WINNIPEG'S high-flying housing market encountered some turbulence last month, with double-digit declines in sales of existing homes and in single-family housing starts, according to two reports released Friday.
In its monthly report, the Winnipeg Realtors Association said there was an 11 per cent drop in the number of properties sold through the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) -- 698 versus 781 for the same month in 2012.
And in its monthly housing-starts report, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) said there was a 14 per cent decline in the number of single-detached starts in the Winnipeg Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) -- 109 versus 127.
However, Manitoba Home Builders' Association president Mike Moore noted the number of multi-family starts, such as apartments and condominiums, were up nearly eightfold to 78 units from 10 in February 2012. That drove up total starts by 36 per cent to 187 units from 137.
"So it all depends on how you want to look at it," Moore said. "Single-family starts were down, but multis and total starts were up."
Although there are signs of a housing- market slowdown in Vancouver -- MLS sales there fell 29.4 per cent last month to their lowest February level since 2001 -- industry officials here maintain there's no clear evidence it's the case in Winnipeg.
Winnipeg Realtors president Richard Dettman said January this year was the second-best January on record for MLS sales in Winnipeg.
He also noted 35 per cent of detached homes sold last month went for more than list price, and the average number of days they were on the market in February was 27 -- two weeks less than in January and a week less than in February 2012.
Both are indications of strong demand and a healthy market, Dettman said.
Moore and Dianne Himbeault, CMHC's senior market analyst for Manitoba, noted that while single-family starts are down from a year ago, 2012 was the best year since 1988 for housing starts in the Winnipeg CMA.
"So the trend is coming down a little bit, but we're still coming off a very strong year," Himbeault said.
Also, "Winnipeg's new-home market continues to be supported by positive net migration and gains in full-time employment," she added.
Moore said winter is typically the slowest time of year for local homebuilders, and sometimes a drop-off in construction can be due to something as simple as weather.
"When the snow is gone and everyone is supposed to be going full bore, that's when we'll be able to better tell if there is any reason to be concerned."
CMHC numbers show that what happened in Winnipeg last month -- single-detached starts down, multi-family starts up -- mirrored what happened nationally.
A big month-to-month increase in multi-family starts boosted the seasonally adjusted rate of housing starts in Canada to 180,719 units from 158,998 in January.
In the local resale-homes market, Dettman said a 12 per cent decline in new listings last month is thought to be at least partly responsible for the decline in MLS sales, particularly in the under-$200,000 price range.
"As we see in a number of Winnipeg MLS areas, there is a real scarcity of active listings. So not surprisingly, you cannot convert (sell) what you do not have."
BY THE NUMBERS
698 -- number of properties sold last month through the local MLS
781 -- number sold in February 2012
-11 -- percentage change
$178.7 million -- dollar value of sales last month
$191.0 million -- dollar value a year earlier
-6 -- percentage change
-- source: Winnipeg Realtors Association
187 -- number of housing starts last month in the Winnipeg CMA*
137 -- number of starts in the same month in 2012
+36 -- percentage change
109 -- number of single-family starts last month
127 -- the number in February 2012
-14 -- percentage change
* Census Metropolitan Area
-- source: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.