Calgary could see sideways real estate market this year

by Neil Sharma on 29 Jan 2021

Calgary’s housing market followed a countrywide trend during the second half of 2020 when it defied the economically calamitous effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and more of the same can be expected this year.

“It is expected some of the momentum recorded at the end of 2020 will continue into 2021, fuelled by exceptionally low lending rates and pent up demand,” Ann-Marie Lurie, the Calgary Real Estate Board’s chief economist, said in a statement. “While sales are expected to rise by nearly 5% on an annual basis in 2021, persistent economic challenges are expected to prevent stronger growth in our housing market.”

Indeed, the city is beset by record-high unemployment—the pandemic compounded existing employment struggles that began with the oil and gas sector’s downturn in 2014—but its housing market performed above expectations in H2-2020. Perhaps, then, a 5% boost in sales activity is a positive development given the circumstances.

“I think if we’re flat in 2021 compared to 2020, we should be happy,” Croft Axsen, owner of Dominion Lending Centres Jencor Mortgage Corporation in Calgary, told CREW. “Unemployment in Calgary is high, whether because of COVID—which caused high unemployment in the restaurant, entertainment and transportation sectors—or oil and gas. There are a lot of vacancies in high-rises downtown that used to be filled with oil and gas engineers. Unemployment is a problem.”

However, few listings and, in general, low supply have buoyed the market. It might also be what’s prevented prices from decreasing in a city that was struggling with joblessness even before the pandemic triggered lockdowns across the country in March.

“It’s a normal market for people selling as long as their homes are priced properly,” said Axsen. “A lot of people are selling their houses for less than they paid for them, especially if they bought pre-2014. You can get a home for under $600,000-700,000, but it’s about listings and supply keeping the market relatively balanced, and that’s reflective of the interest rates. For a lot of people, if they renewed at 14% or 15% like they did in the 1980s, we’d be seeing a different situation than we are with people renewing at 2%.”

Although there isn’t much to celebrate about Calgary's economy, the city’s housing market has just come off its two strongest quarters in years. But headwinds will nevertheless persist, warns Axsen.

“The last two quarters of 2020 were good, relative to the previous three or four years, but we’re still much below our long-range averages of past years, so it’s still a recessionary environment here.”

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