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Housing market stagnant here

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The housing market here in Fort Frances has seen little to no growth or decline over recent years, according to one local broker.

“It’s plateaued for a number of years now. It hasn’t done a lot,” said Dan Cousineau of Cousineau Brokers Inc.

He noted there haven’t been many fluctuations in the market, which has both its pros and cons.

“Obviously the good is you know where you are at all times and there’s nothing crazy going on,” Cousineau remarked. “You’re not buying a house this year and next year it’s not worth anything.

“On the flip side, when you’re purchasing a house, it isn’t likely that your home will be worth a lot more [down the road],” he added.

“I think people do okay,” Cousineau said. “People buy and sell, but nobody’s getting rich doing it.”

Real estate tends to pick up and move more during the summer months. Alan Zucchiatti of Rainy Lake Realty here has noticed it’s been much busier since the weather has warmed up.

“This is when we see our busy time, it’s been quite normal that it picks up around this time,” he noted.

He agreed with Cousineau in that the housing market in Fort Frances isn’t a fluctuating one like what you might find in a city.

“It’s been quite normal, it’s not all of a sudden like Calgary for example, where the housing prices have all gone up because of the demand,” Zucchiatti explained.

“It’s not like that here in Fort Frances.”

The delicate balance between a sellers’ market and a buyers’ market is normally maintained in town. For the most part, said Zucchiatti, the market is very stable here and never leans towards one end without eventually teetering back towards the centre.

At the moment, market trends are favouring sellers since there are more buyers than sellers, allowing sellers to list there homes for slightly more than if they weren’t in demand.

The area of the local market that’s moved the most are homes in the middle price range, whereas the lower- and higher-end ones haven’t changed considerably.

“The higher-end stuff is pretty much stagnant, price-wise, and the lower-end stuff is pretty much stagnant, too,” Cousineau noted. “I think it’s the middle-ground stuff where it’s very affordable to a lot of people.”

He’s noticed the housing market has slowed slightly compared with last summer. “There’s probably not as many [homes for sale] as there were last year at this time,” Cousineau remarked.

The majority of homes people buy here are in the middle-range value of $175,000-$200,000, according to Zucchiatti.

There are many homes that sell for less and some that sell for more, but most people are in the market for single-family dwellings with a garage and backyard.

Of those, most people buy already-built homes.

“It’s always cheaper to buy than to build,” Zucchiatti said. “Usually if people want to build a home, they think they’ll spend $300,000 but they end up spending $350,000 because there are other costs they don’t budget for.”

Purchasing a home in Fort Frances does have its advantages, though—the general affordability, stability of the real estate market, and lower cost of living are some of the perks Cousineau attributed to living in a small town.

He views the housing market in town as relatively reasonable for home buyers.

“It’s affordable compared to a lot of other areas in Ontario. . . . It has to do basically, more than anything, with supply and demand,” Cousineau explained.

Cousineau added higher housing prices, availability of land, and construction costs all contribute to prices being higher in the city.

He estimated city-dwellers may pay $100,000-$150,000 for a lot whereas lots can be $30,000-$50,000 in small towns. This price discrepancy alone is enough for consumers to weigh the pros and cons of city living versus small town living.

In the end, paying $100,000 for the same home you’d get in the city for $450,000 is a major difference some pocket books can’t quite handle.

Zucchiatti’s advice to a potential buyer is essentially to buy when you’re ready to buy. Buying in the fall and just before winter tends to be the best time because prices are lower.

“Spring is when you tend to see more houses come out for sale, so the price will be higher,” he noted. “But if it doesn’t sell, then it will probably go down, as well.”

Although Fort Frances has been a relatively stable housing market for many years, Zucchiatti warns that because of its dependence on the AbitibiBowater mill, whatever affects the mill often trickles down to affect real estate.

“In this one-industry town, there would probably be some people that will think twice about buying a bigger house,” he remarked. “That will affect the market overall because some of the bigger ones are harder to sell.”

Nonetheless, Zucchiatti still sees Fort Frances’ market as very viable.

One piece of advice Zucchiatti wants future buyers to consider is to get a home inspection prior to buying.

Richard Green, owner of the Home Team Inspection Service, believes the $400 someone spends on the inspection is well worth the money because of the peace of mind you will get from knowing everything about the house.

“Homes have defects and ones that can usually be taken care of are important to know,” noted Green. “Some are major, others are minor, but if the home owner knows about it in advance, they can plan and budget for it.”

The inspection Green and his team does includes an entire house inspection checking the structure, mechanical systems, furnaces, air conditioning, water tanks, electrical systems, drains, and plumbing, as well the foundation.

They also check to see if the property is properly graded and up to code.

“We tell them what we see,” Green explained. “It’s a visual inspection for defects. If it’s a major defect, we let the home owners know.”

Green has seen his business pick up as the need for home inspection has grown. “It was the only one in town but there was a need for it,” he noted.

Although more people are investing in home inspection, Green said only 25 percent of residents enlist home inspectors where as in the east, upwards of 65 percent of people receive home inspections.

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