Canada’s addiction to real estate goes far beyond our obsession with talking about it. Our economy actually relies more on the fees associated with buying and selling houses than it does on agriculture, fishing, forestry and hunting combined.
Real estate commissions, land transfer taxes, legal costs and fees for inspecting and surveying homes make up almost two per cent of Canada’s economy.
“This is a stunning 1.9 per cent of GDP,” said Macquarie analyst David Doyle. “It’s really concerning, it’s really unhealthy.”
By comparison, agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting account for 1.6 per cent of GDP, Statistics Canada reports.
Doyle points out that the U.S. was relying big time on home ownership transfer fees in 2005, when its real estate market peaked. But even then, those fees made up only about 1.5 per cent of U.S. GDP. Now, years after the U.S. housing market crash, transfer fees make up less than one per cent.
In Canada, upcoming data will likely show those fees have already started to fall, as the number of home sales across the country fell in June by the most in seven years.
Doyle says Canada’s increased reliance on real estate fees can be blamed on years of ultra-low interest rates, worsened during the oil price slump when the Bank of Canada cut rates even further.
“I think they felt that the lesser of two evils in that situation was to cut interest rates,” Doyle said.
But that fix has helped put Canada in another tricky situation, where the economy relies to an unusual extent on home transactions. That could have particularly negative consequences as the central bank begins to raise rates again.
“The drag on the economy that’s going to flow from [higher rates], I think, will prove to be much more severe than it’s been in the past,” Doyle said.