What kind of house would persuade more than 50 people to get in their cars and go on an in-person tour in the middle of a public health crisis?
Even in a pandemic, 21 West Lynn Ave. in Toronto was at the centre of a whirlwind of buyer interest.
“It was on fire the whole week,” agent Jamie Dempster said. "I was constantly fielding calls.”
The fairly standard two-bedroom bungalow, sandwiched between two parks in the popular East Danforth neighbourhood, had numerous draws. “It is perfect for a young family, with one child, or a teenager. It’s close to schools, the subway and a great park,” said Sheila Mattar, one of the sellers. Listed well below market – $799,000 – to attract multiple bids, the potential buyers came knocking as soon as it hit the market.
“Three weeks ago everyone was scared to leave their front doors," said Mr. Dempster, listing agent and broker for RE/MAX Hallmark Jamie Dempster Group Realty Ltd. “We decided to go to market with this house after a few weeks of going back and forth based on COVID, and [we decided], ‘Let’s just do this,’ – not knowing for sure what kind of reaction we were going to get."
Mr. Dempster said more than 60 showings were booked with an offer night scheduled for the following week, all of which was short-circuited after three days by a bully offer – one the sellers accepted.
“We really discussed timing at length," Ms. Mattar said. "[Mr. Dempster] was adamant that we try to get on the market earlier, instead of waiting until the pandemic is over – and before the market is flooded.
“That pushed us to get it done and ready as early as we did," she said. "I think it really paid off.”
She won’t share the final price, but Ms. Mattar said it was a little less than a neighbour’s recent sale. In March, 37 West Lynn Ave. sold for $985,000 after one day on the market.
The Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) divides the city up into zones. Ms. Mattar’s house is in an area designated as E2, bounded by Coxwell Avenue and Victoria Park Avenue between Lake Ontario and Danforth Avenue – that is one of the current epicentres of activity for Toronto’s first-time detached home buyers. In April, the average sale price was about $1-million in that area, and on average homes took between 12 and 14 days to sell – much faster than the city average of 24 days. At least 46 homes sold in E2 in April, according to figures from TRREB, just three fewer than sold in February and 20 fewer than in March.
The zones between the DVP and Scarborough, E1 through E6, have proven some of the most resilient in the Toronto region. TRREB-wide averages saw 67 per cent fewer transactions (2,975) in April, 2020, compared with the same month in 2019 (9,042). This April, the E1-E6 block saw 192 sales, 40 per cent of which were detached.
“So far, as we’ve moved through this, sales and new listings moved in lockstep," said Jason Mercer, chief market analyst for TRREB. "For those people out there looking to buy, there has been enough competition between buyers to support prices.'
"The April numbers were down, but weekday sales were running at about 130 a day, and that average held up throughout. That might be the floor we see, and as we move through the spring we might move off that floor. The next few months will tell us a lot.”
Scott Ingram, a CPA and realtor with Century 21 Regal Realty Inc. who collects and analyzes Toronto real estate data, said the hottest-selling price sector in April was the $750,000-$999,000 range for freeholds (that includes semis and townhouses). With 184 sales, it was three times higher than the next price tier between $1-million and $1.25-million that saw 61 transactions.
“As far as buyers go, it works like a pyramid: at the entry level there’s a whole tonne of people trying to get in, at the $10-million there are very few buyers up there," Mr. Ingram said. “Even if you take a lot of buyers out of the bottom level of the pyramid, it still leaves a lot of people.”
Mr. Ingram watches the “Months of Inventory” figures to distinguish areas with a lot of competition among buyers. Citywide, inventory has crept up to 1.9 months. The E1-E6 zones are among the lowest in the city, hovering around 1.1 to 0.7 months. For freeholds, the inventory levels are still about 30 per cent lower than a seven-year average and 46 per cent lower than 2019. In April, new listings were down 64 per cent across TRREB.
But the pandemic has taken a big bite out of the pool of potential buyers, Mr. Ingram said. “Where you would have gotten 10 offers, you get four offers."
That buyer profile may have changed a little bit during the pandemic, according to Oliver de Lecq Marguerie. He handled online requests for information for Mr. Dempster on the West Lynn listing and booked five showings.
“I’m in my early 30s," Mr. Marguerie said. "[The potential buyers] were all kind of the same group: people my age, young families, a single mother, people who have been renting for a long time or living with parents, who have been cooped up and thinking is this an appropriate time to get into the housing market while things are slow.”
The hopefuls thought perhaps they might find a discounted price, and maybe skip the condo phase of Toronto’s property ladder. Mr. Marguerie said the process was emotional for some.
“With these [physical distancing] rules in place, there’s a heightened sense of stress. You can’t have parents or [a] sister or close friend come in with you and see this place to ask ‘Do you like this house?’ ” Mr. Marguerie said. “In terms of taking on that additional [health] risk, people are clearly willing to make that risk to forward their family and get into the real estate market.”
John Pasalis, president of Realosophy Realty, also tracks weekly sales and notes that since the low-point of the week ending April 11, with 557 sales in the Toronto region, the numbers have steadily increased since, to 909 in the first week of May. That’s still half of what the sales were in mid-March, but it does represent 63-per-cent growth since the recent lockdown shock. Because active listings continue to decline, the competition for the few houses out there seems to be supporting prices.
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