Building more homes could be the answer to our current lack of housing inventory

By Peter Squire

The weather in Manitoba is finally starting to warm up and so are housing starts.

Similar to seeing a quick and robust start to the year for MLS® sales in the Winnipeg Regional Real Estate Board’s (WRREB) market region, housing starts in Manitoba were out of the gates quickly with 656 starts this year versus 501 in January 2020 according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). Housing completions are that much better with 839 ready to be occupied compared to 374 in January 2020. Though if you just look at single dwelling types for starts and completions for January 2020 there were a few more starts the previous year and completions were slightly higher. 

Nevertheless, seeing more construction activity is good news for the Canadian and Manitoba economies. According to the Canadian Home Builders’ Association’s latest Residential Construction in Canada economic impact report — which draws statistical information from Statistics Canada and CMHC — residential construction creates 1.3 million jobs, $83.1 billion in wages and $142.6 billion in investment value. Manitoba’s total investment value in residential construction is $4.6 billion and results in 42,000 jobs.

Of the total Canadian investment value, renovations and repairs makes up nearly $85 billion, and in a city like Winnipeg — which has the third oldest housing stock in the country — improving and perhaps replacing aging housing stock with new homes is a fact of life. Just check out a home repair and supply outlet on the weekend. In fact, the Manitoba Home Builders’ Association (MHBA) says Manitobans, on average, spend more money on renovations than anywhere else in the country and consistently spend more on renovations than on new homes. An indicator of how active Manitobans have been in this regard is residential building permits increasing 35% from July 2019 to July 2020.

In terms of WRREB’s MLS®, while it is the main repository of resale listings, new homes certainly are marketed and transacted by REALTORS® on the multiple listing service system. Just check out the 2020 record-shattering year where MLS® sales were up 17% to over 16,000 and $4.9 billion in dollar volume with new homes contributing to the total.

To no ones’ surprise, new emerging neighbourhoods in Winnipeg figure prominently with the Waverley West MLS® area having 43% of its total sales representing new residential property types. They include single-family, condo, townhouses and a few vacant lots. Sage Creek is another Winnipeg neighbourhood with 21% new, and outside Winnipeg towns such as St. Adolphe (26%),  Niverville (25%) and Oak Bluff (28%) experienced healthy new residential property type sales numbers. The City of Winkler was at 23%.

It is also worth noting the Steinbach MLS® area (which includes Steinbach and surrounding communities) — which was the most active one of all WRREB’s geographically-defined MLS® boundary areas in 2020 with close to 900 MLS® sales — had 111 vacant land sales. Blumenort had 29 of them and they were all new residential building lots.

Clearly, with a current MLS® market challenged by too few listings to meet current demand, especially for single-family homes, new builds will be critically important to addressing this shortage. This is the case across Canada. As the headline to the Canadian Real Estate Association’s (CREA) CEO Michael Bourque’s editorial in the Globe & Mail this month states, “We need to start swinging hammers to make housing affordable for Canadians.” Bourque speaks for the need to increase our supply of homes which Canadians place as a high priority in pandemic times.

The timing is good with spring just around the corner and MHBA commencing its annual Parade of Homes with 99 new homes on display for Manitobans to check out. Lots of great ideas come out of these visits and may well be a catalyst to new renovation plans and projects to building your dream home. REALTORS® specialize in new homes as well as resale, so call them up to get their advice on what your options are with respect to both. Go to and click on Parade of Homes to find all the entries this spring. Besides Winnipeg, places like Brandon, East St. Paul, West St. Paul, Headingley, La Salle, Oak Bluff, Grande Pointe, Stonewall and St. Adolphe all have show homes for you to see.

Please keep in mind the following message from Lanny McInnes, MHBA’s President and CEO:

“This Spring Parade of Homes will have to be a bit different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our builder members have put measures in place to make the visiting experience during the Parade of Homes as safe as possible for their guests and their staff. These measures are in place to ensure that anyone visiting our builders’ show homes are doing so as safely as possible.

“Masks or face coverings are required to be worn by anyone visiting a show home. All visitors will be required to answer prescreening questions and to sanitize their hands upon entering a home. Show homes are frequently sanitized and access to show homes is limited to ensure proper social distancing takes place while you are visiting the show homes. Parade show homes are available to visit by booking an appointment with the builder outside of the Parade hours.”

If you haven’t had any luck finding an existing home to call your own, consider building a new home. A REALTOR® is always ready and willing to help, and can guide you through every step of the the custom home building process.

Peter Squire is the Winnipeg Regional Real Estate Board’s Vice-President, External Relations & Market