Vancouver home sales soared to a record in 2021 as the real estate frenzy induced by the pandemic overcame years of government policies to rein in the market, with deals regaining all ground lost since the efforts began.

Just shy of 44,000 homes traded hands in the metro Vancouver area last year, a 42 per cent increase from 2020’s sales and almost 1,700 more than the previous record, according to figures released Wednesday by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. The last high, set in 2015, came just before authorities in both British Columbia and Vancouver put in place measures intended to cool the market, including taxes on foreign buyers and empty homes.

While successive waves of policy making led to a slowdown in Vancouver home sales the past few years, the accompanying decline in prices was too modest to increase housing affordability, which prompted the moves in the first place. Now, ultra-low interest rates and a frenzy for larger living spaces spurred by COVID-19 have combined with a historic shortage of houses for sale to send Vancouver’s market back to where it was before the efforts began.

The benchmark home price also rose to a record, ending last year at $1.23 million (US$969,000), 17 per cent higher than in December 2020. The buying frenzy has also depleted the city’s housing stock, with the number of homes listed for sale plunging to just above 5,000 at the end of last month, the lowest level in more than 30 years.

“With demand at record levels, residents shouldn’t expect home-price growth to relent until there’s a more adequate supply of housing available to purchase,” board economist Keith Stewart said in a statement. 

The shortage of inventory may be starting to put a damper on sales. Though 2021 was a record year overall, transactions plunged 13 per cent in December from a year earlier, and almost 22 per cent from November, the board’s data show.