BUSINESS

George Ross, Donald Trump's Right-Hand Man: Canadian Real Estate Undervalued

05/26/2015 04:40 EDT | Updated 05/26/2015 04:47 EDT

These days, the debate about isn’t so much whether Canada’s real estate is overpriced, but by how much. Is it 63 per cent too pricey, as Deutsche Bank recently estimated, or just 30 per cent overvalued, as the Bank of Canada suggested last fall?

In the eyes of George H. Ross, one of Donald Trump’s closest advisers and a familiar face standing by Trump’s side on “The Apprentice,” the answer is neither. Ross says the Canadian real estate market — both residential and commercial — is undervalued.

“I don’t agree it’s overvalued. I think it’s undervalued … and there is plenty of room for improvement,” Ross told BNN Tuesday (see video above).

Asked to clarify whether he was talking about houses or offices, Ross said it’s both because “residential follows office. If you build office space, people have to have a place to live.”

He sees plenty of room for more foreign investors as well. “Canada is a vibrant economy and some people ought to step in and take advantage of it. I think it’s underutilized, not overutilized.”

When it comes to Canada’s housing, most analyses these days disagree with Ross, and even the more optimistic forecasts see some sort of price correction or at least slower price growth ahead.

But when it comes to office space, Ross may have a point. While cities like Toronto and Vancouver are seeing house prices reaching towards levels seen in world-class cities such as New York and Tokyo, the same can’t be said for their office markets.

Toronto, for instance, has remarkably inexpensive office space, last year averaging $25.97 per square foot. That’s just a quarter of what office space goes for in midtown Manhattan ($100.07) and in comparable cities like Sydney, Australia ($108 per square foot). Calgary ($33.87) and Vancouver ($34.11) also see relatively low office rents, though they're higher than Toronto's.

So a compelling argument can be made that Canadian commercial real estate is undervalued, especially when compared to the cost of housing.

But Ross’ argument that residential real estate is also undervalued will have a harder time finding converts. The Economist recently estimated that Canada’s housing markets are 35 per cent overpriced when compared to Canadians’ incomes, and 89 per cent overvalued when compared to rents.

Even the cautious Bank of Canada mentioned in a report last fall it estimates Canadian housing to be as much as 30 per cent overvalued.

Still, short-term industry forecasts see continued house price growth and sales in Canada’s immediate future. The latest numbers from the real estate industry show the average house price grew 9.5 per cent over the past year, to a record $448,862, as of April.

It’s a different story in oil-producing regions, where housing markets have been under pressure. Home sales in Calgary are down 27.7 per cent compared to a year earlier, and prices are down 0.5 per cent.

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