New home builders in Calgary were among the busiest in the country with first-time home buyers over the first three months of 2015, says a study by a Canadian mortgage provider.

Over the first quarter of the year, 31 per cent of first-time home buyers that responded to a survey by Genworth Canada say they purchased through the new home market. This was tied for second place in the country alongside the rest of Alberta, which includes all respondents in the province living outside of the Calgary area. Vancouver paced this section of the survey with 36 per cent of its respondents going the new home route.

Affordable mortgage rates have helped pave the road for first-time buyers, says Cardel Lifestyles sales and marketing manager Brad Logel. The multi-family developer has projects in Auburn Bay, Cranston, Nolan Hill, Sage Hill and Panorama Hills.

“The first time home buyer has been able to take more time and be more selective in their purchase,” says Logel. “It’s not as active as last year but there are still new condo and townhome purchasers looking to take advantage of our great offers and the extremely low interest rates. It’s one of the best times ever to purchase and with our strong locations and value we offer — things are pretty good.”

Earlier this year, the Bank of Montreal (BMO) pulled back its five-year fixed term to 2.79 per cent from 2.99 per cent. TD Bank later posted the same rate.

“It’s a long-term investment and while interest rates remain low, they know purchasing now will only benefit them in the future,” says Cody Nixon. He is the area manager for Excel Homes in the Airdrie community of HillCrest, where the builder offers townhomes and front-attached garage homes.

“For first time buyers that have their down payment saved up, previously spoken to a mortgage specialist and have pre-approvals, their timeframe to make a decision to purchase is quite short,” says Nixon. “Others that have come to see us first, take slightly longer but with all the tools and contacts that we have, we are able to lead them through this process much faster so that they don’t miss out on a great opportunity to purchase.”

While price typically steers first-time buyers in where they decide to buy, other factors come into play depending on their stage in life, Nixon says.

“For those getting out of school and starting off their careers, price was a major factor in their purchase to buy,” Nixon adds. “We have also seen a number of current renters who want to get in their first home, but have had steady work for a number of years so items like the floorplan, overall size of the home and even location of the lot or community have been important decisions for them to consider.”

First-time buyers at Cardel Lifestyles’ sales centre have their eye on an attainable price at a location that meets their needs, says Logel.

“At times like this in the market, purchasers will tend to stay away from the B or C locations, instead seeking out the best,” Logel adds. “This works well for us based on the strength of our locations and the master-planned communities they are in.”

From the first quarter of the year, condos accounted for 24 per cent of homes purchased by first-time buyers in Calgary, says the study. This is followed by 20 per cent going to townhomes, four per cent for duplexes and 49 per cent in single-family homes.

The study also showed 62 per cent of all respondents across the country had help from a spouse or partner when making their first home purchase. This was followed by 35 per cent who said they bought on their own and two per cent that got help from their parents.

Along with helping with the down payment, parents are a big part of the home buying process for rookie purchasers in other ways, says Nixon.

“We find that the parents of first time buyers see us on a second or third visit to the show home and help their children by asking questions or raising concerns that they experienced personally, in a previous build,” he adds. “However we have noticed that parents aren’t the sole source that first time buyers turn to. Social media has become instrumental in helping first-time buyers decide to purchase a new home. Referrals from friends or family, or reviews from current purchasers and homeowners hold a lot of weight in what builder they decide to build a new home with.”


-Calgary Herald

Slower economic activity influenced demand across the region in the first quarter of 2015

Slower economic activity influenced demand across the region in the first quarter of 2015. However, despite rising inventory levels, housing prices in Calgary’s surrounding areas remained relatively stable.

“A lack of recovery in oil has many concerned about their employment status and these concerns have been impacting consumer confidence in the first quarter,” said CREB® chief economist Ann-Marie Lurie. “However, on aggregate, surrounding area prices have posted some quarterly growth as some of these areas have not recorded the same level of pull-back in sales relative to inventory levels.”

Unadjusted benchmark prices for residential properties in the surrounding areas were nearly one per cent above average levels recorded in the previous quarter and 8.4 per cent above levels recorded in the first quarter of 2014. City of Calgary prices have started to retract, but it is important to note that total residential benchmark prices in Calgary recovered from 2007 highs in 2013. In surrounding areas, prices only surpassed previous highs last year.

