It may be flying in the face of conventional wisdom, but one Brandon real estate agent suggests selling your home now in the dead of winter — don’t wait until spring.
Century 21 real estate agent Ryan Shields said inventory in the starter-home market — houses in the $200,000 to $350,000 range — is dwindling fast, with less than 20 single-family homes in that price range as of Jan. 21.
Demand in the Brandon housing market is relentless, putting a steep, upward slope on the average price of houses in the city. As a result, Brandon has broken the $200,000 threshold for the first time, according to 2012 numbers recently released by the Manitoba Real Estate Association.
The average price of a single-family home in Brandon has doubled since 2004.
"The prices are continuing to rise, not as quickly as they did a few years ago, but it is still a steady rise," Shields said.
Canadian Real Estate Association numbers show the median number of days a single detached house spent on the market in December was 20 — compared to 60 days in December 2011.
"This week alone, there was three listings that came out, that had offers on them within a couple of days," Shields said.
Shields and other real estate agents are in need of listings, and he’s urging sellers to put their homes on the market now, in what is traditionally the slowest time of year.
What’s driving these prices is the city’s growing population due in part to a second shift at Maple Leaf Foods Inc., and Brandon’s historically stable economy is seeing a promising outlook in the ag sector and residual activity from oilpatches, according to Sandy Trudel, director of economic development with the City of Brandon.
At the same time, local business leaders voiced a desire to launch a lobby group to attract more industry and big business to the community at a recent meeting between the Brandon Chamber of Commerce and Mayor Shari Decter Hirst.
The city’s long-term population outlook is still being ironed out, and Trudel shied away from making any growth predictions, but the population ballooned by 11 per cent between the 2006 and 2011 federal census years.
"All indicators show the economy is stable," Trudel said. "Indications show everything will go upward. Obviously if that happens, housing prices are going to follow."
While this continues to be good news for the city, the difference between a $100,000 and a $200,000 mortgage is huge, and Trudel admits the pressure can be challenging for some first-time buyers.
In the coming months, city council will contemplate an affordable housing strategy, targeting home ownership specifically, separate from subsidized housing.
The rental and purchasing markets are closely intertwined, Trudel said, and high house prices keep Brandon’s rental vacancy rates in the basement.
"As those housing prices climb, it creates a significant gap between successful renters and being able to transition into the marketplace," Trudel said. "As that gap grows, their ability to turn into owners obviously becomes more difficult."
Affordable housing for the city has proved to be a hot topic. In December, city council voted to ask the province to withdraw Bill 7, which gives municipalities the power to require developers to include low-income housing in new residential developments.
With the Bank of Canada’s overnight interest rates remaining steady at one per cent due to lowered national growth forecasts, borrowing is still cheap for homeowners.
And Brandon’s insulation from the country’s relative stormy economy is stoking the embers of Wheat City’s housing market.
Ryan Lamont, 27, started his business, Rylam Developments, in his late teens, beginning by renting out apartments, right when the market began its upswing.
Success led his company to build apartments, condos and detached homes. But it wasn’t until this past December that he began tapping into the city’s rabid appetite for entry-level homes.
And like other developers, Lamont can’t keep up.
In just two months, Lamont pre-sold five bi-level, 1,200-square-foot homes in the $300,000 range.
"For that market, I could have sold 15 houses," he said.
In an aggressive bid to take advantage of the demand, he’s trying to slice the condo market in two, and believes new homebuyers with eyes for a condo can settle into a classic bi-level home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and a yard priced in the same range as a condo.
"It gives you your own single-family, you’re not side by side or behind anyone else, you own your land, you’re not sharing your land, which is the best part," he said. "We’ve really tried to captivate that audience, and it’s been really good and the demand has been astronomical."