Markets to watch in 2020

Vancouver

"The market rise was too strong, and now it is reacting to that. However, by the time it is done, it will be in line with where a steady increase should have gotten us over the years.”

Vancouver

Economic growth is moderating in Vancouver. The Conference Board of Canada (CBoC) expects growth to dip to 2.3% in 2019 and continue to average at that rate from 2020-23, down from the 3% rise experienced in 2018. Looking at the Vancouver housing market, total starts will drift downwards over the next few years as a result of ample supply and policy measures aimed at taking more steam out of the sector.

Housing prices, particularly for single-family homes, have been decreasing, and sales in the Vancouver area were down significantly at the start of the summer of 2019. The proportion of foreign buyers in the Vancouver housing market has dropped significantly since the BC government introduced a tax on international purchases in 2016.

Despite some headwinds, Vancouver re-emerged at the top of our survey this year for overall real estate prospects. The office and industrial sectors are doing particularly well. For office properties in metropolitan Vancouver, the vacancy rate was just 5.3% in the second quarter of 2019, according to JLL Research.

Looking at the housing market, the long-term trends remain favourable. Recent softness is largely a reflection of a correction from an overheated environment and policies that have caused investors, whether foreign or domestic buyers, to exit the market.

With a strong economy and population growth, Vancouver remains a desirable place to live that will eventually draw buyers back into the market. The question isn’t if, but when, they’ll come back.  

Toronto

“There’s a certain stubbornness that has persisted in the GTA real estate market.”

Toronto

Fuelled in part by immigration that’s helping to make it one of the fastest-growing cities in both Canada and the United States, Toronto continues to have a healthy real estate market. Economic growth is also solid: the CBoC is predicting growth of 2.4% in both 2019 and 2020. While the housing market had declined as a result of policy interventions like the mortgage stress test, sales and prices have been stabilizing. 

But affordability remains a significant concern, largely due to a decade of land supply issues, coupled with increased demand for housing as a result of immigration and new household formations. With the cost of land per front foot rising, the impacts of government levies and taxes have only added to the affordability challenge.

Toronto’s office market is a major strength, as seen in the continued low vacancy rate and announcements of large-scale developments across the region. Notable among them is a recently announced CA$3.5-billion mixed-use development near the CN Tower that includes two office towers (of 58 and 48 stories), about 800 rental apartments across two buildings and a retail component.

A constant top investment and development pick, the industrial sector continues to shine on the back of e-commerce growth. Vacancies are at historic lows in the industrial sector, with average net-asking rents on the rise. Construction activity is strong, with significant new supply expected to come onstream by early 2020.

Ottawa

“Demand is so far outstripping supply, with nothing suggesting this will go away any time soon.”

Ottawa

With solid economic growth and a vibrant housing market, Ottawa took third place for real estate prospects in our survey. Migration from other cities, including from Toronto-area residents looking for more affordable housing options, has helped the city’s population surpass the one-million mark. With the city having reached that milestone, interviewees expect larger investment players to come into the market.

With so much activity, labour shortages remain a significant issue, as the city grapples with the impact of several large construction projects happening at the same time. And with land supply tight and affordability decreasing, some developers are building townhouses rather than traditional detached homes. 

Purpose-built rental housing is also going strong, particularly as rising prices to buy a home push people to look at other options. Notable projects in Ottawa include a new 24-storey co-living development featuring communal apartments alongside traditional rental units. One interviewee believes renting is a long-term trend in Ottawa, with several retail properties being redeveloped to include rental housing.

The industrial sector is doing well, and many interviewees noted storage as a strength in a government city that regularly attracts newcomers. According to JLL Research, the office vacancy rate declined to 7.7% in the second quarter of 2019, down from 8.7% in 2018.

Halifax

“Slow and steady wins the race in Halifax.”

Halifax

The Halifax economy is on a steady upward climb, with growth forecasts of 2% in 2019 and 2.6% the year after, according to the CBoC. This comes on the heels of record job creation numbers in 2018.

Strong immigration levels are fuelling population gains and demand for homes, particularly when it comes to purpose-built rental and single-family housing. Asked if oversupply is a concern, interviewees said they’re not seeing signs of that happening yet.

Interviewees say financing is widely available, as institutional and private investors that have capital to invest still view the local real estate market—especially when it comes to purpose-built rental housing and industrial properties—as profitable. On the office side, absorption of new supply has left some older buildings falling out of favour.

Real estate players are actively watching what will happen with proposed new development rules under the city’s Centre Plan. The plan, which updates land-use bylaws and municipal planning strategies, would let developers build bigger towers in the core.

Elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, St. John’s is seeing improving prospects as oil companies make long-term commitments through new exploration and move into new office buildings outside of the downtown core.

Montreal

“Montreal feels like it’s on fire.”

Montreal

Montreal is on track for continued economic growth, albeit at slightly lower rates than the 3.4% seen in 2018. The CBoC forecasts growth of 2% in 2019, tapering off slightly to an average of 1.6% from 2020-23.

Major strengths in Montreal’s real estate market include multifamily housing and industrial property. An aging population is among the factors fuelling significant demand for condos, while e-commerce, including the growth of cold storage for grocery deliveries, is giving a boost to industrial real estate. Supply of industrial real estate is tight, with the availability rate falling to just 3.2% in the second quarter of 2019, according to CBRE.

The office market, helped by strong absorptions due in part to a growing technology sector looking for flexible space, has also been healthy. The vibrant market is leading to significant investment and deal activities, including transactions involving large US institutional investors and private equity players that see promise in the region’s stability.

Senior housing is another significant trend, as are residential developments offering curated amenities and services aimed at millennials and active adults who have recently retired.

