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166 Dorset St. West., Port Hope, Ont.Chestnut Park

The gentle pace of life in Port Hope, Ont., usually extends to the historic town’s real estate market.

The town, about 100 kilometres east of Toronto, offers properties ranging from Victorian mansions on large parcels of land to recently built bungalows aimed at retiring boomers.

The tempo of the local real estate market has picked up considerably this spring after a sluggish 2018, according to real estate agent Fionna Barrington of Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.

“You put a house up and it just goes,” Ms. Barrington says.

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At the lower end of the market, where houses tend to sell in the $400,000 to $600,000 range, sales are particularly snappy, she says, and some properties receive multiple offers.

The quickened pace is quite the opposite of the dynamic in the Greater Toronto Area, where deals are taking longer to come together compared with previous spring markets.

Sales in the Greater Toronto Area in March were flat compared with March of 2018, according to the latest numbers from the Toronto Real Estate Board. New listings last month dipped 5.1 per cent from March of 2018.

The average price for March was $788,335, according to TREB. That result was also nearly flat, with a 0.5-per-cent rise from the same month last year.

For the first quarter of 2019, sales slipped one per cent from the same three-month period in 2018.

The average price in the first quarter edged up 1.1 per cent from the first quarter last year. In the core 416 area of the GTA, properties in lower price segments still move quickly, but typically without the high-octane bidding contests of years past. Houses with asking prices above $2-million or so tend to sit for a longer stretch.

Ms. Barrington says many of the buyers shopping in the heritage town on the edge of Lake Ontario are established owners who are selling a house in Toronto and positioning themselves for retirement in Port Hope.

This Regency-style cottage sold for $1.125-million.Chestnut Park

In other cases, they are young couples with children who are finding the real estate in Port Hope, nearby Cobourg and other places in Northumberland County more affordable.

One young family, she says, paid more than $1-million for a heritage home on a prominent street after selling in Toronto.

“They came out here; they bought a whopping great house for half the price.”

Some families are migrating from bedroom communities in search of cheaper real estate, reputable private schools and a less suburban lifestyle.

Ms. Barrington recently sold a Regency-style cottage at 166 Dorset St. West. for $1.125-million.

The circa-1865 house was listed for sale in September with an asking price of $1.195-million, but it still wasn’t sold at the end of 2018.

A steady stream of visitors came to see the house, even though it only has two bedrooms.Chestnut Park

The house is extensively renovated, but Ms. Barrington says it isn’t for families with children because it has only two bedrooms. Still, a steady stream of visitors made appointments to see it. “I was amazed at the number of people who came out to see the house.”

Ms. Barrington says many of the potential buyers were couples from Toronto who were looking ahead to retirement. Often, one partner was ready for the move and the other was still uncertain about making the leap, she says.

When the house had not sold by January, the owners decided to take a break and relist in April.

But Ms. Barrington received a call in February from a Toronto couple who had been keeping an eye on the property and saw it disappear from the market. They wondered if the owners would let them visit.

“This couple walked in and said ‘this is it,’” she says.

Ms. Barrington had been planning to trim the asking price when she relaunched the property in April.

“We never got round to doing that.”

The Port Hope cottage dates to the 1860s.Chestnut Park

Ms. Barrington says the local market surged during early 2017, when sales and prices in Toronto skyrocketed and people priced out of areas such as Ajax and Pickering were venturing east to Northumberland County.

“We were having multiple offers – people had never seen that sort of thing out here.”

But the action abruptly slowed, as it did in other parts of Ontario, after the provincial government introduced a foreign-buyers tax and other measures aimed at cooling the market.

Ms. Barrington says the market remained slow throughout 2018.

“It was steady, but certainly it was quieter,” she says.

The current spurt of sales is not as frenzied as the 2017 rush, she stresses, but it is a shift from 2018.

She expects more listings in the $500,000 to $600,000 range to become available because homeowners are encouraged by the sales tallied so far this year. She says some are now trading up to homes in the $700,000-and-above segment.

“A lot of them are move-up buyers,” she says.

Some new subdivisions in Port Hope, Cobourg and Millbrook have attracted buyers to the area, she says. The extension of Highway 407 to Highway 35/115 is scheduled to open in 2020, and expanded rail service is also in the works.

In Toronto, real estate agent Ira Jelinek says the spring market has ebbed and flowed a bit this year, with some weeks busier than others.

The market for resale condo units still favours sellers, he says, but the single-family dwelling segment is more balanced.

“With houses I would say there’s a little more equilibrium.”

Mr. Jelinek says the people who are listing now are mainly those who want a change of lifestyle. One couple recently sold a house in the Rouge Hill area of Scarborough, for example, and purchased a condo at Queen’s Quay.

A young couple is selling their first investment condo in the King West area in the hope of buying a single-family home in Ajax.

For potential buyers, a lack of listings means people must be diligent to find deals, he says.

Mr. Jelinek points to one young couple who recently bought a bungalow on Gilbert Avenue, near Caledonia Road and Rogers Road.

The house was listed with an asking price of $699,000 and the clients beat out one other bidder to purchase the house for $693,000.

“There was competition and they still got it for less than asking,” Mr. Jelinek points out. “It’s very cute and a step up for them from living in a one-bedroom condo.”

Mr. Jelinek says the couple went out with him week after week to look at new arrivals on the market.

“They didn’t get discouraged and quit. A great house came up for them and they were able to get it.”

Mr. Jelinek says he was surprised the couple faced only one other rival, but he thinks the cold weather in March delayed the spring market. He expects many more listings to arrive after the Easter and Passover holidays in April.

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