Top tax-friendly towns: Antigonish County

Nova Scotia’s Antogonish County, which includes the town of Antigonish, seems like a quaint, picturesque locale. And in many ways, it truly is. But while Antogonish is no Halifax, it certainly does have an up-and-coming real estate market.

The county is home to St. Francis Xavier University, which has an enrollment of 3,956 and 285 faculty members, and it's also a prime spot for retirees. Investors are beginning to take notice of the county and for good reason – it boasts a low property tax rate of $0.88 per $100.

Tax factors

While other areas have experienced tax rate increases over the years, Antigonish County’s have remained low for quite some time. There are a number of factors that have allowed the county to maintain this low rate.

“Everything here is very carefully rationalized,” says Stephen Feist, chief administrative officer for the Town of Antigonish. “We own our own electric utility, and it pays the town an annual dividend, which helps to keep the taxes down.”

The town, says Feist, is run by a much smaller staff than other outlying areas. “Area-wise, we’re a very small town,” he adds. “It doesn’t cost us as much to provide all of these public services, and we don’t have to travel very far.”

Property tax rates in Antigonish has been on the rise over the past few years. However, as Feist explains, that was not the case in 2013.

“The [tax rates] have been increasing for the past number of years,” he says. “But last year, we had a zero per cent increase, and part of the reason for that is because we have had rising assessments.

"With these rising assessments, we have been getting more revenue and income from the properties, so we didn’t have to raise the taxes.”

Market performance

Like its property taxes, average prices in Antigonish have remained affordable. The average single-family house price is $250,000, and the presence of St. Francis Xavier University makes student rentals a hot commodity.

“A lot of investors buy into the student rental market,” says Ann Swallow, an agent with Royal LePage Highland Properties. “The student rentals are in the $180,000 to $230,000 range, and if everything is included, they can rent out for up to $525 per month.”

Looking ahead

Despite a higher vacancy rate of eight per cent, the student market provides a solid market for investors.

“I’m expecting [property taxes] to increase, primarily because our roads took a beating this winter,” says Feist. “We also just finished doing union contracts as well.

"The tax increase will not be very large, but if you look at all of the increases we’ve had over the past decade, the increases have always been in the neighbourhood of two to three cents.”

Population: 19,589 (2011)
Property tax rate: $0.88/$100
Average price: $250,000 (2014)
Average rent: $2,100 (4-bedroom student rental)
Vacancy rate: 8%

To learn more about Canada's vacation and recreational property market, subscribe to CREW or pick up the annual 'Cash in Cottage Country' report, now on newsstands

This article was originally published in the June 2014 issue of Canadian Real Estate Wealth magazine

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