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With the COVID-19 pandemic and its travel restrictions, Nova Scotia has seen a wave of buyers purchasing homes without ever having set foot inside

Christopher Borgal lived in Nova Scotia until he was sixteen years old, and when working from home became the new normal, he took the opportunity to return.Photography by Meagan Hancock /The Globe and Mail

When Linda Mote and Christopher Borgal drove up the driveway in 2020 to see their newly purchased house for the first time, they wondered if they had made a big mistake. “What if it really doesn’t exist; it was just pictures on the real estate website”? recalls Linda.

The view of the ocean from Linda Mote and Christopher Borgal's Nova Scotia home.

Arriving from Toronto, Linda and Christopher had bought their home without ever having stepped inside, something that was happening with more regularity after Nova Scotia declared a state of emergency on March 22, 2020, requiring visitors entering the province to self-isolate for 14 days.

Working from home in Toronto, Christopher, an architect, started to dream about returning to Nova Scotia, where he had lived until he was a teenager. Now, he has a view of the ocean from his new home.

“That blue horizon is very settling for me,” he says, looking out at the rippling waves.

Luckily, the Borgals say the house they had only seen in photos and on Facetime was better in person than they had imagined.

“It’s definitely a COVID thing” says John Duckworth of Duckworth Real Estate, based in Kingsburg, N.S. He says he has been in the real estate business for almost 60 years but had never sold a house sight unseen before the pandemic. “People were kind of forced to consider buying sight unseen because they couldn’t get here” he says.

Ann and Robert Bradt moved to the South Shore of Nova Scotia after the pandemic made it difficult to visit with their son.

Ann and Robert Bradt bought their house remotely, but it turned out they had actually been in the house before – when it was a restaurant. In 2010, they visited Nova Scotia and for years afterward toyed with the thought of moving there. When their son started university in Nova Scotia, and the pandemic made visits back and forth difficult, they made the decision to move.

Ann and Robert Bradt's new home is a former restaurant, where the couple had eaten many times before on their trips to Nova Scotia.

They put their house on the market in Toronto, and their agent connected them with an agent in Nova Scotia who gave them a virtual tour of a beautiful historic home. It turns out it was a restaurant that Ann and Robert (both are retired; Ann was a consultant and Robert worked in technology and software development) had dined in on their many trips to Nova Scotia over the years. “We knew the building, but not as a place to live,” Robert says.

Lesley Pennington bought her house in Nova Scotia sight unseen during the pandemic, after spending her summers in Nova Scotia as a child.

In Sweden, Lesley Pennington felt a strong urge to be closer to family in Nova Scotia. “I was so used to being able to go see them when I wanted, and then when I couldn’t, it was really, really difficult,” she recalls. Her six-bedroom home atop a hill was the perfect place, with incredible views of the coastline.

She sent her sister to see the house in person and built trust with the real estate agent, who is now her neighbour. “I really felt like I was in very good hands,” she says. While the house she bought was not what she had originally envisioned, when she saw the multi-generational house where she could be with family, she was sold. She saw it for the first time in person at the closing.

Carol Chen Lord, left, and Michael Lord at their home and gallery on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. The CC Lord Studio Art Gallery sells Carol's collage art, as well as Michael's photography and is located in the couple's home.

Michael Lord and Carol Chen Lord moved 5,000 kilometres from Seattle to Nova Scotia. In October, 2019, Carol came to Nova Scotia with Michael to visit, and they looked at a few houses. She knew the house she wanted to buy, but Michael wasn’t ready to commit yet. It had been on the market for nine years, so Carol knew she had some time to convince him. Carol’s business as an artist was dependent on tourism, and the pandemic was the final push to convince Michael, a producer, musician and photographer, to make the move. The home suits them, with a large studio and art gallery underneath, in a former framing shop. Michael has room for his recoding equipment.

Above, Michael Lord, a retired music producer and musician in his new home studio. The couple says the pandemic was the deciding factor in making a move to Nova Scotia from Seattle.Meagan Hancock/The Globe and Mail