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Saturday, July 13, 2024
The Turner Report: America, Trump and the price of NOTL real estate

Who hasn’t stood on the river bank and stared across at Fort Niagara?

In Niagara-on-the-Lake, America is close. No wonder so many from New York state and beyond trek here. They love us. We’re quaint. Besides, they have disposable income.

Maybe that’s because it’s so much cheaper to be an American. At least when it comes to housing.

The NOTL-Youngstown comparison is stark. OK, they lack politically incorrect horses, a fancy “lord” mayor or streets that look like a Mercedes storage facility. But it’s instructive to ask why the average selling price was $290,000 ($387,400 Cdn) there last month and $1.123 million here.

In Youngstown, the median listing price is down 34 per cent in the past year. Prices actually fell a whopping 10.8 per cent in May. It is, absolutely, a buyer’s market.

In the States, as you know, people can sign up for 30-year loans. Plus there’s the chance of interest deductibility. Oh, yeah, and Trump.

Over here we’ve had 10 interest rate hikes, one small reduction and only a minimal change in local prices. In fact, the latest listings are hard to choke down — almost $6 million for the funeral home on Regent, being sold as ripe for redevelopment (they tell me the operation is relocating not, ahem, croaking), $4 million for a lavish house on a skinny lot in Old Town and well over $5 million for a dated place on a big lot near the NOTL Golf Club.

Despite that, says local Bosley agent Marilyn Francis, “We’re certainly in a buyer’s market at this time.”

The big deal, as mentioned here last week, is the cost of money.

“While there was some anticipation the initial move to bring down rates would help to increase buyer confidence,” Francis adds, “the quarter-point reduction didn’t have a noticeable impact, even with the speculation of further rate cuts to follow.”

Indeed. A nothingburger. 

More rate cuts should come. TD economists just forecast decent growth prospects going forward. StatCan says income gains are running well ahead of inflation — which the Bank of Canada swears will soon be back in its 2 per cent range.

So things should get peachy, even for the multi-million-dollar sellers.

Or maybe not. Let’s look back across the river, because the time between now and November could bring surprises — and may already be what’s kicking the stuffing out of American homebuyer confidence.

Yeah, the orange guy. 

Trump, despite being a felon and grifter, is competitive with Joe Biden (big debate tonight) and has recently raised a boatload of money.

In line with the populist sentiment sweeping Europe, Trump believes in nationalism and protectionism, with avowed intent to impose tariffs and duties on all imports. There are also concerns he’ll do to the Fed what he did to the Supreme Court, and engineer a stimulative rate drop.

All of this, says Scotiabank’s chief economist, would be very inflationary while depressing the economy (global trade works, protectionism doesn’t) and whack Canada hard. Like, a job-sucking recession. Interest rates here, a recent bank report suggested, could rise almost 2 per cent. The combination of trade woes and swelling money costs would be bad news for residential real estate.

It’s not like Trump would put a wall down the Niagara River, but he might as well. Never in history have nationalist economic policies (in this case “America first”) had a good outcome. Costs go up. So do prices and profits. Trade takes a hit. And Trump’s planned tax breaks would hike the breathtaking USA debt.

This isn’t political. It’s math. And a threat. So, you might wish to have a word with those nice visiting folk while they suck down an ice cream on Queen Street.

Garth Turner is a NOTL resident, journalist, author, wealth manager and former federal MP and minister. Email: garth@garth.ca.

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