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Why real estate is an imperfect market

I’ve said many times before that the real estate market is an imperfect one. Participants lack access to a lot of valuable information and there’s a significant amount of friction between buyers and sellers.

A perfect example of this can be found in this recent Toronto Star article, which is suggesting (at least in the headline) that only about 23% of Toronto’s condos are owned and rented out by investors. The article is reporting on the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s annual publication called the Canadian Housing Observer.

Of course, to come up with this number, CMHC is only reporting on data held by the MLS. It does not include units that may have been rented out via Craigslist, Kijiji, social media, a billboard in the lobby, or some other means. And I would argue that the rental side of the marketplace has a much stronger tendency to go outside of MLS as compared to sales.

So what what this means is that we have absolutely no idea what the actual percentage of investor owned units in the city really is. Here’s how CMHC put it:

Mathieu Labarge, CMHC’s deputy chief economist, acknowledged that “to complete the picture there’s a need for data,” and it simply doesn’t exist.

Nobody seems to know exactly where buyers, or their money, is coming from, why they are buying and how they intend to use the condo.

In reality, the investor percentage is going to be higher:

“We think the number is closer to 50 per cent,” says veteran Toronto development consultant Barry Lyon. “The data they (CMHC) are using has some shortcomings. It’s only part of the story.”

Now, I don’t have the answer, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that consumers and the market as a whole would be better off if it had all the information.

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