Writer: Ainsley Smith. Source: Realtor.ca
Ainsley is a Toronto-based editor for a real estate and urban development publication by day but works as a freelance writer and content creator by night. While her initial dive into journalism had her covering a vast range of topics including current events, politics, and local and international news, she quickly realized her true passion and calling was writing about urban living, interior design, real estate, and beautiful spaces.
The arrival of spring typically marks the start of one of the busiest seasons for the real estate market, with buyers and sellers alike eager to take advantage of the warmer weather, longer days, and fresh new listings.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a seismic shift in the way people live and work, and, understandably, the impacts are still being felt in the housing market. As a result, the traditional spring buyer of pre-pandemic times looks different from the spring buyer of today.
We asked a couple of REALTORS® about the changes they’ve seen in buyer behaviour and expectations brought about by the pandemic, and the impact they’ve seen on the real estate market this spring.
The spring real estate market: then vs. now
Before March 2020, spring home buyers would comb through the assortment of new and available listings, sellers would tackle repairs and upgrades they’d been putting off so they could get ready to list their homes, and REALTORS®would gear up for weekend open houses—pretty standard stuff. However, as we ease into a spring housing market in a post-pandemic world, buyers, sellers, and REALTORS® face unprecedented conditions.
“In Q1 pre-pandemic, the weather was often bad, and people didn’t want to list their homes for many reasons,” said Matthew Gravina, a REALTOR® in Toronto, Ontario, with Real Broker Ontario, Ltd.
“However, since the pandemic, the cyclical aspect of the market has changed. When [the COVID-19 pandemic] first hit right before the spring of 2020, people wanted more space because they wanted to work from home and to get out of the city to find alternative options to accommodate their work-from-home lifestyle.”
“It wasn’t that the spring market wasn’t a thing, but from Q2-2020 to Q2-2021 it was like we were dealing with one giant spring market. There was a plethora of listings as many people sold their homes and condos looking to get out of city centres or to accommodate their evolving lifestyles, and in turn, really high sales. It changed things,” he continued.
Over the past few months, high prices and rising interest rates have discouraged many potential buyers. Sellers are hesitant to list their properties since they know purchasing another home may result in a higher mortgage rate. Consequently, new listings have decreased, and the number of home sales declined at the start of 2023. Fortunately, in March, the Bank of Canada finally signalled a pause on its ongoing rate hikes, prompting buyers to move off the sidelines just in time for the return of the spring market.
“There’s very limited inventory hitting the market, which is the biggest issue we’re facing now and into April,” said Gravina. “If listings don’t pick up dramatically in the next three months, I don’t think this will be a memorable spring market. Buying activity is down, but listing activity also isn’t going up.”
Kari MacLeod, a REALTOR® with Sotheby’s International Real Estate in Nova Scotia, said “traditionally, the spring real estate market is viewed as the best time to sell your home. People would wait until spring to sell, and the market would have an ample supply of homes.”
But today’s market isn’t brimming with inventory like in years past. MacLeod says the pre-pandemic spring market of May 2018 saw 2,516 single-family homes for sale in the Halifax Dartmouth area compared to only 481 single-family homes in May 2022.
The lack of inventory throughout parts of the country has been fueled by a combination of factors, including a growing population, rising interest rates, and a lack of new housing construction, to name a few. As a result, buyers face fierce competition for available properties. This trend is particularly evident in major housing markets like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, where supply is still tight, making conditions for buyers more competitive.
How have spring buyers’ wants and needs changed?
Pre-pandemic, spring home buyers typically looked for properties that provided comfortable and convenient living spaces with features like ample storage, outdoor spaces, and easy access to amenities like shopping, dining, and entertainment. However, since the onset of the pandemic, spring home buyers have placed a greater emphasis on properties that offer more space—both indoors and outdoors—as well as features that support remote work, such as home offices and high-speed internet.
Gravina notes today’s buyers focus more on homes that cater to their lifestyles. For example, if they’ve returned to the office, they’re likely prioritizing proximity to work, or if they’re into the food or culture scenes, they may want to be closer to downtown.
What does the spring market look like right now for buyers?
“Depending on how concrete their timeline is, they don’t have a plethora of options to sift through,” said Gravina. “When I first got into the market [in 2016], a typical spring buyer could easily find 10 properties they liked and then pick their top three to five, and we could go and check them out. But that buyer today needs to be on REALTOR.ca day in and day out because as soon as a good property hits the market, they need to check it out.”
“There aren’t enough options available right now. There isn’t that luxury of time anymore like there was pre-pandemic. As soon as something comes that checks the majority of a buyer’s boxes, they need to consider it and check it out.”
How can spring buyers be prepared
First, have your finances in order, including pre-approval for a mortgage, so you can act quickly when a suitable property becomes available. Second, have a clear idea of your must-haves and be willing to compromise on some of your wants to increase your chances of finding a suitable home.
“Spring buyers need to understand there will be competition when purchasing, and it’s a matter of coming in prepared and jumping on a property when they find what they want. Otherwise, they may be facing multiple offers and risk losing out on their dream home,” said Gravina.
“There’s nothing more disheartening or frustrating than going through the process of finding what you like and losing it to ten offers. Getting emotionally attached and then not getting it and having to start all over again, coupled with your job and life, is mentally exhausting.”
Buyers can also work with an experienced and trusted REALTOR® who knows the current market and can provide guidance on pricing and negotiation strategies.