HIGHER INTEREST RATES AND TIGHTER LENDING RULES HAVE DONE LITTLE TO COOL HALIFAX’S RESIDENTIAL REAL-ESTATE MARKET
When Nick Allen and his girlfriend decided last year to buy a home, they thought they knew where they were going to buy. The plan was the Woodlawn area of Dartmouth, as they had both grown up there and their parents still lived there. Once they began searching, they found the houses in the area were smaller than they were looking for, would require more renovations than they wanted, and they knew they’d have to buy a car to get around. They broadened their search.
For the previous five years, the couple had been renting in downtown Halifax and many of their friends still live there. Allen works in project management for the city at Alderney Landing while his girlfriend works at Saint Mary’s University, so good transit service was a priority. “We didn’t want to change our lifestyle completely,” he says.
The search was soon narrowed down to two spots: north-end Halifax and Dartmouth. In both places, the prices are more affordable, the neighbourhoods are close to their respective downtowns and there’s a cool factor because of the interesting shops, restaurants, and breweries.
For Allen, one of the main reasons they chose Dartmouth was the price. While they paid $260,000 for their home on Thistle Street, he says they didn’t see anything for less than $300,000 in the Hydrostone.
Dartmouth has been an it place for a number of years and isn’t showing signs of slowing down. “It’s definitely a vibrant, booming community, in particular for young families,” says real estate agent Colleen Ryan. “There’s great schools over there, there’s great amenities, there’s parks, fabulous restaurants, local brewpubs.”
For people pondering whether to get in the market, some interesting trends and developments are at play.
The number of listed resales in the Halifax Regional Municipality increased 5.5% in 2017 to 5,413, according to data
from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Katelyn MacLeod, a CMHC market analyst for Nova Scotia, anticipates similar growth in 2018 because of strong economic factors, such as a growing population in Halifax, stable employment, and growing average weekly earnings.
At the same time, the number of MLS listings dropped from January 2017 to 2018, from about 3,800 to 3,200, says real-estate agent Don Ranni. This means fewer options for potential home buyers. “I don’t think they can wait as long as they have been waiting in the past to make a decision because the inventory is down,” he says.
Ryan says this January and February have been her busiest in years, which makes her bullish about 2018. “It feels like a spring market already,” she says.
While 2018 has been shaping up to be a good year in Halifax, there are some market forces expected to cool demand. On Jan. 1, new guidelines by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), Canada’s top banking regulator, went into effect. The so-called stress test now means buyers who put down a down payment of at least 20% will be tested to see if they could pay their mortgage if interest rates increased.
Previously, the stress test only applied to people putting down less than 20%. MacLeod says this might impact some buyers, but says the increase in average weekly earnings may help offset that. As well, she says the full effect of this won’t likely be felt until the second and third quarter of the year because that’s when the largest numbers of real estate transactions typically place.
Another concern has been interest rates that have creeped up in recent years and are expected to continue increasing in 2018 and 2019, says a CMHC housing market outlook published in the fall of 2017.
Ryan says the consensus among realtors she’s spoken with was interest rates would have an impact on sales, but that hasn’t quite turned out to be the case. “If anything, it doesn’t seem to have slowed down,” she says.
Even with these factors, MacLeod says homes in HRM are still relatively affordable. For 2017, the average resale price was a little under $293,000, a 2% increase over the previous year. “If you look at the resale market overall, last year a little over 60% of sales were priced under $300,000, so there are still many affordable options out there for buyers,” she says.
For Jill Turtan, she agrees with the assessment that housing prices here are reasonable. She and her husband are originally from B.C. and moved to Halifax in August 2016. “We’re from Vancouver and nobody can afford to buy there,” she says. While the couple budgeted $500,000 for their home purchase, they were pleasantly surprised when they went 22% below their budget and spent $390,000 on a home in the Colby Village area of Dartmouth last year.
As an accountant, she especially has an appreciation for that. She also says rising interest rates weren’t too big of a concern. “It’s higher than it’s been, but relative to most other debt you could have, it’s quite a bit lower, so it didn’t really affect us all that much, especially the fact we ended up going well below our budget,” says Turtan.
In what might seem like a contradictory comment, Ryan says now is a good time for both buyers and sellers to enter the market. She says with fewer MLS listings (and thus less competition), sellers have a better shot at getting close to their asking price for a home. For buyers, she sees now as being the right time to jump in. “If you’re ready to buy, now is a good time to buy before that momentum picks up. You’re getting ahead of the curve … the feeling is things are going to get more and more heated and excited,” says Ryan.