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Photo: James Mann/Flickr

Major Canadian housing markets ranged from “cool, for now” to “eyebrow raising” last month, in the words of one economist.

“Location is as important as always in Canadian real estate,” writes BMO Senior Economist Robert Kavcic in a response to the latest monthly resale figures from the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) released Wednesday.

Kavcic is speaking to the regional divergences in the market that national numbers mask.

Canadian home sales in February climbed 5.2 per cent from the month before, on a seasonally-adjusted basis, and were down an unadjusted 2.6 per cent compared to the same time last year.

Meantime, the unadjusted average selling price of homes changing hands reached $519,521, rising 3.5 per cent above year-ago levels, according to CREA.

But, as Kavcic notes, different trends are emerging across the country.

The market that was “cool, for now,” for instance, was Vancouver. Kavcic says there were 37 per cent fewer listings on the market there last month than a year earlier.

The benchmark home price for Greater Vancouver was $906,700, down from the August 2016 peak of $933,100 but up 1.3 per cent over January. “They appear to be creeping up again,” says Kavcic of Vancouver home prices.

Nearby Victoria, on the other hand, was “hot,” the economist says. Victoria’s benchmark home price was $566,700, a scorching 20.8 per cent increase from February 2016.

“If there’s really any doubt that the non-resident buyer tax in Vancouver had an impact, look no further than accelerating price growth here since August,” says Kavcic.

In August, when BC began taxing non-residents an extra 15 per cent on the purchase price of residential real estate in Metro Vancouver, the benchmark price in Victoria was $532,900.

Alberta, a province that has seen its biggest markets suffer in times of low oil prices, is “stabilizing,” Kavcic states. There was a 0.25 per cent month-over-month uptick in the benchmark price for Calgary, the Alberta’s most-active market. But Prices are still 1.9 per cent off where they stood in February 2016.

Toronto has teetered into bubble territory, Scotiabank and BMO recently suggested, and the market showed no signs of slowing down in February, leading Kavcic to say, “You know the drill.”

The benchmark price of a home in the Greater Toronto Area hit $727,300 in February, representing an increase of 23.8 per cent in 12 months.

“It’s pretty much the best time to be selling a Toronto home in at least 30 years,” Kavcic continues.

The condo segment — which doesn’t have anywhere near the listing constraints the low-rise market does — posted price gains of 19 per cent year-over-year.

Kavcic considers this “pretty good evidence that supply-side fundamentals have been left in the dust.”

He also observed “eyebrow-raising” developments in Ontario markets outside the GTA, noting, “the strength now spreads as far as Guelph and Barrie.”

Both markets were examples the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) provided earlier this year of what it called “price spillover.”

“Overall, our evidence indicates that increasing single-family home prices in the GTA are motivating buyers to purchase more affordable homes in nearby centres like Hamilton, Barrie and Guelph,” a CMHC spokesperson said at the time.

With more buyers eyeing those markets, prices have been driven higher, Canada’s national housing agency suggested.

Guelph may be far more affordable than Toronto at a benchmark home price of $374,700, but prices are rising at a rapid-fire pace, including a year-over-year increase of 17.9 per cent in February, CREA reported.

Kavcic says, “Even London and Windsor are seriously gaining momentum.” Those markets are about 190 and 370 kilometres from Toronto, respectively.

Elsewhere in Canada, long-stagnant markets are “breaking out.” Ottawa witnessed benchmark home prices grow by 4 per cent year-over-year while Montreal experienced year-over-year gains of 3.3 per cent.

Public-sector hiring in the nation’s capital is buoying Ottawa home prices as “broader economic momentum” drives Montreal’s housing market.

“While every market has its own story, the most pressing issue at the moment is the melt-up in Ontario (not just Toronto) home prices,” Kavcic concludes.

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