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COVID as catalyst: How real estate in Ottawa changed in 2020

When the number of residential house sales plummeted more than 50 per cent year over year last April and May, you could be forgiven for concluding this was going to be a very ugly year for thousands of Ottawa brokers.

Because price hikes slowed dramatically at the same time, you might also have seen a sliver of hope for first-time home buyers, assuming they hadn’t been punched in the gut by COVID-inspired economic lockdowns.

Remarkably, it turned out to be a very good year for brokers and a rather stressful one for anyone trying to find a house to buy at prices they once believed were reasonable.  This according to the latest data published Thursday by the Ottawa Real Estate Board.

“The number of our year to date transactions are now on par with 2019,” board president Deb Burgoyne said. “If we had more supply, sales would be even higher.”

Indeed, realtors across greater Ottawa — which includes towns within commuting distance — sold nearly 13,800 properties during the 11 months ended Nov. 30. That was up about two per cent from the same period last year.

Perhaps the bigger surprise was the 19.6 per cent surge in the price paid for residential properties, which averaged $581,100 during this period. It was a similar pattern for condominiums, which changed hands at an average $361,700 year to date, up 19 per cent against the comparable stretch in 2019.

Multiple catalysts were at play, including historically low interest rates (making for relatively inexpensive mortgages), a shortage of listings and, not least, a rush by homeowners for more space in the era of COVID-19 — whether in the form of larger home offices or physical acreage in outlying areas.

The play for more space can be seen in the detailed sales data for greater Ottawa. Year to date realtors have sold about 2,100 residential properties in 15 nearby towns for an average of $450,300. While volumes are just a bit ahead of where they were last year, prices have surged nearly 25 per cent.

This compares with a 19 per cent price gain to nearly $640,000 for residential properties inside the City of Ottawa.

Of the eight towns recording the largest price gains year to date, four were in the west (Pakenham, Braeside-McNab, Mississippi Mills and Arnprior), while two each were east (Russell, Rockland) and south (Kemptville East and Beckwith Township). Residential properties in Pakenham jumped most in price (37 per cent to nearly $500,000). Average sale prices within this group ranged from nearly $400,000 for Arnprior properties to $596,000 for rural properties in Beckwith Township, which is between Carleton Place and Smiths Falls.

The hunt for greater space was also evident within the City of Ottawa, where four of the top five real estate districts ranked by price growth were semi-rural. These included: Bells Corners and area (average price year to date was $586,000 — up 38 per cent); Greely ($704,000 — a gain of 31 per cent); Manotick and area ($866,000 — up 27.5 per cent) and Carp and area ($743,000 — a jump of 25.5 per cent).

In fact, all rural and semi-rural districts saw house price gains greater than those posted by brokers within the city, with the exception of Dunrobin, where 158 residences were sold for an average $539,000. That represented a relatively modest gain of less than 12 per cent compared to the first 11 months of 2019.

In most other years, of course, that would have been something for sellers to celebrate.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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