Not surprisingly, in the midst of a pandemic and social lockdown, the real estate markets in Niagara – and elsewhere – have slowed dramatically.
Year-over-year sales across Niagara Region dropped 62 per cent in April, according to the Niagara Association of Realtors.
However, despite that drop, which was anticipated, prices continue to rise and realtors are confident of a quick turnaround once the hangover of the COVID-19 pandemic recedes.
Niagara’s Home Price Index, which tracks price trends, “is still rising and days on market is falling, indicating that when restrictions ease our market should be as robust as ever,” says Terri McCallum, president of the Niagara realtors association.
Although sales fell last month, “There is still pent up demand, which is having a stabilizing effect on the current sales prices,” she said in a statement.
The index’s composite benchmark price across the region was $452,300 in April, up 11.7 per cent from a year ago, according to a report by the realtors association released this week.
In Niagara-on-the-Lake, the top-priced community in the regional survey, the Home Price Index benchmark was $752,100, an increase of about 7.5 per cent from April 2019.
New listings in NOTL last month totalled 45, compared to 84 a year earlier, and 53 this past March. Only eight real estate deals were signed in NOTL last month, down almost 70 per cent from the 26 sales recorded in March.
While Niagara has been hit hard, the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board reported 67 per cent fewer sales year-over-year in April and prices showed no increase, unlike here in Niagara.
Once people feel better about going out they're going to move ahead with “their plans and their dreams” and for many that means home ownership, McCallum said in an interview.
She is confident that sales and listings will rebound soon.
“None of us has a crystal ball,” so there's no telling when the business will get back to some semblance of normalcy. Ultimately, it will depend on the government, she said.
Real estate is considered an essential business and has continued to operate during the provincial state of emergency, but with major restrictions regarding how properties are shown to prospective buyers. For example, no regular open houses are permitted.
As a result, many realtors have become “extremely innovative” and are using technology to live stream viewings for virtual open houses, McCallum said, noting properties are still selling across Niagara.
The instances of multiple offers and offers over list price that were occuring before the pandemic are continuing, mainly in entry-level properties in the $350,000 to $500,000 range, she said.
When restrictions are lifted, she anticipates a “very robust” return to sales and listings.
Royal LePage NRC Brokerage realtor Sally Miller agrees and says the future for the NOTL market looks “very bright.”
“Niagara-on-the-Lake continues to be a desired choice for homeowners wishing to leave high-density centres in pursuit of space and an outstanding lifestyle. Deals are being written and showings continue with health protocols in place,” she said.
Spring traditionally is NOTL’s strongest market, added Nancy Bailey, a broker with Engel & Voelkers.
However, despite the slowdown, “There is still more demand than supply. Supply is even less today as sellers have been reticent to go to the market due to coronavirus,” she said.
And with mortgage rates forecast to remain at historic lows, she feels the climate for a market rebound is positive.
In the meantime, people have not stopped looking at properties, said NOTL realtor Stefan Regier.
Buyers who had been looking at homes in Niagara-on-the-Lake prior to the pandemic “are still very much in contact and have perhaps a greater interest or stronger desire to start a life of walking into town, strolling by the water, visiting shops and restaurants,” said Regier, an agent with Royal LePage NRC.
“While sales numbers certainly have come down, desire for the area remains quite strong and while it's foolish to make any predictions right now, I do expect an increase as people become familiar and comfortable making movements in this environment,” Regier said.