‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

By: Yona Harvey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Smiths Falls Record News
The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.
This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.
“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.
Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.
Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.
“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.
Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.”
“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.
What caused the demand?
“There’s always been a good trend for people coming to the smaller communities outside of Ottawa, but it has sped up. Everyone is very interested in buying real estate because of the change COVID-19 has brought to everybody,” Stavenow explained.
Not all of the demand is due to the pandemic. Keller said it was already a sellers’ market even in 2019. A typical inventory in April would be 800 new listings per week. In 2020, the market had its lowest inventory, at just 300 listings.
“Not only were we in a deficit in 2019, it was compounded in 2020,” Keller said.
Carleton Place has seen the highest growth, with townhomes selling for over $650,000. Almonte’s “movie buzz” has driven interest in the area, with Perth also in demand.
In Renfrew county, the highest number of homes sold in 2019 was 306 in May 2019, with the highest average price of $283,776 in April. About a year later, 316 houses were sold in June, but by October, the average price of homes increased by over $57,000 at $341,217.
Lanark County’s highest number of homes sold was in June 2019 at 159, with the highest average price of $420,169 in December. By 2020, the highest number of homes sold was 189 in July. In October, the highest average price jumped $51,026 in value, to $471,195.
Keller said the demographic of buyers continue to be a variety of people: “Families moving up from something smaller, first-time buyers, retirees. A lot of marriages are falling apart — we’re seeing that, more this year than ever.”
Vincent noted that in Renfrew, her buyers are from Belleville, Ajax, Orangeville, Toronto and Ottawa. “They can sell for a million, come here and buy a new house for $500,000,” she said.
People are searching for waterfront properties and new houses. “Builders are selling out — they hold lotteries. They can’t build them fast enough,” said Keller.
Keller said there is hope — with the key being able to not expect the house to “look like a magazine” — for a first-time homebuyer. She said she sold a house in the area recently for $210,000.
“If you can stay in that home for a few years, the prices continue to rise, and maybe your next home will be bigger,” said Keller. “There is something there for you. Be creative. Stick to it, you will find something. Don’t give up. This will be a long game.”