British Columbia

March home sales start out strong but slow right down as COVID-19 hits

Metro Vancouver's housing market saw steady demand from people buying homes in March, but the small spike in sales was soon flattened by COVID-19 concerns.

'Many [Realtors] are sitting at home anxiously trying to figure out how can we help people navigate this'

'The first two weeks of the month were the busiest days of the year. The marketplace was feeling energized,' said Realtor Ashley Smith, describing a swell in demand before COVID-19 concerns hit. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Metro Vancouver's housing market saw steady demand from people buying homes in March, but the small spike in sales was quickly flattened by COVID-19 concerns.

The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV) said home sales totalled 2,524 in March of this year, a 46.1 percent increase compared to March of 2019.

But demand levelled off later in the month as fears and restrictions on gatherings began to mount.

"The first two weeks of the month were the busiest days of the year. The marketplace was feeling energized, but then of course by the middle of the month we started to see quite a slowdown," said Ashley Smith, the president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.

By then physical distancing rules had begun to take effect as concerns in B.C. around the global COVID-19 outbreak intensified. 

Sales averaged 138 per day for the first 10 days of the month, but were down to an average of 93 a day for the last 10 days, while Smith noted that many sales recorded in the month were already in progress before the province declared a state of emergency.

Home sales were in steady demand in the first two weeks of March, then slowed as the coronavirus crisis intensified in British Columbia. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Steve Saretsky, a Realtor at Oakwyn Realty, said the slowdown in the second half of the month has continued and is expected to get worse in April.

"Activity's basically come to a standstill ... new listings are down close to 50 per cent, and sales are obviously way down. They'll probably keep falling because it's a bit of a lagging indicator,'' he said.

Realtors were listed as an essential service under the provincial emergency plan to enable people to find shelter and to sell for financial reasons. Smith says there are some clients eager to restart the now essentially stalled sales system.

"Many of us are sitting at home anxiously trying to figure out how can we help our clients navigate this right now," said Smith.

She says while virtual home tours remain viable and there are buyers who will purchase properties without seeing the property in person, that clientele is limited.

The decline in sales left activity down 19.9 per cent from the 10-year average and put a hold on the recovery momentum the market had seen in recent months.

More than 4,400 properties were listed in March in Metro Vancouver, down 10.4 per cent compared to the number of listing in March of 2019, and sales were 19.9 per cent below the 10-year average for the month.

With files from Canadian Press

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