6% in Q1 to +0.5% by Q4.
  • Commentary: “We expect the market to lose some momentum in the months ahead, as tighter mobility restrictions, the small back-up in long-term yields, the ongoing absence of immigration, and still-soft employment conditions will weigh. To be clear, we don’t look for a reversal in the broader (housing) market, just some moderation from (December’s) extraordinary results. After all, ‘stay at home’ doesn’t translate to ‘don’t buy a home.’
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Scotiabank

  • 2021 forecast: +0.4%
  • Commentary: “The delay of some activity into H2-2021, when we had already expected widespread inoculation to lift economic growth, likely means stronger second-half activity than we previously anticipated. Rock-bottom interest rates, ongoing federal and provincial fiscal supports, and the current supply-demand tightness should also contribute to home price gains over the medium-term.”

Credit Rating Agencies

Moody’s Analytics

  • 2021 forecast: -7% (peak-to-trough decline)
  • Commentary: “The housing market will no longer be able to escape the poor condition of the labour market as vacancy and delinquency rates rise in 2021…Fortunately, the declines will be brief and the restoration of robust job growth in 2022 along with Canada’s strong demographics will put a floor under the housing market.”
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Fitch Ratings

  • 2021 forecast: -5%
  • Commentary: “We attribute the expected decline to lower demand caused by elevated levels of unemployment and increasing affordability issues…Although we expect delinquencies to increase in 2021, we do not expect the level of delinquencies, distressed sales or foreclosures to increase to the levels seen in the U.S. during the financial crisis.”
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Story has been edited to correct CMHC forecast.

Canadian home prices soaring

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