Truly remarkable year for real estate

It truly has been a remarkable year for sales and dollar volume through the Winnipeg Real Estate Board’s MLS®.

Barring any unforeseen development, MLS® sales will be the highest on record by the end of the year. There is even a good chance that MLS® sales will reach or eclipse the 12,000 mark. MLS® sales only need to surpass 11,903 to beat out the previous best year which was in 1987. As of December 13, total MLS® sales were sitting at 11,800, so Santa should have many new addresses to keep track of when he comes to town.

It is a forgone conclusion that dollar volume will be in excess of $1.6 billion by the end of 2005. As of December 13, it was just $20 million shy of this mark. Last year had been the highest dollar volume ever in the board’s history at $1.36 billion. 

Year-to-date MLS® sales are up five per cent, while dollar volume continues to soar at an impressive rate of 20 per cent.

An indicator of the dollar volume rise in 2005 is the percentage change in the various residential-detached price ranges. For the first time ever, the price ranges that fall under $100,000 made up only 30 per cent of total sales. For the same period last year, they made up 36 per cent of sales. Going back to 2000, sales represented almost two-thirds, or 63 per cent, of all sales. 

All price ranges over $100,000 in 2005 experienced sales percentage increases with the most active category being from $130,000 to $159,999, which made up 21 per cent of total sales. The second most active price range was $100,000 to $129,999 at 18 per cent. This range had the most activity in 2004 with 21 per cent of all sales.

Total residential-detached sales have gone over 9,000 with a dollar volume in excess of $1.30 billion. The highest year-to-date house sale was $1.4 million and the average days on market for all sales was 23 days. Sales at or above list price will fall slightly under 50 per cent by year end and the conversion of sales to listings will end up around the 80 per cent mark — a level considered exceptionally good.

This year’s dollar volume will become WREB’s new benchmark. Without knowing entirely what will happen in 2006, there is no question this year is a tough act to follow. However, maybe there’s a chance to surpass $2 billion in MLS® dollar volume.

Other initiatives

Despite listings increases in the teens, this year’s buoyant market conditions made it challenging to find enough supply. As a result, the board spoke out early in support of developing Waverley West. Current housing demand warrants adding new residential lot supply in southwest Winnipeg, and home buyers need options. 

Failure to address their basic desires will have a negative impact on the existing resale market. While backing this contiguous new subdivision, there was also a clear acknowledgement that opportunities for inner-city infill are also needed. Both infill and new housing need to be part of a healthy housing mix. It is not an either/or choice.

The board-led Housing Opportunity Partnership, or HOP, did its part for inner-city housing by contributing nine newly-refurbished homes in the West End and Centennial neighbourhoods. Since it began in earnest in 1998, HOP has invested over $3 million in inner-city housing renewal and has helped nearly 60 families realize their dream of homeownership. 

The West End MLS®  area, where HOP has concentrated the majority of its efforts, has seen its average house sale price rise from a low of $24,000 in 1999 to just under $60,000 this year — a 150 per cent increase over six years is very significant.

A clear benefit from this increase is to allow infill housing to become more feasible. In fact, HOP hopes to build a new infill home on a lot it acquired, following the demolition of the derelict home on the lot. 

The Spence Neighbourhood Association has also been actively pursuing infill housing in the West End and are enjoying some success. HOP has always seen itself as a catalyst for others to reinvest in the West End,  and, since new infill is being built, there is a positive sign of a turnaround in the area’s housing.

A nice way to finish off HOP’s year is by having two families realize their homeownership dreams by moving into completely refurbished homes in the Centennial neighbourhood. 

A new housing initiative was raised by Lorne Weiss, chair of the Manitoba Real Estate Association Political Action Committee, at a recent breakfast meeting with Premier Gary Doer, which was jointly sponsored by the Winnipeg Real Estate Board and the Manitoba Real Estate Association. The initiative’s goal is to set up a program that will help aboriginals access homeownership opportunities in off-reserve areas across Manitoba. 

There is no reason that the example of HOP in Winnipeg’s inner-city neighbourhoods cannot be effectively used to help target an aboriginal housing program.

It was also encouraging to hear Premier Doer acknowledge in his breakfast speech that education property taxes are too high. However, it remains to be seen how quickly his government will move to find ways to shift education taxes off property. Most Winnipeggers currently pay at least half of their total property tax bill toward education funding.

A major concern Lorne Weiss brought to the premier’s attention was property reassessment. In the past, school boards have not lowered the mill rate to soften the impact of the property value assessment increases. The current 2006 reassessment shows an average increase on residential properties in Winnipeg of 23 per cent. If school boards leave the mill rates the same, or even increase them the following year as has been the case in the past, Winnipeg property owners are in for major property tax increases.