As spring market swells, anxious home buyers are holding back, Toronto realtors say

Just one day before the Toronto Real Estate Board releases its April numbers, some agents are reporting that as the number of listings swell, buyer anxiety is up and fewer people are willing to wade into bidding wars.

Realtor says 'a lot of buyers are pulling back because they think the market might fall'

Some Toronto real estate agents are reporting a change in Toronto's real estate market as more listings are posted and bidding wars become more infrequent. (Graeme Roy/Canadian Press)

"Lull," "calm," and "slow" are three words you probably wouldn't expect to hear as a description of the Toronto housing market.

But after a winter which saw home prices in the Greater Toronto Area rise by 33.2 per cent year-over-year in March and horror stories of frenzied bidding wars, they're exactly the words some Toronto real estate agents are reaching for, as the Toronto Real Estate Board prepares to release its April numbers on Wednesday.

Part of that, they say, can be chalked up to the influx of listings that normally come during the spring.

"Once the flowers come out, a lot more listings come out," explained real estate agent Danyelle Boily.

Boily said that more choice, combined with some "burnout" for buyers who have been watching "crazy bidding wars" over the last few months has resulted in what she describes as a "wait and see mood."

"It's still a true sellers' market; it's just right now there's a little bit of a lull. There's less showings when there's typically been more and there's not a zillion offers on offer night. But prices are not sinking down," she said.

This Brampton home sold in February after drawing 532 showings and 82 offers, but some real estate agents say frenzied bidding wars are becoming less common. (Frank Leo Re/Max West Realty)

Is this the 'Fair Housing Plan' in action?

Less than two weeks ago,  Premier Kathleen Wynne's government rolled out its answer to the province's spiking home prices, the Ontario Fair Housing Plan.

One of the plan's marquee measures was the introduction of a 15 per cent tax on home purchases by non-resident foreigners in Toronto and the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

So could Wynne's measures already be having an impact?

Not likely, said broker John Pasalis, arguing that the foreign buyers' tax ultimately affects too small a group to make a difference.

"There's so many exemptions, the people who would qualify to have to pay, it is a really small number," he said.

Two other real estate agents, Desmond Brown and former Toronto Real Estate Board president Richard Silver, said they thought the government's choice of roll-out date was carefully calculated to appear effective. 

"I think the government timed the announcement with the spring market so they could take credit for a slowdown," said Brown.

The effect of 'seller and buyer' psychology

Pasalis said he believes that the provincial announcement on April 20 has affected "seller and buyer psychology" more than anything.

Some realtors believe Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was being tactical when she rolled out new measures in late April to cool Ontario's overheated housing market. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

"The new listings surge started in mid-March, and we think part of that was driven by people worried if these new provincial changes were going to cool our market," he said.

Meanwhile, he said, "a lot of buyers are pulling back because they think the market might fall. They're worried about bubbles … so there's a lot of uncertainty on the buying end."

That makes now a good time to buy if you're looking, said Pasalis. 

"Four weeks ago every house that was listed on the market had an offer date and on their offer date they'd have between five and 20 offers," he said. 

Now, though, "there's lot less stress because there's not as many offers."

That could change in the months to come, he said, due to a strong "herd mentality" in the real estate market.

"When buyers see other buyers step back, they step back, when prices jump up, they jump back in."

What's coming down the pipe?

Where real estate agents disagree, however, is on whether calmer conditions will last.

For Boily, the right time to get out there and look at houses is "right now, this week" to take advantage of an environment where bidding wars are less likely.

John Pasalis, president of Realosophy, a Toronto real-estate brokerage, has noticed anxiety in both buyers and sellers this spring. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

But broker Jamie Johnston said it could be better to wait longer.

He points to ominous rumblings from mortgage lender Home Capital — the company's shares plunged by 65 per cent last week — as a possible market force that could cause conditions for certain buyers to further improve.

"It's spooking the mortgage market, and rates are starting to creep up. I think that's a bigger story than the provincial government," he said. "That's going to have a much bigger impact on the market," he said.

"We told all of our buyers in the spring, don't buy now, wait until fall."

Financial trouble at mortgage lender Home Capital could affect the Toronto real estate market, said real estate broker Jamie Johnston. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly said home prices in Toronto had risen 33.2 per cent in a month. In fact, prices in the Greater Toronto Area rose 33.2 per cent from March 2016 to March 2017.
    May 02, 2017 5:57 PM ET