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Ottawa real estate in the age of COVID-19: Bidding wars still, but a reckoning is near

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By rights, Ottawa’s real estate industry should be flat on its back. It’s a sector that relies heavily on buyers with secure jobs, direct personal contact and confidence in the future.

Yet, despite all the pernicious effects of social distancing, including lost jobs, shrinking wages and disappearing revenues in core parts of the economy, the past week has been anything but quiet.

“In the last seven days, we’ve seen 576 new listings, 119 of them in the past 24 hours,” says Bill Meyer, owner of HomeTeamOttawa, a real estate firm that markets services under the Remax Hallmark Realty banner.  “We are still in this period of pent up demand.”

Indeed, the COVID-19 virus smacked into Ottawa’s real estate industry just as it was scaling rarely seen peaks. Residential resale prices had soared 20 per cent year over year in January and February, the highest such gains in nearly four decades. Residential properties last month sold for a record average $564,000, while condos fetched nearly $350,000.

Even so, momentum will carry the sector only so far. A reckoning is coming and there’s a whiff of desperation in the air.

“We aren’t doing open houses anymore,” Meyer says, “but this market is strong because some people still have to sell. They’re changing jobs or they’ve already bought a house and need to sell to pay for it.”

It could be a much different picture once all these urgent sales clear the market.  “This could all come to a screeching halt,” Meyers observes. “I can’t imagine people listing their homes in this (COVID-19) environment unless they have to.”

Certainly working conditions have changed. The firm’s 15 agents and staff are working out of their homes. Meyers goes to the office for a couple of hours each morning and evening, when he is the only one there, and catches up with colleagues by phone or email.

Like many other real estate firms, Meyer’s company has stringent protocols in place. Agents still arrange showings, but there can be no overlap of potential buyers. Hand sanitizers or wipes must be available, and all inside doors must be kept open so no one has to touch surfaces.

Meyer on Tuesday arranged an estate sale in which all papers were signed electronically.

It’s a similar scene at Paul Rushforth Real Estate, an agency with 13 realtors. “We’ve closed our offices, but our front desk is still taking queries from home,” Rushforth says. “We’re not doing open houses, and showings (of houses) are just one person at a time.”

Rushforth says he has been surprised by the briskness of sales activity this past week, but can see underlying weakness. As with Meyer, many of his company’s new listings are from people who absolutely need the cash after buying another house earlier and fully expecting to pay for it by selling their existing home into a hot market.

So far prices are holding up, but Rushforth notes some telling patterns. “We’re still seeing bidding wars for properties,” he says, “including more than half our ten most recent deals.” But he notes that a property that might have attracted 10 bids early in March now gets just two or three. This, in turn, means sellers are not getting as much over their initial asking price. “This week we listed a property for $699,000 and it sold for $708,000,” Rushforth explains, “Two weeks ago, it would have got $770,000.”

John King, the broker manager for Engel & Völkers Ottawa Central, says he also notices the start of a shift. On Thursday evening, he fielded six offers for a property at 480 Brennan Ave., in the Hampton Park district. It sold almost immediately for $747,000, more than $100,000 over the original listing price.

On Friday, though, he was somewhat surprised to discover there were still no requests for showings for two new listings in the highly popular district of Westboro. “It’s day by day now,” King says.

For the moment, Engel & Völkers is keeping its Ottawa offices open with a skeleton staff. “There’s just one employee per floor,” King says, adding he is also making greater use of video by doing tours of his listings through Facebook. If people like what they see virtually, they can sign up for a showing in person, “one group at a time.”

The difference between what was and what will be in Ottawa’s real estate market promises to be stark.

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Real Estate

Not even real estate is immune from the impact of the coronavirus

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The novel coronavirus may have started as a health scare in China, but now that it has spread to more than 100 countries, its economic impact is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

The contagion has sent global stock markets into panic mode, with a record plunge on Monday and soaring volatility ever since.

