It seems surprising that the number of luxury properties changing hands in the Greater Toronto Area set a new record in May, 2009. And we're talking about a new high water mark.
It wasn't too long ago that the high end of the market seemed to be setting new benchmarks for the most dismal months ever.
The ebullient news comes from ReMax Ontario-Atlantic Canada, which says that 273 houses sold above the $1-million mark in May, compared with 258 in the same month last year when the market was starting to slump.
This year's tally broke the previous record, set in May of 2007, of 266 sales.
Sometimes one or two exceptionally lucrative deals can skew the numbers by inflating the overall value of sales, but in this case it's the number of sales that has established a record.
Of course, after refusing to even make an offer on high-end homes for months, buyers had some catching up to do.
Agent Janet Lindsay of Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd. says she's done 6 months' work in three.
"The first three months were absolutely painful," she says of early 2009.
She credits the rebound in stock markets, remarkably low interest rates, and improving news about the economic picture with lifting the confidence of buyers.
"In January who would have imagined the TSX would be above 10,000, but it is," she points out. "I do think people have seen growth in their portfolios."
In Toronto, it's not difficult to spend $1-million on a house and so for many move-up buyers that kind of money isn't a stretch. But even at much loftier levels, where properties have asking prices of $3-million, $4-million and up, there's action again.
A house at 89 Bin-Scarth Rd., which had an asking price of $6.95-million in early 2008, sold this spring after a couple of steep cuts in the list price.
ReMax points to broker Barry Cohen, who sold an 18,000-square-foot house listed for more than $13-million, with waterfall pool, fountains, hot tub and a tennis court set in two acres in Toronto's Bridle Path neighbourhood. That deal marks the first valued above $10-million in more than a year, the company says.
ReMax executive vice-president Michael Polzler points to gains in stock markets, oil prices and the value of the Canadian dollar.
"Combine these influences with pent-up demand and growing economic stability and you have the ingredients for solid sales in the top end of the market."
Of course, buyers are also taking advantage of prices that have come down compared with those previous record-setting months.
Ms. Lindsay says the summer market will probably slow again, as it usually does. But she's glad to see some resilience and thinks will remain in place as long as the economic news doesn't turn nasty again.
"I'm not fearful. I think we're fortunate to have this lovely stability."
Ms. Lindsay has noticed another shift in sentiment that she hasn't seen for many months.
"People will take a risk - which they weren't for a while - to buy before they've sold."
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