Despairing of ever being able to afford a home in Toronto, Madeline Taylor, 24, and Mitchell Kingsley, 25, cast their gaze east.
“We were looking at 15 years of saving for a detached home in Toronto; that’s when we started to look for other options,” Ms. Taylor said.
What they ended up buying was a 225-acre forested property with its own lake and a cabin too – all for less than $200,000.
Ms. Taylor and Mr. Kingsley grew up in tiny Flesherton, Ont., population 584, both went to the University of Toronto and got good jobs in the city too – Mr. Kingsley is a software engineer at a hardware startup, Ms. Taylor works in digital marketing – but they felt the future looked bleak.
Even tiny Flesherton was too rich. A family friend told them of a bungalow that might once have sold for $250,000 that was selling for $900,000. “We were looking at something a bit bigger; we discovered there was no way to for us to buy a piece of property. Even though we had good jobs we’ve done the thing we were supposed to do, we could never get ahead,” Ms. Taylor said.
After visiting Mr. Kingsley’s parents and sister, who had moved to Sussex, N.B., in the centre of the province, they began to search local listings. Ms. Taylor said she had mused over 10 other properties when she saw what locals call a “camp” about a four-minute drive from the Hopewell Rocks on the Bay of Fundy. The land had a seven-year-old cabin on site, and had been on the market for more than two years. They never saw it in person; Mr. Kingsley’s father took a tour in late 2019 and made a positive review. The couple put in an offer and closed the deal in early February.
New Brunswick had fastest-growing real estate market in the country in September, and it’s drawing the eyes of Ontario and international buyers looking to cash out and slow down for a simpler life on the east coast.
According to The Canadian Real Estate Association, homes sales in September were up 45.9 per cent across Canada, but the fastest growing market was New Brunswick which saw 33-per-cent increase in sales from a year ago. New Brunswick still has the lowest average home prices in the country even with the burst in activity that pushed the average selling price to a new record of $226,959 – up 31.4 per cent from $172,491 a year earlier.
Ms. Taylor and Mr. Kingsley’s mortgage carrying costs for their slice of Acadian wilderness are less than half the $1,300 a month rent they were paying for a Parkdale basement apartment (sharing the building with two other apartments and five more people working from home).
“We were looking at it partly as something we could start investing in, we also played around with the idea of building some short-term-rental boutique cabins … we always pictured [moving there] would be a few years down the road,” Mr. Kingsley said.
What they didn’t expect was to move there so soon.
As they were preparing for closing, news of a novel coronavirus bubbled up into their consciousness. “This sounds end of the world. If it gets bad we should pack up the car and go live in the cabin,” Mr. Kingsley said in jest at the time. When they were both told to work from home, that possibility became real, and they drove down in the spring. “When the deal for the cabin closed, we booked some [return] flights for June or July, and we never ended up needing those tickets,” Ms. Taylor said.
“In the past year or so, we’ve seen a surge in the demand," said André Malenfant, sales manager with Exit Realty Associates in Dieppe, N.B. "There’s a lot of people from Ontario, newcomers, people never lived here before. The craziness of COVID and the confinement, made a lot of people think about their life where they are with it and where they want to go.”
Mr. Malenfant, who was recently elected president of the New Brunswick Real Estate Association, said they also have a large number of returning buyers. “We also have people coming back, they work [out of province] for many, many years, and are looking at pre-retirement or retirement.”
“It is mostly people from Ontario," said Jennifer Jones, sales representative with Royal LePage Atlantic in Moncton, who said she’s used to sellers being happy if they get 90 per cent of their asking price after three months on the market. "In the last week, I probably closed four of five deals with people coming from Ontario, and they are buying sight unseen.
“It’s usually been a buyer’s market here," she said. "Ever since I started [15 years ago], buyers were pretty much in control. Now it’s flipped. I just sold a house for $60,000 in Port Elgin – there was a bidding war. There’s a lot of bidding wars happening now that didn’t happen before.”
Even a busy market starts at a relatively low base in a province with 747,101 people and 319,773 private homes (as of the 2016 census): New Brunswick set a September sales record with 1,157 transactions, up 33 per cent from 2019. So far in 2020, a record 7,953 homes sold, up 7.3 per cent from 2019 … year to date that’s several thousand fewer transactions than the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board recorded just in October.
Even cold-eyed economists are casting covetous eyes at Maritimes real estate. “I’ve been saying to my wife for years … why don’t we move to Cape Breton?” said Shaun Cathcart, senior economist at CREA, noting that many white-collar professionals working from home have suddenly found themselves free of geographical constraints. “You can buy a house in Ottawa, hold it for one year and sell it, that’s enough equity to buy one of those houses in New Brunswick.”
Mr. Cathcart says New Brunswick’s price rises aren’t entirely about surging Ontario interest, it’s also about a years-long and national trend of the existing inventory of homes being absorbed. “We’ve been moving in this direction for a long time, but the price growth component of it in New Brunswick hadn’t taken off,” he said. As to why sellers would sit out a surging market and decline to list their home, Mr. Cathcart offers one anecdotal reason: “If you think about older folks looking at long-term care [and selling their houses] how much of that is happening now? None.”
Moving to the Maritimes bubble is not as simple as packing up the car, there’s the two-week quarantine and then you might find yourself surprised by the neighbourhood. Mr. Malenfant recalls one couple buying a dream home in a fishing village, only to realize a working port was a little less picturesque than their imagination.
“We’re just taking it day-by-day, we really love New Brunswick,” said Ms. Taylor, whose latest project is to build up a social media presence on Instagram and TikTok, calling their home The Outpost. They plan to build a tiny-home style cabin over the winter for future renters.
“I miss my family, this is the longest time I’ve ever been away from them,” she said. “But we’ve gotten to know all of our neighbours, and we’re quite close to a few of them. I lived in a condo building for three years and never knew my neighbours. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, a lot of unknowns … we’re flying by the seat of our pants.”
Your house is your most valuable asset. We have a weekly Real Estate newsletter to help you stay on top of news on the housing market, mortgages, the latest closings and more. Sign up today.