Bidding battles are breaking out for homes in the Lower Mainland.
The housing market is roaring, realtors say, with some buyers paying more than the listed price.
"It is simply a case of supply and demand," Paul Cowhig, president of the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board, said yesterday.
Forty-year-low mortgage rates and meagre housing availability are fuelling the market.
Preliminary February numbers for Greater Vancouver show sales strongly ahead of January's record numbers.
Cowhig said in the Fraser Valley 1,220 sales had been made compared with 875 in January, a 71.2-per-cent increase.
Sales have been rising steadily for the past 16 months, he said.
"We have definitely lurched into a sellers' market and are going to see a long period of steady price growth," he said.
Don Pearce, of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, said houses are selling in days, often with many bids. He expects the Vancouver numbers will match the valley's performance.
Ozzie Jurock, an independent industry commentator, says confidence has returned to the market but prices aren't rocketing.
"They are still not back at 1994-95 levels. They are recovering quickly, though."
Christi Huculak, of Sutton Langara Realty, said she hadn't even shown a three-bedroom home at 5950 Halifax in Burnaby when she raised the listing price after phone calls came flooding in.
"There was an offer made without even an inspection," she said. "We had it listed for $299,000 and have now raised it to $314,800.
"Anything under $400,000 goes fast, especially if it has a suite. There is very little inventory and prices can only go higher if mortgage rates stay low."
Prospective buyers John and Elvira Ambrosetti looked at the house with their daughter Sandra.
"The price is a little too high for a first-time buyer," John said. "It's difficult to know what to do."
His wife added: "We have looked at lots of homes and already seen price increases. What do you do?"
Realtor Luis Silva looked at the property and was initially unaware that the asking price had increased. When informed he said: "Prices are getting out of hand."
He recently sold a home that attracted offers higher than the asking price of $289,000.
"The offer that was accepted was for $305,000. People are willing to pay more than the asking price to secure what they want."
Even leaky condos are selling, say realtors.
Buyers are taking advantage of one-year open mortgages as a low as 3.5 per cent.
As intense as the Lower Mainland market is, realtors warn it could change quickly at the first sign of an uptick in interest rates.
Bob Rennie of Rennie Marketing Systems said buyers are knowledgeable about prices. "If it is overpriced, consumers won't go near it," he said. "This all started with lower-priced properties when buyers realized they could own for less than they could rent."
Rennie and other real estate agents expect demand and prices to cool in the spring as more homes come up for sale.
Steve Collyer, of Park Georgia Realty in Burnaby, recently sold a single-family home at 1216 Fraser Ave. in Coquitlam for $231,000, $2,000 above the asking price.
Lorne Goldman, of Macdonald Realty (1974), said it is the best sellers' market in six years.
"Sixty per cent of the 10 homes I have sold this year have attracted multiple offers," he said.
"On the west side, multiple offers are coming for properties under $700,000 and in Vancouver east on properties under $500,000.
"A house at 28 West 23rd Ave, listed on Dec. 20 for $410,000, sold Feb. 11 for $440,000."
Goldman also sold a home at 2829 Highbury on the west side, which was listed at $828,000, for $827,888, in just four days.
A house at 5675 Columbia in Oakridge was listed at $435,000 and sold for $449,000 in six days. All attracted many offers.
Rennie said downtown Vancouver is just as active, with brisk sales in cheaper homes: "We just sold a one-bedroom condo at 1723 Alberni in one day for its listed price of $173,900."
Steve Marshall, at ReMax Sabre in Coquitlam, is closing the deal on a lower-priced unit that "had been sitting for some time. We suddenly got multiple offers on it."
Earlier this week, eager buyers at an invitation-only sale in Vancouver scooped up all 242 suites at a yet-to-be-built Whistler condo project in just five hours. The suites cost an average of $628,000.
Global News June 5th, 2005
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