Residential sales in surrounding areas totaled 911 units in the first quarter of 2015, a 22.7 percent decline compared to the same time last year. Meanwhile, new listings increased by 11.6 per cent and inventories averaged 1,715 for the quarter, pushing the quarterly average months of inventory to 5.65.

“With improved first quarter supply in both the city of Calgary and the surrounding areas, consumers will definitely have more housing options,” said CREB® president Corinne Lyall. “Each of the surrounding areas has their own unique dynamic, so it’s really important to consider the community and specific segment of the market that you are buying or selling in when making any real estate decisions.”

Sales in Airdrie totaled 302 units in the first quarter of 2015, a 10.1 per cent decline relative to the same time last year. Over the same period, benchmark prices in Airdrie continued to increase in the first quarter. In fact, quarterly detached prices averaged $397,867 in the first quarter, which amounts to a 0.24 per cent increase over the previous quarter and a year-over-year increase of 8.4 per cent.

Cochrane had a similar experience where quarterly detached prices averaged $445,033 in the first quarter, a 2.6 per cent increase over the previous quarter and a year-over-year increase of 12.5 per cent. Meanwhile, first quarter sales totaled 116 units at the end of March, a 35 per cent decline over the same time last year.

“Cochrane’s resale sector often has a different dynamic than some of the other surrounding areas as there is a larger share of new home sales representing total sales activity,” said Lurie. “After the first quarter, new home sales activity represented nearly 20 per cent of total sales in Cochrane, compared to 10 per cent in Airdrie and five per cent in Okotoks.”

In Okotoks, detached benchmark prices averaged $453,567 in the first quarter of this year, a 1.23 per cent increase relative to the fourth quarter of 2014 and 6.98 per cent higher than the first quarter of 2014.  During this period, Okotoks sales activity totaled 117 units, a 21.5 per cent decline compared to last year. Relative to Airdrie and Cochrane, detached properties make up the largest share of sales in Okotoks.


Canada March Home Sales Rise 4.1% on Calgary Rebound

Canadian home sales rose the most in 10 months in March, as markets in Alberta rebounded and buyers benefited from mortgage rates near historic lows.

The number of homes sold by the nation’s realtors jumped 4.1 percent from February, the Canadian Real Estate Association said, the biggest gain since May. The average sales price rose 1 percent to C$431,276 ($344,000) and was up 9.4 percent from a year ago.

Low mortgage rates and a steady jobs market have supported housing, even as policy makers warn record consumer debt burdens are a major risk to the world’s 11th-largest economy. Mortgage rates fell again this year as major lenders have been matching a Jan. 21 rate cut by Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz and as bond yields fall.

Home sales in Calgary rebounded after four months of declines, rising 12.5 percent in March. Prices in Canada’s oil capital rose 1.9 percent.

Sales in Vancouver rose 4.5 percent, while gaining 1 percent in Toronto. Prices in Toronto rose 1.8 percent on the month and 10 percent from a year ago.

-Bloomberg Business

Primed Property: Prepping an everyday condo unit for quick resale

As new buildings come onstream, adding hundreds of units into the mix, competition for buyers intensifies. That’s especially true for those who have small floorplans, since layouts don’t greatly differ from one complex to the next.

Unlike selling houses, then, the goal for high-rise dwellers is to make their place stand out and feel entirely unique.

A good way to tackle the task is to play with colour.

“People are often afraid of colour, but it can actually have a lot of impact and really add personality to a space,” says Lori Morris, owner and chief designer at Lori Morris Designs. She coaches clients to think strategically when designing, and to eschew the long-held myth that places painted white, beige or grey are inherently more eye-catching.

“A solid white wall, although soothing, lacks personality and interest,” Ms. Morris says. “People think that dark colours and patterns make spaces feel smaller, but they actually have the opposite effect. The colours and patterns add visual dimension. Your eyes play a trick on you.”

When working with clients, she advises them to layer different textures and materials throughout an area, and counsels them to get to know the proportions of each of their rooms; it’s the simplest way to know how to make them feel larger.

For open-concept condos that lack a clear delineation of space, for example, Ms. Morris suggests sellers use furniture to draw the line between common areas like living and dining rooms.

“You can place a sofa horizontally across a room with a small table behind it. When you add decorative items on top of the table it acts as a wall without being as heavy as a wall.”

