By Mike Baker
Following more than 12 months of feverish, non-stop activity, Haliburton County’s housing market is showing signs of slowing down according to numerous real estate agents in the area.
It has been a banner year for real estate here in the Highlands thus far in 2021, with both full-time residential and seasonal property prices spiking to record highs.
With the COVID-19 pandemic stretching on, many have looked to Haliburton County as a getaway destination of sorts, investing considerable sums to make this area their home away from home.
And while prices have gone up – around 30 per cent over the past year according to Brandon Nimigon, owner and broker of record of Century 21 in Haliburton – buyer interest seems to be subsiding somewhat as we head into the latter months of summer.
“Quite a few of my agents have said it’s been slowing down now for the past couple of weeks. We’re getting to the point now where we’re having one showing over a weekend, versus being fully booked,” Nimigon told the Echo. “Some of that, I think, has to do with the long weekends. People are enjoying themselves, versus coming up here to look at real estate, so that’s definitely making a difference.”
Nimigon believes many of the people who were desperate to get into the market and buy a home or cottage they could spend the summer in were the ones driving things a few months ago. Now that the “frenzy” is over, and with summer part way gone, the market has gone into a cooling period, something he says isn’t out of the ordinary.
Jeff Strano, an agent with RE/MAX Haliburton, held a similar opinion, saying the panic that was brought on by increased demand over the spring has certainly died down.
“Demand is still strong, but it’s certainly nowhere near what it was over the first three or four months of the year,” Strano said. “In the spring, if you had a vacant one-acre lot for sale, you could have got, say $120,000 for it. Now they’re just sitting there. They’re not selling at all. The market is kind of returning to normal. It’s the same residentially too – the odd residential property will sell over the asking price, but it’s more the exception than the rule at this point.”
Strano said he and his team have been noticeably less busy since the week before the Victoria Day long weekend in May.
When comparing statistics pulled from the Lakelands Association of Realtors, it may be difficult to identify where or what this slowdown is that agents are talking about. For the first quarter of the year – Jan. 1 to April 30 – there were 115 waterfront properties sold in Haliburton County, for a median sale price of $801,000. As of Friday, July 23, statistics for the second quarter – running from May 1 to July 31 – showed there had been 166 sales, for a median sale price of $835,000.
Residentially, during the first quarter of the year, there were 72 units sold, for a median price of $462,750. Over the second quarter, that increased to 81 sales, for a median price of $424,900.
“That just speaks to the inventory levels,” Strano informed the Echo. “There has been a little more inventory on the market, but noticeably less buyers. Whereas before, back in the spring, it was normal to get 15, 16 offers on a single property, today we’re maybe seeing one or two… The number of showings, instead of getting between 30 and 50 people through a property, we’re now seeing six to 10.
“It was bound to happen sooner or later. It’s sort of coincided with a usual lull we see in the summer, but there was no way things could continue the way they were going,” Strano added.
Anthony Van Lieshout, broker of record with Royal LePage Lakes of Haliburton believes the hyper competitive market that was present for much of 2020 and the early parts of 2021 has discouraged people from buying.
“My sense is that the consumer is becoming more and more frustrated with the multiple offers situation. A lot of time and energy goes into finding a property, and if purchases keep falling apart, it becomes frustrating for buyers,” he said.
Nimigon says potential buyers shouldn’t expect this downward trend to continue forever, and in fact he predicts things will get busy again in the Highlands come fall.
“Things are going to kick right back up again when we move into September and October, people looking to sell before winter, so there may be some opportunities,” Nimigon said. “I think the market is going to remain strong. It’s pretty typical to see a bit of a slowdown during this time. Last year was obviously an anomaly… But looking forward, I think prices will kind of maintain where they are. I don’t think we’re going to see a big jump in them.”
One of the unfortunate side effects to come out of this COVID-19 market, Strano says, is the impact it has had on first-time buyers, many of whom now find themselves totally priced out of owning a home in our community.
“I feel bad for first-time buyers. We just sold a place on Gelert Road. It was listed at $249,000, and it sold for $300,000 to a first-time homebuyer… It’s basically a cottage on piers, with plywood skirting, so she’s going to have to winterize it and do a ton of work,” Strano said. “When you look at the things [the federal] government has implemented to try to cool the market, with interest rates and stress tests, it hasn’t hurt anyone except for first-time homebuyers.
“For somebody making $20 an hour, or even $30 an hour up here now, even if you’re dual income, you’re going to be right on the edge for buying a property today,” Strano added.
A market crash aside, something local agents strongly debunk, there’s only one real solution to the problem, Strano believes.
“If people aren’t happy with what’s happening in the real estate market, they need to look to their local and federal governments and lobby them to make the necessary changes to open up more inventory and make it easier to create more property, because we have no shortage of vacant land here in Haliburton County,” he concluded.