Buying house in capital region takes willingness to beat asking price

Tearful Denise got in the first hug, followed by husband Chris Elder. Both wrapped real estate agent Mark Rice in a tight embrace.

It was a big moment for the couple. After a year of viewing more than 100 houses, they finally found a home. They paid $750,000 for the three-bedroom house with a yard in the Mount Douglas area — $75,000 over the asking price.

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Denise is relieved their quest is over and that they will be able to return to normal activities such as inviting friends over and talking about something other than house-hunting. “We can start our lives again because you kind of put it on hold.” The couple has been living in a one-bedroom basement suite with their young son.

The Elders illustrate what buyers face in today’s competitive market, where bidding wars are the new normal. Theirs was among six offers on the house.

Most open houses are busy events with steady streams of hopeful buyers. You may well recognize those faces from previous open houses as inventory shrinks and competition heats up.

It’s now common for selling prices to easily beat listed prices.

Chris Elder said house hunting was pretty much a non-stop endeavour involving daily checks with their agent and frequent viewings. Last week alone, Denise looked at eight houses. “It’s been what I do — I go to see houses.”

She was determined not to buy a house without doing due diligence first, but said it takes fortitude to stick with that viewpoint. The couple has spent about $3,000 on house inspections, checking out everything from the state of a structure to its perimeter drains.

Their strategy paid off. The Elders take possession of their 1983-built home on June 24. They are looking forward to living in the house with its sunny yard.

“It was an emotional win for all of us,” said Rice of Re/Max Camosun. “We worked very hard together for a long time.”

Rice also hosted an open house on a Fernwood rental property last weekend and got 120 visitors. That home was listed for $699,000 and received six offers. It was sold to one of those bidders for $775,000 with conditions, which are due to come off on Friday.

Rice is seeing more rental properties come on the market because their owners already have a place to live and are deciding to sell in the heated market.

Sales numbers have been breaking records in the capital region, creating a sellers’ market.

One couple who walked into Rice’s open house Saturday asked about the process of putting in an offer. Sellers frequently allow people to view homes and then accept offers at a set date and time, rather than taking offers as they come in.

“You list it, have an open house and sell it in a week [often well above asking] ... that’s the market today,” said Rice.

A total of 1,286 properties sold in the Victoria Real Estate Board region in April. That was a record number of sales for any month — and substantially more than the 840 properties sold in the same month last year. The lack of inventory is providing the fuel. There were 2,594 active listings for sale on the board’s Multiple Listing Service at the end of April — 34 per cent fewer than the 3,945 active listings a year ago.

“As a consumer, it may pay to get creative, consider types of property and locations you may have not originally identified,” board president Mike Nugent said. “For example, condos and townhomes may be an alternative for first-time buyers. Some locations in the Victoria area are under less pricing pressure. Properties in the West Shore or Esquimalt are close to amenities, share the same amazing weather as other nearby neighbourhoods.”

At an open house on Bank Street, Matt Eide of Newport Realty said prospective buyers were given five days to view the property to “let everyone get through” before offers were being considered. In the first hour of the open house on Saturday, 25 people came through. However, “acceptable” offers didn’t materialize.

It was a different story the weekend before, when Eide and Ole Schmidt of Dutton’s Real Estate co-listed a 1960s home on Killarney Road in Cadboro Bay for $699,000. It attracted 16 offers — nine without conditions. The modest three-bedroom, two-bath home sold for $952,000 — an incredible $253,000 over the asking price.

Eide said the property was purchased by a Vancouver buyer, but did not provide further details.

“Six months ago, you would have got the asking price,” said Eide. “The market has changed.”

Single-family houses with or without a suite in areas such as Fairfield, Oak Bay, Saanich East and Gordon Head are among the most in demand, Eide said. With the core heating up, demand has increased throughout the region. “Everywhere is getting hot.”

Spillover from Vancouver, where the average house price is more than $1 million, and healthy economic indicators such as strong in-migration and a low unemployment rate are all helping fuel the Greater Victoria housing market, Eide said.

North Vancouver renters Grady and Julie Harris are relocating to Greater Victoria to be closer to family. They have each lined up jobs here and are seeking a house at a more affordable price than in the Lower Mainland.

Their search has seen them catch the ferry for seven weekends so far. Family members here watch over their two young sons while they attend open houses.

Grady is a real estate agent with Sutton Group and has worked with two buyers in Victoria who have found homes.

“We have lost out on six offers,” said a pragmatic Julie. “You just have to trust that the right house is going to come up.”

Julie, a teacher, said it helps that she does not get emotionally attached to a particular house they are considering.

Jill Stainforth of Victoria was at an open house in Victoria on Saturday on behalf of younger family members who are trying to enter the market. But she said they are finding it difficult to find something affordable and adequate. In her case, she is listing a rental property for more than initially expected, which makes her “ecstatic.”

The heat of the market has led some buyers to write offers without conditions and without having a house checked by an inspector.

Building inspector Terry Chewka has been dropping by open houses to put the word out about his new business. In some cases, buyers are so keen to purchase a home that they forgo an inspection, he said.

In other cases, he’s called in after a sale to vet a house for insurance purposes. In one instance, he was inspecting a house that was on the market when another inspector came in to check it out for a different client.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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