Buying or Selling a Home Over the Holidays

December is a month many people look forward to, but that might not the case if you happen to be selling your home. The Christmas period is traditionally a down time for the market as the majority of buyers hold off until the new year. For sellers in need of a quick sale, they usually do so in buyers’ market conditions and must set their expectations as such.

That’s usually how the housing market looks at this time of year, but as Zoocasa agent Jonathan Amodeo explains, there’s nothing usual about 2017.

“Generally the market is at a bit of a standstill in December — There are pros and cons, and most of the pros are on the buyer’s side,” he says.

Holiday Bargains Still Rare

While buyers normally hold a lot of the cards at this time of year, that’s not to say finding an affordable home in the Greater Toronto Area is easy. Sellers in the market are usually after a quick sale, most likely as they are trading up and require the financing for another home. That normally means a better deal for the buyer, but finding such deals is a task in itself.

“The downside for a buyer is that there just isn’t a lot of selection,” says Amodeo. “I just did a quick search of the downtown core for a two-bedroom unit under $550,000, and there were three listings.”

An Unseasonable Surge of Buyers

The holiday period, typically, is therefore not the best time to be either a buyer or seller, which is why the market usually takes a break until January. That’s usually the case, but in a year of interest rate hikes and the Fair Housing Plan, December 2017 looks like it will be somewhat different.

“This year is interesting and things are still picking up,” says Amodeo. “I have a lot of clients right now that really want to look at homes. It’s not as stagnant this year; there will be a natural lull around Christmas, but there are more buyers right now than I’ve had in the last couple of months.”

The reasoning for that is simple, prospective buyers at the start of the year didn’t change their minds – they simply waited. Summer is traditionally a hot period for the market, but with listings increasing and prices levelling out, those people wanted to see if the cost of a home would come down. That didn’t really happen, although the extreme inflation of 2016 looks to be over, and moderate growth has returned. In the most recent MLS Home Price Index, the composite benchmark price for Toronto real estate was up by 9.7 per cent on a year-over-year basis in October. Sales are picking up too, so buyers are returning to the market. In Amodeo’s opinion, it looks like this will carry into December, heating up what is traditionally a cool month for sales.

“There were so many buyers at the beginning of the year, so it was difficult for some of those people to get into the market or upgrade on what they already had,” he says. “The summer really took a dive but it’s started to pick up now and I think people are more eager to get something as they waited for so long.”

New Lending Rules Could Rush Buyers

Another factor to take into consideration is the new lending rules that come into effect in January. Those with a 20-per-cent down payment will now need to pass a stress test to qualify for financing, which will act as an incentive for some to buy before the new year rolls in.

“The new lending rules are another reason why buyers will want to lock themselves into something before January comes,” says Amodeo. “That will help sellers listing in December, whereas in previous years that wouldn’t be the case. That’s good for people who really need to sell.”

Looking at the GTA market right now, Amodeo has noticed different sentiment take hold depending on where you are. If you can see the CN Tower from your home, then it’s likely you will have plenty of potential buyers, but things aren’t so simple farther afield.

“I think it’s a fairly balanced market right now,” he says. “In the downtown core it’s attractive for both buyers and sellers. Things do sit a little longer in some areas, and then there are some listings that get snatched up on offer night right away. But they are not going for ridiculous amounts above the listing price.”

He adds: “I have been in Newmarket and Aurora recently and it’s definitely a buyer’s market. I have listing agents calling me every day to get updates to see if there is interest with my clients. Even parts of Mississauga, Pickering, Ajax – it’s a lot easier for a buyer these days.”

About Daibhead O’Ceallacháin

Daibhead O’Ceallacháin is a freelance writer from Ireland that moved to Toronto in 2010. Writing for his local newspaper, he covered real estate during Ireland’s “Celtic Tiger” era and the subsequent housing crash and financial crisis. Today he writes about real estate, finance and politics in Canada, the U.S., Ireland and England.

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