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New listings in the Vancouver region’s housing market have tumbled to their lowest March level in eight years as prospective sellers take a wait-and-see attitude.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

New listings in the Vancouver region's housing market have tumbled to their lowest March level in eight years as prospective sellers take a wait-and-see attitude.

The number of new listings for various housing types totalled 4,762 last month, down 24.1 per cent from a year earlier in the territory covered by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.

The decline in fresh listings comes as would-be sellers try to gauge which way the market is headed, board president Jill Oudil said on Tuesday.

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The region experienced a housing boom starting in mid-2013 but sales activity began slowing in the spring of 2016. The sales slump continued for months after the BC Liberal government implemented a 15-per-cent tax in August on foreign home buyers in the Vancouver area.

"There is a bit of uncertainty in our market right now due to the government intervention, and the provincial election is coming up," Ms. Oudil said in an interview.

The number of sales of detached houses, condos and townhomes totalled 3,579 last month, down 30.8 per cent from the record 5,173 transactions a year earlier. But March sales climbed 47.6 per cent compared with February.

While demand has weakened over the past year, last month's transactions still rang in 7.9 per cent higher than the 10-year average for March, Ms. Oudil said.

With prospective sellers sitting on the sidelines, that has sparked bidding wars due to the shortage of listings in some cases. "We're seeing multiple offers for condominiums and townhomes," she said.

The detached market in general, however, has seen a sharp slowdown in sales and resulted in lower prices in that segment.

The price for detached houses sold last month in Greater Vancouver averaged $1.71-million, down 3.9 per cent from a year earlier. By contrast, the average price rose 4.6 per cent to $589,599 for condos and climbed 7.9 per cent to $830,722 for townhomes.

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The board prefers to use benchmark prices, which are the industry's representation of typical homes sold. Using that barometer, the benchmark price for various housing types hit $919,300 in Greater Vancouver last month, down 0.8 per cent over the past six months but up 12.7 per cent from a year earlier.

Detached prices remain expensive in many parts of the region. On Vancouver's west side, the benchmark price for detached properties sold last month reached $3.46-million – a 4.5-per-cent decline over the past six months but a 12.7-per-cent increase compared with March, 2016, and a 58.9-per-cent jump since March, 2014.

Ms. Oudil said prices will likely rise the rest of this year, at least until more listings emerge to ease the pressure.

The Fraser Valley Real Estate Board, which includes Vancouver suburbs such as Surrey and White Rock, saw its benchmark price for detached houses sold last month at $869,000, up 17.3 per cent from a year earlier.

The Fraser Valley board handled 2,213 total sales last month, down 26.4 per cent from March, 2016.

But board president Gopal Sahota said new listings have fallen 24.3 per cent over the past year. He noted that competition is heating up among buyers seeking townhomes.

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Housing unaffordability will be one of the key issues in the runup to the May 9 B.C. election.

As of late March, the BC Liberal government approved 831 of the 1,008 applications from first-time home buyers who have been lured by new incentives under a program designed to improve housing affordability.

The province budgeted approvals of 1,350 applicants between the start of the program on Jan. 16 and the end of the fiscal year on March 31, and expects to approve nearly 11,600 applications in the current fiscal year that began April 1.

Critics say the program is adding fuel to an already heated market for condos and townhomes in the Vancouver region, though the real estate industry welcomes the incentives.

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