After only eight residential homes were sold in April, the Niagara-on-the-Lake real estate market bounced back in a big way in May, with 25 properties changing hands, according to the Niagara Association of Realtors.
It is only a one-month recovery, but veteran NOTL realtor Chris Bowron says he thinks the trend is going to continue.
As we climb out of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a “much better vibe” now in the NOTL market, said Bowron, the broker of record and president of Niagara-on-the-Lake Realty.
“I predict that we’ll probably see a very busy sales period leading up to the fall,” he said in an interview. His brokerage is already hopping. “I’m full-on right now.”
The front window of his Queen Street office displays listings and “two months ago we were looking for pictures to put in the window. Now, we don’t have enough space, so inventory is on the way up.”
“I’ve had a lot of people saying, ‘We’re getting out of Toronto. We don’t want to be here any more.’ And places like Niagara-on-the-Lake are obvious choices for these people.”
As prices firm up, Bowron expects to see more homes come on the market. In April there were only 55 new listings compared to 104 in the same month a year ago.
“We’ve seen some good sales in the past two or three weeks (in NOTL), including bidding wars, which we haven’t seen in sometime,” he said. “Even into the higher price ranges. We’re getting offers on properties over $2 million and we had a bidding war on a property that was close to $2 million.”
While he doesn’t have a crystal ball, he said activity is up. The sales stats for the last few weeks aren’t yet available, but “I think you’ll see that activity is up everywhere.”
The market remains “very price-conscious, but I think if you have the right price on something, there’s no reason for it not to sell now.”
The stronger market was reflected across the region, according to Terri McCallum, president of the Niagara Association of Realtors.
“After a significant decline in April, we have rebounded with a 30 per cent increase in new listings and 75 per cent increase in sales,” she said in a news release.
“Sellers and buyers are confident in the real estate industry safety protocols being used to keep Niagara families moving,” she said.
In NOTL, with the highest real estate prices in the region, the average sale price, known as the home price index, was $779,400 in May, up more than $40,000 from a year earlier.
Jerry Cino, president of Homelife Niagara Real Estate Inc. in Virgil, said, “It is a great time to sell. There is less inventory in the market right now as people are unsure what to do, sell or stay. But buyers are still out looking to buy.”
He cited the case of a young couple previously frustrated with properties attracting multiple offers or selling for well over asking and said they recently were able to buy a house in their price range with the conditions they wanted.
Sought-after communities like NOTL are “somewhat recession-proof” as people are “always looking to buy in great areas,” he told The Lake Report.
James O'Connor, a sales representative for Royal LePage NRC Realty in NOTL, says with COVID-19 restrictions easing he expects to see sales activity more akin to a typical spring market.
“For about six weeks the NOTL market had the same feel we had during the financial crises of 2008-09 where real estate activity just came to an abrupt halt. This time around, however, as the slowdown wasn’t necessarily economically motivated, things should get back on track much sooner,” he said.
“This year will likely see an increase of city dwellers moving to smaller communities like ours,” he said. With the pandemic lockdown, people have now realized that “working from home is far easier or has become a permanent new reality for them. I’ve already spoken to several clients from the GTA expressing that this will likely happen for them this year.”
Bowron is likewise bullish on the next six months.
“You can just feel the activity. I’ve been doing this for 32 years now and I didn’t feel enthusiastic coming out of the summer last year, but I feel very enthusiastic right now. I think if somebody wants to sell, they’re going to have a good little period right now.”
“A lot of people in Niagara-on-the-Lake are moving sideways, up and down. Usually the chain gets started by someone buying from the GTA,” he said.
And with people realizing “we’re not reaching Armageddon, buyer confidence seems to be returning.”
In the wake of the pandemic and the possibility of future viruses, rather than be cooped up in a condo in the city with little access to outdoor amenities, he thinks “people will gradually want to be in smaller centres where maybe you’re safer.”
Niagara-on-the-Lake has only had 21 COVID-19 cases thus far and no active cases for nearly two weeks.
“I think for the next six months (the market is) going to be really good, but you don’t know what’s going to happen in the fall. They say that there might be another episode of COVID-19.”
People, on average, move once every five or six years, he said. “Some people will take 30 years and some people will take one year.”
“And when you stop people from moving for whatever reason they still want to do it. People want to be encouraged it’s the right time to do it and I think that up until maybe the new year people were a little bit gun shy. But when people see the market returning and prices probably going up, I think you’re going to see a lot of people putting their houses on the market.”
Interest rates remain at historic lows and will drive the market from the bottom up, he noted, and the economy is slowly restarting after the COVID-19 shutdown.
“I believe we are going to see an uptick in the real estate market in Niagara-on-the-Lake in general. I know that Toronto has seen an uptick and we generally follow along with what happens there.”
People who live in big city centres, like Toronto, “are not having too much fun when they’re being locked down. There’s nowhere to walk, nowhere to go and they probably found that they could work remotely from home a lot better than they had envisioned,” Bowron said.
“We have a great town and people want to live here.”