Fort McMurray's housing market sees uptick in sales but prices still lagging

Bright spots are appearing in Fort McMurray’s housing market after a devastating wildfire and historic low oil prices sent the market tumbling, local realtors say, but housing prices are haven’t recovered.

Fort McMurray closes 2017 with higher home sales but the average home price has dropped by 12 per cent

A 'for sale' sign on a lot in the Fort McMurray subdivision of Waterways. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Bright spots are appearing in Fort McMurray's housing market after a costly wildfire and historically low oil prices sent the market tumbling. But housing prices have yet to recover. 

Before oil prices tanked in 2014, Fort McMurray was a notoriously hot housing market.

Realtor Lance Bussieres remembers those days. Back then, he could barely keep a house on the market for a couple of hours before getting several offers.

"It was very busy," Bussieres, co-owner of ReMax Fort McMurray, said. "There were times where you would list a house and you would have two or three offers — if not that evening, the next day."
Realtor Lance Bussieres, co-owner of ReMax Fort McMurray. (David Thurton/ CBC)

"People were literally leaving the house and writing offers in the driveway."

Bussieres said he knew the housing bubble would eventually burst and unleash a number of properties on the market that would be tough to move.

But Bussieres said Fort McMurray's market is showing signs of rebounding.

This year, the oilsands capital is on track to sell more residential units than in 2016 and possibly more than in 2015, he said.

As of Nov. 30, more than 909 residences were sold in Fort McMurray, Bussieres said. That's up from the 800 sold in 2016, and is closing in on the 932 dwellings sold in 2015.

Bussieres said higher housing sales suggest there's still interest in Fort McMurray and people still want to move to the oilsands capital.

'Would be nice to break even'

But Bussieres cautioned that the rosy outlook doesn't look the same for housing prices.

Michael Mack has had a 'for sale' sign in the window of his three-bedroom trailer in the Fort McMurray subdivision of Waterways for about three weeks.

Michael Mack has been trying to sell his three-bedroom trailer for three weeks. He's not optimistic about the market. (David Thurton/ CBC)

He wasn't happy when one realtor asked him and his wife to list their home for around $200,000. They bought it for about $370,000 in 2013 and were hoping to at least match that.

"We've had two calls. Nothing serious," Mack said. "It would be nice to break even."

Average home price: $573,726

Andrew Weir is president of the Fort McMurray Real Estate Board. He said the area's housing market could be at a turning point after a prolonged market correction period that started a couple of years ago.

But Weir said it is still a buyer's market and home sales are down over the long term.

Weir said condos and trailers are having a tough time selling in this market. Many owners still balk at cutting their sale prices to realistic rates, he said.

President of the Fort McMurray Real Estate Board Andrew Weir. (David Thurton/ CBC)

"People that got in when the market was at its peak, they are certainly down," Weir said.

According to the Fort McMurray Real Estate Board's latest statistics, the average sale price for a single-family home in October was $573,726. That's down 12.2 per cent from the same time last year.

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter and email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca


David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.