Sales of existing homes in Winnipeg headed back in the right direction in March after two consecutive months of declines.
A total of 919 properties sold through the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS), the Winnipeg Realtors Association (WRA) said Wednesday. That's an increase of nine per cent from the 844 that changed hands in March of last year and followed year-over-year declines of eight per cent in January and three per cent in February.
Not surprisingly, the dollar volume of sales was also up last month, jumping by 11 per cent to $249.1 million from $224.7 million.
However, the association noted March 2013 was a poor month for home sales. So while last month's total was an improvement from a year earlier, it is still three per cent below the 10-year average for March.
Similarly, while sales for the first three months of this year were up nearly one per cent from the first quarter of 2013 -- 2,164 units compared with 2,156 -- they were still seven per cent below the 10-year average for the period.
"However, we must keep in mind Winnipeg (just) endured its coldest winter since 1898," the association added.
The harsh winter is also being blamed for a decline in new-home construction starts in the Winnipeg area in the first quarter of this year. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation data released on Tuesday showed housing starts were down 65 per cent in March and 44 per cent in the first three months of 2014 compared with the same period last year.
Looking ahead to the traditionally busy spring home-buying season, the WRA said buyers should have more resale properties to choose from this year, with more than 2,500 homes available at the beginning of April compared with just over 2,000 in April of last year.
"We are in a real favourable position going into April to take advantage of better weather, low unemployment, very competitive mortgage rates and the best inventory we have seen in many years," said WRA president David Powell.
The selection of condominiums is particularly good, with 562 available units at the beginning of this month compared with 346 at the same time last year.
"I can't recall ever seeing that many for one month," said Peter Squire, the WRA's residential market analyst. "That certainly gives some really good options for those potential condo buyers."
"One of the benefits increased condominium supply brings is it will encourage a growing empty-nester demographic to look at selling their existing single-family home," Powell said, "and as a result, create more choice for families seeking a desirable home."
Squire said condos and side-by-side townhouses continue to be a popular option for first-time buyers who are finding many single-detached homes beyond their reach in the wake of more than a decade of steady price increases.
Last month, for example, condo sales were up 17 per dent from a year ago, while sales of single-attached homes were up by 45 per cent.
Although the so-called "flight to affordability" began several years ago, Squire said it became even more noticeable in 2013.
He noted the average selling price of a single-detached home in the city is now around $295,000, while for a condo it's about $239,000.