Real estate boom spreads to Guysborough County

By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
December 9 2020

‘Location, location, location’ — that used to be the catch phrase in real estate – but realtors in the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) say that’s changed in the recent COVID-driven housing boom to ‘high-speed Internet’.

The Journal interviewed four local realtors about the uptick in sales since the start of the pandemic and learned that Nova Scotia’s rural lifestyle is in high demand.

Marta Anderson of Del Mar Realty says she’s been going full tilt for the past six months.

“I’m not complaining,” she says, “but I wonder how long this is going to last.”

Anderson’s sales have tripled compared to the same period last year and housing stock is now in short supply. She’s seen unusual things this year; properties purchased sight unseen, bidding wars, and a requirement for good Internet service that, when not available, can scupper a promising deal.

Along with Internet, Anderson says buyers are looking for waterfront properties, away from the city, with a good price point. And while prices have risen, the average price of an existing home is far less than a new build at this time.

“The price of material has gone up three times what they used to be,” she says – something buyers looking for a new home are likely to shy away from.

Royal LePage agent Beverly Carter agrees.

“Selling prices have gone up a bit and if inventory continues to remain low, we anticipate a further increase in home prices. Listing prices haven't changed much, but we are seeing a substantial increase in strong offers,” she states in an email interview.

Carmel Avery-MacDonald, an agent for View Point Realty, tells The Journal she’s been doing some research on the housing market in Guysborough County and found “from July 3 to Dec. 3, 2019 the average house price was $121,000; the average sold price was $109,000. For the same time this year, the average list price is $142,000 and average sold price is $138,000…. And that’s just on MLS (a cooperative selling systems operated by real estate boards and associations in Canada), there’s all sorts of private stuff going on.”

Avery-MacDonald says what buyers are looking for depends on where they are coming from; Europeans want privacy, waterfront and land. Buyers from Ontario, Quebec, B.C. and Nova Scotia want “move-in ready, they want the bungalows on two acres.”

They all want high-speed Internet and cell phone coverage. “If they don’t have good high-speed Internet—they’re not interested,” says Avery-MacDonald, adding that more people have been looking at rural properties because the pandemic has shifted work from office to online, which is not possible without a good Internet connection.

In a recent news update provided to realtors across the province, Marilyn Sceles of Sceles Realty read that sales in October were up 30 per cent over the same period in 2019.

“Nova Scotia is definitely experiencing a bit of a boom,” she says.

“Privacy, privacy, privacy is the number one priority, because … I am seeing complete and utter depletion of spirit; they’ve had it. COVID has made all of us stop in our tracks and say ‘What is important in my life? What the hell am I doing in the middle of a city with two hours to get to work and two more to get back, when I can work from home?’ So, we’re seeing that type of reaction,” says Sceles of the buyers she’s worked with over the past six months.

What Sceles isn’t seeing is inquiries from potential buyers about local infrastructure; medical care, schools, stores and airport access. “All they care about is privacy and Internet service ... Internet became a demand item,” she says.

While Sceles has not sold any properties in the MODG sight unseen, she has made such sales out of her Antigonish office.

“In the past, almost never would any buyer, that had not seen something, dare to make an offer and close a deal. What I am seeing is throwing caution to the wind for buyers.”

With the increase in virtual tours and remote buying, Sceles says, “We must be very careful with this; we owe that seller the fiduciary duty, we owe all other human beings respect, honesty and forthrightness. And it takes a lot of strength in the industry to potentially tell buyers something that will send them away.

“It is about being honest, ethical and being confident enough in your own abilities to be frank; kind to the person and tough on the situation,” and that, says Sceles, is the motto of Sceles Realty. “That way you can sleep at night.”

Speaking of industry agents in the MODG, Sceles says, “I have great fondness and great respect for the local realtors here. I am proud to be one of their associates. They are top notch, top of the line and bravo to them. I am very proud to be among them; we’re blessed.”