This will make a buyer feel like they have enough square footage to tackle a variety of tasks, such as cooking, eating and lounging, without feeling cramped.

For units encased by windows and with limited walls, showing a seller that they can still showcase some art is also key. Ms. Morris’s advice is to hang or suspend artwork from the ceiling. This will give any layout some personality while adding in a sense of walls.

Condo dwellers should also leverage mirrors. They reflect light and help open up even the darkest of areas, like bathrooms or hallways.

“[Remember, when decorating,] it’s not the style that’s important, it’s the interesting [space you create]. Whether you like modern, traditional or classic styles, always add one featured element [to a room] that will create some interest.”

-National Post

Inspect your home’s gutters and roof

Gutters tend to bear the brunt of harsh winter weather, and come spring, gutters are in need of inspection, if not repair.

Winter winds, snow and heavy rainfall can compromise the effectiveness of gutters, which can easily accumulate debris and detach from homes during winter storms.

In addition, gutters sometimes develop leaks over the winter months. As a result, homeowners should conduct a careful inspection of their gutters in the spring, being sure to look for leaks while clearing the gutters of debris and reattaching gutters that might have become detached from the home on windy winter days and nights.

When reattaching loose gutters, make sure the downspouts are draining away from the foundation, as gutters that are not draining properly can cause damage to that foundation and possibly lead to flooding.

Much like its gutters and downspouts, a home’s roof can suffer significant damage over the course of a typical winter.

Shingles may be lost to harsh winter winds and storms, so homeowners should examine the roof to determine if any shingles were lost or suffered damage that’s considerable enough to require replacement.

Summer can be especially brutal on shingles, especially those that suffered significant damage during the winter.

If left unchecked or unaddressed, problems with damaged shingles can quickly escalate.

— Metro Creative


There may be light at the bottom of the barrel

Here’s what you do know: The low price of oil has taken Alberta’s roller-coaster economy on a downward spiral.

What you may not know is how did we get here and what happens going forward.

For some answers, here’s Todd Hirsch, chief economist at ATB Financial.

“The story of how we got here has been told repeatedly,” says Hirsch.

“The problem in 2014 and 2015 has been far too much global supply. OPEC has just finally said, ‘We’re not going to be the guardians of high prices anymore, we are no longer going to curtail our production in an attempt to keep oil prices high. We’re just going to turn on the spigots and produce as much as we can,’ and that of course has resulted in a global glut of oil accompanied with some weak demand globally.”

It could be worse, oil was $33 a barrel in 2009.

So, where do we go from here, Todd?

“The general consensus I’m hearing is that probably by summer (or) early fall, we’ll start to see OPEC’s grip on oil production start to weaken, only because Saudi Arabia is a very low-cost producer. It’s costing their government a lot of money, but in terms of cost of production, you can pretty much stick a pipe in the sand in Saudi Arabia and gasoline comes out,” says Hirsch.

“The problem for Saudi Arabia is the other 11 countries in OPEC are not all low-cost producers. Venezuala, Nigeria and Libya are very high-cost producing countries and the general consensus is, at some point, these countries start to tap out.

“When we start to see some of these OPEC countries backing off their production, then I think investors will realize that maybe OPEC’s grip on oil production is not as strong as we thought and maybe oil at $45 is way undersold (and) maybe we need to buy back a little bit of oil, and then we’ll see that oil price sort of drifting closer to maybe around 60 or 65 dollars by the end of 2015 (or) maybe a year from now.”

In the Alberta Economic Outlook Q2 2015 report from ATB, released earlier this week, Hirsch presented three Goldilocks-type oil-price scenerios, one on the low end, one in the middle and one on the high end.

“The second scenario is most probable,” he says.

“That is, West Texas Intermediate (crude) prices will average within a range of $US50 to $60 per barrel. Oil prices could fall further in the second quarter of the year and the current price volatility suggests that the bottom of the market has not yet been tested.

“However, prices should stabilize by the summer or early autumn with some gradual price improvement towards the end of the year.”

Regardless, there are some bright lights in the Alberta economy.

“Despite the severe challenges in the energy sector, many other industries in the province face much brighter prospects in 2015,” says Hirsch.

“Agriculture, forestry and tourism all benefit from lower fuel prices. The lower Canadian dollar will also help commodity exporters and tourism operators.”

– Calgary Sun.