SAINT JOHN – The president of the Saint John Real Estate Board hopes this year is as good as the last one, with homes sales up nine per cent in 2017.
Sheila Henry said the year-over-year growth has been steady with 2,365 homes sold in 2017, up from 2,159 sales in 2016 and 1,915 in 2015.
“It was another super year,” says Henry. “That’s very promising for us to have seen so much activity in our marketplace.”
Henry says the market in 2017 was strong, but there may also have been an external factor at play: changes to the mortgage rules that were announced last fall. The revised rules that were put in place January 1 include one that makes more home buyers take a “stress test” to assess their ability to make mortgage payments.
“That drove some people into the marketplace to get approved before that new rule came into effect,” she says.
This could explain why December 2017 was the best December for real estate sales in the Saint John area since 2006, says Henry.
“We’re looking at that retrospectively and saying that perhaps that might have been a little bit of pull forward in December because our December was absolutely incredible,” she says. “The number of sales that closed in December was 35 per cent higher than those that closed in 2016 in December.”
The Saint John Real Estate Board covers a wide territory – from Sussex to St. Stephen. But Henry said the two areas that saw an increase in sales were the Kennebecasis Valley, which includes the towns of Rothesay and Quispamsis, and uptown Saint John, the city’s urban core.
Kennebecasis Valley saw 465 sales in 2017, up from 398 sales in 2016. Meanwhile, uptown Saint John saw 15 sales in 2017, up from eight sales in 2016 – modest growth but growth nonetheless.
Jeff Kitchen, a real estate agent who does a lot of work in the Kennebecasis Valley says the increasing interest in the area is mostly coming from two groups.
“The two major demographics right now would be baby boomers who are looking to sell larger homes and buy higher-end, smaller dwellings. That’s a really big piece,” he says. “Then we’re seeing small, younger families upgrading. Interest rates are low, so it’s a really good time for second and third-time home buyers to really bump-up in the marketplace.”
He says what makes the several factors that make the area so appealing.
“The lifestyle would be a very big pillar, with the Kennebecasis River. The climate is outside the fog belt, the taxes are low, the schools are good, and there are tonnes of lifestyle options,” says Kitchen. “With the short commute [to the city centre], I think it’s the ultimate package.”
Kitchen says he expects sales in both the Kennebecasis Valley and uptown Saint John to continue to grow in 2018.
“I think people are really looking for character. They’re about making properties their own,” he says. “Uptown has so much architecture and character to work with and to be unique, and so does Old Rothesay. I think that’s why those two markets have done exceptionally well and I strongly think those are both going to continue in that direction.”
Real agent Bob McVicar also touts the value of investing and living in the uptown. “Uptown single-family sales in 2017 were up 40 per cent. Prices, however, remained stable. This includes single family homes and condos,” he wrote on Facebook early in the New Year.
McVicar says many people are starting to see the benefits of downsizing and living in a compact neighbourhood where they walk everywhere.
“The movement at the moment in terms of sales is really among people 50 or older who are transitioning out of their large family homes in the suburbs who see the exciting development of urban lifestyle,” he told Huddle in an interview last year. “With the great new explosion of restaurants and galleries and street-level local retail that we have, that’s really appealing to people.”
McVicar also says more people from outisde the region are starting to buy property and move here. Henry is seeing this trend develop as well, especially with people in the U.S. reacting to economic and political changes taking across North America.
“We’re also looking at a higher increase in tourism. A lot of the political situation in the U.S. has driven many people not just to buy houses up here, but to also to come and tour up here because of the price of the America Dollar,” says Henry. “We are starting to see a little bit stronger economic growth in New Brunswick in general, so that’s going to bring growth not only to the Fredericton and Moncton markets, but also to ours as well.”