After standing for some time as one of the Canadian cities most vulnerable to a housing market correction, Hamilton is no longer flashing red these days.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) recently lowered its risk assessment for Hamilton to “moderate” from “high.” Hamilton had been labelled with a “high” chance of a downturn since the end of the third quarter of 2016.
The mid-sized city west of Toronto saw a surge of buying in the earlier years of the decade as many buyers migrated there from more expensive areas closer to Toronto’s core. Artists and writers in search of cheap rent and studio space led the way. Soon, galleries and diners were opening up in Hamilton’s vintage storefronts.
“The pioneers who come out there change the neighbourhood as they move in,” says Tam Boyko, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty Solutions.
Ms. Boyko specializes in areas west of downtown Toronto – from Long Branch through Mississauga, Oakville and Burlington – and she has seen many buyers priced out of those areas continue to head west.
“It is expensive all the way to Burlington – let’s be honest,” she says. “I’ve helped people find a great solution in places they wouldn’t have looked.”
The market in Hamilton and surrounding suburbs cooled off considerably in 2018 – along with many others in Canada – as interest rates rose and the federal banking regulator introduced a mortgage “stress test” that made it harder to some potential buyers to qualify for a loan.
CMHC says that property values in “The Hammer” and its surrounding suburbs now better reflect local economic conditions. CMHC is basing its assessment in part on data collected to the end of June.
“Right now the market is very slow,” Ms. Boyko says.
Less than $600,000, properties are still moving briskly, she says, but above that mark, buyers are quite hesitant, she says.
Last week Ms. Boyko helped a couple purchase a move-up property in Long Branch in the $1.2-million to $1.4-million range.
The house was priced at about market value and offers were welcome any time, she says.
The house had been on the market about one week when the couple decided to make an offer.
In that area, inventory is low and demand is high, she says.
A little farther west in the Clarkson, Lorne Park and Mineola areas of Mississauga, the traditional homes on large lots are taking longer to sell.
“There are some beautiful houses that have just been sitting,” Ms. Boyko says.
She believes that the low inventory is one reason that buyers aren’t willing to step up. People who don’t find exactly what they’re looking for will wait for more listings to become available – especially above $2-million.
“It’s still a lot of money if it’s not the right house,” she says.
Houses with asking prices between $1.3-million and $1.6-million in Mississauga will go quickly, she says.
Ms. Boyko says the uncertain market also makes it hard for buyers to decide how much to offer on a property.
“I think when people are confused, they don’t do anything.”
In Hamilton, buyers with a smaller budget can find a house in the Crown Point area around the $460,000 level, Ms. Boyko says.
Even houses that have been fixed up are reasonable compared with Toronto prices, where $600,000 buys an entry-level condo with no parking and no locker.
“You can get a nice house in Hamilton for under $600,000,” she says.
According to the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington, sales in the area rose 6.4 per cent in October from October, 2018.
The average price for residential properties jumped by 7.1 per cent to $602,029 last month from the same month last year.
The number of new listings, meanwhile, dropped eight per cent last month compared with October, 2018.
Ms. Boyko currently has a house listed for sale with an asking price of $919,000 in the St. Clair neighbourhood of Hamilton.
The red-brick Victorian at 89 Delaware Ave. – which Ms. Boyko has simply dubbed “the Delaware” – was divided into three suites at one point, but now it has been restored as a three-bedroom 3,500-square-foot single family home.
Ms. Boyko says people who visit the open house events from the Greater Toronto Area are surprised at the square footage they can buy in Hamilton.
“People come into the Delaware and they can’t believe the price. From their perspective, it’s crazy.”
Still, she says, the house has been on the market for about three weeks because people with that kind of budget often try to remain closer to Toronto.
“They’re not coming out to Hamilton looking for a million dollar house.”
The Delaware house has also attracted many neighbours to the open house weekends during its three weeks on the market, she says.
“They’re curious and they’d love that price point to be achieved,” she says.
She points out the house on Delaware would make a good house for a group of friends who want to buy together and each have their own suite. The extra kitchens have been removed but the plumbing is still there, she says.
“Does everybody need a kitchen? Maybe some people don’t even cook. In this economy, you may have to embrace some different ideas in order to live grand.”
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