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A realtor’s ‘Sold’ sign stands outside a home in Toronto, March 5, 2014.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Sales of existing homes picked up in the Toronto area during March after a sluggish winter, coming in 7.2 per cent higher than a year earlier.

But, even with the gain, sales remain a touch below their average level for this time of year.

Economists are watching to see whether the slow pace of sales across Canada through the winter month was largely related to the cold weather. Spring is traditionally the time of year when home sales are the highest, and as such March's numbers are being closely watched for hints of what might unfold.

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Data is still trickling out from local real estate boards across the country, and full national numbers won't be released until mid-month. This week Toronto and Vancouver have both reported that March's sales were up from a year earlier and from February. But sales levels in both cities remain below their average level of the last ten years.

The Toronto area saw 8,081 existing homes change hands last month, the local real estate board reported Thursday. That's just shy of the ten-year average level of sales for March, which is 8,107.

The average selling price, meanwhile, continued to climb, coming in nearly 8 per cent higher than a year earlier, at $557,684.

Detached homes in the downtown area covered by the 416 area code saw average selling prices rise 6.8 per cent from March 2013, while the average selling price of a downtown condo was up 5.1 per cent. In the suburban 905 area code detached homes and condos saw increases of 9.3 per cent and 4.3 per cent respectively.

The local realtors' board expressed surprise at the strength of prices. "If the pace of price growth experienced in the first quarter is sustained, [The Toronto Real Estate Board] may revise its outlook for the average selling price," Jason Mercer, senior manager of market analysis, stated in a press release.

The numbers come after Vancouver's real estate board said on Wednesday that sales of existing homes in the Vancouver area during March were up 12.5 per cent from a year earlier, and 4.4 per cent from the prior month.

But the pickup in Vancouver still left that city's sales 17.2 per cent below the 10-year average level for March.

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The benchmark price of homes in Metro Vancouver was up 3.7 per cent from a year earlier, at $615,200.

Total sales in the Calgary area, meanwhile, were up 20.8 per cent in March, with the average price rising 5.9 per cent to $478,157 and the benchmark price rising 9.47 per cent to $431,100.

Calgary is largely expected to buck the national trends this year, with its market forecasted to grow at a stronger pace than most of the country.

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