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OTTAWA (MNI)

Canadian home sales rose 13% last year, setting an all-time record as the Covid-19 pandemic boosted demand for bigger dwellings outside downtown cores, realtor figures showed on Friday.

The 551,392 sales were 2.3% greater than the prior record back in 2016, the Canadian Real Estate Association reported, while the average price also rose 13% to CAD567,699. The year ended with a December sales gain of 7.2%.

Some of the biggest price gains were in "cottage country" well outside of Toronto and its outer suburbs. Smaller cities like Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Sherbrooke, Quebec, also reported annual sales gains that doubled the national average. That's one reason why the central bank has said this boom comes without speculative conditions that posed a risk to the financial system a few years ago, when more people took on huge mortgages to buy million-dollar Vancouver and Toronto homes.

The report suggests the peak season for sales in the spring will be another busy one, even as the second wave of Covid rages, CREA Chair Costa Poulopoulos said in the report. One indication markets remain tight is the record low number of homes listed for sale at the start of the year, around 100,000 versus 250,000 five years ago.

That has already pushed the average sales price in December to a record CAD607,280.