Bidding wars and madness: Inside Ottawa’s sellers’ real-estate market

If you want to understand some of the forces now gripping Ottawa’s real-estate market, take a stroll down Fentiman Avenue in the heart of the leafy district known as Rideau Gardens.

It’s a quiet stretch of carefully maintained, two-storey homes across the canal from Lansdowne Park. Fentiman Avenue hosts an older neighbourhood, with sidewalks on both sides of the street and garages tucked behind the homes. It is very nearly quaint — and outsiders have been willing to pay a fair bit to live here.

In the past three weeks, separate owners listed homes at 49 and 68 Fentiman Ave. Each property sold in just six days for considerably more than the asking prices after attracting multiple offers.

The 73-year-old house at 49 Fentiman Ave. was listed at $785,000 and was snapped up on May 23 for $860,000.

Down the road, the 91-year-old property at 68 Fentiman Ave. went on the market at $750,000 and sold on May 28 for $815,000.

“The number of listings attracting multiple bids has jumped hugely over last year,” says Paddy McCarthy, one the Royal LePage Team Realty agents involved in the sale of 49 Fentiman Ave., “but the house was exceptional; the owners had done a lot of work to get it ready.”

 

McCarthy and his husband and real-estate partner, Andy McCarthy, found out about the potential listing because they live in the neighbourhood. The McCarthys and former owner of 49 Fentiman walked their dogs together.

Finding properties to list often takes a lot of work; actually selling homes is the easier part of their job.

But, like the city’s other real-estate agents, the McCarthys also represent potential homebuyers in other transactions. And in this market, this spring, that’s the really difficult part.

“This market is absolutely driven by a lack of inventory and a surplus of buyers,” says Paddy, “Some of our clients might make four, eight, 10 offers before getting a sale,” he adds.

Ottawa over the past year and a bit has morphed from a sane, balanced market into one that favours sellers.

In fact, the city doesn’t have a single real-estate market. Rather, it has hundreds of them. This is the reality understood by Ottawa’s 3,000 real-estate agents who collectively sold nearly 1,800 homes in May and close to 500 condominiums. Total sales volume: $1 billion.

It means very little to say that residences sold for an average $464,400 last month — up 6.3 per cent from a year earlier — or that condominiums sold for an average $281,250, up 3.4 per cent year over year.

These citywide averages disguise a cauldron of activity, wide price ranges and isolated spots of downright insanity.

Paul Rushforth, owner of the real-estate firm that bears his name, has seen evidence of the latter. His team listed a three-bedroom home in Barrhaven that recently went on the market for an opening price of $300,000. It attracted 30 offers and sold for $332,000.

“That was unusual,” says Rushforth. “Two to four offers is more typical.” And, as to why 30 offers didn’t drive up the sale price of the Barrhaven property more sharply, “Ottawa is still a price-sensitive market,” Rushforth adds, “You have to price your home correctly.”

It’s been a good year for Rushforth. He estimates his team of 18 agents will sell more than 800 properties this year — that’s homes and condominiums — compared to 669 in 2017.

This is one consequence of the tightness of the market. When there’s a shortage of listings, houses that are available tend to sell more quickly.


In fact, the city doesn’t have a single real-estate market. Rather, it has hundreds of them. This is the reality understood by Ottawa’s 3,000 real-estate agents who collectively sold nearly 1,800 homes in May and close to 500 condominiums. Total sales volume: $1 billion.

It means very little to say that residences sold for an average $464,400 last month — up 6.3 per cent from a year earlier — or that condominiums sold for an average $281,250, up 3.4 per cent year over year.

These citywide averages disguise a cauldron of activity, wide price ranges and isolated spots of downright insanity.

Paul Rushforth, owner of the real-estate firm that bears his name, has seen evidence of the latter. His team listed a three-bedroom home in Barrhaven that recently went on the market for an opening price of $300,000. It attracted 30 offers and sold for $332,000.

“That was unusual,” says Rushforth. “Two to four offers is more typical.” And, as to why 30 offers didn’t drive up the sale price of the Barrhaven property more sharply, “Ottawa is still a price-sensitive market,” Rushforth adds, “You have to price your home correctly.”

It’s been a good year for Rushforth. He estimates his team of 18 agents will sell more than 800 properties this year — that’s homes and condominiums — compared to 669 in 2017.

This is one consequence of the tightness of the market. When there’s a shortage of listings, houses that are available tend to sell more quickly.
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