Greater Toronto home sales soared 37 per cent in January compared with the same month a year ago as lower borrowing costs associated with fixed-rate mortgages lured some buyers back to the market.

Last month's 4,223 home sales also marked a 22.9 per cent month-over-month increase from December, according to data released Tuesday by the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board.

It said the market is tighter than it was a year ago as new listings increased by 6.1 per cent, but didn't keep pace with demand.

Sales were up across all housing categories in the region on an annual basis, led by townhouses at 54.5 per cent and semi-detached homes at 42.9 per cent. The number of condominiums that changed hands was 41 per cent higher than a year ago, as detached home sales rose 27 per cent.

Meanwhile, the average home price dropped one per cent from the same time last year to $1,026,703, which was also a 5.4 per cent decrease from the final month of 2023.

TRREB president Jennifer Pearce called it a positive start to the year.

"The Bank of Canada expects the rate of inflation to recede as we move through the year. This would support lower interest rates which would bolster homebuyers' confidence to move back into the market," she said in a news release.

"First-time buyers currently facing high average rents would benefit from lower mortgage rates, making the move to home ownership more affordable."

The board's chief market analyst Jason Mercer added that once the central bank starts cutting its key rate from the current five per cent, likely in the second half of 2024, more competition between buyers amid constrained supply will push prices higher.

"Prices will continue to go up," said Jessica Hammell, a broker who focuses on downtown and midtown Toronto properties for Real Broker Ontario.

Amid rising demand, she said "it's not a time to sit and wait and see what happens" for those considering a home purchase.

"It definitely behooves people to start at least making plans, like evaluating their personal circumstances, getting that pre-approval to see where they stand and taking calculated action," she said.

The Bank of Canada has expressed caution about the potential effect on the housing market should it move too quickly to lower its policy rate.

In a summary of governing council deliberations that led to December's decision to hold the rate steady, members said easing financial conditions prematurely could prompt a rebound for Canada's housing market, further fuelling inflationary pressures.

But Hammell said many prospective buyers aren't waiting for better borrowing conditions to make their move.

"Even the promise of rates coming down in the near future has definitely helped people feel more comfortable taking action," she said.

"I think buyers are savvy now. They know that when things start trending down with rates, prices are going to come back up. They're seeing this opportunity and they're seizing it."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2024.