Dartmouth starts to deliver

There was a time when the main advantage of Dartmouth was the view: Halifax. But that's changing as the former roughand- tumble port city makes itself over within the 372,679-strong Halifax Regional Municipality and investment flows into new retail development, industrial properties hold steady and residential prices rise. "Dartmouth has just exploded," says Gord Burns, an agent in Dartmouth with Century 21 ABC Realty and a past president of the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors.

Dartmouth, like other markets in the Atlantic region, is accustomed to fairly steady growth. But the success of the Burnside industrial area, which has enjoyed a boost from oil and gas projects off Newfoundland, and major residential development on the east side of town, contributes to Dartmouth's appeal.

The jobs exist, the homes - rising in quality - are available, and the once-downtrodden downtown core has enjoyed a makeover, positioning it to be a more fashionable destination than it was a few years ago. The transformation is reflected in pricing for newer homes and investment in new infrastructure.

And major retail developments such as the 900,000-square-foot Dartmouth Crossing mall are buoying the fortunes of older properties. "We're in the $400,000 to $500,000 range," Burns says of the Portland Estates area on the east side of town.

"The top end of our market is where the most volume is right now. Properties over $350,000 ... I would say it looks good from everybody's point of view from an investment perspective, if they're in it for the long term." And it's still the long term that counts in Dartmouth, despite the growth, thanks to the market's stability and plain demographics.

The typical tenants for residential investment properties are professionals and retirees who have sold their homes and not bought anew. "We're seeing a lot more top-end renters coming into the marketplace," Burns says, noting that landlords like Premier Executive Suites can fetch $2,000 a month for units across the harbour, while residential vacancies run at about 2.5 per cent in Halifax RM as a whole. Rents in Dartmouth will be cheaper, but the opportunities are the same.

"We have a number of people that we see coming into this area, small investors, and they're content with that. They won't see 10 per cent in a year, but they'll see four per cent every year, year over year, constantly," Burns says. "So from the long-term perspective, it's great."

Alex MacDonald, regional economist with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. in Halifax, says the opportunities have attracted a lot of money from Chinese and the Middle East.

The larger investors are often partnering with local developers such as Clayton Developments Ltd. to redevelop neighbourhoods. Statistics from the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors indicate that home prices in the board's area are averaging $249,336 this year, while prices in downtown Dartmouth have averaged $202,125. On the east side of Dartmouth towards Eastern Passage, prices have averaged $178,686 - a full $100,000 less than in central Halifax.

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