Affordability Remains Despite Gains in Atlantic Provinces

From the bottom up, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador rank as the four lowest locations for an averaged priced home, at about half the national average. But there's, nonetheless, been a steady gain in values here that an investor after stability could take comfort in.

"After an uncertain beginning to 2009, what we were hoping for happened - consumers regained confidence and started buying homes," says Linda Smardon, president of the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors. "As a result, we started seeing steady gains and ended up in a positive position at the end of the year."

In just two years, Nova Scotia has gone from a strong sellers' market to a mild buyers' market to a balanced market, she says.

"We have such a diverse market in Nova Scotia," says Smardon. "Because our economy is not largely dependent on one or two industries, we weather the storm much better than other parts of the country."

In Halifax, N.S., there has not been any price decreases in the past 10 years, and values are still growing, at nearly two per cent from the end of 2008 to December 2009. That compares to a 3.9 per cent increase in prices over the same period for all of Nova Scotia.

"There is very little speculative investing here and this has kept the market solid and a great place to invest," says John Linders of Re/Max Nova in Dartmouth. He says the confidence level is very high in the market, as prices are still within reach of first-time buyers.

"There is a slight urgency to get out and get buying before prices go up during the spring market and fear or rising interest rates is fuelling those fears," Linders says. "The first-time buyer continues to drive our market in Nova Scotia." Rising interest rates will likely play a role, but prices haven't jumped as high here in the past year as other parts of Canada.

Linders says outside the hot selling downtown Halifax, activity is strongest in Dartmouth, Bedford, Sackville and other surrounding residential areas such as Hammonds Plains and Timberley. Both single-family residential and multi-family are the types of homes seeing activity. The $260,000 to $350,000 range in Nova Scotia is outperforming the $180,000 to $200,000 range by a nearly two-to-one ratio.

Good returns on rental properties can be found on the Halifax Peninsula as well. "Many listings are being snapped up by small investors looking to expand their investment portfolio and offers are being entertained even prior to viewing new listings," says Linders.

New Brunswick, with a provincial second lowest average home price in 2009 of $139,420, has been led by St. John.

After seeing 13 straight year-over-year sales activity drops prior to November 2009, New Brunswick has seen three straight increases up through January. While year-over-year prices were down in much of the rest of the province, St. John saw 18 per cent growth.

Just like other parts of the Atlantic provinces, New Brunswick has had less steep declines and rises in its housing market in the past couple years, says Dwayne Hayes, a Realtor and president of the New Brunswick Real Estate Association.

"As a result, sales are not currently running at unsustainably high levels, and so are not forecast to see any significant declines for that reason," Hayes says. As long as interest rate hikes remain low this year, the market should remain stable as well. Some difficulty could come from still-depressed North America demand and prices for forestry products, says Hayes.

National employment is coming off at a 1.6 per cent drop in 2009. Some capital projects have also been put on hold or are winding down, so it will likely be a slightly depressed economy this year.

However, lumber prices are likely to improve as housing starts recover. Also, Hayes says investment in education is creating jobs and tax cuts are now aimed at attracting new industry.

Apartments and recreational properties in New Brunswick were the only property types to post gains in activity in 2009, rising 14 per cent and 5.6 per cent respectively, says Hayes.

Faring worse were semi-detached units, down 42 per cent from 2008 levels. This year in Moncton, semi-detached homes are selling well lately, says Hayes.



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