The wait list for Omar Gandhi’s services is longer than usual these days.
The Halifax-based architect’s luxury estates across Atlantic Canada have been in high demand over the past 10 years: buyers like their signature dynamic designs, minimalist tones and ocean views. But since the start of the pandemic, Mr. Gandhi’s phone line has been especially busy – he is answering many more calls from potential buyers than before.
“I’d say that we have been approached by 300-per-cent more people than any previous year,” said Mr. Gandhi, who currently has projects on the go in Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland. “Things have been busy the entire time of COVID, and during the last couple of months, we’ve said no to a lot more than we used to.”
Luxury homes in the Atlantic provinces became attractive to buyers from just about everywhere in the last year. As people across Canada and around the world navigated waves of COVID-19 infection and intermittent lockdowns, many became interested in moving to the East Coast for its relative affordability, seclusion from large urban centres and large plots of land.
“I think people being at home thought a big piece of land by the ocean seems pretty romantic,” he said. “There has always been lots of those properties available in Atlantic Canada, but what may be changed is how bad people feel they need it after being quite cooped up for the year.”
Border closures, though they are now being loosened, have prevented international customers from seeing the properties in person and has curtailed the enthusiasm of foreign buyers to buy land in the Maritimes. That’s not great for Atlantic Canada’s luxury housing business, where buyers of the most expensive homes are seldom local to the area, or even the country.
“We had a client from Switzerland who wanted to fly his private jet to Halifax, and then take a helicopter to a home,” said real estate agent Rick Foster, who lists several luxury properties in and around the city. “It didn’t matter if you had all the money in the world, you still couldn’t come to Nova Scotia.”
But now that restrictions around travel within Canada are mostly lifted, and that those around international visits are slowly following suit, Mr. Gandhi said he is seeing an added boost in interest for his upscale, sea-view projects.
Mr. Gandhi designs approximately 10 residences a year, many of which have access to Atlantic shoreline. One of his projects currently for sale is a dark-coloured, fortress-like estate in Kingsburg Beach on the south shore of Nova Scotia. The 2,600-square-foot home, named Treow Brycg, stands two-storeys high on 1.6 acres of land, 90 minutes away from Halifax. Its wall of windows at the front allows for ample sunlight and sea view, while the dense, dark bronze steel back wall shields from winter and maintains privacy. The whole is perfect for folks who want a beachy escape. The home’s price tag of $2,669,000 however, puts it out of reach for most locals.
“I’d say two-thirds of my buyers come from away,” Mr. Gandhi said.
For that same reason, Mr. Foster, who lists several Atlantic Canadian properties priced at over $3-million, said he is looking forward to the day travel restrictions can lift and potential clients can come to see his listings in person.
He thinks the market for those houses will be fierce, because local properties listed just under that price range are also in high demand. The number of homes sold in Nova Scotia listed between $1-million and $1.5-million went from 43, to 63, to 101 in the past three years. Mr. Foster said Maritimers are buying many of them. Locals, he said, have more generational wealth than people realize.
Yet, Mr. Foster said he relies primarily on buyers from Ontario, the United States and Europe – many of whom have never seen Nova Scotia – to buy properties listed at $2.5-million or more. In the last year, he relied heavily on virtual home tours and Zoom video calls to help customers get a feel for their potential purchase. That, at times made it difficult to seal the deal in the past year.
“If you’re buying, say, a $3-million home or more, that’s a bit more of a challenge to invest in without seeing the property.”
As of late, both Mr. Foster and fellow Nova Scotia real estate agent Mariana Cowan said they are seeing growing interest for the luxury properties they list, now that international are becoming possible.
Ms. Cowan listed a massive home on Duncans Cove in southern Nova Scotia in 2017, and said many people from outside the area have recently asked for video tours.
“There is more activity on the property than we have ever seen.”
The estate, 137 Gannet Lane, is listed at $4,395,000 and is a completely redesigned observation tower from the Second World War that overlooks the entryway into the Halifax Harbour. Its five storeys and 6,800 square feet encapsulate four bedrooms, six bathrooms, separate guest homes and an infinity pool, and the whole sits on 2.7 acres of land with 550 feet of oceanfront access.
“There are these homes in the area that are pretty secluded but that are so rich in history,” she said.
“This one is a beautiful place and I think the interest is just going to be more and more, especially as we’re getting more of an influx of people.”
In co-operation with Ms. Cowan, the property is currently on auction, with a reserve bid pegged at $2.6-million.
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