Nova Scotia

Cape Breton homes selling fast as COVID sparks real estate boom

After a slow spring season brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in March, real estate agents in Cape Breton are reporting almost unprecedented sales activity.

Students buying homes and others seeking 'safe place' amid pandemic lead to solid sales

Ryan O'Donnell is a Realtor with RE/MAX Park Place in Sydney and the regional director for Cape Breton with the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors. (Submitted by Ryan O'Donnell)

After a slow spring season brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in March, real estate agents in Cape Breton are reporting almost unprecedented sales activity.

"Very rarely have we seen, so consistently, homes selling for asking price or homes selling for over asking price," said Ryan O'Donnell, Cape Breton regional director with the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors.

Active listings are at a 10-year low, which he attributes to COVID-19. But despite that reduction in inventory and despite the drop in sales in the spring, total sales to date this year are on par with this time last year. That's created a backlog of buyers and competition when a new listing does come on the market.

"It gets exciting," said O'Donnell. "They know they have to be quick. They know they have to come in aggressively."

Real estate agents in Cape Breton say it's a seller's market. (Holly Conners/CBC)

The thousands of international students studying at Cape Breton University in Sydney are also contributing to the demand for housing.

Rather than renting, some students, with support from their family back home, are opting to buy a home and renting out unused rooms to other students, said O'Donnell.

Average selling price

The average cost of a home in the Sydney area is $148,000.

The relative affordability of the Cape Breton housing market is helping to drive increased interest from out of province, with inquiries coming from Ontario and Western Canada, and even from Europe.

Some of that interest may also be an unexpected effect of COVID-19.

"I think they look at Cape Breton, and probably Nova Scotia in general, as kind of a safe place to be. Our numbers have been down as far as the virus goes and everybody sees that," said Robert Wambolt, managing associate broker with Harvey Realties in St. Peters.

Wambolt believes that once the Atlantic bubble opens up, demand will increase even more.

It's a seller's market throughout Cape Breton, including in rural areas, where properties traditionally take longer to sell.

"I had one in Middle River the other day that listed and within a week it was sold," said Wambolt. "Other properties that we've had for an extended period of time ... those properties ended up being scooped up this year."

Wambolt, who focuses on the rural market, has been selling more lower-end homes and vacant land parcels, with several buyers expressing interest in setting up a small-scale farm.

"Something that they can raise some animals on, grow some vegetables," he said. "Not a large, large acreage, but something suitable to that."

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