Housing construction is booming on Canada's west coast and house prices are rising to reflect the pace of home building. British Columbia is experiencing the highest percentage growth in housing starts this year and is expected to lead the country in growth next year. Prices are rising throughout the province. Toronto remains the largest real estate market in the country and the city continues to boom, but Central Mortgage and Housing Corp (CMHC) predicts the province of Ontario will show a decline in housing starts this year and next. The greater Vancouver area in British Columbia continues to be the most expensive real estate in the country, with the average home last month estimated to be worth C$362,797 (HK$2.04 million). But the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board reports the 'benchmark' price of a typical detached home in the area is $485,130, a rise of 20 per cent in the past year. By contrast, the average house price in Toronto is expected to reach $308,000 at the end of the year, an increase of 5.5 per cent over the year. In its report on housing starts across the country, CMHC said the 208,500 units expected this year was down about 10,000 from the number of starts last year, still the highest level in 15 years. Bob Dugan, CMHC's chief economist, said, 'low mortgage rates combined with accelerated economic growth and continued strong consumer confidence would contribute to the robust performance of the housing market this year.' However, a rise in mortgage rates next year would slow home construction from last year's record levels, he said. As a result, the growth in the average price of homes was expected to slow from the 7.7 per cent increase anticipated this year to 4.2 per cent next year. The housing market was expected to continue to cool in the succeeding years, he said, as Canada's monetary policy moved from an expansionary to a more neutral stance. As a result of the extended housing boom and the affordability of low mortgage rates, RBC Financial Group reported an unexpected development in the house-buying market among the 25 per cent of Canadians who said they expected to buy a house within the next two years. The difference is that where last year 40 per cent of those intending to buy a house were aged between 18 and 25, that proportion has now declined to 27 per cent. Now, those most likely to buy are between 25 and 34. Instead of first-time homebuyers, the market is increasingly driven by those who already have homes but want to buy a larger or otherwise preferable home - known as move-up buyers. RBC said that although house prices kept rising, mortgage rates were low enough to offset the higher house prices. 'Move-up buying activity will take centre stage in 2004, inspired by very low variable financing rates,' it said.