Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Homes market still hot in city

A solid foundation

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Winnipeg's housing market barely skipped a beat in 2012, with MLS sales topping the 13,000-unit threshold for only the third time in more than a century and new-home construction activity running way ahead of last year's pace.

Year-end numbers released Monday by the Winnipeg Realtors Association show 13,007 properties sold last year through the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

That's a dip of less than one per cent -- 58 properties -- from the 13,065 that changed hands in 2011. It was also only 71 units shy of the all-time record of 13,078 set in 2007.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. will be releasing Winnipeg's year-end housing-start numbers on Wednesday, and they're expected to show a double-digit increase over 2011's total of 3,331.

"To finish as well as we did, given tighter mortgage regulations and regular national media calls for softer real estate markets, it is testimony to the resiliency of the greater Winnipeg real estate market and our Manitoba economy in general," said Shirley Przybyl, outgoing president of Winnipeg Realtors.

"Winnipeg just kind of goes to its own beat," added Peter Squire, the association's residential-market analyst. "It just delivered another really solid year. Sort of like a blue-chip stock."

The month of December turned out to be the difference-maker between 2011 and 2012. Sales had been running slightly ahead of 2011's pace after the first 11 months of 2012, but the association knew it would have a tough time matching December 2011's record-shattering performance, when 698 properties changed hands.

It turns out sales did fall well short of that mark, with 615 properties sold. While that was a 12 per cent decline from a year earlier, it was still five per cent better than the 10-year average for December.

Przybyl noted that even though unit sales for 2012 were down slightly from a year earlier, the association still set a record for dollar volume of sales in a single year, at $3.2 billion. That was a five per cent improvement over the previous record of $3.06 billion set in 2011 and marked only the second time in the association's history the dollar volume topped the $3-billion mark.

The resale market's strong performance in 2012 didn't come as a surprise to local housing-market analysts such as Squire and CMHC's Dianne Himbeault. They both predicted at the start of last year Winnipeg could even see a slight increase in unit sales, because many of the factors that have been fuelling the demand for homes in recent years -- such as a healthy local economy, high employment levels, a growing population and historically low interest rates -- would still be at play in 2012.

While Squire won't be releasing his 2013 forecast until next week, Himbeault said CMHC is predicting it will be another banner year for MLS sales in the greater Winnipeg area.

"We seem to have plateaued (at about 13,000 sales)," she said Monday. "(So) our forecast is for it to continue at these levels (in 2013)."

Przybyl and Squire said one of the highlights of 2012 had to be the strong demand for higher-priced homes. Although the biggest demand continues to be for homes in the $200,000 to $300,000 price range, sales of upper-end properties -- ones priced at half a million dollars or more -- also reached new heights in 2012.

The association said more than 400 of them changed hands in 2012, including a record 24 that sold for $1 million or more. There were even two that sold for $2 million or more -- a Wellington Crescent mansion that sold in November for $2 million and a mansion on Hansard Boulevard that sold last month for $2.2 million.

"To me, that speaks of confidence in the city as a whole when you see people spending those kinds of dollars in the local housing market," Squire said.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 8, 2013 B3

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