British Columbia

B.C. home sales levels 'back to normal'

The British Columbia Real Estate Association reports that while total sales have declined in the past year, the province's housing market now mirrors the 15-year historic average.

Last year's sales were 'unsustainable,' says economist

Total housing sales have declined in Vancouver, but according to the British Columbia Real Estate Association, sales numbers are up on Vancouver Island and in the Okanagan. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Despite regional variations, home sales across the province returned to a historic average level for January, according to the British Columbia Real Estate Association.

Sales have slowed in the Vancouver housing market due in part to policy initiatives such as the foreign buyers tax and tighter credit regulations for first time home buyer, but the BCREA reports that sales on Vancouver Island and in the Okanagan are trending above average.

All told, 4,487 homes were sold in British Columbia in January, 2017, according to the BCREA's figures, down from 5,831 sales the previous year, a 23 per cent drop.

Cameron Muir, the association's chief economist, said the decline in home sales in the Vancouver area may seem large, but last year's sales levels were at a record high.

"When we look at home sales last month across the province, they were down 23 per cent compared to January of last year, but we have to remember that we were coming off of record levels in Vancouver at that time," said Muir.

Last year's sales 'unsustainable'

Home sales peaked in January 2016, during a period of 'white hot' consumer demand across most of the southern half of the province.

According to Muir, total provincial sales have since returned to normal levels after reaching an 'unsustainable high a year ago.'

"Since then home sales have come back down to more normal levels," he said. "In fact, the sales levels this January more mirror the 15-year average."

In 2017, sales have already declined in Vancouver and Muir expects to see similar market cool downs in Kelowna and Victoria in the near future.

Tom Davidoff, economics professor at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, said that the composition of the market has changed.

"Affluent foreign buyers largely pulled out of the Vancouver market,"  Davidoff told CBC's B.C. Almanac guest host, Michelle Eliot, adding that in comparison, the condo market has heated up.

Davidoff said it is too soon to assess the impact of the first-time home buyers loan program, which the province introduced in December 2016, but he said it could be attributed to the 'uptick' in condos and multi-unit sales.

Muir predicted home sales are likely to increase due to a strong provincial economy and job growth in metro regions.

With files from B.C. Almanac and Farrah Merrali.

For the complete interview click on the audio labelled B.C. housing sales levels 'back to normal'.