THEY'VE gone from being bit players to difference-makers, and now condominium buyers are helping to breathe new life into Winnipeg's resale-housing market in 2013.
Multiple Listings Service (MLS) sales have been lagging in Winnipeg since the start of the year -- they were running nine per cent behind last year's pace after the first five months -- as a combination of higher prices and tighter mortgage-lending rules helped to cool the demand for resale properties.
But if it weren't for sales of condos, which have become an increasingly popular option for cost-conscious first-time buyers, it would have been a lot worse.
New Winnipeg Realtors Association (WRA) numbers released on Friday show while sales of single-family-detached homes were down 10 per cent in the first five months of 2013, condo sales were up a healthy nine per cent -- 698 units versus 642.
In May alone, another 218 units were purchased, the association said, which was a 22 per cent increase from a year earlier, when 179 were sold.
"There is still a desire to buy, and people are looking for affordable ways to do that," said WRA president Richard Dettman. "And they're doing that through the condo market."
Just how hot are condos these days?
Re/Max Professionals' Glen Harvey and his brother, Bruce, specialize in selling retrofitted condos -- former rental units that have been refurbished and converted to condos.
Glen Harvey said it took less than four months to sell all 42 units in a newly converted block on Killarney. The one- and two-bedroom units were priced at between $179,900 and $219,800.
"On the opening weekend alone, we sold 23 units," he added.
And it's taken them less than eight months to sell 100 of the 102 condos in a converted block on Greenway Crescent. Those one-, two- and three-bedroom units were priced at between $169,000 and $219,000.
And in just six weeks, they've sold 61 of the 79 units in a block at 180 Belliveau Rd. The average price there is $180,000 for a 770-square-foot one-bedroom unit, and $230,000 for a 1,040-square-foot two-bedroom suite.
"It's just been crazy," Harvey said, adding roughly 90 per cent of the buyers have been first-timers to the market.
One of them is Chad Ell, a 26-year-old lineman with a local cable television company. Five days ago, he moved into his $182,000, 768-square-foot, one-bedroom condo in the Belliveau Road block. And he couldn't be happier.
"These units have been completely renovated and upgraded," he said, with features like concrete walls, maple kitchen cabinets, hardwood floors, granite countertops, a big balcony and heated underground parking.
"I wouldn't be able to get all of that in a single-family home in the same price range," Ell said. "I looked at a couple, but they were way too small."
Ell said he considered renting, but discovered he could buy a condo and the monthly payments would be less than what he'd pay for a comparable rental unit.
Dettman and Peter Squire, residential market analyst for the WRA, said 40 per cent of May's 218 condo sales were units priced in the $140,000 to $199,900 price.
Squire said a great selection of condos -- listing were up 31 per cent in May -- is helping to fuel sales.