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Thinking of buying or selling your home? Here's why these realtors say now's the time

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Interest rates may still be sky-high, but you should consider buying or selling your home now, according to some Montreal real estate agents.

"I would definitely say if you're ready to buy, now is a really good time," said Sarah Kaplan, a real estate broker with Engel & Völkers. "Working with buyers in 2020, 2021 was extremely stressful [with] lots of multiple offers. It's not fun for buyers. So, if you're in the market to buy, now is a really good time before things take a turn in that direction."

Firas Trabulsi, a real estate agent with RE/MAX, adds there are always pros and cons of buying or selling at any given time -- whether it be soaring interest rates and lower house prices, or descending rates and elevated prices.

"I had a few, maybe six buyers, that weren't really planning to buy this year, but they really worried that we would go back to the bidding wars and everything," he tells CTV News.

Interest rates are stabilizing

Interest rates skyrocketed in 2023, but experts predict they should start to come down in 2024.

"Secure the property that's right for your family at the current interest rate, and then think about maybe doing a shorter term mortgage," explains Tamar Chujunian, a real estate broker with Engel & Völkers. "When it's time to renew, [you] benefit from those lower projected rates in the future."

She gives an example: instead of taking a five-year fixed mortgage (where the interest rate is locked in) or a five-year variable mortgage (where the interest rate fluctuates with the market), a buyer could opt for a two-year term and renew once the rates are lower.

Trabulsi notes he's already seeing the first signs of people ready to flood the market once rates go down.

"Some of them [the buyers] are already taking steps right now: we want to buy now before the interest rate drops," he tells CTV News. "They're worried that once we're going to have the first interest rate adjustment, a lot of buyers will jump on the market and we'll go back to a seller's market."

The market is smaller

"It's not as competitive," explains Kaplan. "It's not as competitive as it can be in the next half of 2024 when the interest rates really start to go lower and lower, which is something that has been projected from the mortgage brokers that we've spoken to."

The benefit of buying now? Kaplan says people won't be competing in a multiple-offer situation.

"You can really find the property that you want, you can even negotiate the price, which is something that you might not be able to do in the future," Kaplan said. "We've seen that trend before in 2020, 2021, where there are a lot of multiple offer situations and much more competition."

Trabulsi agrees, remembering a property he once sold at $250,000 over the asking price.

"I had buyers that were just desperate to buy, so they were willing to make crazy offers," he recalls. "Prices are a bit lower than last year, negotiations are back. I had a few transactions last month where we were able to negotiate $30,000 to 40,000 on the asking price."

That's good news for buyers -- but not really for sellers.

"Sellers, right now, when I meet them and prepare the evaluation of the property and it's like $50,000 less than what their neighbour sold last year, they're clearly not happy," he said. "They were expecting $800,000, and I tell them, 'you're lucky if you get $750,000.'"

The demand is balanced

The word real estate agents are using to describe 2024 right now is "balanced" -- that is, neither a seller's nor a buyer's market.

"I think we're going towards a more balanced market," said Trabulsi. "The market is still very active... If, in the coming months or coming year, we have a lot of inventory that comes to the market, I think we're going to find ourselves in a buyer's market, meaning prices will go over, and negotiations will be also more aggressive."

The agents note one of the biggest concerns from buyers and sellers remains the interest rates.

"I think that there's a large concern on interest rates, which has been a theme over the last few years," Kaplan said. "I think that a lot of buyers were hesitant in 2023 to get into the market because they were unsure whether or not the interest rate was going to keep going up or not."

She says she sees that hesitation lifting now that things seem to be stabilizing.

"It's the same for sellers. They were more, maybe, hesitant in 2023 to list their property because the interest rates were much higher and buyers weren't able to afford what they could afford in 2021 and 2020," Kaplan said. "Now, with the lowering of the interest rates, sellers are more inclined to put properties on the market, which is something that we've even noticed the first month of 2024 -- a lot more listings coming onto the market. Sellers are able to get the prices that they want."

Moving back downtown

One trend the agents say they are noticing is a shift from people who moved out towards the suburbs and beyond during the COVID-19 pandemic who are now heading back downtown.

"It's kind of a funny phenomenon that we're seeing, people are coming, re-approaching the city centre," said Chujunian. "The Plateau has always been very popular. It speaks to a lot of demographics: families, professionals; it offers a lot as a neighbourhood. The Sud-Ouest is always booming."

Trabulsi says this movement is greatly due to workers being recalled to the office.

"Driving an hour, an hour and a half to go to downtown Montreal, well, you think twice about it," he said.

Reality check

According to the Quebec Professional Association of Real Estate Brokers (QPAREB) residential barometer, home sales in 2023 were down 13 per cent across the province compared to 2022.

In Montreal, that drop was 14 per cent despite the number of active listings increasing by 28 per cent.

However, in January 2024, residential sales increased by 18 per cent in Montreal compared to the same period last year -- though it remains lower than the historical average.

"The solid performance of sales for the start of the year is essentially attributable to more encouraging prospects regarding interest rates," explains QPAREB Market Analysis Director Charles Brant. "Since late 2023, economists agree that the up cycle in interest rates is behind us and that a reverse process should begin in 2024."

The most popular places people bought in January? The South Shore, at 541 transactions, had an increase of 36 per cent compared to January last year.

The North Shore (519 sales), Laval (200 sales) and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu (58 sales) followed with increases of 19 per cent, 18 per cent and 14 per cent, respectively.

The Island of Montreal (679 sales) and Vaudreuil-Soulanges (80 sales) posted increases of eight per cent and one per cent. 

The QPAREB notes active listings also increased significantly, up 16 per cent from a year ago in all property categories.

The average selling time for condominiums was 77 days, while it stood at 65 days for single-family homes.

Unlike the overall average for 2023, where the median price of a home dropped two per cent for single-family homes and one per cent for condos, January showed an increase in prices.

That is, five per cent for condominiums, seven per cent for single-family homes and seven per cent for plexes compared to the same time last year.

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