WELLINGTON COUNTY – Talk about rebounding.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March and the province went into lockdown, the real estate market in this region and across Canada came to an abrupt halt.
Deals in the works could proceed and people with pending moving dates pending could move.
But there were no open houses, no showings, and no way of knowing how long the situation would last.
“We started sewing masks,” said Sabrina Essery, president of the Guelph and District Association of Realtors (GDAG), in an interview on Dec. 30.
“Through our Realtors Care campaign, we raised money for Wyndham House and the food bank.
“Our members are a tight-knit group. We all worked together to help each other and the community.”
But when restrictions eased in May/June, “there was high demand, low interest rates and the market took off,” she said.
Visually, that translates as a big check mark in the “Resale Activity in Canada” graph provided in a report by Mortgage Professionals Canada – its fourth report on the housing market in Canada this year.
Resale activity fell sharply in April to a rate of 204,000 and surged to an all-time high rate of 675,000 from August to October.
“By contrast, looking at sales over the past 20 years, and then making an adjustment for population growth, the long-term average sales rate is about 530,000” for 2020, reads the report.
As soon as real estate was added to the essential services list, agents quickly adapted to virtual open houses, Zoom meetings and digital documents to conduct business, Essery said.
There are also strict protocols around how to conduct physical home showings, including mandatory masks and limited numbers.
“It was a new way, but we were back in business,” she said.
And business was booming.
“We started getting busy in April and July and August saw record sales.”
The pandemic forced a lot of people to work from home, prompting some to reconsider their living conditions.
Suddenly a home office was more important than the commute to work.
As well, “people in big cities like Toronto, Hamilton, and Oakville wanted to get out of dense areas,” Essery said.
On top of proximity to these larger centres, Guelph and Wellington County boast a diverse economy that includes agriculture, the University of Guelph, industry, tourism and the arts – “and this is why we ranked fifth in North America as an area to invest in,” Essery said.
“Hopefully those factors will carry us through and beyond the pandemic.”
Once it got going, it’s been a hot real estate market with sales exceeding asking prices “and multiple offers, right up to Christmas,” she said.
“If things continue, we may see a busy January as well.”
GDAG tracks how many days a property is on the market before it is sold and the data shows a sharp spike between March and April.
Home sales went from a median 11 days on the market in March to 21 days in May.
But by June homes were selling in 13 days; by August – normally a slow month – homes were selling in a median 10 days.
And by December it was seven days, she said.
Even at its worst in 2020, the market was never as slow as December 2018, when the median number of days on the market was 40.
The Mortgage Professionals Canada report indicates that while a consistent 14 per cent of Canadians continue to fear that COVID-19 could negatively affect their employment situation, significantly more feel stable enough financially to start dreaming of buying a home again.
“There has been a sharp and continuing rise in the share of Canadians who expect to (or perhaps we should say “aspire to”) buy homes,” the report states.
“It appears that COVID-19 (with the encouragement provided by extremely low interest rates) has caused many of us to evaluate our housing situations and to decide that we would like to make changes.”
Essery said the biggest difference from the March lockdown to the one we’re currently in, is that now there’s a greater sense of hope.
“At first, we were concerned. There was absolute concern across the board,” she said.
There were more unknowns than knowns.
“But technology has allowed us to continue and now we know how to use it,” she said.
“There’s always movement in the market – people need to upsize and downsize and relocate all the time.
“I don’t have a crystal ball. but hopefully these trends will continue into 2021.”