Buyers got the better of Houston’s real estate market last year as property values fell slightly or stayed the same. But local realtors expect prices to pick up in 2012.
Low property values were good news to the roughly 1500 Houston property owners who got a property tax assessment in the mail last week.
Colleen McCombe, a deputy assessor with BC Assessment, said Houston home owners saw assessment changes in the range of minus 10 to plus five per cent.
Overall, Houston’s residential, commercial and industrial real estate dipped from a value of $269 million in 2010 to $267 million in 2011.
Lia Long, a realtor with Houston Re/Max, said it seems that low and stable property assessments are a welcome break to home owners.
“Normally when it’s assessment time of year I get a million phone calls saying, ‘I got my house assessed way too high,'” Long said on Friday. “I haven’t had one phone call so far this year.”
Still, Long said she expects to see prices start rising again in 2012.
“There’s a lot more activity this time of year than is typical,” she said, adding that Houston Re/Max saw 48 homes change hands in 2011, up from 27 in 2010.
“They’re all basically new people too,” she said.
Newcomers tended to buy single-family homes in Avalon subdivision, she said. A few bought homes on five-acre lots just outside of town.
Asked why home sales are picking up, Long highlighted two reasons: job growth and Houston’s remarkable affordability.
“Both mills are very stable here now, and the extension of the mine is going to be great as well,” she said. Such strong job prospects attract young families who might have a tougher time buying a home in B.C.’s increasingly expensive cities.
“It’s so affordable here as well—compared to just about anywhere in Canada—that we have lots of people that come here to sort of semi-retire,” she said.
According to a report from the BC Northern Real Estate Board, the median price of a single-family home in Houston was just $138,000 last year, compared to $211,000 in Smithers and $246,500 in Prince George.
The same report listed Houston along with Terrace, Kitimat, Smithers, Peace River and Prince George as the northern B.C. markets showing the strongest rise in home sales and home prices—trends that are expected to climb further as Canada’s largest banks drop interest rates to record lows.
For renters too, Houston came second only to Kitimat for affordability in B.C. last year—and Houston may well take the top spot as Kitimat fills up with workers who are coming in to build its new liquefied natural gas plant.
Using data collected in October 2011, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation reported that people living in Kitimat required a salary of about $20,000 to comfortably afford an average one-bedroom apartment. In Houston, that income threshold was $20,500.
Those who own commercial or industrial property in Houston likely saw a slight increase or no change to their 2011 assessments.
Although she mostly handles residential listings, Long said although she’s seen little activity in Houston’s non-residential market in the last few years it appears that there too, there could be a slight rise in 2012.
The new Sunshine Inn, Subway restaurant and Sullivan Motor Products showroom are all moving that market in the right direction, she said.
“To see some of those things happen around here is great.”