What Does Donald Trump Mean For Canada’s Housing Market?

U.S. President Donald Trump sent shockwaves through Canada’s economy this past week, first promising punishing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, then at the last minute exempting Canada from those tariffs, at least temporarily.

It’s becoming painfully clear that Trump’s policies (or pronouncements, or whims, or whatever they are) have the potential to upend Canada’s economy, and with it, the lives of Canadians. So maybe it’s time for this real estate-obsessed nation of ours to pose a question that until recently seemed too obscure — or maybe just too weird — to ask: What does Donald Trump mean for Canada’s housing market?

It may seem counter-intuitive, but Trump’s aggressive protectionism might actually work to support house prices.

The Bank of Canada this week decided against yet another interest rate hike, and among its reasons was this statement: “Trade policy developments are an important and growing source of uncertainty for the global and Canadian outlooks.”

Analysts took that to mean the BoC is worried that Trump’s protectionist measures, such as the steel and aluminum tariffs or potential withdrawal from NAFTA, could harm Canada’s economy. And if Trump manages to scare the BoC into a more dovish outlook on the economy, it will mean fewer interest rate hikes in the months to come.

That might actually be good news for Canada’s heavily indebted mortgage borrowers, who are under increasing pressure these days. We’ve seen the BoC hike interest rates three times since last summer, and major mortgage lenders have followed suit. Meanwhile, new mortgage rules are forcing some homebuyers to scale back their ambitions.

The result is a slowing housing market, both nationally and in the two super-pricey markets of Toronto and Vancouver. And the Bank of Canada might now be getting worried about the impact of that slower housing market on Canada’s economy.

“Notably, household credit growth has decelerated for three consecutive months,” the Bank noted in its decision Wednesday.

Canada has been growing increasingly reliant on its housing market for economic growth in recent years, so a slowdown could take a real bite out of employment, and that, in turn, could mean a broader economic downturn.

The irony of it is that, if Trump were to abandon his protectionist measures and the BoC were to assume a more rosy outlook, it would likely mean more rate hikes ahead, and more downward pressure on housing.

All of which is not to say we should be hoping for Trump to slap Canada with massive tariffs or cancel NAFTA; a move like that would cause all sorts of economic damage of its own, regardless of housing. But if Trump pulls the trigger on his protectionist agenda, the Bank of Canada may well respond by freezing interest rates, and some analysts say it may even reverse course and start dropping them.

So a trade war with Trump’s America, while likely to be ugly, will at least help keep those property values from crashing. That may be the closest thing to a silver lining in this whole mess.

Daniel Tencer  Senior Business Editor, HuffPost Canada

High real estate prices are sparking a surge in unorthodox housing – and new ways to think about insuring a home

From tiny homes to laneway dwellings, Canadians are embracing an increasing range of unique and unusual abodes. But whatever you choose to call “home,” chances are a team of insurance professionals have been working on coverage specially designed to underwrite you.

Tiny homes are increasingly common, especially in urban areas where housing costs have skyrocketed, says Stefan Tirschler, CIP, product and underwriting manager, Square One Insurance Services Inc.

“In the beginning, tiny homes were lived in by a small community of people experimenting with a new way of living,” he says. “Today, we’ve seen zoning changes across the country, and that’s resulted in a wide range of small dwellings on the market. This includes anything from miniature frame homes, portable frame homes on wheels, tiny homes built from shipping containers, laneway homes—even yurt-style homes.”

Tirschler notes that underwriting for tiny homes tends to build on safety standards for existing homes or materials used in the structure.

“For example, a shipping container home is likely to be similar in coverage to a standard home once it’s been delivered,” he says.

Smaller prefabricated or manufactured homes have also become more common. A manufactured home is typically delivered to the site on a chassis, lifted off and mounted onto a foundation. A slight variation, a park model home, remains on the chassis, but can be lived in as a permanent residence.

