“I would say it’s white hot. This is unprecedented.”
That from Jean Morrison, StreetCity Realty’s Sault Ste. Marie office managing partner (and Superior Property Management owner), describing the local real estate market.
“Almost 100 per cent of our offers are competing. We have a huge amount of people from southern Ontario looking at buying in this area. We’re getting constant phone calls, all of the realtors are encountering this,” Morrison said, speaking to SooToday.
“We’re getting (up to) 20 offers on properties. The one level bungalow with a full basement, three bedrooms and two bathrooms is one of the most desired properties in Sault Ste. Marie right now, on top of the hill, west end or east end, it’s incredible.”
“It puts the local buyer in a little bit of a detriment because all of a sudden our property values have jumped quite a bit. You think you’re budgeting for $250,000, now you’re buying the same house for $300,000 and it’s putting a lot of (local) people out of the market. They’re competing against people who have cash because they've sold their property in southern Ontario for really big money. They’re coming in and buying property with cash,” Morrison said.
That’s an interesting phenomenon to those of us who remember a time when there was a massive exodus from the Sault to southern Ontario (during the 1980s, for example), many Saultites forced to leave town for education and/or employment in traditional bricks and mortar buildings in the pre-COVID, pre-remote employment years.
Now, being able to work at home and remotely with the use of modern information technology, especially during the pandemic, is the prime mover behind people from bigger, busier southern Ontario cities wanting to relocate to the Sault and area, Morrison said.
An Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) report, issued in late January, identifies 15 recommendations to address housing, education and job creation needs in rural and northern Ontario.
One recommendation calls for ensuring reliable broadband is available in rural areas to help reverse out-migration of young talent in smaller, northern Ontario communities.
That would keep northerners here as well as attract southerners wanting to move north and buy a cheaper yet good quality house while working at home.
“(High speed) internet is huge. That’s one of the first questions I get (along with questions surrounding the availability of family doctors).”
“For someone moving from southern Ontario, no one will mind spending a hundred dollars a month as long as they have reliable internet. It starts to give you a new opportunity instead of working in a big centre, so you can live in a rural area, you’re not commuting, you get the advantage of all the northern Ontario blessings that we have,” Morrison said.
“People want to move out of these big cities (partly due to higher COVID numbers). They don’t want to be ‘trapped’ in a big centre any more. With this second lockdown, I really see the wave. I was seeing it before, but now we’re seeing it again.”
COVID aside, Morrison said she is hearing from southerners interested in getting away from a busy city, being able to drive to a lakefront in 20 minutes, enjoy the Hub Trail and other jewels the Sault and area has to offer.
“(Those moving here are from) the GTA mostly, and some smaller communities even outside the GTA. They’re thinking ‘we’re home schooling already, now’s the opportunity to sell.’ They can sell and make money and come up here. A lot of it is about being closer to family.”
Other OREA recommendations call for expanding natural gas access to rural and northern areas as well as the establishment of what it calls ‘opportunity zones’ in the north.
“Opportunity zones would provide preferential tax and regulatory treatment to spur investment in provincially identified high unemployment, low growth or shrinking communities. Opportunity Zones have a proven record of attracting capital and spurring commercial, residential, and industrial real estate development,” OREA states.
But Morrison said “I don’t know if we really need to even have these ‘Opportunity Zones’ because some people are moving here automatically because of the pandemic (to get away from southern Ontario COVID hot spots).”
However, Morrison said such opportunity zones wouldn’t hurt.
“It would be nice to have some preferential tax rates, especially for businesses, to encourage businesses to move here and create jobs.”
While the City of Sault Ste. Marie is dedicated to population growth through attracting newcomers (immigration), Morrison said that plan to address a decline in population due to an aging demographic, while good in itself, will be nicely complemented by the number of people desiring to move here from southern Ontario.
“Waiting for spring (when Sault realtors aim to sell houses after long winters) is not necessary. We never ever had a January like this. It’s remarkable. If people have properties they want to sell, now is the time to do it,” Morrison said.
Open houses are not currently allowed due to COVID restrictions, however house viewings are still available with masks and social distancing in place.
“We tour them through the property on video. We do that (virtual tours) often,” Morrison said.
According to figures on the Sault Ste. Marie Real Estate Board (SSMREB) website the number of homes sold through the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) System of the board totaled 117 units in December 2020, a large increase of 77.3 per cent compared to December 2019, and was a new sales record for the month of December.
Home sales totaled a record 1,767 units over the course of 2020. This was up 8.9 per cent from the same period in 2019.
The average price of homes sold in December 2020 was $224,960, up by more than 24 per cent from December 2019, the SSMREB reports.Click here to read the OREA report.