The first time Sean McGivern set foot on PEI in 2017, he remembers being charmed by the beaches and the quiet. But what really caught his eye was the low cost of real estate.
The Guelph resident and new entrepreneur had flown to the Maritimes on business. He specialized in the design of green milling and processing facilities, and travelled east to help a client – an Island seaweed processing company – with its marketing. Once there, he noticed how much cheaper properties were than in Southern Ontario, despite being larger and often having access to the Atlantic Ocean. Mr. McGivern had not gone with the intention to shop for land, but these deals were too good to pass up.
“Out there I was just doing some quick maths, the prices didn’t even compare to back home.”
Mr. McGivern had been leasing a house in Guelph for $2,500 a month with his parents since 2016, after leaving his livestock farm in his hometown of Owen Sound to start a new chapter as a business owner. But nothing was tying him to the city – he could do most of his work from his laptop. So, he started looking around PEI for a lot on which to relocate.
“From a COVID standpoint, economical standpoint, social standpoint, PEI has a lot going for it … it made sense to make the move.”
Mr. McGivern’s initial plan was to build a seasonal cottage in the Maritimes for he and his parents, and split his time between the Island and Guelph. He settled for a $30,000 fixer-upper on an acre of land with access to the beach in Christopher Cross, on the Northwestern tip of PEI. But the more time he spent on the Island, the more he liked it, and he also realized a permanent move would allow him to build his dream home.
He tore down the little house and, in its place, built a 7,500-square foot, five-bedroom and four-bathroom family home with a detached garage on his newly acquired land. It took the better part of a year, and the total cost of building neared $800,000, but the result, he said – a large country house with amenities for all tastes – was well worth it.
It takes no more than a quick, front yard view to appreciate the home’s traditional appeal – the patio and yard are spacious and give way to a wide path to the ocean. But it takes a venture inside to appreciate the estate’s character, brought to life by Mr. McGivern’s careful craftsmanship punctuated by personal signatures.
The eight-foot-wide hallways, the white cupboards and pristine hardwood floors give the home an open and bright vibe, while its flocks of ceramic geese décor and multicoloured road signs on the walls create an outback, cottage feel.
The place’s strongest asset, if not for the custom woodworking, is its versatility. Mr. McGivern said most of his guests can find a feature they like, and the full home gym, the basement wooden bar, the home theatre, or the 500-square-foot party room are particularly popular. Those eclectic assets made it an instant community hangout spot when Mr. McGivern finished building in 2018.
“Before COVID we’d have 80-100 people here for a party and live music and food. We just love the place … building something like this at this price just wouldn’t have been possible in Ontario.”
As much as he likes his home, Mr. McGivern now has the itch to return to livestock farming, and is looking to sell the property to buy farmland. Morgan Murphy, a real estate agent at Red Isle Realty Inc., listed Mr. McGivern’s home in July, and said it has garnered lots of interest from out-of-province buyers at its current price of $800,000.
“It’s probably one of the most immaculate homes I’ve ever walked through,” Mr. Murphy said. “It’d be scary to know what it would be worth in Toronto.”
Mr. Murphy lists cottages, commercial spaces and homes in the province that range from $300,000 to well over a million dollars. On average, he said one-third of his buyers across the board are from outside Atlantic Canada – especially Ontario, Alberta and B.C.
“People from larger cities realize they can get a nice condo for $300,000 or a nice family home for $500,000 and they realize it makes sense to come here.”
The reopening of tourism and a growing widespread interest in remote work is making PEI an attractive place to relocate for people from across the country. As a result, the average price of a PEI home increased by 12.03 per cent between March and July, 2021 – more than any other province, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association.
Meanwhile, the influx of interest from out-of-province buyers, along with some of the lowest vacancy rates in the country and the growing popularity of short-term rentals is raising the barrier of entry to home ownership for locals. So much that the provincial government implemented a down payment assistance program, which grants loans of up to 5 per cent for first-time buyers of homes worth up to $300,000.
Mr. Murphy said there is such a difference in market value between homes on PEI and in Canada’s bigger cities that what can seem expensive to Islanders still feels like a deal for some migrants.
“Locals think the market is crazy,” Mr. Murphy said, “but to someone from another province, if you can work remotely for half the price on a nicer lot with a nicer view with a better house, it’s a deal.”
In such a market, Mr. McGivern wonders if he could have sold his home for a higher price and made a better profit. He said that ultimately, however, it does not faze him – it wasn’t about the money, and more about having the chance to build and live in the home of his dreams for a few years.
And as he waits for his masterpiece to sell, he shops for farmland. He is limiting his search to two provinces.
“I’m looking at PEI for sure,” he said, “and then a bit in Nova Scotia, but that’s it.”
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