Housing markets in Canada and Australia, however, appear undeterred by the jitters. In fact, they have even taking encouragement from recent rate cuts implemented to combat the crisis.

At the same time, home-refinance applications in the U.S. have surged by 79 per cent, as per the U.S. Mortgage Bankers Association’s refinance index.

But is real estate really immune from the impact of the coronavirus, which was officially deemed a pandemic by the World Health Organization on Wednesday?

Some real estate sectors are clearly more vulnerable than others. The surge in cancellations for tourist travel is not only affecting airlines but also hotels and others in the lodging industry.

The next week is usually one of the busiest travel seasons of the year as families travel during the March break. Already, cancellations are at an all-time high, something that is putting stress on the hotel industry, and one could see that part of the market come under pressure if conditions pressure.

Some investors, meanwhile, expect REITs to do well in times of uncertainty because, with long-term leases, landlords are likely to enjoy more stable cash flows than manufacturers and others who are more sensitive to short-term declines in the demand.

In addition to office and large retail real estate, where tenants usually have longer leases, investors are reportedly favouring purpose-built rental housing and self-storage real estate.

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Real Estate

Coronavirus is already taking its toll on Canada’s real estate market

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The real estate frenzy in Canada’s biggest markets is headed for a chill as anxiety rises over the economic fallout of the coronavirus.

A call for social distancing means far fewer people will be opening up their homes to potential buyers. 

RE/MAX wants its realtors in Ontario, the Atlantic provinces and Western Canada to cancel open houses until COVID-19 is under control.

“While almost all real estate brokerage firms have embraced digital tech and realtors are able to utilize signature platforms and other tools to conduct business, once showings, open houses and other in-person business is restricted, there will definitely be a drop off in transactions,” John Lusink, president and broker of record at Right at Home Realty, told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“We expect to see a drop in sales but this will take a month or two to filter through into the actual results.”

Buyers will also likely put their plans on hold.

“Obviously there has been an immediate pause in market activity as everyone tries to figure out what happens next,” Steve Saretsky, realtor and author of real estate blog Vancity Condo, told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“We are seeing buyers move to the sidelines and sellers put some of their listing plans on hold.” 

But that doesn’t mean the end result will be more affordable homes.

“The way I see it the housing market is basically frozen… no buyers and no sellers,” Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC Capital Markets, told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“That in a way will limit or even eliminate any notable downward risk to prices. Simply the  number of sales will go down dramatically.”

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Real Estate

6 Ottawa Homes For Sale Along OC Transpo That Are Still Kinda Affordable

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Like many big cities, finding an affordable place to live in Ottawa can be challenging, especially for new home buyers. Though one benefit of living in the capital is having access to public transportation within minutes, which in the long run, might help offset any moving expenses. So if you’re a new buyer or just looking to relocate, cheap homes for sale near transit in Ottawa are perfect for those who are always on the go.

The Ottawa Real Estate Board reported back in February that the average cost to buy a home was 21% higher than the previous year. 

Despite these growing prices, it seems that Millenials are still flocking to the area to enjoy Ottawa’s culture.

There are so many beautiful places to explore and fun things to do that it’s not hard to love where you live no matter your budget. Being close to public transit is always a plus, especially if you don’t own a car but still want to enjoy the perks of the city. 

These spots are both affordable and travel-friendly, so you can save money and still explore the area without breaking the bank.

They are also OC Transpo accessible.

From charming bungalows to three-story units, there’s a place for everyone to call home.

If you want to feel more like a royal for the day, you can check out these luxurious Ottawa homes that are basically giant spa getaways.

Pull out your Presto Card and get ready to explore the city as soon as you step out the door!

According to the Ontario Real Estate Association, the Ontario government has currently prohibited open houses during the current state of emergency. 

The Real Estate Council of Ontario states homebuyers are still able to view listings online through virtual tours and 360 walk-throughs. 

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