A recession-cooled Canadian real estate market saw falling housing prices during the first quarter of the year, though the declines were not as steep as expected.

A quarterly house price survey, released Wednesday by Royal LePage Real Estate Services, showed national price declines in several major housing types compared to the same quarter in 2008.

According to the survey numbers:

  • The price of a standard two-storey home dropped 6.5 per cent
  • The price of a detached bungalow fell 6.1 per cent
  • The price of a standard condominium declined by 4 per cent

Royal LePage Real Estate Services President Phil Soper said the data shows the hottest housing market to be in St. John's, where prices for standard two-storey homes rose 15 per cent year over year.

"Consumer confidence drives a lot of activity in the housing market and they remain a very confident lot, and there's still a supply shortage of homes for sale there," he told CTV's Canada AM.

Soper said other markets in Atlantic Canada also performed steadily, due in part to the region's affordable housing prices and to an increasingly diverse regional economy.

"Halifax, Moncton, Saint John, N.B., are all healthy markets," he said.

"The economies have really diversified over the last 15 years and it's showing up in terms of steadier prices."

In Ontario and Quebec, Royal LePage said the markets "held steady" with some small gains and declines. But overall, Ontario typically saw "mid to low single digit declines" in its housing prices, the survey said.

The survey said that Western provinces saw "significant changes" in real estate prices, with double-digit declines in many areas. Manitoba was the lone major exception to this trend.

The survey predicted that B.C. and Alberta may be among the first areas in Canada to see pricing gains because those provinces experienced market corrections prior to the brunt of the economic crisis.

Soper said the first quarter of 2009 was, overall, one of the worst-performing sales periods for real estate in recent memory.

But he said Canadian realtors have high hopes for an improvement in the national market this spring.

"There is a remarkable uptick in March in buying activity in the marketplace, compared to November, December, January, February, (which) were easily the worst four months in the last decade in terms of housing market activity," he said.

Out west, the declines were particularly severe, Soper said.

"In Vancouver, the activity level in the province was down by half," Soper said.

"Fifty per cent of the transactions just disappeared over those four months. So, now we're only down 25 per cent in March, that's a remarkable turnaround in one month."

The survey also said that condominiums have become "increasingly accessible" for young homeowners across Canada, due to a combination of low lending rates and falling prices during the recession.

In the first quarter of 2009, the average price of a standard Canadian condominium was $232, 877 -- a mid-point price on a scale that ranged from $120,000 in Charlottetown to $431,500 in Vancouver.