Some P.E.I. realtors are calling on the province to help them sell Island property by mounting a marketing campaign touting the bargains that can be bought with U.S. dollars and relaxing foreign-ownership rules.

Some areas of Canada are starting to see increased interest and sales from the approximate 33 per cent savings for those buying in U.S. dollars. But so far the low loonie hasn't translated into more sales for P.E.I., where housing sales have been flat the last few years.

"I think it's a government opportunity to increase business here by touting the value of the dollar for Americans to come here," said PEI Real Estate Association president Wayne Ellis.

"The dollar is low, and our real estate values are terrific." 

Ellis believes a government agency should get involved in promoting Island real estate, adding the industry here does not have the financial wherewithal to carry it out. 

PEI Real Estate Association president Wayne Ellis.

PEI Real Estate Association president Wayne Ellis says the industry could use government help marketing to potential U.S. buyers. (CBC)

Another way realtors would like to see government help is by relaxing provincial laws around non-resident land ownership. Anyone who lives away from P.E.I. for more than six months a year pays higher property taxes. 

Non-resident taxes 'major problem'

"It's been a major problem with the buyers I've had that have been very close to writing offers, but do not in principle see themselves paying that high taxes knowing they're paying a premium because they're non-residents," said Realtor Michael Poczynek.

The provincial government brought in the land ownership rules decades ago to try to keep P.E.I. properties in Islanders hands and to prevent foreign investors from buying them up and selling at higher prices.

"I don't understand why you wouldn't want foreign interests," counters Poczynek. 

"If you have people interested in your lifestyle, in your province, and they want to invest money, and they end up producing property tax dollars or bringing in businesses, I don't see what the negative is to that."

Delicate balance

The government responded in a written release Monday, saying it's a delicate balance between encouraging investment and protecting P.E.I.'s environment and history.

"We need to encourage settlement on P.E.I. and leverage opportunities to add value to our primary resource industries, rather than simply selling land as a commodity," the statement reads. 

Island realtors think many Americans may not even be aware of the bargains here, but are confident word will eventually get out and sales will pick up this spring.

"I know there's a lot of cross-border shopping from the American side coming over this way," said Ellis. "And I think that's going to translate into real estate sales this year."

A luxury home in Cable Head on the Island's North Shore is on the market for $4.75 million Cdn. The saving for anyone buying in U.S. dollars would translate into more than $1 million. 

Every house that is sold generates $32,000 in additional spending in the economy, Ellis said, so government would recoup any money it spends on marketing.

With files from Steve Bruce