Bank of Canada pause soothes the real estate market

Written by Carolyn Ireland | Published in The Globe And Mail
In the Press
March 22, 2024

March has brought renewed life to the Toronto-area condo market on the heels of a flurry of single-family home sales earlier in the year.

But while buyers seem to be more optimistic in all segments of the market, they are keeping a close eye on their finances.

Christopher Bibby, broker with Re/Max Hallmark Bibby Group Realty, says condo sales had been lagging the broader market so far in 2024, but the tempo suddenly shifted in early March.

Over the course of 10 days, Mr. Bibby sold three of his condo listings, helped four buyers purchase units and had two more deals in negotiations.

In the condo market, units with asking prices above the $1.5-million mark are seeing more action after a lengthy stall.

“Suddenly it seems that price point is starting to click.”

Mr. Bibby says the sudden turn appears to be partly a delayed spillover from the rebound that began in late December in the freehold segment.

As tales of bidding contests for houses became more common, some downsizers felt more confident that they could sell their family home in a market with high demand, then purchase a condo while prices in that segment remained soft.

Also, the Bank of Canada’s decision to hold a benchmark interest rate steady at its most recent policy-setting meeting was soothing to the market.

The building at Lombard St., known as Spire, often appeals to downsizers.REMAX HALLMARK BIBBY GROUP REALTY

“People feel more comfortable in making decisions,” he says.

Some sales in January and early February drew attention because of the high numbers of bidders that were drawn into competition during a time of limited inventory.

“The one-offs get blown out of the water,” Mr. Bibby says, adding that they are not a good barometer for the broader market.

Nationally, housing sales in February slid 3.1 per cent from January on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association.

New listings inched up 1.6 per cent in the same period.

CREA’s Composite MLS Home Price Index shows prices were flat in February in Canada compared with the previous month. That levelling off follows a string of decreases that began last fall.

That national average price in February was $685,809.

Robert Hogue, economist at Royal Bank of Canada, says sales numbers in major markets in February provided a reality check for people expecting smooth sailing ahead for the housing market.

In the Greater Toronto Area, February rolled back about half of the sales increases that took place in the previous two months, he notes.

“This up-and-down pattern could be a sign of things to come as interest rate uncertainty and poor affordability keep buyers and sellers on their toes for the next while,” Mr. Hogue says in a note to clients.

Mr. Bibby says those constraints are very evident in Toronto’s condo market.

“All the buyers are being very disciplined. They have budgets.”

At 33 Lombard St., Mr. Bibby sold a renovated unit with 1,400 square feet of living space and two parking spaces. The building, known as Spire, often appeals to downsizers, he says.

Mr. Bibby set an asking price of $1.695-million for the unit on the 41st floor. After 25 days on the market, the unit sold to a retired couple for $1.646-million.

He advises sellers to have a built-in negotiation buffer in the asking price.

“The buyers aren’t going to come in and pay list price,” he says. “I think people are being very methodical and calculated.”

Representing buyers, Mr. Bibby recently worked with a downsizing couple to negotiate a purchase price of $1.75-million for a unit near the intersection of Yonge and St. Clair after it was listed with an asking price of $1.85-million.

Another buyer visited a loft conversion in the west end that is within her budget but decided to hold off because the listing agent set a deadline for reviewing offers.

“She’s very well-qualified but she’s turned off by the offer date.”

In the King Street West neighbourhood, Mr. Bibby worked with another client who was interested in a small two-bedroom unit after it was listed with an asking price of $825,000. The unit sat on the market for several weeks, then the agent dropped the asking price to $699,000 and set an offer date.

This client was unfazed by the competition and submitted an offer for $791,000, which won out over one rival bid. Mr. Bibby points out that the unit sold below the original asking price as buyers take a methodical approach to determining value.

“It was just a different way of getting there,” says Mr. Bibby. “We certainly didn’t think we overpaid.”

After 25 days on market, the unit sold to a retired couple for $1.646-million.REMAX HALLMARK BIBBY GROUP REALTY

Davelle Morrison, broker with Bosley Real Estate Ltd., has noticed a change in the mood of buyers in many segments of the market.

“For all those who didn’t like competition, 2023 was your year – 2024 is all about competition,” she says.

Ms. Morrison recently sold a detached fixer-upper near Keele Street and Wilson Avenue in North York with seven offers.

The property was listed with an asking price of $898,000 and sold for $995,000.

“The prices aren’t taking off at this point,” she says. “[Buyers] are not getting carried away – they’re offering what they think the house is worth.”

In the condo segment, she is working with a buyer who purchased a home east of the city but has now started the search for a pied-à-terre in Toronto. Inventory is high in the segment, she adds, as some investors decide to get out of the rental business.

“There are certainly lots of condos for people to choose from. They are taking their time.”

Downsizing couples are mainly looking in established neighbourhoods in midtown or in areas such as St. Lawrence Market that are a little bit removed from the towers of the Entertainment District.

King Street West, she says, is a party scene that appeals to young buyers. One single client recently decided to sell his condo there and move to a more sedate neighbourhood with his new partner.

“He had to move out of King West for the sake of his long-term relationship,” she says with a laugh.

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