As 2020 unfolded, the year began in normal fashion, with Durham's real estate market experiencing what former Durham Region Association of Realtors (DRAR) president Vicki Sweeney described at the time as "strong growth" and a "very steady market."
In January, the average price for a home in the area sat at $655,781, and DRAR recorded 586 new home transactions.
In the months to follow, the pandemic took hold, and as was the case in all Canadian cities, real estate activity slowed, as both buyers and sellers took to the sidelines to wait out the uncertainty of COVID-19 and its impact on the market.
In April -- just one month into the first wave of the pandemic -- the Durham Region still saw 513 home sales, but the average price fell to $612,563 -- the lowest it would hit all year.
However, much like neighbouring areas, Durham Region and its eight municipalities (Ajax, Brock, Clarington, Oshawa, Pickering, Scugog, Uxbridge, and Whitby) saw a burst of activity in the early summer months as an influx of homebuyers from outside of the region began taking advantage of low-interest rates and relocated to the area in search of larger homes and more green space, marking a prominent new trend of home-buying preferences shifting in favour of more space, less density, and lower prices.
Indeed, housing activity has been on fire in the Durham Region this year, with the housing market experiencing a strong rebound in the wake of the first wave of the pandemic, including home sales hitting record results throughout the summer.
In the 10 months since the pandemic began, the average price for a home in the region has risen 15% to $762,739, while recorded transactions climbed to 1,088 in November. What's more, the average days on market in November were just 14 compared to 34 in January.
"2020's market was as surprising as a global pandemic," says Sweeney. "Early in the year, we were gearing up for a great year in real estate, then when the pandemic hit, we expected the market to slow right down and it did for a short few weeks.
"Real estate in Durham since the shut down has been very competitive, [with] extremely low inventory, and high demand. A number of factors are contributing to such a hot market, namely, migration from the city and people working from home that are no longer worried about the commute."
"To say that the housing market that we experienced this year was expected at the beginning of 2020 would be a lie. The Durham region real estate market that we experienced was very unexpected," said Jafrey.
"We did expect a rise in demand, but not to the extent that we saw. The housing market showed strong growth throughout the year and broke monthly records from years prior. In a nutshell, we started the year off strong, saw a slow down during lockdown months, and then a delayed spring/summer market in late August when restrictions were lifted."
Jafrey noted that the lowering of interest rates assisted in the increased activity that's been seen in the later parts of 2020, and what will likely continue to be seen as we move into 2021.
Being considered a red-hot market is far from new for Durham. In fact, a 2019 study from RE/MAX said that Durham’s housing market had been hotter than ever at that point, as house prices had consistently been rising in its municipalities, year-over-year. And given that the region continues to remain an ideal location for home buyers looking for a variety of housing options and communities, the demand is likely to continue into the new year.
That being said, Jafrey says the market is hotter now compared to the beginning of the year.
"Our 2020 surprisingly started off very hot, to begin with. In past years, we’ve had a slowing off in December to about February, but in January of 2020 that was not the case. We had individuals and families who were looking to get into the market near the end of 2019, and so that demand carried into January and February of 2020."
"Currently, we have an additional demand on the housing market which comes from individuals and families looking to move to Durham Region from either the city of Toronto or surrounding areas along with the local demand of individuals and families looking to move around the region," added Jafrey.
It's no secret that, amid the pandemic, Toronto has experienced a slight exodus of homebuyers, with many residents heading to the suburbs in an effort to buy family-friendly, ground-level homes. And given Metrolinx's expansion plans to make commuting into Toronto even more accessible, Jafrey says more people are starting to call various cities in Durham Region home.
"What COVID did was help families realize their need for more space earlier, as more time was being spent at home instead of away from it," says Jafrey.
While many economists have offered their predictions on what's in store for the 2021 housing market, there are still a lot of unpredictable factors that will impact the market currently in play -- the vaccine being one of them.
But given the expected influx of immigration, continued work-from-home mandates, and the growing infrastructure of the Durham Region, it's looking like Durham's heading for another strong year in 2021.
"Looking at the statistics, market trends, and the news that's being made available to us regarding mortgages, I would say that the housing market will continue to be strong in 2021," says Jafrey.
"Record low-interest rates heavily assisted, and promoted homeownership throughout the year, and with the interest rates remaining low, along with increased immigration targets and new employment opportunities being made available in Durham Region, we will continue to see demand outweigh supply."
As for Sweeney, she foresees 2021's market being just as competitive as what we're seeing now -- unless more inventory arrives.
But for now, with 2020 finally coming to a much-needed close, don't look to Durham real estate to stop its red-hot run anytime soon.