Housing hikes hurting northern buyers, experts cite province-wide supply issues

Home prices in northeastern Ontario have been rising to record levels, with Timmins realtors reporting a 16 per cent jump in the average house price so far in 2022, over last year.

The average house now costs around $247,000, according to the Timmins Cochrane and Timiskaming Association of Realtors, compared to $217,000 in 2021.

The key culprit, said association president Angela Hunter, is lack of sellers and new builds.

"The other day, there were only 38 houses on the market in Timmins," Hunter said in an interview, citing a 30 per cent supply deficit.

"There are more realtors in Timmins than there were houses available for sale. So, if you're looking to buy, you have to be aggressive."

Hunter said aggressive buyers are also contributing to those higher real estate prices.

People from southern Ontario are taking extra cash from their home sales and making cash offers on "bargain" houses in the north, she said, while local buyers are making higher bids to ensure they get the homes they want.

PRICING BUYERS OUT OF THE MARKET

That makes it difficult for people like Lisa Auger-Labelle, who's raising a toddler and currently lives in a low-income neighbourhood. She said she's spent about a year searching for a home but hasn't encountered one in her price range and has struggled to get responses from sellers.

Meanwhile, Auger-Labelle said she's been moving apartments trying to find a neighbourhood where she feels safe—and said owning her own how would make her feel safer.

"No one's got a home around here, so everyone's breaking into apartments just to live. So I'm looking for a home, instead of constantly moving but it seems to be very difficult," she said.

The Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) claims the situation where homebuyers are being pushed out of their local markets is happening around the province.

The association's CEO, Tim Hudak, said the notion of "drive until you qualify (for a home)" is falling out of favour, citing 10 districts outside of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) that are seeing housing prices approach or exceed the $1 million mark.

He said it's becoming increasingly difficult for people to buy properties in their hometowns, including northeastern Ontario.

"It's time to start building again, particularly for first-time homebuyers," said Hudak in an interview, pointing at housing supply as the most pressing issue.

"The key for affordability, unlocking those keys for a new homeowner: more choice, more affordability, more supply in big cities, northern and small towns."

The OREA is calling on political leaders to make this an election issue and, in particular, incorporate solutions like higher land-transfer tax rebates for first-time homebuyers, loosen zoning rules for more multi-unit housing and townhomes, as well as to crack down on real estate-based money laundering.

'ONLY THING I CAN AFFORD IS TO LEAVE TOWN'

While Hunter said the north does see some homes priced at $1 million and over, it's unlikely to become the norm in the coming years.

Though the best way to stave off any further housing hikes, she said, is to build more supply. And she said the region has plenty of land for it.

"It has to do with ... what the population can support in this area, as far as employment," Hunter said, hinting at the region's labour shortage.

For people concerned that they're being priced out of their local market, Hunter advised that the best course of action is to either settle for real estate that may not have been the ideal choice—or to save up for a preferred home that may have gone up in price over the years.

For Auger-Labelle, she feels it will likely take around five years to get the type of home she needs but said that doesn't bode well for the near future.

"Only thing I can afford is to leave town, pretty much," she said.