A large influx of international students in late 2018 prompted a significant increase in demand for housing in Sydney and the surrounding areas during the first quarter of 2019.
Overall, Atlantic Canada is poised for strong housing market performance in 2019 as economic performance ramps up, unemployment rates decline, and first-time buyer incentives at both provincial and federal government levels take hold, according to the RE/MAX 2019 Atlantic Canada Housing Market Report. The report found strong momentum in the larger urban centres, as well as spillover into several smaller markets. Home sales are on par or up in just under half the markets surveyed (7/15), likely due to the current shortage of inventory, while housing values have climbed in almost three-quarters (11/15) of the Atlantic Canadian markets surveyed.
Approximately 2,800 students arrived in Sydney in late December, with most seeking to buy or rent accommodations. Local and out-of-province buyers are capitalizing on the trend, scrambling for affordably-priced income properties near bus routes to Cape Breton University. One hundred and twelve properties sold in the first three months of the year in Cape Breton (which includes Sydney and the surrounding areas), down 15 per cent from the 131 units that sold during the same period in 2018. Average price edged higher at $122,551, a one per cent increase over year ago levels. Affordability is a key factor in Sydney’s housing market, with three-bedroom homes priced between $130,000 and $180,000 now selling within 14 days.
Buyer’s market conditions still exist in the area, but the trend is moving into more balanced territory. Active listings are down 26 per cent from 2018 levels, now sitting at 555. First-time buyers are paying attention, with many seeking properties that offer basement suites to help offset some of the cost of homeownership. The provincial Down Payment Assistance Program has also helped, especially in Sydney where it is relatively easy to find a turnkey property under the $150,000 ceiling. Typically, budget-conscious first-time buyers look to Sydney, but some younger families are buying higher-priced homes in Sydney River and Coxheath, where prices can climb over $200,000.
Sydney’s population boom has bolstered the local economy and fuelled investment in housing. Capital projects are underway in the growing city, with a 190,000 sq. ft. addition to the Cape Breton Regional Hospital valued at $100 million set to break ground next summer. Revitalization is also planned in Sydney’s downtown core with $10.5 million designated to the redevelopment of Charlotte St. Given current and future economic prospects, the future looks bright for Cape Breton, with home sales and values set to climb for the remainder of the year.