Four years ago, Ottawa native Doug Janoff purchased a duplex in Fort Lauderdale. With a high Canadian dollar and cheap property prices, it seemed like a sound investment property. But after a short few years, now Janoff is considering letting go of the house.
“For the first time I’ve owned the place I’m considering selling it,” said Doug Janoff, a 57-year-old federal government employee. The value of the Canadian dollar is the trigger because its steep drop realistically opens up possibilities to sell for Canadian buyers burdened by higher maintenance costs.
Janoff is part of an increasing number of Canadians who own U.S. property in sunbelt states who are considering selling these homes after the Canadian dollar lost a quarter of its value against the U.S. dollar over the past five years. For many snowbirds, or Canadians who spend part of the winter in sunbelt states, holding on to their U.S. properties is becoming increasingly costly. The flight of the Canadians may have consequences for local economies down the road.
If Janoff sells, he said he would consider renting a property for winter visits to Florida.
Realtors in Florida and Arizona are reporting an increasing number of Canadians who are selling their U.S. properties.
“A lot of people are looking at this foreign exchange, and they’re only using their houses two weeks to two months, and with the dollar as it is, their costs have basically gone up 40 percent just with the exchange, let alone the cost of property taxes and all the incidentals and utilities have gone up,” said Diane Olson, a Gilbert, Arizona-based realtor who services a lot of Canadian clients.
Olson said she has seen an uptick in the number of Canadians selling over the past six months, and currently has 28 Canadian homes for sale.
Some Canadians want to sell their U.S. properties to cash in on the high U.S. dollar.
“It’s mostly about profit, and the other factor is the carrying costs per year,” said JC Ripley, a Saskatoon-based client of Olson who put his four-bedroom bungalow in Arizona’s San Tan Valley up for sale in late March. “When our dollar really started to make a run last October, that’s when we really started looking at this fairly large decision to dispose of the asset.”
The dollar value of home sales to Canadians dropped from $17.1 billion (U.S.) in 2010 to $11.2 billion (U.S.) as of March 2015, according to a survey from the National Association of Realtors. In addition, while Canadians were at top of the foreign buyers’ list in 2010, Chinese buyers now generate the highest value of home purchases among foreign buyers.
For Canadians seeking to augment their U.S. property stock, the appreciation of the U.S. dollar has made the search more challenging.
“We bought between 2010 and 2012 and it (the dollar) increased much more now,” said France Maloney of Montreal who owns a townhome in Pompano Beach, Florida and intends to purchase an additional Florida home. “It’s not easy to find something that’s near the beach and not expensive.”
Despite the trend of Canadians selling their U.S.-based homes, Olson claimed it’s not affecting the real estate market in her target area of Maricopa County, Arizona that includes Phoenix and Scottsdale.
“The Canadians came in when a lot of the Americans were losing their homes,” she said. “Now here we are and these (Americans) are back in the market and we’ve been really good with turnaround and selling.”
However, the impact of the sell-off of Canadian properties may be contributing to an abundance of supply and affecting property prices in some markets. The latest S&P/Case Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index reports that prices in 20 major U.S. metropolitan areas increased to 5.7 percent in January from the previous year. At the same time, between December 2015 and January 2016, home prices in Phoenix dropped 0.2 percent and although prices continue to increase in South Florida, gains appear to be slowing down. In California’s Coachella Valley, where an estimated 50 percent of homes are owned by non-resident owners, last month The Desert Sun reported that by February 2016, home prices were at their lowest level of the winter season and supply increased 25 percent, largely due to the sell-off of Canadian properties.
Despite the prospect of selling their U.S. properties, spending the winter in a warmer climate is still a lifestyle many Canadians are reluctant to give up. Some economists argue that the appeal of the snowbird lifestyle may compel some Canadians to hold off on selling or consider renting.
“Snowbird activity is expected to hold up particularly well given the relative affluence of group,” wrote Admir Kolaj, economic analyst at TD Bank in a report from TD Economics released in February.
“The low loonie (Canadian dollar) will undoubtedly bite into U.S. real estate purchases by Canadians but not derail them completely.”