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COVID-19 slowed down Vancouver real estate sales, but not its prices

Demolition of single family homes in Greater Vancouver and building high and low rise condos.

Vancouver real estate had its quietest April in nearly four decades as coronavirus put the typically busy spring market into slow motion. But that doesn’t mean opportunist buyers got discounts in Canada’s highest-priced city.

The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV) says 1,109 properties changed hands in April 2020 — a 39.4 per cent decrease from April 2019. It’s also 62.7 per cent below the 10-year April sales average and the lowest total for the month since 1982.

The 56 per cent drop compared to March of 2020, when 2,524 homes were sold, is even more dramatic.

Steve Saretsky, realtor and author of real estate blog Vancity Condo says the plunge in sales only tells one part of the story.


“Obviously that was somewhat balanced out with a huge plunge in new listings. But overall, months of inventory for sale nearly doubled,” Saretsky told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“While price movements are hard to gauge in a low volume environment, I would say on average there was some minor price discounting.”

Listings fell to 2,313, a 59.7 per cent drop compared to the 5,742 homes listed in April 2019. They fell 47.9 per cent compared to 4,436 listings in March 2020.

Realtors are an essential service in Vancouver, but lockdowns mean they’ve been forced to get creative with technology to do their jobs.

No relief for buyers

Despite ongoing concerns about the economy and millions of Canadians out of work, the average price of a home in Vancouver went up 2.5 per cent compared to April 2019 and a 0.2 per cent from March 2020. The average price of a home in Metro Vancouver is $1,036,000.

Paul Kershaw, UBC professor and founder of Generation Squeeze, says the rising prices as sales fall is worrisome.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, our entire economy has been upended, our housing system has been hit with a massive shock, and no one knows where all of this will go,” Kershaw told Yahoo Finance Canada.

After a brief pause following stricter rules around mortgages and foreign ownership, most major markets were rallying before COVID-19.

Rising home prices have been a massive source of wealth for Canadians over the years and a big part of their financial future, including a source of funds for retirement. Kershaw says the trend has pushed housing out of reach for many.

“if we want a future where all Canadians can afford a good home – including our kids and grandkids – we must unravel this preexisting catch-22,” said Kershaw.

“We need to make it so that no Canadian relies on gains in housing wealth to feel secure, and we need to rethink the policies that – by encouraging the financialization of housing – push the cost to buy or rent a home even further out of reach.”

Vancouver, along with Toronto, consistently rank among the world’s most overpriced housing markets.

Jessy Bains is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jessysbains.

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