By Julie Gordon
OTTAWA (Reuters) -Buyers are turning up the heat on Canada's searing hot housing market, their frenzy leading to record sales, prices and starts, but in a budget unveiled on Monday the federal government did little to tamp down the fire.
The Teranet-National Bank Composite House Price Index showed home price gains accelerated 1.5% in March from February, data released on Tuesday showed.
The index was up 10.8% on the year, with a record 81% of the broader 32 markets surveyed posting annual gains above 10%. That far exceeds the last peak in 2017.
On Monday, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, presenting Canada's first budget in over two years, fleshed out a previously announced tax on foreigners parking money in Canadian homes, along with limited investments in affordable housing.
"The idea here is that homes are for Canadians to live in. They are not assets for parking offshore money," Freeland told reporters.
For those watching, it was nowhere near enough.
"It's like a squirt gun next to a towering inferno," said Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.
"We need to break the psychology that real estate is this can't lose investment that only goes up," he added. "Before this turns into a full-on bubble."
March was a record month for new housing starts and home resale prices surged 31.6% year-over-year.
New Zealand, facing a similarly red hot market, introduced a raft of cooling measures including new taxes on investors and stricter lending rules.
While the Bank of Canada has become increasingly vocal on the issue, it has also pledged to keep interest rates at record lows into 2023. It will update its forecasts Wednesday.
And most measures that would cool the frenzy are up to the provinces and federal government who remain cautious as a third wave of COVID-19 rages.
Real estate agents say more listing are now coming to market, but they still see a massive long-term shortage. They expected more than the 35,000 units pledged in the budget.
"It's not going to do much to intervene in the activity level we're seeing now across the country," said Christopher Alexander of RE/MAX Ontario-Atlantic.
(Reporting by Julie Gordon in OttawaEditing by David Gregorio and Alistair Bell)