Market Review – May 2017: Double-counting of ‘new listings’ confounds data
Much is being made (e.g. in the media) about the ‘decline’ in sales in Toronto. As I have been saying (writing) for years, it’s one thing for the pace or volume of sales to decline, and another for prices to decline.
It’s true that the volume of sales in May 2017 was lower than sales in 2016. That said, 10,196 transactions is typical for a busy month in the spring market. The number of sales in May 2016 was 12,931, an all-time record for that month. So, we saw fewer sales than the record set last May. Do we have to set a record every month?! I don’t think so.
Also, the average price in May 2017 was $863,910, up 14.9% – or about $112,000 – still a very high increase. It was down from April (which was basically the same as March) because the market was so crazy in the first quarter, and that drove prices up quite dramatically. I’m glad to see that those super-high price increases are behind us.
Much is also being made of the increase in the number of new listings. As noted in the headline, that number is faulty: TREB has double-counted (and in some cases triple-counted) some new listings. Here’s how: a new listing is posted with an eye-catching price. The home-owner wants competition that will drive up that price. Then, due to the slowing activity that we’ve seen in the last six-to-eight weeks, ‘offer night’ comes and goes without a sale. The Realtor cancels the existing listing and posts a new listing with a higher price. TREB (through no fault of its own) can’t yet track that, so that property has appeared twice in the system and gets counted twice. You can imagine that this could easily happen a couple of times with the same property, and it happens all the time across the city. There could be hundreds, if not thousands, of double-counted properties in that “New Listings” number. Clearly, it’s not what it seems.
The better number to track is Active listings, which hit 18,477 last month, up 42.9% over May 2016. This is a good thing! The market has been trapped in a low supply situation for years, and if a bunch of new listings can take off some of the pressure, that would be great. Ten years ago, in May 2007, TREB reported 23,739 active listings (which was down from 26,220 the year before). The city population is higher now, and we are still nowhere near that volume of available listings for all the eager buyers out there. Why would anybody start ringing the alarm bells in conditions like this? My guess is sensationalism. Fear sells, doesn’t it? :/
The supply issue is perhaps more easily understood if one looks at the number of active listings added to sales. That number would provide a sum of the real estate activity for the month. In May 2007 (which I chose as a nice, round ten years ago), there were 23,739 active listings and 11,146 sales, which adds up to 34,885.
Last month there were only 18,477 active listings left at the end of the month and 10,196 sales, which adds up to 28,673, only about 82% of the activity recorded in 2007. With a rising population, solid economy, good job growth and continued low interest rates, we still have less real estate activity now than we did ten years ago. In this supply-constrained, competitive environment, what would cause a correction? There’s certainly a fear factor infecting the market these days, but underneath all that is the relentless supply shortage, and that should absolutely preclude a correction (beyond the simple re-balancing we’ve seen recently).
By the way, looking at the 11,146 sales in May 2007, from that ‘selection’ of 34,885, it’s clear that buyers had a lot more choice then; prices were up a manageable 5% that month. That was a strong market, and we would be lucky if our supply were to increase steadily over the next few months to get us back to that level.