When Statistics Canada reports that house prices continue to rise across Canada, that does not automatically make your home worth more.

Using a statistical measure called the New Housing Price Index, contractors' selling prices are compared month by month and annually to track patterns in prices using the newly-established standard of 1997=100.

For example, based on the May 2003 New Housing Price Index, the following observations were made:

  • New house prices continued their climb in May, up from 0.4% in April to 0.6%. On a 12-month basis, the Index advanced 4.4%. This is down slightly from last month when the published annual increase was 4.5%. A favourable housing market and higher prices for inputs, such as labour and land, continued to push prices up nationally.
  • Even in the midst of a healthy housing market, some areas experience stagnant or dropping prices. Charlottetown, Kitchener-Waterloo, Windsor, Sudbury-Thunder Bay, Winnipeg and Saskatoon showed no monthly price changes in the New Housing Price Index, a key measurement in determining the health of construction and real estate industries.
  • The rate of price increase also differs regionally. For example, for the third consecutive month, Quebec City registered the largest 12-month increase (+9.2%) for new homes followed by Hamilton ON (+7.0%) and Regina (+6.7%).
  • Monthly price rises occurred in 15 of the 21 urban centres surveyed by Statistics Canada. Of the centres with the strongest growth, St. Catharines-Niagara led the way with an increase of 1.3% followed by increases of 1.1% in Toronto and Saint John-Moncton-Fredericton. Significant increases were observed in Vancouver (+0.8%) and Hamilton (+0.6%). Home builders in all these areas credited favourable market conditions along with higher prices for building materials and labour with the increase. Home builders in Saint John-Moncton-Fredericton, Vancouver and Hamilton also noted higher land values.

    FYI: Federal government housing analysts converted the time base of the indexes from 1992=100 to 1997=100 with the May 2003 New Housing Price Index release. Methodology for aggregating individual price quotes to city, regional and national level indexes are the only things that changed. The new 1997=100 series will be available retroactively from January 1981 so the index movement between January 1981 and April 2003 will be the same for the 1992=100 and 1997=100 series. The 1992=100 based NHPI will not be updated after April 2003.

    So where do the statistics leave you?

  • If you are selling an older home to buy a new house or condominium in a comparable area, you may find the value gradient goes against you. Increases in new home prices may escalate prices of nearby resale homes, but for properties that require extensive modernization or maintenance, significant land value increases may be necessary before property values rise.
  • If you want to buy into a better area and new housing is all that is available, you may find that your housing dollars do not go quite as far.
  • If you're selling in a preferred area to move into a new condominium community, you may gain on the move.

    Neighbourhood and regional pricing differences should be taken into account when selecting a new location. The dollar gap between what you net in a sale and what you'll spend-- that tax-free liberated home equity -- may be essential to preserve your standard of living in the new home. Most experienced real estate professionals offer free comparative market analysis (CMA) for sellers so that they receive a clear picture of current real estate value when establishing list price.

    List price and selling price will also be determined by the condition of your property. Twenty- or thirty-year-old plumbing and electrical systems may make your house less attractive to buyers who compare your property with available new homes.

    When buying, don't settle for off-the-cuff price quotes. Today's astute buyers should ask their buyer-agent for a CMA of any property they consider buying to be sure listing price reflects CMA numbers and that pride of ownership has not made the seller overly optimistic.

    Make your decisions about buying and selling relative to your needs and your market as ever-changing statistics make a poor foundation.

    Statistics Canada's May 2003 Building Permits release reported the value of building permits declined in May as construction intentions for single-family homes hit a 17-month low. Builders took out $3.9 billion worth of building permits, down 2.0% from April and a decrease that has continued for four months. But don't panic, Statistics Canada analysts assure Canadians that "despite month-to-month fluctuations this year, Canada's building sector is still performing strongly."

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