Peaceful Charlottetown Bustling With Investors

From its early days of settlement on, Prince Edward Island has remained mostly insular to the economic movements around it. That's remained true recently with the economic storm that brewed in North America.

It's a place that goes on its own pace, and that pace is usually easy-going.

Even in the provincial capital of the island, there's a peaceful nature, which continues to attract those wanting a slower, relaxed lifestyle.

"Some clients visit, then sell their houses and move here lock, stock and barrel," says Don Martin, a native of the island and owner of Re/Max Charlottetown Realty. Others who've visited come back to invest on the waterfront with a cottage.

He says immigrants have increasingly been starting out in Charlottetown as well. A stable economy has been a factor, bolstered by a strong public sector presence. In the last few years, a number of companies have moved in, and the busy waterfront will attract nearly 50 cruise ships this year for visits.

A continued concern is unemployment, however, as Prince Edward Island has a rate of about 10 per cent this year.

Located on the south side of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown is slightly more expensive than some of the rural areas, but still considered affordable to most Canadians, says Ken Peters, owner of Royal LePage Peters & Lank Realty.

"A trend that we're seeing is people moving back after living in another province for a number of years or just people who have visited and enjoyed the laid-back lifestyle and scenery, which is second-to-none," says Peters.  "It's also a very safe place to live."

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the average MLS sales price in Charlottetown is likely to reach $187,000 by the end of the year.

That's coming off gains of $30,000 from 2006 to 2009. The vacancy rate overall was up to 3.4 per cent last year and even higher this year, but the CMHC says it all depends on where and what type of property you have. Outside of the downtown, the rate was 2.4 per cent, and the most expensive units (anything above $800 per month), recorded a 1.4 per cent vacancy rate.

That's because there's a shortage of the higher quality apartment buildings, and condos are also a new concept on the island, says Martin.

"Right now, there are investors coming from all over Canada," he says. "I've never seen such a demand for income properties over my 18 years in the business as there's been in the past 12 months."

Martin says an existing (used) 12-unit apartment building can sell for $900,000, compared to about $1.2 million for new. Rents can be about $630 to $900 per unit. Thus a 12- unit building renting for $750 per unit could take in about $108,000 in rental income annually if rented fully. That's a 12 per cent return on investment if bought at $900,000.

"You can get anywhere from a three per cent to 12 per cent return on investment here, but that 12 per cent will soon be eroded from the demand of investors coming in to buy. It's unbelievable," says Martin.

He says there's a real short supply for some of the better quality apartment buildings. Those that are available are "snapped up quickly, and a lot more are being built for investors soon," says Martin.

Condos can sell for $150,000 and up to nearly $600,000 along the water. New developments are popping up regularly.

Houses in the $130,000 to just above $200,000 seem to be the biggest sellers, according to Peters and Martin.

"In the past few years we have seen seniors purchasing condos and putting their homes on the market," says Peters.

One of the areas seeing the most new construction in the past few years has been West Royalty, says Peters, with a mixture of ranchers, split levels and two-storeys. These houses range from $150,000 to $275,000.

Stratford and Cornwall are two other spots that have seen significant growth and development lately.

Peters sees an even brighter future ahead. "The market for investment properties has increased in the past couple of years, but prices still remain quite affordable," he says. "As one of my U.S. clients who purchased a couple of Charlottetown investment properties said, 'P.E.I. hasn't really been discovered yet. Just wait, then look out.'"

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