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Homes sitting on market longer

Graham Pollock, Coquitlam NOW, September 10, 2008

The numbers are in and there's no mistaking it -- after years of unfettered growth, the Metro Vancouver housing market is starting to cool. Sales are down across the Lower Mainland -- including the Tri-Cities -- and listings are up, as more homes stay on the market longer.

But despite the predictions of some critics, who suggest the market is overstretched and headed for collapse, local industry analysts and insiders say the current downturn is simply a blip in the bigger picture.

"There's no panic. There's no big drop in prices yet," said Rudy Nielsen, president of Landcor, an independent market analysis firm. "I think everybody is sitting on their hands right now, just seeing where everything is going before they write any cheques."

David Watt, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV), said some of the slowdown in sales may be attributed to prices finally outstripping the means of many buyers.

"We have moved from it being a seller's market a year ago into clearly a buyer's market," said Watt. "It's more driven by the supply of housing that's available, relative to the number of sales that are actually occurring."

As listings spike across Vancouver, Tri-Cities homeowners and buyers have not been immune to regional trends.

According to statistics obtained from an REBGV report released last week, the number of Tri-Cities properties listed through the Multiple Listing Service has been on the rise over the past year -- a sure indication of supply outpacing demand.

Coquitlam experienced a 16.1-per-cent increase in listings of detached houses over the first eight months of this year, compared with the same period in 2007, while listings rose 11.7 per cent in Port Coquitlam and 30.8 per cent in Port Moody. Similar increases were noted in condominium and apartment listings.

Likewise, sales have declined markedly.

Sales of detached, single-family homes in Coquitlam totalled 650 from January to August 2008, down from 961 during the same period last year. Port Coquitlam and Port Moody experienced similar declines, the former falling to 295 detached home sales from 420, and the latter to 156 from 196.

While the local market appears sluggish, Tri-Cities realtor I. Pat Robinson of Park Georgia Realty believes the dip in sales is simply part of the cyclical pattern of market correction.

"If you look at the trends over the years, it goes up to a high peak and then it makes a correction," said Robinson, who has been in the business since 1971.

"I think people have to just weather the negative press, because it's going to adjust and there's always going to be people having to buy or sell. It might be a soft market right now, but it'll change."

Robinson believes the slowdown in sales is a function of sellers looking for more than what the market will bear. She says some homeowners accustomed to years of soaring prices may have to adjust their price expectations as houses sit on the market longer.

Despite the slump in sales, though, prices in most areas have not fallen off dramatically.

"In the last quarter, we've seen a little bit of price reduction, but regardless, the year-over-year values are still up," Watt said.

According to the REBGV report, benchmark prices for detached homes in Coquitlam are up 4.2 per cent over last year, while Port Coquitlam experienced a minor 0.3-per-cent increase. Only Port Moody saw prices decline, with a 10.8-per-cent drop over 2007.

However, Nielsen believes any dip in prices will be short-lived and foresees continued growth in the housing market.

"There's a correction of the market. There's probably going to be a decline in prices if people want to sell their houses or condos, but I think it's a year or a year and a half before everything starts turning around again and starts going back up."