Preliminary housing start numbers in the Winnipeg Census Metropolitan Area for the month of March were up significantly over last year. Single-family detached houses were up by 44 per cent, while multi-family units almost doubled last March's total.
Given that the start numbers for January and February were slightly behind last year's pace, the good news from this past month served to keep new housing numbers on par with what was the best year for new-home starts in more than 25 years. All indications are that 2013 and 2014 will be comparable to last year.
Although consumers have become generally more cautious across Canada, optimism remains strong in Manitoba. Given the high demand for resale houses in Winnipeg, the purchase of a new home remains a sound investment.
Alberta and Manitoba now have the strongest resale markets in Canada. Given the extremely low number of listings per capita in Winnipeg, demand will continue to be high.
The renovation market also remains solid. Given that Winnipeg has the third-oldest housing stock in Canada, and the penchant for living in the 'old neighbourhood' that Winnipeggers seem to have, we continue to lead the country in intentions to renovate. More than 58 per cent of us have indicated a project on the horizon this year.
Other factors having a positive influence on the residential construction industry are population growth and interest rates. Last year, Alberta (three per cent), Saskatchewan (two per cent) and Manitoba (1.2 per cent) were the provincial leaders in population growth, all ahead of the national average of 1.1 per cent.
Mortgage rates are projected to continue at current low rates. The U.S. is not likely to change its rates until unemployment gets under control, somewhere in 2015. Therefore, rates are not likely to move much in Canada either.
Where the government and lenders have impacted new-home purchases is in the area of tightened credit conditions. Hopeful buyers, especially first-time buyers, will have to satisfy increased lender standards.
Any softening of the market on a national scale is projected to occur in the high-rise market in a couple of Canada's larger urban centres. Given that our market presents a healthy balance between single-family detached and multi-family, and that our multi-family is not dependent upon high-rise, the Winnipeg and Manitoba new home markets are projected to remain strong throughout this year.
Mike Moore is president of the Manitoba Home Builders' Association.