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Housing market cooling, but NEBC a good long-term bet

The average selling price for a home in Fort St. John has dropped nearly $17,000 in the first six months of 2016, making the city a buyer’s market that’s getting noticed outside the region.

The average selling price for a home in Fort St. John has dropped nearly $17,000 in the first six months of 2016, making the city a buyer’s market that’s getting noticed outside the region.

The BC Northern Real Estate Board has released its mid-year results, showing a total of 191 properties worth $72.7 million were sold in Fort St. John in the first half of the year. Of those sales, 82 were single-family homes that spent an average of 78 days on the market and sold for an average price of $405,421. That’s down from 2015, when realtors had sold 139 single-family homes for an average price of $422,277.

The city has also seen the sale of 25 half-duplexes, 31 manufactured homes, 12 homes on acreages, and 17 vacant lots so far this year.

“With our mid-year numbers we are seeing some surprisingly bright spots throughout the northern part of the province,” Board President William Lacy said. “We still have some concerns, but many areas are up over last year, which bodes well for the north having a solid year overall. Ideally, we will get a couple of announcements in the later half of the year, and those markets that rely on the bigger economic projects will get the catalyst they need.”

By the end of June 2015, the city saw 374 properties worth $131 million change hands, according to the board.

In Fort Nelson, 12 properties worth $2.5 million were sold by the end of June, according to the board, down from the 17 properties worth $4.4 million in the same period last year.


NEBC a good long-term bet

The state of the local housing market has caught the eye of Vancouver-based real estate advisor Ozzie Jurock, who calls Fort St. John a “sleeper market.”

In a recent newsletter, Jurock said “the time could be ripe” for long-term investors as he expects demand for oil and gas to rebound. He cited the prospects of the Site C dam, oil plays in the Tower Lake region, and Pacific NorthWest LNG as cause for optimism.

Local realtor Trevor Bolin agrees, saying the local conditions are right for those looking to get into the market but couldn’t before.

Today’s market mirrors 2002 in terms of sales volumes, a year that was followed by a boom in both prices and sales, Bolin said.

“2003 was the start of what really changed our real estate market in its entirety,” Bolin said.

“That’s when we started to see short timeframes, multiple offers, and large increases. Between 2003 to 2005, those were years that saw 12 to 14 per cent gains in a single year in values. One year of that wipes out anything that dropped out this year.

“That’s people’s biggest question, should I buy right now? If the market drops (another) 3 per cent between now and recovery, if we have one year of increases, they’ve regained huge amounts of equity.”


No more hardball

In an earlier interview, local realtor Kathy Miller said realtors have to work harder and smarter as they too adjust to the buyer’s market alongside sellers.

“Patience is a virtue. Gone are the days are listing and selling hypothetically the next day,” she said. “Playing hardball in this market is not going to sell a house.”

Sellers must price their properties accurately, she said, and focus on offering more amenities than competing listings. Many sellers are taking on renovations or replacing old appliances in the hopes of securing a sale.

“Generally it’s to do with improving the house. If there’s a furnace that needs replacing, they’ll negotiate. Sellers are definitely open to negotiations regarding some items in the home.”

The softer market coupled with low interest rates has been a positive for buyers, she noted.

“I deal a lot with more local people. They’ve scrimped and saved for the last few years, and now with prices softening a bit they are able to purchase. It’s a win-win for them, selling smaller homes and moving into larger homes.”

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