COVID-19 dampens surging Ottawa housing market in March: OREB

housing market

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be slowing activity in Ottawa’s housing market, which seemed primed to continue surging in the first few months of the year.

The Ottawa Real Estate Board reported Friday that its members sold 1,525 homes in March, a marginal bump from the same month a year ago. While sales in the residential property class were up 3.3 per cent year-over-year, condo sales were down 5.1 per cent, with only 355 properties changing hands last month.

Though the overall numbers appear to show stability in the market, March’s steady figures follow a record February that saw Ottawa’s realtors sell more homes than in any other month in the past 15 years. OREB president Deborah Burgoyne said in a statement Friday that it’s clear March’s figures were dampened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to wreak havoc on the international economy.

“Our results show that the Ottawa real estate market seems to have withstood the pressure of a worldwide economic event in March, however in context with our market’s performance up to this point, we can see the underlying effect,” Burgoyne said. 

Before the pandemic, monthly unit sales were increasing between 10 and 16 per cent compared with 2019, while March’s sales were just on par with a year ago, she said. 

“This is an indicator that there has been a slowdown in the real estate market due to COVID-19.”

She added that much of March’s activity likely took place in the first half of the month, before COVID-19’s impacts were widely felt in Ottawa and physical distancing restrictions were put into effect. Realtors had a “head start” on the spring market, Burgoyne noted, which could have set March up to be a banner month in Ottawa’s residential real estate market.

While the pandemic might have had a dampening effect on the volume of transactions last month, overall prices saw no such decline.

The average sale price of a condo in Ottawa last month soared 27.3 per cent year-over-year to $369,311. On the residential side, average sale prices came in at $559,739, an increase of 16.5 per cent from a year ago.

The number of new listings on the market was below the five-year average last month, with 1,579 new residential listings and 469 for new listings for condos. 

Burgoyne said she couldn’t definitively say whether the dropoff in listings was directly connected to COVID-19 or whether the persistent supply issues in Ottawa’s housing inventory are to blame. She noted that April would likely be a more accurate representation of the pandemic’s impact on the local housing market.