What do 700 realtors talk about when they get together?

To paraphrase former Democratic campaign strategist James Carville: It's the stupid economy.

That's exactly what was talked about Wednesday when members of the Realtors Association of Edmonton got together at Northlands Expo Centre for the release of the annual housing forecast.

A forecast that — because of the economy — projects an overall decline of 2.3 per cent in sales for the coming year.

The association's forecast calls for residential sales to dip below 17,000 units for the year, down from 17,298 in 2015.

Steve Sedgwick, association chair for 2016, said single-family home sales are expected to drop by 2.5 per cent, and condo sales by 2.7 per cent as the rental market eases and migration into the region slows down.

The 12-month average price for a single-family home is expected to drop by about 2.7 per cent this coming year.

Edmonton ended 2015 with a record housing inventory, with more than 5,000 homes on the market.

"It's leaning slightly towards a buyer's market," Sedgwick said, "just because of the level of inventory out there."

He said the greatest impact of the economic slump will be seen on higher priced homes on the high end of the market.

"Consumer confidence is what backs any industry in any market," Sedgwick said. "Without consumer confidence, people simply won't buy homes."

Todd Hirsch, chief economist for ATB Financial, told association members that oil will likely hover around $35 to $40 a barrel for first half of this year, with some recovery towards about $55 a barrel near the end of 2016. That in itself would help bring some stability to Alberta's economy, he said.

"I do see the Edmonton real estate market faring better than Calgary or Fort McMurray this year," Hirsch said. "It is the centre of government, health care, education — broader sectors that support employment growth in Edmonton."

John Rose, the city's chief economist, said he expects economic momentum from 2015 will carry over into the new year.

He agreed with Hirsch that Calgary and Fort McMurray have taken most of the brunt so far.

"People have to bear in mind that Edmonton is a bit of an island in the storm right now," said Rose, who projects "very modest" growth of one-half per cent to one per cent in the city's economy this year.

But Rose said if the NDP government brings in significant cuts in the provincial budget this spring, Edmonton could be hit hard.

"That is one way to get a recession here in Edmonton," he said.