If you read the headlines about the housing industry, you’re bound to think that affordability is out of reach, and if you’re a first-time home buyer, you may think you will never be able to own a home. You’d be forgiven to think that. It’s likely you’re reading about the two major centres – Vancouver and Toronto. What’s happening in these two cities seems to dominate the news, but it’s not the whole story.
There is affordability and life outside these two biggies and your dreams of home ownership are very much alive.
In a recent news article, Phil Soper, CEO of Royal LePage said the move to towns near secondary municipalities has been gaining in popularity. He went on to say that eight of the 10 fastest appreciating Canadian areas are in Ontario, led by areas surrounding Windsor, London, Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge, Kingston, Niagara/St. Catharines, Hamilton, Belleville/Trenton and Guelph, he said.
In Ontario, Brad Knight, a mortgage broker with OMAC powered by TMG, is seeing the (Spring) market coming to life, finally. "For the longest time, we had no inventory but now we’re seeing more listings and slightly higher prices.”
Knight works in the St. Thomas/London area and is seeing lots of families coming from Toronto. "Because there is more flex-time in the workplace and many who can now work from home, the market here is attractive with the average price of a single-detached home selling for approximately $365,000.”
The average days on market is 15-22; but with the additional listings, some are selling much faster, if the property is priced right, Knight said.
He also credits the better weather for some of the boom, but still finds the mortgage stress test coming into play for first time homebuyers. He’s not sure how the new government incentive, slated to roll out in September, will affect buyers.
"Right now, the weather has improved, mortgage business is up and it’s turned out to be a good June.”
In Corner Brook, Newfoundland, the mortgage business is not bad. According to TMG broker Brian Patey, the year started slowly but now the market has caught up to where it was last year.
"We don’t get the big swings here like they did in St John’s, where the market was hot, due to the oil industry in Alberta, but now that’s dried up and the market there has calmed down. But here, we’re pretty steady”, he said.
The market in Corner Brook is small and homes can be bought for under $200,000, which according to Patey are selling pretty fast now – the $300,000 and higher sit a bit on the market.
It’s still tough for first time home buyers because of a lack of jobs. "There’s not a lot of industry coming into this area,” Patey said.
Despite the challenges, he is optimistic and so are the Realtors in the area. The biggest change for Patey has been the time of year when the market gets busy. "It’s not a typical Spring market anymore. Now I can be very busy in January and February.”
The real estate market in Saskatoon is starting to rebound according to Corinne Lokinger, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker. "We have seen a 16% increase in sales this year over least and a 21% increase in condo sales.”
Although still considered a down market, condo sales are doing well and consumer confidence has risen, which is stabilizing the market she said. "First time home buyers are buying the lower-priced houses and condos.”
For a while in Saskatoon, listings were down and days on market were longer – upwards to 77 days. But as the prices stabilize and the listings pick up, Lokinger is seeing that the houses that are priced right, are selling.
Lokinger also said the market there certainly felt the slowdown after the stress test was introduced, but it’s turning around now.
"I’m feeling pretty good about what’s happening now. I’ve been talking to mortgage brokers and to other Realtors -- call it intuition, but it seems like something big is coming to Saskatoon,” she added.
Back in Northern Ontario, another smaller market TMG mortgage broker Taya Weiszhaar saw a slow start to the year but business has now picked up. She services areas around Kirkland Lake, North Bay, and Sudbury.
"We had a lack of inventory and high prices,” she said. "Now, we have good, quality listings that are priced right. Some are on market for only three days.”
Interestingly, the largest part of her business comes from first time home buyers who are keen to own a home and are interested in knowing their options.
"I’m not seeing a problem with these buyers getting their down payment but our prices are low compared to major centres – you can buy a house for under $280,000 and I saw a couple listed at $89,000 and $108,000. I also advise them to buy the house first, the vehicle second.”
Weiszhaar also finds that first time home buyers are in some ways easier to finance because they haven’t accumulated the debt that her repeat buyers have.
As for the new government incentive Taya is not impressed and says it really won’t change qualifying in her market. "The first-time buyers in my market are motivated and will work hard to save the down payment,” she said. "If the government really wanted to help, they would lower the benchmark rate so that more people can qualify.”
She feels good about the future and says, "People buy houses when they’re ready, no matter the rate. They are looking for the right house at the right price and that’s it.”