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Sales of existing homes in Canada fell 4.4 per cent in April from March as activity dropped off after a first-quarter rush to buy before the introduction of new mortgage rules.

The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) said on Tuesday that 36,564 homes changed hands in April, down from 38,263 in March.

The national average price in April rose 8 per cent from a year earlier to a nonseasonally adjusted $372,544, while new listings edged up 1.3 per cent in April from March, CREA said.

The decline in sales came as little surprise as tighter mortgage rules, which took aim at mortgage amortization and refinancing, came into effect early in the spring. CREA said the new regulations probably sidelined a number of first-time homebuyers.

"April's decline in existing home sales shows the impact of the March 18 changes to mortgage rules that lifted existing home sales in Q1 to their highest level in a year as buyers rushed to buy ahead of the change," said Leslie Preston, economic analyst at Toronto-Dominion Bank.

"We don't expect the first quarter's pace to be sustained and April's reading sets the stage for an expected softening."

Canada's housing market has shown resiliency compared with other countries whose markets dived during the financial crisis.

Data on Tuesday showed the U.S. housing market has still not recovered as housing starts and building permits fell in April. Residential construction was crowded out by an oversupply of used homes on the market, in particular, foreclosed properties.

TRANSITORY FACTORS

Analysts said the new mortgage regulations contributed to the month's 4.4 per cent pullback, though the impact was hard to measure.

The month's decline left year-over-year sales off nearly 15 per cent. Last year's spring sales may have also been pushed forward by homebuyers wanting to get ahead of the July 2010 introduction of harmonized sales taxes in Ontario and British Columbia, the provinces that are home to the country's most expensive metropolitan markets: Toronto and Vancouver, respectively.

"This makes it difficult to compare the two months in order to reliably gauge the impact of the latest round of mortgage rule changes," Gregory Klump, CREA's chief economist, said.

Overall, analysts predict the housing market -- the sector that led Canada out from recession -- will cool further in coming months because of the new mortgage rules and higher borrowing costs but that it won't drop as much as earlier forecast.

Last week, CREA lifted its 2011 national forecast for home resales to 441,100, a year-on-year decline of 1.3 per cent.

The new estimate compares with the 1.6 per cent year-on-year decline it forecast in February, which itself was revised up from an earlier forecast. It also forecast the average price would rise 4 per cent this year, compared with February's view of a 1.3-per cent rise, largely based on stronger-than-expected sales of multimillion-dollar homes in British Columbia.

CREA's April price figures supported this view, as prices rose 2.5 per cent in the Vancouver area to a seasonally adjusted $801,719 even though sales fell 12.1 per cent in the month. The average Vancouver price was up 21 per cent from a year earlier.



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Some might call Mariya Chekanovych's Olympic ambitions, the road to Rio.

That's where the now 16-year-old Simon Fraser Aquatics swimmer believes her moment might very well come.

"Of course, it's a matter of time, practice and training," said Chekanovych, a Grade 11 honour roll student at Burnaby Central Secondary School.

"That goal has to be realistic, but now that I'm at the level and close to that level, I just want to get there."

Waiting another five years before putting herself to the test seems a long time by some standards, but Chekanovych, who is part of the swim academy at Simon Fraser University, says it's all about taking baby steps.

At the recent B.C. senior championships at the UBC Aquatic Centre last month, Chekanovych placed fourth in the 200-metre breaststroke behind Olympians Annamay Pierse and Martha McCabe.

Two days later, Chekanovych beat out McCabe for a bronze medal in the 100m breast final, finishing in a time of 1:10.74, one-tenth of a second behind Pierse's winning time, despite giving up as much as nine years of age to her much more experienced competition.

Chekanovych's swimming days began in Surrey at the age of nine, shortly after her immigration to Canada from the Ukraine.

In the former Soviet republic, Chekanovych grew up competing as a child ballroom dancer.

"I was pretty good," Chekanovych confessed. "I had a large amount of medals and everything. I even went to Poland for an international competition and won bronze."

But she has turned into an even more accomplished swimmer than she ever was on the dance floor.

Her swim coach and step-father Dmitriy Kononenko recalls a moment when then world medallist Brittany Reimer came to the Surrey Knights swim club for a 'Swim with the Stars' event.

"I remember Mariya swam very poorly at the meet, but after she said, 'I want to be better than Brittany.' Wow, to hear that story from a nine-year-old wanting to be in the Olympics."

It made an immediate impression on Kononenko, but Chekanovych can scarcely recall the moment.

However, her actions have since spoken louder than her lack of memory ever could.

"I just wanted to show that I was the best. I wanted to prove that someone who just began swimming can achieve amazing things," she said.

Just four years later, Chekanovych reached the senior national time standard for the first time in the 100 and 200m breast, and she was subsequently selected to Canada's youth team as a 13-year-old.

In 2009, she won three gold medals and set two meet records at the North American Challenge Cup.

She also represented B.C. in the same year at the Canada Summer Games, where she broke long-standing age-group records in both the 100 and 200m breast, just missing an even longer held Canadian mark in the process.

Earlier this year, Chekanovych was named one of only six recipients in Canada of a Victor Davis award, a memorial fund set up for the former Olympic champion breaststroker, who died of his injuries resulting from a hit-and-run incident in 1989.

The award is a fitting one for Chekanovych said her coach.

"Some people swim amazingly fast in practice, but don't show up in big meets. But Mariya, she swims faster at every swim. It's no limit for her," said Kononenko. "If you are fast in practice, no way slow in meet."

Chekanovych showed some of that speed at the Canadian world swim trials in Victoria this weekend, finishing fifth in the final of the women's 200m breast on Wednesday.

Chekanovych believes the Canadian national junior team is an achievable goal, but her swim coach thinks even a spot on the senior team could happen.

"It's possible," Chekanovych admitted.

"But right now, I can be part of that (junior) team, for sure. I definitely need to step it up and compete for the other."

And that is likely just what Chekanovych will do if past history is any indication.

And that desire to win will be the impetus that will likely get her there.

"I've had my doubts, but there is always that drive. But winning, that feeling is the best. It makes you want to continue on. ... I don't want to give up without doing my best."

Canada's world trials wind up today.

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