Sales of detached homes in December rose 72% from a year earlier while the benchmark price fell 4% to $1.423 million

House sales in Vancouver almost doubled last month compared to the same period last year as people looking for a home re-entered the market following tougher mortgage rules and efforts to stem foreign owner speculation, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.

Residential property sales rocketed 88 per cent to 2,016 transactions in December compared with 1,072 a year earlier, the board said Friday. However, it was a 19 per cent decrease from the 2,498 sales in Nov.

Sales of detached homes in December rose 72 per cent to 599 from 348 a year earlier while the benchmark price fell 4 per cent to $1.423 million during the period, according to the board.

Vancouver, with a housing market driven by wealthy immigrants from Asia and elsewhere, has Canada’s highest average home prices. In 2016, B.C. imposed an additional 15 per cent tax on residential property transfers to foreign buyers in an effort to curb demand and galloping house prices. In 2018, Canada’s banking regulator imposed so-called stress tests, making it more difficult to get mortgages, especially for first-time buyers.

During 2019, confidence in the housing market played a strong role in affecting seasonal patterns, according to board president Ashley Smith. Activity was subdued during the normally strong spring period while buyers returned to the market in the year’s second half, she said.

“In the first quarter, many prospective buyers were in a holding pattern, waiting to see how prices would react to the mortgage stress test, new taxes, and other policy changes,” Smith said in a statement. “Confidence started to return in the summer, and we saw above average sales in the final quarter of 2019.”

The number of new listings in December increased 13 per cent to 1,588 detached, attached and apartment properties from 1,407 new listings a year earlier, the board said.

The city’s housing market was still recuperating in 2019 as the year’s total sales of 25,351 was 20 per cent below the 10-year sales average and 30 per cent below the 2017 total, according to the board. Still, it was 3 per cent better than 2018, it said.

The ratio of sales to active listings, which can be an indicator of where housing prices are headed, was 23 per cent for all housing types in Dec. If the amount falls below 12 per cent for a sustained period, home prices tend to drop. A ratio above 20 per cent for several months puts pressure on prices to rise, according to the board.

By property type in December, the ratio was 15 per cent for detached homes, 26 per cent for townhomes, and 33 per cent for apartments, the board said.