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Townhouses in Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood, December 14th 2015.Ian Willms/The Globe and Mail

Last week, Nick Whittington helped his clients shoot past two other bidders for a narrow Victorian semi near Trinity Bellwoods Park.

The agent with Brad J. Lamb Realty Inc. says his clients are delighted they have a new project to work on. Mr. Whittington is relieved the couple was able to nab a new property before bidding war fatigue set in.

"You can only take a buyer through that three or four times before they start cracking up."

This is the time of year when buyers in Toronto's ultra-competitive market often drop from sheer exhaustion. As Mr. Whittington suggests, they fear for their sanity after pouring their emotions into one bidding contest after another.

Even some condo units are attracting multiple offers at the moment – often to the surprise of the agents listing them. But freehold houses in prime neighbourhoods are pretty much guaranteed to have people fighting over them.

"It only takes two," Mr. Whittington says of the pressure that arises any time there's competition.

The clients who bought the downtown semi had a strong determination to acquire the house that was listed with an asking price of $990,000. Mr. Whittington prepared three offers with ascending prices.

They submitted a bid for $1.05-million and waited. The listing agent told them three parties were in contention and gave all three a chance to improve their offers.

"I'm not going to lose this over price," Mr. Whittington's client told him, and gave him permission to submit the second offer for $1.175-million.

About 20 minutes later, the listing agent informed them that they had a deal.

In this case, the buyers had already sold their existing loft. The strain really shows on those buying for the first time, Mr. Whittington says. He has worked with buyers who have lost out when properties go for mind-blowing amounts in popular neighbourhoods.

"The people are just demoralized," he says. "How can you even gear up for that?"

Mr. Whittington says most first-time buyers aren't even looking in Toronto's core any more. Some are purchasing recently-built townhouses in neighbourhoods such as Mimico and Long Branch, he says. Others are buying condos in new developments in the Upper Beaches, where units can be found in the $600,000 to $635,000 range, he says. And still others are looking for detached houses in areas farther to the east, such as Whitby.

Mr. Whittington sees older parents with assets in fixed income and their investments are generating no return. Those parents made a hefty profit on their houses and they fear the younger generation will miss out if they don't get into the housing market soon. Those are the parents who are really pushing their kids to buy, he says. In many cases they're lending them the money to do so.

"Without a big cheque from mom and dad, it's almost impossible," he says. "When freeholds are going up 12 to 14 per cent a year, who the hell can keep up with that?"

Buyers need not only a substantial down payment but a big chunk for land-transfer taxes as well.

Mr. Whittington believes the reason we're seeing so many people paying $200,000, $400,000 or even $600,000 above the asking price for a property are doing so out of despair that prices are spiralling out of reach so quickly. Of course that psychology fuels further gains and even more anxiety.

Plenty of recent purchasers in Toronto and Vancouver were motivated by "fear of missing out", or FOMO, according to the results of a recent survey by Toronto-Dominion Bank.

TD says that some prospective first-time buyers in Canada were also worried that their FOMO would lead to other problems. About 20 per cent said they feared they would rush into a purchase to avoid missing out on an opportunity. Eighteen per cent of respondents fretted about buying too quickly in order to win a bidding war.

TD didn't explain why 81 per cent of Torontonians and Vancouverites didn't experience FOMO.