Summerside: Second to none

Prince Edward Island is Canada's smallest province, but local real estate markets still hold opportunities even if the conditions affecting each of them are the same. It may take just half a day to drive from one end of the province to the other, but don't underestimate the variation that exists in between.

Summerside is a prime example. Charlottetown may have government staff and the University of PEI to keep landlords busy, but Summerside knows what it's like to suffer ups and downs.

The province's second major city, it has just 15,000 people but still enjoys a mix of employment opportunities.

On the one hand, it sits on the fringes of the western island with its famous potato fields; on the other, it has a defunct military base that's been transformed into an aerospace technology hub.

Between tubers and turbines, the city is holding its own. Summerside's largest employer is the centre that administers the federal GST, and Cavendish Farms' potato processing plant is in New Annan, a mere 10-minute drive away.

Meanwhile, Slemon Business Park is home to Vector Aerospace Engine Services, which repairs and overhauls aircraft engines, as well as component manufacturers Testori Americas Corp. and Honeywell.

While a lot of money has poured into Charlottetown, PEI Real Estate Association president Jim Carragher says Summerside is enjoying opportunities as good-paying jobs draw in new residents.

"[Slemon] just brought Summerside to life and it's doing great," he says.

Rental real estate is in particularly strong demand: Just less than half the households rent, so making sure there's a supply of good-quality real estate is important. While vacancies are currently in the range of six per cent (or about 50 vacant units), the latest census indicates about 8.2 per cent of homes require major repairs.

This is where opportunities for investment lie. The employment opportunities at home and abroad are bringing in the capital needed to spruce up the properties. Carragher said many local youth are creating pied-…-terres with their earnings, which provides a place to stay when they come home, or a rental property when they're away.

"Our younger generation that spend a lot of time [away] ... are coming back every six or eight weeks," Carragher said. "Anyone that's going off island, they're bringing their funds back."

He suggests that the average price of a home in Summerside is $140,000 - cheap even for Atlantic Canada.

It's not just locals working abroad who are interested. "We're seeing an infl ux of people from all over the country looking to invest in multi-unit residential. [And] the wheels are starting to spin now on recreational investment property," Carragher said.

With its abundant, iron-red coastline, waterfront properties attract strong interest. There's been an uptick in interest this year, as U.S. buyers return now that the recession is easing and confidence is returning. Those who want to be in P.E.I. often come five to six times a year, creating both sale opportunities but also opportunities to rent to visitors.

But the stability of P.E.I., with a population that is holding its own despite economic vagaries, means property here is a good long-term hold regardless.

"Real estate was still an excellent investment, and in P.E.I. I'd say we almost went unscathed," Carragher says.

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