It was scary, stressful, and surprising. The pandemic shook the city’s real estate scene, and it continues to ripple with rising housing prices and new rules of play.
For years, the city has avoided the kinds of hot real estate scenarios experienced by people living in Toronto and Vancouver. Realtors spoke of an overall housing shortage, but as long as prices moved steadily upward, most people expected more of the same slow rise. But the pandemic meant that individuals needed more personal space within their own bubble, whether it be a backyard or a basement. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the inventory shortage and our own need for breathing room created a scenario Charles Sezlik calls “crazy.”
“There was already a little shortage of inventory, and now everyone is looking for a bit more space,” says Sezlik, adding that in his 31 years in real estate, he has never seen the multiple-offer onslaught that agents are negotiating now.
Space is relative, of course. Someone might be moving from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom apartment; a family is feeling cramped without separate workspaces; a couple near retirement see the opportunity to accelerate their dreams. But some who might want to downsize are postponing, holding on to their garden to enjoy, given the extra hours at home.
Remote working offered people the opportunity to stop and reflect, says real estate agent Wendy Lepore. But when reflection time is over, she tells them to act fast. “When a property comes up that you are interested in, you have to go instantly. Because the market is so unbalanced, sometimes it’s less stressful for buyers to buy first.”
Another change has come by way of the unconditional offer. “Having conditions is just not an option at all,” says Sezlik.
“It is very much a seller’s market right now,” echoes realtor Catherine Swift. “Sellers can dictate all kinds of conditions, and buyers will meet them.”
Listings move fast, and the process is complicated by the realities of the pandemic.
“When we are in the busy market times and have showings booked all day, for five days straight, we find sellers find it less stressful to be away from the house,” says Rob Marland of Royal LePage Performance Marland Realty.
Indeed, social distancing meant that many families had not been inside the house together until the day they moved in. Virtual viewings have increased, especially in the luxury market. Reba Wilson of Marilyn Wilson Dream Properties, which handles many international sales, sold one house through FaceTime to a buyer in Turkey. She notes an interest in Ottawa from people in Toronto, as well as Canadians returning from abroad.
One year in, a few other key trends can be seen. Rural living is on the rise, with new and rustic abodes alike attracting everyone from young families to retirees. More people are moving in from Toronto, and trendy neighbourhoods near downtown continue to attract those committed to an urban lifestyle. Perhaps most surprising is the suburban townhome’s new position as a hot listing. With new buyers grasping to get into the market, empty nesters working from home, and everyone looking for more space, basic townhouses in Kanata and Barrhaven are selling for what we would expect from a detached house downtown — at least, according to the old way of thinking in the city’s real estate market.