Be Careful What You Wish For

The Economic Fallout of Housing Price Shocks

The desire of some well-meaning British Columbians for government to drive down the price of homes through demand-side policy may sound practical at first blush. However, when you consider the broad and deep economic toll that a negative shock to home prices would exact on both homeowners and renters, it quickly becomes apparent that such an approach is at best, a mug’s game. BCREA Economics analysis* shows that even a relatively modest negative price shock will produce significant consequences to the BC economy.

Nearly 70 per cent of British Columbian households own their home. A relatively minor 10 per cent negative shock to home prices would extinguish $90 billion of their wealth, or $70,000 of the average home owner’s equity. While some may see this as a paper loss, it will have a significant impact on the economy, as declining household wealth reins in consumer spending. Retail sales would suffer, with an estimated $1.8 billion in forgone revenue in the first year after the shock.

Home construction activity would fall dramatically. Home builders would cut back production 25 per cent; that’s 10,000 fewer housing starts in the first year alone. A negative price shock would markedly slow the expansion of the housing stock, creating even more critical housing supply problems down the road.

Across the economy, a negative home price shock will slow growth. Tens of thousands of jobs will be forfeited. The unemployment rate will shoot up. A 10 per cent negative price shock will slow real GDP growth to 1.5 per cent from a baseline of 2.7 per cent. That’s $3 billion in lost activity. If home prices fell 35 per cent, a level some activists are championing, the BC economy would collapse into recession. The average home owner would have lost $245,000 in equity, housing starts would fall by half, 64,000 jobs would be forfeited – sending the unemployment rate to 7.5 per cent with $4.4 billion in forgone retail sales and a colossal $8 billion loss to GDP in the first year.

This analysis does not account for the negative impact on provincial tax revenues, expanding deficits, ballooning debt and credit downgrade risks.

*Based on simulations using BCREA’s econometric model of the BC economy augmented by a housing Vector Autoregression model.

Article above taken from “Market Intelligence” of the British Columbia Real Estate Association April 4, 2018 publication