New, tighter mortgage rules didn't stop 13 rival bidders from submitting offers for a semi-detached house in central Toronto on Tuesday. The Family Day holiday, a record cold snap and a snowstorm didn't seem to slow them down either.
Industry watchers are waiting to see if the action in Canada's most frantic real estate markets will ease off a bit now that the federal government's new rules surrounding mortgage insurance have come into effect.
The semi-detached house on Davenport Road near Christie Street was listed with an asking price of $599,900, which means it falls into the segment of the market affected by the new rules.
Real estate agent Geoffrey Grace of ReMax Hallmark Realty Ltd. reports that the house had about 130 showings. Another 60 groups passed through the weekend open houses.
The five-bedroom house is currently divided into flats and has three kitchens. New owners could keep it as an investment property or tear out some of the kitchens to restore it to use as a single-family home.
Either way, the number of people vying for it suggests that buyers aren't ready to pause yet.
January was unusually busy for the first month of the year. El Nino likely played a part as milder-than-normal temperatures wafted across much of the country.
But real estate agents have also reported that some house hunters – especially those in the pricey markets of Toronto and Vancouver – were particularly motivated to edge out other buyers in January as they attempted to clamber into the market before the new down-payment regulations took effect.
Numbers from the Canadian Real Estate Association show that the average sale price in Canada jumped 17 per cent in January from a year earlier.
Once again, the Greater Toronto Area and Lower Mainland of British Columbia pushed up the national numbers even as Calgary, Edmonton and B.C.'s Okanagan region were in decline.
CREA president Pauline Aunger said the organization had expected buyers of single family houses to bring forward their purchases in an effort to get into the market before tightened mortgage regulations took effect this week.
Sales across the country jumped 8 per cent in January compared with the same month in 2015. In the GTA, sales rose 7.3 per cent from a year earlier, in Greater Vancouver, 32.1 per cent, and in B.C.'s Fraser Valley, 58.1 per cent.
January sales likely would have been even higher in the GTA and Vancouver area if more listings were available, Ms. Aunger says.
The Toronto Real Estate Board reported this month that the average selling price in the GTA swelled 14.1 per cent in January compared with January, 2015.
Under the federal government's new rules, the minimum down payment for new insured mortgages rises to 10 per cent from 5 per cent for the portion of the house priced above $500,000. The 5-per-cent minimum for properties up to $500,000 remains unchanged.
Ottawa had already restricted mortgage insurance to homes valued at less than $1-million, and the new regulations leave the minimum down payment for more expensive homes unchanged at 20 per cent.
For those reasons, the rule change affects only a slice of the market but, in Toronto, it's the segment where many first-time buyers land.
Rick DeClute of DeClute Real Estate Inc. is seeing some pockets of Scarborough swell in popularity as house hunters continue their migration from the core.
Small bungalows that sold for $489,000 just a year or so ago now command more than $600,000, he says. Popular neighbourhoods include Clairlea, Wexford and Maryvale. "They're just exploding," he says of the value increases.
Streets running off of Birchmount Road between St. Clair Avenue and Lawrence Avenue provide wide lots that are highly sought-after, he says. "People are looking for a little bit of space and something they can work with."
In many cases, small houses can be topped up or extended, he says. Some builders are buying a small house on a 70-foot-wide lot, for example, then tearing it down and putting up two houses.