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For the owners of a stylish townhouse in Toronto's east end, last weekend's blizzard really did offer up the prospect of snowmaggedon.

The "lofthouse" is in a boutique building converted from an old church. This type of property is imbued with character in the form of stained glass windows and soaring ceilings, but that means it also appeals to a smaller tranche of buyers than the traditional three-bedroom semi-detached, explains real estate agent Geoffrey Grace. When the sellers looked at the forecast and saw 30 centimetres of snow on the way, they wondered if they would attract any traffic to the "open house" planned for that weekend.

But Mr. Grace, an agent with ReMax Hallmark Realty Ltd., reassured them. People who wander into an open house on a beautiful summer's day are likely just out for a walk around the neighbourhood, he figures.

"When you've got eight people coming through in a snowstorm, you know they're serious buyers," Mr. Grace says.

Saturday turned out to be mostly sunny and the committed house hunters were not put off by climbing over snow banks.

Mr. Grace figures about a dozen came through. Despite the perils of snowstorms, Mr. Grace says listings are so slim at this time of year that sellers who are considering selling would do well to get a sign on the lawn pronto.

Agents say this every year but many sellers don't want to listen because they want to wait until the flowers are out in May or so that they can time their move for the summer.

The talk of a buyer's market that set the tone in the fall doesn't really apply in the opening weeks of the year, says Mr. Grace. The buyers who didn't purchase last fall are looking, and they are joined by the new crop of spring buyers. Meanwhile, listings remain low.

"Bidding wars are back with a vengeance," says Mr. Grace.

This week he represented the bidders for a bungalow in East York. The eye-catching asking price of $329,000 attracted 15 bids on offer night. Mr. Grace's clients were not the buyers and he is still (as of Feb. 14), waiting to learn the final selling price.

Still, Mr. Grace didn't set an offer date for the townhouse, which has an asking price of $719,900.

Real estate agents are more judicious about setting offer dates in the current, unpredictable market because only properties that appeal to the broadest segment of the market are likely to draw multiple offers.

Mr. Grace says he is working with some buyers who are frustrated by the dearth of listings. They are also surprised at how much they have to pay for even a starter home if they are moving in from out of town or moving up from a condo.

Mr. Grace says the neophyte house hunters have to compete against more seasoned prospective buyers who started their search last year. The veterans likely have their mortgage financing lined up, they've been through home inspections and they may have lost a couple of bidding wars.

"They're the A-plus of buyers," he says, and they are the ones most likely to sign a deal in the current market.