Ottawa, Toronto defy national sales trend ... for now

“It’s been a good quarter in Ottawa, a very good quarter,” Grant King, president and owner of Ottawa-Carleton Mortgage told “Barring a government threat of layoffs and a referendum, this is always a solid market.”

That hasn’t necessarily been the case across other major urban centres, with new CREA stats pointing to August declines in Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver. They may, however, have been the exception.

A total of 324,030 homes have traded hands on Canada’s MLS system so far this year, says CREA President Gary Morse. While this stands only marginally above levels in the first eight months of last year, it also marks the first time this year that year-to-date activity has pulled ahead of 2010 levels.

Nationally, sales activity was stable from July to August, but posted another big year-over-year gain reflecting weakened demand last summer, and on the heels of buying spree ahead of new tougher mortgage qualifying rules.

“The housing market in Canada remained on a firm footing in August when compared to volatile financial markets,” said Morse, in Thursday’s release. “Through their actions, homebuyers are showing that they remain confident about the stability of the Canadian housing market, and recognize that the continuation of low interest rates represents an excellent opportunity to buy their first home or trade up.”

That is primed to change with the first tentative signs that Canada may be among the first developed nations to officially slip back into recession – even ahead of the beleaguered U.S.

Bank economists are now trimmed their outlooks follows the economic contraction 0.4 per cent in the second quarter and the very real threat of a similar pull back in the third.

That has the potential to slow even King’s traditionally buoyant market, where brokers enjoy as much as a 30 per cent share of mortgage business.

“If the government does come out even the threat of 5,000 or 10,000 layoffs,” the brokerage head told, “that means we’ll then have 60,000 civil servants doing nothing, buying nothing – not cars, furniture or homes.”

Should those job cuts come, King would prefer the government to move quickly to identify the affected workers, a way of preventing the kind of pause in activity that would quickly get transmitted his team of more than 20 mortgage professionals.

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