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Calgary real estate market sizzles as newcomers flock to Alberta

Downtown Calgary and the Bow River are seen from the air on Wednesday, May 31, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh. JMC

As the curtain rises on the 10-day extravaganza that is the famed Calgary Stampede, homebuyers are also stampeding to snap up real estate in Alberta’s largest city.

This summer, the hottest commodity in town isn’t the perfect pair of cowboy boots or a well-broken-in Stetson — it’s a detached home on a nice lot or a perfect downtown condo with a view.

“It started taking off around February, and it’s been like this all year,” said Calgary real estate agent Matt Halladay, who has been helping buyers navigate what has become Canada’s hottest real estate market in 2023.

That means homes selling often the day they’re listed, he said, for well over the asking price — and occasionally sight unseen, as sellers accept a bid before the scheduled viewings even start.

“It’s common to see anywhere from four to 17 offers (on one listing),” Halladay said.

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“The most I’ve heard of, on one that we lost out on, was 26 offers.”

The frenzy in Calgary — the city set an all-time record for home sales in June, up 11 per cent year-over-year, with apartment sales alone up an eye-popping 48 per cent — flies in the face of what’s happening nationally.

The real estate story across the country for most of the year thus far has been a decrease in activity due to the impact of higher interest rates.

While home sales in major markets like Toronto and Vancouver started picking up steam again this spring, home sales nationwide in May — the most recent month for which national statistics are available — were up just 1.4 per cent year-over-year, compared with Calgary’s 11 per cent.

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And while prices have fallen nationwide — the Canadian Real Estate Association’s (CREA) aggregate composite home price index for the month of May sat 8.6 per cent below 2022 levels — they are sizzling in Calgary.

The average selling price of a home in Calgary last month increased by almost seven per cent from a year earlier to $552,273, according to the Calgary Real Estate Board.

“I think we’ve been a bit surprised at how strong it’s been,” said Ann-Marie Lurie, chief economist for the Calgary Real Estate Board.

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“And how strong activity has been even in the upper (price) ranges, in spite of the interest rate increases.”

Part of the reason that Calgary’s housing market is outperforming the rest of the country is that it has more room to grow.

Unlike Toronto and Vancouver, whose overheated housing markets have been a topic of national conversation in recent years, Calgary is coming out of a years-long slump that began with the oil price crash of 2015.

That year alone, home sales in Calgary plunged 26 per cent. In the city’s condo and apartment market, it has taken eight years for prices to recover to their 2014 levels.

But with the higher commodity prices that began last year in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, the city’s oil-and-gas-based economy is rebounding.

Over the past twelve months, the Alberta labour market has outperformed the rest of the country in terms of job gains, and a recent report from Deloitte predicts the province will experience the strongest economic growth in the country this year at 2.1 per cent.

People are also flocking to the province, in particular the city. Statistics Canada says Alberta saw the largest net interprovincial migration of all the provinces during the first three months of the year, with more than 15,000 people arriving from other parts of the country — in particular, Ontario, B.C. and Saskatchewan.

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Another 100,000 people moved to Alberta from other countries, according to Statistics Canada.

“A lot of that growth coming into Alberta is funnelling into Calgary. Calgary’s market is performing more than other markets (in the province),” Lurie said.

She added that while job opportunities are a major factor drawing people to the province, some people who have been priced out of other markets may be looking to Calgary as one of the last major Canadian cities where home ownership is still affordable.

“That can be an advantage to Calgary and attracting people here — especially when we have a fairly strong jobs market and continue to see jobs growth, especially in areas like professional services and other higher-paid industries.”

But while the influx of people is good news for the province’s economy — and for the Alberta government, which has been trying to entice new residents from other parts of the country through its “Alberta Is Calling” marketing campaign — it can make for a stressful home-buying experience.

Kalida Manarin and her husband Stephen have been looking for a house in their inner-city Calgary neighbourhood of Marda Loop for six months, but have had no luck yet.

“We’ve seen a couple that we liked, but by the time we got to the point of putting in an offer, they had already accepted other ones,” Manarin said, adding that in the meantime, prices have continued to rise.

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“I wish we would’ve bought when we started looking, but we kept thinking, ‘The price will go down, it’ll be fine,’ ” she said.

“That being said, I’m still optimistic. I still think that now is a great time to buy in Calgary. I don’t necessarily think (the market) is going to go down.”

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