Island real estate market has been booming

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Lots of buyers has made big dent in ‘for sale’ inventory

MANITOULIN – Manitoulin Island’s housing market has seen a record number of property sales in the past year, indicative of the number of people who wish to purchase a home, cottage or land on the Island that have brought the number of available listings down to levels not seen in living memory.

“I think I can safely say this is probably the first time we’ve ever broken 300 property sales in a year,” said Gore Bay’s Hugh McLaughlin, broker of record at McLaughlin Manitoulin Inc. Real Estate Brokerage.

Mr. McLaughlin began his real estate career in 1974 and said he has never seen the listings supply run as dry as it is now. He referenced a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) figure that 317 properties sold on Manitoulin in 2019. That number was 258 in 2018 and the 2017 sales totalled 273.

This newspaper has reflected the changing Island real estate market. The regular advertisements in the rear pages of this newspaper have shrunk considerably in recent editions, most visibly on the Bousquet advertisement on the outside rear cover. Last week marked the first time in nearly 20 years that the Bousquet advertisement only took up half of the back page. 

Chris Bousquet, broker of record at Little Current-based J. James Bousquet Realty Inc., said the number of listed properties peaked in July 2015 at 517.

“This summer, we were still over 300 (available listings) and demand for the last few years has been quite strong,” said Mr. Bousquet. 

January and February tend to be the months with the smallest number of active listings on Manitoulin Island. During the lowest month in 2015, which came in January with 351 listings, there were still more properties on offer than the peak month in 2019 (June, with just 326 listings).

Data for December 2019 shows 184 Island listings at that time—the only month that has dipped into the 100s since January 2015.

Rolston Real Estate Ltd. broker of record Steve Rolston said this reflects the cyclical nature of real estate on Manitoulin Island. 

“These sorts of things take place every 10 to 15 years on Manitoulin, roughly speaking. We’re just going through another one of those cycles. Unfortunately, it’s tough on our clientele when we get into a market like this—either a strong buyer’s or seller’s market—because it can raise anxieties a bit,” said Mr. Rolston.

While the current market conditions may be anxiety-inducing for some, others find the present prospects positively promising.

“It’s the best market I’ve ever seen,” said Jordan Stephens of the Jordan Stephens Real Estate Team, a Royal LePage-affiliated brokerage.

He said homes are spending far fewer days on the market than ever before. Properties that would normally be tougher to sell, such as high-end waterfront homes, are now getting multiple offers and bidding wars.

“I’ve been working with one buyer for a year and a half now trying to find a suitable house in the $300,000 to $400,000 price range, and it’s almost impossible,” he said.

Mr. Stephens said the massive growth in the Toronto housing market has had trickle-up effects to the North and Manitoulin Island in particular. He said many of the people looking North are retirees. 

Manitoulin’s appeal is aided by roadway improvements that make the journey from Toronto much easier than years past.

According to Mr. Rolston, however, Toronto has never been as connected to the Manitoulin market as are southwestern and central Ontario. He said Manitoulin’s popularity has been growing due to other cottage country areas.

“Some people in the Muskokas are saying it’s too busy there now, and we’re seeing some owners bail out for quieter, more peaceful locations like Manitoulin,” said Mr. Rolston.

He added that housing tends to follow a few years behind the global economy and the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation predicts a continued upward pricing trend in the next year or two.

When comparing figures from 2015 to 2019, the changes are remarkable.

Manitoulin properties sold in 2015 totaled 192, a number that soared to 317 in 2019—a 65 percent increase. 

Monthly active listings on Manitoulin, on an annual average, dropped from 441.8 in 2015 to 271.1 in 2019, or a 39 percent decrease.

The price of homes, however, shows a different perspective that reflects the laws of supply and demand. Selling prices in 2015 averaged $138,004, which rose to $187,416 in 2019. That’s an increase of 36 percent.

For perspective, a property worth $200,000 in 2015, if it were to follow the average increase in price, would have been worth $272,000 just five years later.

Even more of a change was within that five-year period, between 2018 and 2019, when home prices raised by 26 percent year-over-year.

Both Mr. Bousquet and Mr. McLaughlin agreed with Mr. Rolston that Manitoulin real estate tends to operate cyclically, with the pattern based on 10-to-15-year cycles.

“In the early ‘70s there was a push in prices. Fifteen years later in 1989 there was another push in prices, especially waterfront. Those tripled that summer,” said Mr. McLaughlin.

He said the last big push was from 2004 to 2006, and he has been calling for another rise in 2020-2021.

“Maybe this (listings) shortage is just the quiet before the storm. As realtors, we hope so,” said Mr. McLaughlin.

Mr. Bousquet said high demand and lower amounts of available properties are visible across Canada due to a lack of new housing inventory. Manitoulin, however, is unique in the many recreational and waterfront properties that have been driving demand.

“Lots of people are getting out of the cities and the stressful life, and are looking at more affordable areas where they can change their lifestyles a bit. The cottage and waterfront properties here are very affordable compared to down south,” said Mr. Bousquet.

The tight market makes things challenging for the 25 active real estate agents working on Manitoulin Island. Mr. McLaughlin said the market conditions tend to be the same in all communities from Gore Bay to South Baymouth. Western Manitoulin has always been—and continues to be—a different (and much slower) market altogether from the portion in Gore Bay and to the east.

Mr. Rolston said he had faith that his team would pull through the challenging market conditions.

“I’ve got a great crew here. I’m telling our salespeople to keep concentrating on getting what listings we can,” he said. 

By all indications, property owners on Manitoulin who may be looking to move elsewhere are in the most advantaged position in the present market. 

“If anybody is thinking about selling their place, now is the time. It’s a strong seller’s market,” said Mr. Stephens.

Although the current real estate market may seem overwhelming in some ways, Mr. Rolston said turning to professional realtors will make the process much easier to handle.

“If I can recommend anything, it’s to find a good salesperson, stick with them and hopefully things will work out without too much stress,” he said.

Mr. Bousquet added that Island-based realtors who live, work and play on Manitoulin and understand the lifestyle will be best prepared to handle the changing market.

As for the current listings lagging behind the strong demand, some choose to view it as an endorsement of all that Manitoulin has to offer.

“We live in the greatest place in the entire world; honestly, it’s surprising we haven’t seen this sooner,” said Mr. Rolston.