Despite the optimism, there are concerns about rising construction and labour costs and the potential impacts of the city’s proposed 20-20-20 bylaw. Under the proposal, the city would require developers to set aside certain percentages of new residential developments—or make a financial contribution in lieu—for social, affordable and family-oriented housing.

Saskatoon

Saskatoon

Saskatoon’s economy continues to expand, with modest growth on the near horizon. According to the CBoC, Saskatoon will see economic growth of 2.3% in 2019 and 1.7% in 2020. 

Population growth will outstrip the national average over this period. Housing sales in 2019 have been showing a modest uptick over 2018, with condos contributing to the year-over-year increase. The CBoC predicts housing starts will increase over the coming years, rising to 2,171 units in 2020 from 1,646 in 2019.

A three-building, CA$300-million residential and commercial development reached an important milestone in May 2019 with a ceremony to mark the completion of the top floor of one of two office towers.

The site’s hotel has already opened, and the smaller of the two office towers should be complete in November. Work on the larger tower, which the CBoC notes is expected to be the tallest building in Saskatchewan, should be complete by 2021.

Quebec city

Quebec City

Forecasts by the CBoC suggest Quebec City’s economy will increase by 1.8% in 2019, with annual growth averaging 1.6% from 2020-23. It predicts housing starts will soften in 2019 and remain below 2017 and 2018 levels for the next four years, particularly when it comes to building single-family detached homes.

Despite the softness in some parts of the housing market, there’s strength in other areas, as seen in large-scale developments like a CA$550-million commercial and residential development in Lévis. Other major projects include the construction of a new hospital complex.

Construction costs are a rising concern. One interviewee pointed to the impact of the hospital project on the price of concrete, while others cited labour shortages as a significant factor behind the cost pressures on real estate projects.

Environmental features are another trend in the Quebec City real estate market. Several interviewees noted the rising focus on the inclusion of rooftop urban agriculture and community gardens.

Access to transportation is also important, which is an area where Quebec City is making significant investment as it moves forward with its ambitious tramway project. The project, which recently secured funding, has the potential to transform the city and open up new development opportunities.

“Although the home builder industry in Alberta has been crippled by fewer residential construction jobs . . . and uncertainty surrounding proposed legislation, we’re hopeful this is the worst and we’ll hit the upswing in 2020.”

Edmonton

Edmonton’s economy is expected to grow by 1.3% in 2019, according to the CBoC, as oil production cuts moderate growth in the energy sector. While anticipated austerity by the new provincial government may also affect growth in the city in the near term, the CBoC expects the economy to grow by an average of 2.3% from 2020-23. Despite some headwinds, the Edmonton real estate market is seeing strength in some areas.

Construction of a number of new office towers is adding vibrancy to the city’s downtown. While JLL Research reported an office vacancy rate of 17.7% in the second quarter of 2019, the downtown area saw positive net absorption, particularly in the city’s financial district. A wave of completions is putting some pressure on the owners of older buildings to renovate or repurpose them as the city experiences a flight to high-quality office properties.

Industrial real estate is doing well, especially in communities outside the city where available land and lower tax rates are helping to stimulate development. As a gateway to northern communities, Edmonton is evolving as a warehousing and distribution centre, as seen in developments like an Amazon facility in Nisku’s Border Business Park that’s expected to open in early 2020.

Winnipeg

Winnipeg

Like many areas of Canada, Winnipeg’s economic growth has moderated somewhat. According to the CBoC, growth is forecast to come in at 1.9% in 2019 and 1.6% in 2020, down from an average of 3.4% during the previous two years.

Strong immigration levels have more than outweighed outflows, helping to fuel solid population growth. While the CBoC projects housing starts to soften in the short term, it expects a sustained rebound from 2020-23. Once complete, a new 40-storey, CA$160-million mixed-use development on Main Street will be Winnipeg’s tallest structure.

The industrial market is very strong. The industrial availability rate was just 3.7% in the second quarter of 2019, according to CBRE. Prospects remain solid for the manufacturing sector in Winnipeg, where the average industrial net asking lease rate rose by 2.7% on a year-over-year basis, according to CBRE.

Calgary

“The outcome of decisions on the pipelines will determine our city’s future. I suspect they will be built and that will create jobs and keep us busy.”

Calgary

Calgary is likely to see moderate economic growth again in 2019, with the CBoC forecasting a rise of 1.5%. Further out, it projects annual growth to average 2.5% from 2020-23.

Many interviewees are particularly optimistic about the impact of a new provincial government and the possibilities of building long-awaited energy pipelines. “We have already seen more people at our showrooms after the election,” said one interviewee.

While the housing market faces cost pressures and the CBoC expects starts to fall again in 2019, it’s projecting a sustained rise in construction activity from 2020-23. Interviewees see some opportunities in single-family housing, particularly when it comes to homes aimed at move-up buyers.

Industrial properties are definitely a strength as Calgary becomes a growing distribution hub. According to CBRE statistics for the second quarter of 2019, the industrial availability rate was 8.4% in that period, putting that area of the market in a much better position than office properties.

With the vacancy rate still quite high at 22.5% in the second quarter of 2019, the downtown office market has seen the withdrawal of some large investors like pension funds, which is creating opportunities for smaller players to acquire buildings and see positive absorption from refreshing them or converting them to other uses.

Contact us

Frank Magliocco

Partner, Real Estate, Assurance, PwC Canada

Tel: +1 416 228 4228

Chris Potter

Partner Real Estate, Tax, PwC Canada

Tel: +1 416 869 2494

Miriam Gurza

MRICS Managing Director, Real Estate, Consulting, PwC Canada

Tel: +1 416 687 8143

Fred Cassano

Partner, Private Company Services, PwC Canada

Tel: +1 905 418 3469

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