NORTHERN VANCOUVER ISLAND, B.C. – It was a dismal December for Vancouver Island’s real estate market.

According to the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board (VIREB), sales of single-family homes in December dropped by 48 per cent from a year ago, and were 44 per cent lower than in November.

Further north, the market for detached homes slumped in the Comox Valley and Campbell River in 2018.

Compared to the previous year, sales of single-family homes fell 21 percent in Campbell River, and 13 percent in both the Comox Valley and Cowichan Valley.

In Campbell River, 487 houses changed hands compared to 613 in 2017.

The numbers weren’t quite as low in the Comox Valley, where 770 houses sold this year compared to 889 in 2017.

Sales in the Cowichan Valley also slumped year to year, from 964 in 2017 to 839 in 2018.

According to the VIREB, the 2018 housing market “behaved as expected, moderating after the record-setting pace set in 2016 and 2017.”

The board said the government policy-side measures introduced to cool the market, such as the mortgage stress test, “eroded the purchasing power of some prospective home buyers by as much as 20 per cent.”

Looking ahead, VIREB past president Don McClintock predicted an uptick in sales in 2019.

McClintock said the “brakes have been put on” first time buyers who are being impacted by the stress test that’s been in effect for most of last year.

“As prices have risen… the properties have become less and less affordable for buyers who have been affected by the stress test,” Mclintock said.

McClintock noted that November and December are traditionally slow months for real estate sales, adding that the market is returning to more “long-term average” number of sales compared to the previous two years, when sales far exceeded the 10-year average.

“We don’t see it (the sales drop) as a sign of a big slump or anything to be getting into any kind of a panic over at the present time,” McClintock said.

Despite the drop in sales, prices continue to go up.

The average sale price for a single family residential home in Campbell River was $453,935 in 2018, up 11 percent from 2017 when houses went for, on average, $407,174.

Houses were pricier in the valley, with the average sale price of $539,897 compared to $491,416 the previous year.

The benchmark price for homes on the Sunshine Coast, including Powell River, were $620,000, up 6.4 percent from the previous year.

Mainland mired in slump

It’s the same story across the Strait of Georgia, as Metro Vancouver home sales in 2018 were the lowest annual total in the region since 2000.

Last year’s sales total was 25 per cent below the region’s 10-year sales average.

Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver president Phil Moore said high home prices, rising interest rates and new mortgage requirements and taxes “all contributed to the market conditions we saw in 2018.”

But house prices on the mainland is still out of reach for many, with the benchark price for a detached home sitting at just under $1.5 million, townhouses selling for $809,000 (on average), and condos averaging out to $664,100 per unit.