“The question we ask ourselves as underwriters is, where do these homes fit and to what standard do they need to be built?” says Michael Hewett, senior product manager, leisure and lifestyle, with Aviva Canada Inc. “The Canadian Standards Association, for example, offers standards for manufactured homes and park model homes. We also look to these same standards as a basis to underwrite tiny homes that are built in a similar manner.”

He notes, however, that owners of manufactured homes should seek an appropriate amount of coverage for additional living expenses.

“A manufactured home may have lower value, but it could take up to year to order a new home from a manufacturer,” Hewett says. “We allow customers living in these homes to buy additional coverage for living expenses.”

Homes designated as heritage buildings also offer unique challenges for underwriters, says Jackie Murison, FCIP, CRM, ICP, portfolio and innovation specialist with The Commonwell.

“The policy must take into consideration when the home was built, whether someone of cultural or historical importance lived in it, or any unique building materials that must be used in a rebuild,” she says. “You couldn’t replace plaster walls with drywall or stained glass with regular glass. The homeowner won’t have a choice on that. Properly valuing those rebuilds can be a big challenge.”

She notes that the Town Hall in Lindsay, Ont., is a heritage building that happens to be two feet out of alignment because the builder shifted the surveyor’s pegs.

“If there was an insured loss, that same alignment would have to be considered,” she says.

High-value homes also require custom coverage, says Anthea McFarland, CIP, senior vice-president, personal insurance at HUB International.

“In many cases, we’re talking about homes with an average value of up to $1,000 per square foot, reflecting such building materials as the most valuable marble and granite finishes,” she says. “We send out specialist appraisers to these homes to come up with a number that covers exactly how much it would cost to replace the custom detail in these homes.”

Often, Canadian owners of high-value homes also own properties in the U.S., the Bahamas or the UK, and brokers such as HUB International work with a global network of insurers to cover all of the dwellings under a single policy.

“High-net-worth insurers also offer a range of additional policy coverage,” says McFarland. “These can cover anything from appliance failure and maintenance, kidnap or ransom insurance, and even cyberbullying insurance, to cover the services of a therapist for child victims. Some clients also request standalone insurance policies to cover specialized art collections, including van Goghs and Warhols. As a broker for this client group, we endeavour to be a one-stop shop.”

Canada’s housing market continues to evolve in fresh new ways.

“Technology continues to reduce the distance between customer and underwriter,” says Tirschler. “We’re much better positioned to take notice of customer needs and expectations and adapt and respond to them much more quickly – wherever and however they choose to live.”

This article was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of the Insurance Institute of Canada.

-Calgary Herald

Excitement builds around Calgary’s first laneway shipping-container home

Calgary-based Modern Huts is constructing the city's first laneway container home in a Killarney backyard. Three shipping containers will be positioned above a two-car garage to create 480 square feet of living space for Chad Saunders and his wife Jennifer Head.

Calgary-based Modern Huts is constructing the city’s first laneway container home in a Killarney backyard.

MODERN HUTS

The Killarney project is easing regulations to allow for off-site prefabrication, and the builder believes it will be the first of many homes like it

In a backyard in the southwest community of Killarney, three shipping containers are being positioned above a two-car garage to create 480 square feet of living space for Chad Saunders and his wife, Jennifer Head. The finished residence will be the first laneway shipping-container home in Calgary.

Jeremy Johnson, founder of the Calgary-based builder responsible, Modern Huts, believes it will be the first of many.

“Since the containers were put in position a couple of weeks ago, we’ve had a lot of inquiries on costs and timescales,” Mr. Johnson says. “Killarney is a community which is pretty open to density and innovation and people are interested and excited to see something like this come to Calgary.”

Rendering of the finished Calgary container laneway home.

A rendering of the finished Calgary home, which will provide 480 square feet of living space.

NEW CENTURY DESIGN

“Most container companies are building laneway homes fully modular and then moving the completed units into position, which is a very efficient and economical way to build, but we’re having to site-build for this project because of the city’s inspection process. They want to see all the processes as the build unfolds,” he says.

This has meant Mr. Johnson and his team will be on site for approximately three months, rather than the five days which would be required were they permitted to complete the build off-site.

