Spurred by pandemic, many Montrealers are moving to the country

Many Montrealers are making an exodus from big city life, seeking space and nature in smaller towns in the Eastern Townships and the Laurentians, say realtors who have been dealing with a wave of people moving to the regions.

Realtors in Eastern Townships, Laurentians report significant new wave of buyers

Marie-Claude Lemieux, along with her husband and son, moved to a four-hectare farm in Dunham with their corgi Kiwi earlier this week, after 20 years in Montreal. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

Six months into the pandemic, many Montrealers are making an exodus from big city life, seeking space and nature in the Eastern Townships and the Laurentians.

Marie-Claude Lemieux, along with her husband and son, moved to a four-hectare farm in Dunham, Que., with their corgi Kiwi earlier this week, after 20 years in Montreal. 

"It's like Eden so far," she said. "Maybe I'll tell another story when it's -30 C in the winter and we have to plow this field, but jokes aside, it is a dream come true."

Lemieux said she's been yearning to be closer to nature, and started looking for hobby farms in the Townships about a year ago.

"We feel blessed in terms of timing," said Lemieux, who sold her house in Montreal just before confinement measures were put in place. 

She said the lockdown hit city dwellers particularly hard, because people were forced into close quarters without much access to nature and open air. 

Brome Lake realtor Jessica Brown said although the number of people moving to the region has been on a steady increase for a couple years, there's been a significant swell of interest since the spring. 

"It's been really, really crazy every day," she said. "It's been non-stop, honestly non-stop since mid-May."

Marie-Claude Lemieux and her family were able to buy the land they'd always dreamed of, four hectares of farmland in Dunham. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

Brown said what is typically considered a second home market has shifted to welcoming permanent residents, as Quebecers continue to work from home and want more space. 

"People who were weekenders before moved out here for the confinement, and realized what we've been saying all along, which is that we have a great quality of life out here," she said.

"In Toronto, you would never hesitate to be an hour and a quarter from the city, and that's exactly what we are."

Magog realtor Sonia Nepton has experienced the same phenomenon. 

Pierre Morency and his partner Joanne Lambert just sold their Montreal condo to move to the Eastern Townships in search of a new adventure while travel is indefinitely postponed. (Submitted by Pierre Morency)

She said she thought the pandemic would spell the end of her year, but it's been the opposite, and it's given people the extra push they needed to make a move. 

"The Montrealers who were postponing the thought of moving to the country are acting on it," Nepton said, adding that the number of buyers coming from Montreal has doubled this year. 

She said younger people are drawn to the ability to work comfortably from home, whereas older buyers seem to want distance from the discomfort of weathering a pandemic in the big city. 

That is exactly the case for Pierre Morency, who is semi-retired and looking for a new adventure with his partner Joanne Lambert. 

The two just sold their Montreal condo to move to the Townships. 

After the pandemic cut their European trip short, Morency said they spent months going stir crazy, staring out the window and wondering what to do. 

He said at 68 years old, and with international travel postponed indefinitely, he didn't want to wait around the city for the latest COVID-19 news. 

"I think it's easier and more fun to manage from the countryside for a while," he said. 

Morency said he was thrilled to find a nice house near friends, near the lake, in the beautiful countryside, surrounded by big trees.

He said it's a stark contrast to the couple's seventh-floor apartment condo. 

"We're not running away from Montreal, we love Montreal," he said. "It's just that in our situation, with the fact that the main goal was to travel, and we're not going to be able to do that, it's important for us to have something else." 

"We don't have time to wait years for things to come back," he said. 

Morency said while the prices are competitive, so is the market, and several places were snatched up quickly. 

Brown said buyers need to be ready to act fast, especially because cashing out a place in Montreal can often get people a nice house in the regions with more land. 

Realtors seeing same phenomenon in the Laurentians 

Mont-Tremblant realtor Sean Couchman said the Laurentians are experiencing the same real estate boom as the Eastern Townships.

He said the regions are similar in that they are both popular with secondary homeowners, but he's seen a huge increase in people making the move permanent since the pandemic started. 

"The key word for buyers is really to be patient," he said, adding the recent demand does not necessarily mean more homes on the market. 

Couchman said as long as the border stays closed, he thinks people will invest in real estate, hoping to improve their home life while they can't travel. 

With files from Verity Stevenson and Quebec AM

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