New board president predicts more balanced market in 2006

New Winnipeg Real Estate Board president Walter Boni is “cautiously optimistic” about the prospects for the local housing market in 2006.

And, no one should be fearful that the housing market’s bubble is about to burst, he said.

“There’s no housing bubble to burst,” added Boni.

He said the recent phenomenon of annual MLS® sales over $1 billion are here to stay.

“We won’t see a market slowdown, although there’s the possibility of a more balanced market this year,” Boni said.

“Certainly, there are signs of a robust market,” he added, citing sales figures released by the WREB for the first two weeks of January.

From January 1 to 15, listings, sales and dollar volume were all well ahead of last year’s pace for the same period.

Boni also indicated the strength in the marketplace has seen several properties on MLS® already obtaining multiple offers and selling over their list price.

“For 2006,” said Boni, a REALTOR for 23 years, “the leading indicators are all very positive. Inflation is under control, there are new jobs and interest rates are very low.”

Boni, who is an alternate broker  operating exclusively with RE/MAX Professionals as a salesperson, said even the recent rate hike of a quarter percentage point by the Bank of Canada cannot impact the strength of the housing market.

“They’re (interest rates) still very low,” said Boni. “They would have to rise significantly before they would have an impact.”

A good sign for the market early on in the year is that supply is starting to catch up with demand, he commented.

The BA graduate from the University of Manitoba said it still too early in the year to show that the first month results are indicative of a trend for 2006.

“You never know what change may be in the wind,” he said.

So far, the trend seems that most homes sales are in the $130,000 to $170,000 range, Boni added.

In the past, the majority of home sales were typically under $100,000, and while this price range still makes up a significant portion of the market, it continues to lose ground to the upper price ranges.

But, despite the climb into the higher price ranges, Boni said Winnipeg remains among Canada’s most affordable housing markets.

In fact, a recent report released by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy on the major housing markets in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada found that Winnipeg tied for third with Indianapolis in having the most affordable housing markets among these countries. Winnipeg was only preceded by Buffalo and Rochester in the U.S.

Among Canadian cities ranked in the Second Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey by Pavletich Properties Limited, Edmonton and Quebec City tied for 14th place was was well below Winnipeg’s ranking.

“We’ve seen some price increases in recent years, but we’re still very affordable in Canada.

“Prices may be higher than what we’re used to, but on a world-wide scale, we’re very affordable.”

Boni said the condominium market is also undergoing its own surge in popularity, and remains among the most affordable housing types despite recent price increases. He said in one instance he had 10 showings in one day for a condo listed at $120,000.

“That’s kind of interesting (the low-end price range) and where the big increase will take place over the next 10 years,” said Boni. “People want to go into affordable condos, not just the high-end ones.”

The only brake on the condo market is availability, he added. “There could be a lack of choice out there until new lower-priced units can be built.”

The shortage of serviced land for new housing also could impact the resale market, the WREB president said. New subdivisions such as Waverley West have to come online quickly to relieve the pressure placed on the existing housing market.

“I’ve clients who’ve given up on the new home market (and have turned to the resale market), because they can’t find anything,” said Boni.

Boni also said board members are looking at ways to better serve their clients.

“People want information as accurately and quickly as possible.

“As per the WREB’s 2006 strategic plan, I am committed to encouraging and helping our REALTOR members adopt more productive technology that will make them more effective and efficient in delivering client services,” said Boni, who chaired the board’s technology committee from 2000 to 2003 and was its vice-chair in 2004 and continued to serve as an active member of the committee in 2005.

“We are no different that the Wal-Marts of the world. We as an industry will always put customers first, but at the same time will invest significant time and dollars into technology that can provide them with excellent professional support and value-added services.”

Boni said the WREB has already been promoting labour-saving and high-speed interactions such as accessing MLS® information on REALTORS’ BlackBerrys and cellphones.

“This gets the information into the hands of buyers and sellers very quickly.”

Boni said the board is also investigating wireless technology. 

“It doesn’t get much faster than that,” he added.