While not everybody is trading their 1,000-square-foot condominium suites in major urban centres for suburban and rural living, recent market activity indicates that the trend is real, and it’s impacting a number of smaller housing markets. In fact, it has been unfolding all over the country as the Canadian real estate industry experiences shifting consumer demands in the post-coronavirus economy. Will we look back and learn that 2020 was the year that everything changed in the housing sector? Markets that previously appeared “quiet” are now witnessing record activity. The North Bay real estate market serves as a prime example of one of these regions experiencing remarkable and unprecedented activity.

For many years, North Bay, much like its Northern Ontario neighbours, was considered a bargain. Housing supply was ample and the demand was flat. Why? It has long been opined that the region was largely abandoned by both the public sector and the free-enterprise system. This could now change, as more Canadians search for opportunities to live and work in municipalities like North Bay.

Today, North Bay is striking a fine balance between being a seller’s market while also maintaining its affordability status. But with demand strengthening and inventories dwindling, how much longer can this northern market sustain this kind of activity?

North Bay Real Estate: A Sizzling, Yet Affordable Market

In November, North Bay experienced record numbers of home sales and average prices. According to the North Bay Real Estate Board (NBREB), residential sales activity increased 21.7 per cent from year-over-year. Home sales logged for the month of November haven’t reached this level in more than a decade. Year-to-date, November home sales totalled 1,585 – up 10.3 per cent from the same period in 2019.

Meanwhile, The overall MLS HPI composite/single-family benchmark price in November was $261,900, an increase of 20.5 per cent over November 2019.

It does not look like new supply is coming to market anytime soon. November had 128 active residential listings – down 60.1 per cent year-over-year, marking one of the lowest levels of active listings on the market on record. November has one month of inventory, which is down from the three months recorded at the end of November 2019 and well below the long-term average of 5.8 months for this time of year.

But how could real estate activity be rising in the middle of the COVID-19 public health crisis?

Real estate industry professionals have done an incredible job adapting to the shifting COVID-19 environment. From hosting virtual tours to relying on digital documents and tools, they have worked hard to make real estate transactions as safe and seamless as possible, despite the multitude of imposed restrictions.

Is North Bay Just Getting Started?

The growing consumer shifts could be one of the biggest factors that could contribute to the increase in North Bay real estate activity. With more people working from home, many professionals have flexible options for where they can live, as they are no longer confined by their daily commute to their workplace.

Shannon Unger, Broker and owner of RE/MAX Legend Real Estate Inc. in North Bay, explained to CTV News that 2020 has seen a significant increase in the number of people desiring to relocate to northeastern Ontario. 

“We’re getting a lot of people coming in from the Ottawa area as well as that south market and they are all saying the same thing: ‘I’ve learned that I can do most of my work from home. I’ve learned that I do not want to be stuck in the rat race and I’ve learned that I would really like to cash out and have some lifestyle,’” said Unger.

“North Bay is a little more than three hours north of Toronto and it’s all four-lane traffic. That’s a very big deal for people who are looking for that livability, that affordability, and still being able to capture some of the lifestyle that they were once accustomed to or just simply living up north.”

Since more people are moving up north from the big cities, it’s likely that North Bay will continue to experience greater development over the next five years. From retail outlets to restaurants to improvements in infrastructure, North Bay could witness a revival never seen before, thanks to gentrification efforts. And this could be further facilitated by the Bank of Canada’s (BoC) ultra-low interest rates that are unlikely to be raised anytime soon. This has made the cost of borrowing incredibly low, helping homebuyers access better mortgage rates, and developers to take on cheaper debt to fund expansion projects.

Despite the upward trajectory, North Bay continues to be one of the most affordable and livable markets in Ontario.

A Paradise Up North?

Arguably one of the best kept secrets in Canadian real estate, North Bay already offers an idyllic way of life for families, mainly because of its incomparable outdoor recreational living. But given the extent of development projected over the next five years, North Bay real estate could soon provide the best of both worlds: small-town rural living and metropolitan amenities. So, whether you set your home-buying sights upon Pinewood or Lake Nipissing, don’t wait to jump into this regional market. North Bay’s transformation is only getting started!