The temperature of the Toronto-area real estate market has become a little warmer recently, but sellers appear to be holding out for genuine heat.
Listings for single-family homes remained scarce during the March break for Ontario schools.
In the condo market, sellers are more willing to list during a time when many families are off on vacation.
Anita Springate-Renaud, broker with Engel & Volkers, says investors are emerging with the recent increase in confidence in the market.
“We’re seeing more people coming to the table,” Ms. Springate-Renaud says. “I think they were all just hovering. Now they’re no longer hovering.”
Housing sales in Canada edged up 2.3 per cent in February from January on a seasonally adjusted basis, with the Greater Toronto Area and Greater Vancouver leading the way.
In downtown Toronto, Ms. Springate-Renaud represented one investor who decided to sell four of her condo units in the Harbour Square complex on the city’s waterfront. Ms. Springate-Renaud listed all four on a recent Friday; three days later, three were sold.
The sales were made more challenging because all of the units are occupied by tenants, she adds.
Ms. Springate-Renaud listed the 1980s-era properties without interior photographs. The exterior photos, taken by drone, show the positions of the buildings at the water’s edge, between York and Bay streets.
To offset those difficulties, Ms. Springate-Renaud set aggressive asking prices, with offers welcome any time.
In one building, Ms. Springate-Renaud listed a bachelor unit with an asking price of $499,000 and had the 537-square foot unit available for showings for one hour.
The unit drew four offers and sold for $515,000.
“We were selling this at this price because they had to assume the tenants,” she says.
Another bachelor was also listed with an asking price of $499,000 and sold for $488,000.
A junior one-bedroom with 704 square feet of living space was listed with an asking price of $599,000. That drew two offers and sold for $615,000.
The fourth unit is larger, with 1,047 square feet of living space and an asking price of $799,000. That one remains for sale.
Elise Stern, broker with Harvey Kalles Real Estate Ltd., says the scarcity of listings is difficult for buyers. She has worked with clients recently who bid on properties which drew 10 or 12 offers.
“It’s tough out there.”
Ms. Stern recently worked with buyers who bid on a house with an asking price of $949,000. On offer night, another 12 bidders came to the table.
Ms. Stern’s clients were the top bidders with an offer around the $1.2-million mark.
The listing agent suggested another round of bidding to see if the top contenders would raise their offers, but Ms. Stern pointed out that a sale at a higher number might create problems when the property was appraised.
Appraisers look at recent sales in the area, and another comparable property had recently sold near $1.2-million.
The sellers agreed to the deal.
Off-market deals are still common she says, as sellers avoid the time-consuming task of decluttering, staging and launching a property on the Multiple Listing Service.
There is also a certain appeal for buyers to have special access to a property, she adds.
“We’re showing our clients things that are not exposed to everyone.”
Victor Tran, mortgage specialist with rates.ca, says he has seen a large increase in the number of aspiring buyers lining up preapproved mortgage agreements.
Buyers that he has helped in the past to line up pre-approvals and rate holds have been holding off buying for up to a year now.
“They’re still waiting for an opportunity,” he says.
Mr. Tran says potential buyers seem reassured that the market has stabilized and encouraged by the Bank of Canada’s signal that it will pause in raising interest rates.
Buyers may have a chance – at least in the short term – to nab lower fixed-term mortgage rates following the tumult in the global banking sector.
“Bond yields took a huge dive,” he says.
A fixed term of three years is popular among buyers at the moment, he says, with few takers for variable rate mortgages.
Some prospective buyers who are grappling with securing a mortgage in an environment of higher rates are looking at alternative lenders.
The traditional “A” lenders provide loans to consumers with high credit scores and stable incomes. Some customers who aren’t able to qualify are looking to “B” lenders willing to take on the higher risk of a borrower with a shaky credit history.
Mr. Tran cautions that “B” lenders typically charge higher interest rates and tack on set-up fees.
“Those fees can really add up.”
Mr. Tran says borrowers who take out a mortgage with a B lender as a short-term solution should have a plan to move to a traditional lender.
Stephen Brown, deputy chief North America economist for Capital Economics, warns that risks abound despite tentative signs of stabilization in Canada’s housing market.
The sales-to-new-listings ratio jumped to a 10-month high in February, he notes, which suggests that house prices will soon rise again.
Mr. Brown points out, however, that the increase was driven mainly by an 11.5-per-cent drop in new listings in February from January. With no obvious catalyst for the fall in new listings, Mr. Brown anticipates at least a partial rebound this month.
The economist adds that the decline in bond yields alongside the turmoil in the U.S. and European banking sectors may have a muted impact on fixed mortgage rates. Lenders will only pass on lower wholesale funding costs and expand lending if they are confident in the health of their own balance sheets, he points out.
The opposite situation, in which lenders are forced to rein in lending is the bigger risk, in Mr. Brown’s opinion.