Oil price plunge pulling Calgary's housing market down with it

The city's agents are loath to admit the tide has turned, but sellers are no longer in the driver's seat and buyers are biding their time

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 March, 2015, 6:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 March, 2015, 6:00am

A year ago, one of the hottest parts of Canada's red-hot housing market was Alberta's oil capital of Calgary, where cash-rich consumers fought for the fanciest home on the block. Now, a plunge in crude prices is pulling the housing market with it.

While agents in Calgary are loath to admit the tide has turned, sellers are no longer in the driver's seat and buyers are biding their time in hope of a real estate slump.

Sales in Calgary, the corporate centre of Canada's oil industry, were down 34 per cent in February from the same period last year, according to data from the Calgary Real Estate Board. Meanwhile, the price for benchmark US crude has more than halved since June last year.

Active listings have more than doubled since February last year as homeowners hurry to get their homes on the market before job losses hit hard and prices sink further.

The price for the average Calgary home dropped 4.3 per cent from a year earlier to C$462,108, the largest year-on-year fall since July 2009. February's decline was the second consecutive monthly drop in prices and the first back-to-back slide since June and July 2011.

We have a plethora of houses, it's like a beauty pageant of beautiful houses, on the market. There are lots of people wanting them, but they are waiting
Shirley-Anne Jacques, Parkhaven Designs owner

It is a rare decline in a country that has seen home prices climb steadily for more than five years and double in the past decade.

In contrast, the Greater Toronto Area saw average year-on-year selling prices rise 7.8 per cent last month and home sales climb 11.3 per cent, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board. Active listings for the month fell 8.7 per cent from a year earlier.

"We have a plethora of houses, it's like a beauty pageant of beautiful houses, out there on the market. We know there are lots of people wanting them, but they are waiting," said Shirley-Anne Jacques, the owner of Parkhaven Designs, who has been building houses in Calgary for 27 years.

Parkhaven Designs, which typically builds four to seven homes a year in the C$2 million-plus bracket, would shift its focus this year to build apartments and triplexes instead, she said.

Morrison Homes, the winner of Calgary's "Builder of the Year" in 2013, is offering a lowest-price guarantee to reassure nervous customers. If the value of the new home falls between the time it is bought and move-in day, Morrison will honour the lower price.

"What we are trying to address with this is consumer confidence," said Morrison Homes sales manager Mike Wagner.

In Altadore, an upscale neighbourhood in southwest Calgary, one prospective seller said she and her husband were unwilling to take less than the C$855,000 they paid for their four-bedroom house in 2007.

The mother of two said they decided to sell last summer because they thought the Calgary housing market was overvalued, but delayed after her husband lost his job as a general manager at Devon Energy Corp.

"We discussed it with realtors and they did not think prices were going to fall," she said. "Looking back, I wish we had sold in the summer."

And the chill is spreading beyond Calgary. In Canmore, a pretty mountain town about an hour from Calgary popular for second homes, sales are slowing.

"I do not think it will hit us as hard as 2008," said Canmore agent Jason Penny, citing that year's 25 per cent drop in prices. "Even if we do lose a bit of business with regard to Calgary and Edmonton, because of the strength of the US dollar, it would not surprise me if we start to see more US buyers coming across."