Toronto home sales in May up from April, but economists temper their optimism

TORONTO — Home sales are showing signs of improvement in the Toronto real estate market, but economists say it's far too early to feel optimistic about the trajectory of a recovery from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The hole is very, very deep to dig ourselves out of," said Robert Hogue, senior economist at Royal Bank.

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Activity in the region improved in May compared with April, according to figures the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board released Wednesday. But it remained less than half of what TREB saw a year ago.

There were 4,606 sales in the Greater Toronto Area through the board's MLS system in May, it said. That's down 53.7 per cent compared with a year earlier.

However, sales in May were up 55.2 per cent compared with April.

The number of new listings also rose compared to the previous month, but fell year-over-year.

New listings totalled 9,104 — down 53.1 per cent compared with May 2019, but up 47.5 per cent from April 2020.

The average selling price rose three per cent from May 2019 to $863,599.

Those figures are enough to be optimistic about, considering the circumstances, said David Fleming, a broker at Bosley Real Estate David Fleming Group Inc.

"It's completely in line with what I expected and I think ... you'll see that continue into June," he said.

May saw substantial pick-up, he noted.

"So while sales figures are (still) down, do people care how many units are selling or do they care what the prices are?" he said.

The coronavirus knocked the wind out of what was expected to be among the strongest spring seasons in home-sales history, said Sherry Cooper, chief economist at Dominion Lending Centres.

But with the COVID-19 shutdowns, the "period of adjustment" remains uncertain, especially when considering low interest rates against a surge in unemployment, she said.

"They're opposing forces," she said of those two factors.

"I don't think we're going to see gangbuster home sales, but I do think they're certainly going to come off the bottom."

In the Vancouver area, the local real estate board released figures Tuesday showing a continued steep year-over-year drop in May, but also noted gains from April.

Home sales in the Greater Vancouver area totalled 1,485 in May, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. That's down nearly 44 per cent from May 2019, but up from 1,109 home sales in April.

New listings followed the same trend with 3,684 detached, attached and apartment properties newly listed for sale on the MLS in Metro Vancouver in May. That's down 37.1 per cent from the same month the previous year, but up 59.3 per cent from the previous month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2020.

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