Since starting the project, Mr. Johnson says this particular inspection process has been revised and the city will allow container homes to be built fully prefabricated in future.

Modern Huts founder Jeremy Johnson and his team will be on site for about three months.MODERN HUTS

“Until now, you could use modular building techniques but the city was sticky on anything that was fully prefabbed and delivered, even with modular homes,” he says. “Laneway – and specifically container homes – are still very new to Calgary so the city has been pretty cautious, but we’re seeing that change now, which is good news.”

Despite the challenges, Mr. Johnson says the build, which is his company’s third container home, is going well. He expects the entire one-bedroom suite, including the two-car garage underneath, to come in around $130,000.

“The cost to build will be similar to a stick-frame build but it will be quicker, even without building off-site, more durable and will result in a far more energy efficient building. The R-values we’re reaching are really high and we’re hopeful of achieving Passive [House] standards someday,” he says. (Passive House is a standard for ultralow energy efficiency.)

“The exterior of the suite is being left largely as metal, so will require virtually no maintenance, and we’re also generating a lot less garbage,” Mr. Johnson says. “We have eight bags of garbage on site right now and drywall starts this week. With a stick build, at the same stage, we’d have a full bin of waste leaving the site already.”

Upon completion in March, Mr. Saunders and Ms. Head will move into the container suite with their eight-year-old son while Mr. Johnson renovates their 1950 bungalow. Mr. Saunders has owned the property on the corner of 32nd St. and 26thAve. S.W. for 19 years. He bought it as a starter home but, as the years passed, he and his wife started talking about paying off the mortgage and renovating, rather than moving.

“When we started to approach builders about doing a renovation, most of them said we’d be better to knock the house down and built from scratch, but we really weren’t interested in building a monster house,” he says. “When Jeremy suggested we include the old garage in the reno, that’s when we started to think about putting in a suite. We’ve always liked the idea of shipping-container homes – what they stand for from an environmental perspective and also how they look.”

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Chad Saunders and his wife, Jennifer Head, like how shipping-container homes look and ‘what they stand for from an environmental perspective.’

MODERN HUTS

The couple have no firm long-term plans for their garage-top property yet but Mr. Saunders, who works in the arts, says they could end up letting it out to an artist in residence.

“If we find the perfect renter, then great, but we’re also considering options with organizations like Alberta Ballet which need temporary accommodation for artists from time to time. We think that could be a really fun and interesting way to use the space,” he says. “We actually hope to engage a local artist to create a mural on the side of the container which faces into the yard when it’s finished, too.”

Mr. Saunders also sees long-term value in having a second residence on the family property.

“We know from relatives how expensive care facilities can be and how challenging that is for seniors. We figure that maybe in 30 years, if our family needs a caregiver, someone could move into that house. It doesn’t hurt to think ahead and have options,” he says. “We’d rather diversify the land we have now than build a huge house that we’ll struggle to take care of in the future.”

The couple are considering renting the home out to an artist in residence, but also see value in it as a possible caregiving space for family members in the future.MODERN HUTS

Mr. Johnson says caregiving is one of the main motivators for clients inquiring with his company about laneway homes.

“When we finish this project, we move onto another shipping container laneway home in Silver Springs. It’ll be a four-container suite providing 640 square feet of living space and two bedrooms for a daughter and her son who are moving back onto the family property to provide care to her parents,” he says. “Silver Springs is a neighbourhood where you find a lot of retirees and we’ve had other inquiries for the same kind of project from that community.”

Other projects planned for summer include a laneway office for a client in Mount Royal and a solar-powered, hydroponic greenhouse for a client in Briar Hill who’s interested in year-round growing. Both would be fashioned from a single shipping container.

Mr. Johnson says in time he’s like to start to prefabricate shipping container suites and have them shipped across Canada. But, for now, he’s focusing on the local market in Calgary where laneway homes are becoming more common and, he says, there’s “virtually no competition for small-scale, backyard shipping-container projects.”