Ottawa’s condo sector on a roll, growing 21 per cent in 2017

After their two sons had gone away to university, Dean and Hilary Flett decided it was time to downsize from their renovated bungalow in Westboro, one of Ottawa’s trendiest neighbourhoods and mere minutes from the city’s downtown core.

They bought a two-bedroom condo this summer – part of a growing segment of Ottawa buyers who are choosing the condo life.

According to statistics from the Ottawa Real Estate Board, condo sales are up more than 21 per cent in 2017 from 2016, and Rick Eisert, the president of the Ottawa Real Estate Board, says, “condominium sales continue to drive the overall residential sales market.”

In their mid-50s, Mr. and Ms. Flett had certain criteria that needed to be met before they sold their long-time family home. The condo needed to be in Westboro (“We only moved nine blocks,” Mr. Flett says) and there needed to be enough space so each son could have their own area when they did return home from school.

They pounced on the Westboro condo as soon as it was listed, and say they have loved the experience. But their youngest son? Not so much.

“It’s been easy for us,” Ms. Flett says, “but it’s been most challenging for our youngest son and his friends. Our house was the primary focal point for about six boys for five to six nights a week for 10 years. They are the group that’s been most impacted,” she says with a laugh.

“The maintenance of [our old] property was more of a burden than a pleasure, and that was really the tipping point for us to start seriously considering a condo.”

Lorne Scott, who works with Royal LePage Team Realty, says condos were always part of Ottawa’s real estate mix, but have never been as popular as they are now.

“They came on strong and they were going up left and right. Not like Toronto, but they really started building. They’re easy. Attractive. Right downtown.”

Ottawa’s new light-rail system – which should be completed in 2018 – is expected to affect the building and selling of condos tremendously, according to Mr. Scott. The expected move of the Ottawa Senators to a new arena in the LeBreton Flats is also seen as a boost to the condo sector.

“Ottawa is getting an identity,” Mr. Scott explains. “There are more concerts, sports and things to appeal to younger people to buy [condos]. This is the new, easy lifestyle.”

Another agent in Ottawa, John King with Engel & Volkers, says condo units are also spending less time on the market than in years past – about 30 per cent shorter time, he says.

“It seemed like the longest time where we would get a condo listing and they would just sit on the market, sit on the market, sit on the market. They weren’t moving. They had to be exceptionally well priced in order to move very quickly,” Mr. King says. “That’s changed. We’re seeing an upward trend on pricing.”

The Ottawa Real Estate Board says the average sale price of a condo property was just less than $270,000 in October, a 6.7-per-cent increase over the same time a year ago.

Emptynesters such as Mr. and Ms. Flett are making up a large part of the condo-buying market in Ottawa.

“The larger units – generally more expensive – in the nicer buildings are selling better than the smaller ones,” Mr. King says. “People are selling their homes and moving into a condo in a nice neighbourhood.”

But, it’s not just couples with their eyes on retirement that are driving the market for condos.

Maya Assaad, 24 and Hassan Mansour, 34, just had a large wedding and the couple admits they were financially tight after the big celebration. And with a newborn, it was time to move out of the apartment they had been renting and finally get into the market in Ottawa.

“Most of [our money] was going to rent, and it was pretty much thrown in the garbage,” Ms. Assaad says.

The couple found a condo, with the help of Mr. Scott, in a building less than 15 minutes away from Ottawa’s downtown that featured two floors – with bedrooms upstairs and the kitchen and living area downstairs – along with numerous benefits such as a hobby room, ‘massive’ party room, and both an indoor and outdoor pool.

“It’s got everything,” Ms. Assaad says.

Ms. Assaad says the apartment they were renting was “super expensive” and “very, very tiny.” The condo they now call home has everything their young family needs and more.

She says once their family gets bigger they won’t sell. Instead, they will be renting it out as an investment property after they move into a larger home.

Leo Maiorino, a mortgage agent with Mortgage Brokers Ottawa, says with the government’s new mortgage rules – where first-time buyers needed to qualify at a benchmark rate of 4.99 per cent if they weren’t putting a 20-per-cent down payment – took away some purchasing power for young buyers. But a condo is still an affordable option in Ottawa for people looking at owning a property for the first time.

“As a result, we saw a lot more people getting into the condo marketplace and condos were getting bought up,” he says.

Mr. Maiorino believes there are a big section of buyers, especially millennials, who just don’t want to deal with everything that goes along with “real” home ownership. That group, he explains, don’t want to worry about shovelling a driveway, mowing a lawn, or everything else that comes along with an actual house.

“The combination of regulation and the [millennial] mindset has had an impact on the demand for condos,” he says.

Whether it’s a twentysomething leaving the house, driving parents to want to downsize, or a twentysomething looking to buy their first property, Ottawa’s condo market appears to remain strong through 2018, according to Mr. King.

“Part of it is affordability for first-time home buyers,” he says. “But the second element of that is the empty-nesters. People are looking for lifestyle condos.”

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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