Source – nationalpost.com
- “…“It’s been crazy. Crazy, crazy,” said Annette Comeau, a realtor with Northern New Brunswick offices in Miramichi, Bathurst and the Acadian Peninsula. “2020 — I can’t explain it to you. I’ve been in business 33 years and I’ve never seen anything — or ever dreamt anything — like it. It’s a good time to be a realtor — finally”
Exodus to Atlantic provinces boosts small-town real estate — and buyers’ well-being
‘We went from a postage stamp-size property to an acre and a half’ Author of the article
Mar 18, 2021
Heather Purssell and her husband, Adrian, made the decision in December 2019: they would sell their home in Midland, Ont. and, with their two youngest children, Cheyenne and Kayden, move cross-country to Miramichi in Northern New Brunswick. Not only did the move eliminate their mortgage, it put money in their bank account. It also set off something of a pandemic exodus by their family and friends — including Purssell’s father and a friend from down the street in Midland — who all followed them from Ontario to Miramichi in search of a simpler, more affordable life. Two more Ontario friends will arrive in a couple of weeks, and based on the inquiries Purssell is getting, it seems more friends and family might follow, too.
The Purssells’ story provides an extreme example of a larger trend, one accelerated during the pandemic: people from the U.S. and Canada — typically Ontario — moving to Atlantic Canada, often attracted by affordable homes, what they see as a slower pace, and the region’s success in keeping case numbers low during most of the pandemic.
The result has been a year of explosive real estate activity in Atlantic Canada, with experienced realtors left without words to explain rising home sales, skyrocketing prices and unending demand. Perhaps most surprisingly, it’s not simply an urban trend. Rural areas are also humming with unexpected real estate activity.
“It’s been crazy. Crazy, crazy,” said Annette Comeau, a realtor with Northern New Brunswick offices in Miramichi, Bathurst and the Acadian Peninsula. “2020 — I can’t explain it to you. I’ve been in business 33 years and I’ve never seen anything — or ever dreamt anything — like it. It’s a good time to be a realtor — finally.”
On March 13, 2020, Comeau had just returned to Miramichi from a three-week trip to Arizona, California and Nevada. She laid off her assistant and closed her business. There would be no more work in 2020, she reasoned — home sales would likely cease. “I thought it was over. I thought we were finished for the year,” she recalled in an interview Wednesday. For a brief time, business did fall off. But then some people started buying land, followed by others who viewed homes virtually before taking the bold step of buying a house without stepping inside it.
“It hasn’t stopped since,” Comeau said.
Her experience is reflected in the province — and region — generally. Overall, New Brunswick residential sales were up 11 per cent in 2020 while prices rose more than 10 per cent to $197,604. And the picture is similar across Atlantic Canada, according to figures from realtor and real estate associations in all four provinces.
Nova Scotia sales were up 13 per cent in 2020, while prices rose by nearly 14 per cent to $291,224. A recent Re/Max market update shows sales and prices remained elevated across Nova Scotia in February, pushed upward by fewer houses for sale and increased demand for those houses actually available. And a notable portion of the demand is from out-of-province buyers.
“What’s great about it is it’s primarily immigration-driven,” Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said in January. “We’re not taking people from Yarmouth or Cape Breton, we’re taking people from other parts of the world who can go anywhere in the world, and they’re choosing to come to Halifax.”
On Prince Edward Island, sales increased 8.8 per cent last year and prices grew 18.1 per cent to $280,628. The increases were more modest in Newfoundland and Labrador, with 2020 sales up by just under 15 per cent, and prices ticking up almost 4.5 per cent to $298,651. (According to Re/Max, St. John’s will be one of the few Atlantic Canadian real estate markets to cool in 2021, with residential prices forecast to dip as much as three per cent).
Comeau estimates prices in her area are up 15 per cent, with properties regularly fetching multiple bids, often from Ontario and Quebec residents. “You list it and sells right away,” she said. “They’re buying everything. They’re buying 60 acres with an old farmhouse for $70,000 — they’re fighting over it. They’re buying $400,000 houses. They’re buying in town, out of town. There’s no rhythm nor reason. My phone rings 10 to 15 times a day with buyers from Ontario.” And due to border restrictions, out-of-province buyers can currently only view their new homes virtually. “I’d have to be in a very sad place to buy a house without seeing it,” Comeau said, with an obvious air of bewilderment.
Among those Comeau has helped with virtual viewings is Heather Purssell. Purssell was also aided by family in Miramichi, who helped answer essential questions on the ground, such as: “Does it smell musty?”
My phone rings 10 to 15 times a day with buyers from OntarioRealtor Annette Comeau
For Purssell, who is adopted, the decision to move to Miramichi was heavily influenced by her birth mother’s presence there. The decision was made final when Adrian was laid off from his job in Ontario. “I’m like, ‘If we keep going the way we’re going in Ontario, we might be in our mid-70s by the time we pay off our mortgage,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “And for what?”
There was one point of hesitation: Purssell’s 77-year-old adoptive father, Ron. She worried about leaving him behind. “He’s like, ‘Then don’t leave me. I’ll come,’” she recalled. He’d never been to Miramichi but figured he could enjoy some of the activities — like fishing — that weren’t accessible in the city.
The Purssells sold their Midland house for $469,000 and bought in Miramichi for $215,000. The result: they arrived debt-free, with money to spare. “We went from a postage stamp-size property to an acre and a half,” said Purssell, 52. “It’s insane what you can get here for what is barely a down payment in Ontario.”
Was she nervous? “Absolutely!” she said. “If someone had told us we would be doing this even two years ago we would have been like, ‘Are you nuts! Who makes their biggest purchase basically sight unseen?’”
They landed in Miramichi in late July. In the months since their arrival, the Purssells have joined a Lions Club, and Adrian has found work. “People say the pay is less in the Maritimes. But you don’t need the money,” she said. “You can get by just fine on $30,000 or $35,000, especially if your mortgage is paid.”
Her father sold his Brampton condo, arrived in August and, also mortgage-free, bought a new truck. He now lives one minute away on an acre of property. Within days he was followed by one of the Purssells’ friends from Midland, a single mother with three kids who’d never been to Atlantic Canada. (Again, no mortgage.) In April, another couple will join from Collingwood, excited about a mortgage payment of only $245 per month. And other friends and family members are asking questions and seem interested in following the same path to Atlantic Canada.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Purssell concluded. “The quality of life here is so much better. It’s a slower pace. There’s less traffic. It’s more family oriented. And that’s been lost in Ontario. We’re very happy we made the move. We’d never go back.”
Cathy Andreu feels similarly about her family’s move last year from Texas to Mahone Bay, N.S., a seaside community an hour outside Halifax.
Originally from Hamilton, Ont., Andreu visited Nova Scotia in 2000. The trip saddened her mother, who correctly predicted her daughter would want to move there. “I just fell in love with it,” Andreu recalled. “It took me a while, but we eventually ended up here.”
Andreu wanted to live in a safe place with a slower pace, where her four children could ride their bikes and be outside — an idyllic childhood. After a lengthy search they found an old blue farmhouse on Main Street in Mahone Bay.
“It was a huge leap of faith to move somewhere where you don’t really know anyone,” she recalled. Andreu, her husband and children arrived on Feb. 1, 2020, just before the world was upturned by the global pandemic. “We instantly felt at home,” she said. After seeing from afar what has transpired around the world in the past year, Andreu views the move as a blessing. “It’s so beautiful. We feel we moved to the perfect spot. We’re grateful to be here.”