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Homes, sweet homes: Manitoba housing market on fire

July numbers extremely strong

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The Annex, under construction Friday, sold in under three months, displaying the continuing demand for condos in Winnipeg.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

The Annex, under construction Friday, sold in under three months, displaying the continuing demand for condos in Winnipeg. Photo Store

Manitoba's housing market was on fire last month, racking up near-record sales and pounding out more than twice as many housing starts as in July 2012.

The Winnipeg Realtors Association (WRS) led off the good-news parade on Friday with the early-morning release of its July Multiple Listing Service (MLS) sales report.

It showed not only were unit sales up 13 per cent from a year earlier -- 1,388 versus 1,225 -- they fell just 19 units short of the July record of 1,407 set at the height of the housing-market boom in 2008.

The surge in sales activity sent the monthly dollar-volume total crashing through the $300-million barrier for the first time, hitting $352.8 million.

Not to be outdone, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. also released a report that showed local homebuilders also had the pedal to the metal, hammering out more than twice as many new housing starts as in July 2012 -- 707 units versus 311.

The huge jump bucked a national trend that saw Canada's seasonally adjusted annual rate of housing starts dip slightly in July to 192,853 units.

The resale-home market's strong showing was in keeping with a surprising new trend that has seen MLS sales come to life in a number of major Canadian cities in the last couple of months.

"Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, Canada's housing market seems to be warming up again," BMO chief economist Doug Porter said Friday.

"At the start of 2013, the only debate on Canadian housing was whether it would have a hard or soft landing," Porter said. "In fact, recent data suggest that the market may not have 'landed' at all, and instead is in the process of possibly taking off again."

After getting off to a slow start, Winnipeg's resale-home market also has been building up a head of steam in recent months. So much so that WRA president Richard Dettman said 2013 is shaping up to be one of the best in the association's 110-year history.

"While changes in government financing rules and the late spring challenged sales predictions earlier this year, July proved the Winnipeg market to be a resilient one," Dettman said.

One of the things that has helped breathe new life into Winnipeg's resale-homes market is a surge in new listings hitting the market in recent months.

"Without listings, you cannot have sales, and July was exceptional in seeing more than 2,000 new listings come on the market," the WRA said. "This level of listings is more typical of a spring month. Given how 2013 saw delayed spring-market activity due to a prolonged winter, we may well be in catch-up mode in July."

And with more than 3,900 active listings still on the market at the end of July, August could be another good month for MLS sales activity, Dettman added.

On the new-homes side of the market, it was apartment and condominium developers who led the charge last month, starting work on 525 new multi-family units.

That's the most multi-family starts in a single month in the Winnipeg Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) since 1987, said CMHC senior market analyst Dianne Himbeault.

Surprisingly, all but six of the 525 multi-family starts were condos, even though developers have been building new condos in the last couple of years as if they're going out of style.

But despite all of the new construction, the co-owner of one of the city's most active condo developers -- Karma Development Corp. -- said there still seems to be a strong demand for more condos in Winnipeg.

Myles Kraut said it took less than three months to sell most of the 300 new units in Karma's multi-phase Annex development near the University of Manitoba. And since, the rest also have been snapped up.

"It was incredible," he added.

Kraut said the Annex development includes two seven-storey condo towers (a total of 200 units) and 56 bungalow-style units, which are currently under construction, and 28 townhouse-style units, which are completed and fully occupied.

The only piece of slightly sobering news in the CMHC report was a 22.2 per cent drop in single-family starts in the Winnipeg CMA -- 182 units versus 234 in July 2012

However, "July's gain in multi-family construction more than compensated for the reduction in single-detached starts," Himbeault said.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 10, 2013 B6

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