|Don’t get caught in housing debt|
Mar 13, 2012 Jerry Agar Toronto Sun
I would hate to have happen to you what happened to me, so let me tell you what it was like to own a home in the United States when the market crashed.
Two things occurred in the past two weeks that have me spooked on the housing market.
The first was Maclean’s magazine’s Feb. 28 cover story, “Time to panic about the housing market.”
Not too subtle. The cover showed a house on fire. The subtitle read, “Why is everyone ignoring this unfolding disaster?”
Maclean’s reported, “By the third quarter of 2011, Canadians owed an average of $1.53 for every dollar they brought in, up 40% in the past 10 years and just below where the U.S. was before its housing crash. By the end of 2010, the average homeowner had just 34.3% equity in their home, the lowest level in two decades and a 20% drop in just four years.”
Cheap credit was one of the causes of the problem in the U.S. and we have it here, too. The price of housing is exploding.
Last week, a three-bedroom bungalow that hasn’t been updated much since the 1960s went on the market for $759,000. The winning bid was $1,180,800; $421,800 above the asking price.
Perhaps an extreme example, (or an under-priced home), but a home being bid up over the asking price is a common phenomenon in Toronto and elsewhere.
David Madani of Capitol Economics, formerly a policy analyst with the Bank of Canada, told me we are seeing a sharp increase in housing prices relative to household income, “much like we saw in the United States. We don’t think this is sustainable.”
Madani advises people to think of house prices relative to income. A normal ratio, he says, is around three. In Toronto those ratios, “Tend to look more like six or seven, and in the more extreme example in Vancouver, those ratios are sometimes as high as 10.”
Do we want to arrive at a point — maybe we have — where houses are only for the rich, while the rich are called on to supply public housing for everyone else?
Madani referred to housing in Canada as severely unaffordable, adding it looks affordable because interest rates are low.
His advice is to make sure when you buy a house you can not only afford it now, but will be able to continue to do so if rates go up.
In my case I bought a wonderful home outside Chicago for $450,000. Houses were cheaper there. They are a lot cheaper now.
I am selling it for the only offer I received of $260,000. I am losing a lot of money, but so is the bank.
It is a deal the banks are making in order to re-set the real estate market. There is a lot of blood in the water.
If you can make the payment and your income holds, you can ride it out. But as the market crashes, so does employment. Good people lose their jobs, nobody can or will buy their house at anything near what is owed. It spirals down.
I am not an expert. I am just a wounded soldier back from the housing wars with the message all soldiers bring: “Learn from the past.” A home should be a dream, not a nightmare.
— Agar is the 9 a.m. to noon host on Newstalk 1010
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