Calgary real estate industry hopes housing start uptick the beginning of a trend

New home construction in Alberta is still below pre-recession levels but there are indicators the sector is starting to rebound, prompting optimism among some in Calgary's real estate industry.

Data shows more new homes built in March, but also more unoccupied homes than ever before

Calgary real estate agent Graeme McInnis says he's seeing signs of a rebound in home sales in some parts of the city. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

New home construction in Alberta is still below pre-recession levels but there are indicators activity is starting to rebound, according to the latest data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

At the same time, the number of completed but unoccupied new homes has reached a record high in Calgary.

Still, there is growing optimism among some in the city's real estate industry.

"We're starting to see some green shoots, I think, in the marketplace," said real estate agent Graeme McInnis, who has been noticing increased sales activity in some parts of Calgary.

"Detached homes are selling quickly and for very good prices."

After flat-lining for more than a year, housing starts province-wide ticked upward in March, which could represent the beginning of a new trend of "modest growth" in construction levels, according to a report from ATB Financial.

This graph from ATB Financial shows housing starts in Alberta over the past three years. (

"Along with other indicators such as retail sales and employment, there is mounting evidence this spring that Alberta has turned a corner on the recession and can anticipate better economic results in 2017," the report reads.

In Calgary, specifically, housing starts are up 33 per cent in the first three months of 2017 compared to the same time last year, but they remain below 2014 and 2015 levels.

"We feel like in the new home market, the resale market as well, we are seeing things turn around," said Richard Cho, a market analyst with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which tracks the housing-start data.

"The bottom was reached sometime in 2016 . And since then we have seen some improvement."

And while more are being built, the number of new homes sitting unoccupied has grown to a record level, according to the CMHC data.

That has primarily been driven by a growing glut of empty apartment-style condos.

This interactive graph shows the number of completed but unabsorbed new units, by dwelling type, over the past five years in Calgary:

Mike Wagner with Morrison Homes said the rebound has been apparent to his company, which has seen sales nearly double between March of 2016 and 2017.

"I think it's significant," he said.

"When we start seeing activity like we're getting, we have to be optimistic that the trend is the market has turned."

With files from Jennifer Lee