The number of resale homes on the market in Winnipeg is at its highest level in more than a decade -- for this time of year -- which is positive news for buyers heading into the important spring buying season.
In its monthly housing market report released on Wednesday, the Winnipeg Realtors Association said there were 2,549 active listings on the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) at the end of February.
That's nearly 10 per cent higher than at this time last year -- and the highest it's been in 13 years, WRA records show.
"We'd have to go back to 2001 to see this many listings at this time of year," said Peter Squire, the association's residential market analyst. "We definitely have a good supply."
Squire and WRA president David Powell also noted that even though it's a balanced market in Winnipeg, selling prices are holding firm.
"Our best markets are balanced markets," Powell said. "There are better opportunities for buyers, and sellers are still getting good prices. So it's the best of both worlds."
He and Squire said they expect market activity to pick up this month after a disappointing February in which unit sales were down nearly three per cent from a year earlier -- 680 versus 698 -- and the dollar volume of sales was off by nearly two per cent to $175.7 million from $178.7 million.
February of last year was hardly a banner month either, with sales down 11 per cent from February 2012.
Squire said last March was disappointing as well. So with all of the new listings and an anticipated improvement in the weather, home sales should improve this month.
"We would both really like (this) March to come back and be more like a normal March," he added.
Squire said unseasonably cold weather appeared to have been at least partly to blame for last month's slowdown in sales activity. That, and possibly the Winter Olympics, where Canada put on a strong showing.
"When it was that cold out there and they had something captivating to watch, you really couldn't blame them (for not going house hunting)," he added.
But he and Powell noted that while total sales were down last month, sales of the two most popular types of homes -- residential detached and condominiums -- were up from a year earlier. It was sales of vacant residential lots and townhouses that took a hit, with vacant land sales down 50 per cent from a year earlier.
They don't know the reason for such a big drop, although Powell wondered if it was because February of last year was a particularly strong month for sales of residential building lots due to a new subdivision coming onto the market.
While they're anticipating a boost in sales this month, Powell and Squire said they're also hoping the Manitoba government will give first-time homebuyers a break in today's budget.
The local real estate industry has been lobbying the government for years to make housing more affordable for first-time buyers by exempting them from having to pay its controversial land-transfer tax. It's a tax homebuyers must pay before the title to their new home can be transferred to their name and they can take possession. Because it's a graduated tax based on the selling price of a property, the higher selling prices rise, the more tax homebuyers pay and the more revenue the province takes in.
"They are forgetting that younger demographic and that they really are punishing them with this land-transfer tax," Squire said. "It really is hurting them."
The WRA numbers show February's weaker showing left unit sales running five per cent behind last year's pace after the first two months of 2014 -- 1,245 versus 1,312 -- and the dollar volume off one per cent to $321.7 million from $325.7 million.