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New Brunswick — ocean vistas, friendly locals and cheap, cheap real estate — wants you – Sault Star



Suddenly, a historically have-not province has it all

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Annick Robichaud Butland answered the phone after two rings, and reassured a rather startled caller from Ontario that getting an actual human being on the line after dialing a 1-800 government number in New Brunswick was the “Maritime way.”

Turns out, Butland, in her role as a provincial outreach coordinator attached to the province’s Live for the Moment NB marketing campaign, has been answering a lot of calls from Ontario and points across Canada over the past week or so.

The clever push, conceived by several local economic development agencies and promoted on social media, includes a website aimed at all the poor young suckers — and you know who you are — currently marooned in overheated big city housing markets.

We’re talking about both those grinding away paycheque to paycheque to pay down the mortgage and those unable to afford a place — period — all now working remotely, weary of lockdowns and perhaps itching for change, which is smack where New Brunswick’s campaign hits them.


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Cue the site’s 29-second teaser video with a groovy soundtrack and images of a hiker peering out to sea; a camper tossing bacon into a skillet; and paddle boarders on a calm-as-glass river with nothing around them, but nature’s abundant glory.


Live for the Moment NB marketing campaign aims at young big city dwellers working remotely, weary of lockdowns and perhaps itching for change.
Live for the Moment NB marketing campaign aims at young big city dwellers working remotely, weary of lockdowns and perhaps itching for change. Photo by Live for the Moment NB marketing campaign

In cold hard text further down the page, the statistics: homes in parts of New Brunswick are 77 per cent cheaper than the million-dollar average in Toronto, a savings of $865,200, according to the site. Compared to Vancouver, the buy-in-NB discount is 81 per cent ($1,033,700); in Calgary, it is 53 per cent ($411,700); and in Montreal, 56 per cent ($441,979).

People are buying houses without ever having set foot in them and some without ever having set foot in the Maritimes

The campaign launched March 14. By day three, Butland and friends had already fielded more than 200 inquiries, and most of the callers, she said, had already done their “research.” But her phone isn’t the only one ringing. Pam Doak, a Fredericton-based realtor with 34 years of experience, said 50 per cent of her calls during the past year have been from people in Ontario.

People are more than just interested; they’ve been making the move. One prominent new resident is hip-hop icon Maestro Fresh Wes, who pulled up stakes in Toronto during the pandemic and now happily lives near the Bay of Fundy.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Doak said of the seismic uptick in interest.

Neither has New Brunswick. But that was before the pandemic sparked a shift in how people work, and how they viewed their lot in life. Suddenly, a historically have-not province has it all: Affordable homes, no traffic, ocean vistas, national parks, art galleries, restaurants, universities, bilingualism, work-life balance, super-friendly people, practically no COVID-19 cases and, coming in April, an Atlantic provinces travel bubble 2.0 to look forward to.


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The housing market has been “insane” since last spring, Doak said, and it shows no signs of losing steam. People are buying houses without ever having set foot in them and, in some cases, without ever having set foot in the Maritimes.

In February, 824 homes were sold in the province, a year-over-year increase of almost 400 per cent. The average sale price year-to-date is $198,472. The market in Fredericton is red hot, Saint John is blazing, Moncton, too.

But the obvious question, and the one Butland said people keep asking her is: “What is it really like there?”

Image from the Live for the Moment NB marketing campaign.
Image from the Live for the Moment NB marketing campaign. Photo by Live for the Moment NB marketing campaign.

It’s something that Kristine Walker and her husband, Rory, started asking themselves five years ago in Langley, B.C., about a 30-minute drive (without traffic) from downtown Vancouver. Walker, a supply chain management expert, was working, as she describes it, “to pay the mortgage.” Her roundtrip commute could take as long as three hours. Her life, seemingly happy enough on the surface, was utter hell.

But Walker’s biggest fear was that her two boys would grow up with a mountain backdrop and yet never be able to afford a similar view. She and Rory were B.C. born and raised, but they ditched the West in 2016 in favour of a 4,000-square-foot home — double what they owned in Langley — on the opposite side of the country. After selling the Langley place, they pocketed a $400,000 difference.


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“Neither one of us had ever set foot in New Brunswick, outside of the one day I was in Saint John on a cruise,” Walker said.

They bought in New Maryland, just outside Fredericton, and, irony of ironies, they recently put the house up for sale after gradually coming to the realization that more space simply meant more dusting.

“We are downsizing,” Walker said.

As an early pioneer of the move to New Brunswick movement, Walker speaks with authority and persuasiveness. She found work in her field. She made new friends. She has next to no commute. The kids are happy. In the months since the pandemic struck, she convinced her sister’s family, her mom and her mom’s partner to ditch the housing insanity of B.C. and move east.

“My mom bought a place on the beach in Saint John,” she said.

Kristine and Rory Walker, and their boys, Trevor and Brendan. The Walkers moved from B.C. to New Maryland, NB in 2016, making them pioneers of the move East movement.
Kristine and Rory Walker, and their boys, Trevor and Brendan. The Walkers moved from B.C. to New Maryland, NB in 2016, making them pioneers of the move East movement. Photo by Kristine Walker

Five years after taking the leap, Walker has no regrets, aside from one minor lament: with the time difference, her beloved Vancouver Canucks’ games start right around bedtime.

“When I do watch the Canucks, sometimes they will pan out and show the harbour, and I’ll find myself missing the highrises, but that’s it,” she said.

Heartening as Walker’s story of family renewal and salesmanship in support of New Brunswick’s charms are, there is another, more ominous tale that also requires telling; one about a province in a demographic death spiral.

“Anecdotes aren’t statistics,” Richard Saillant, a Moncton-based economist and public policy consultant said.


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According to the numbers, about 12,000 New Brunswickers each year turn 65 — official retirement age — but only 8,000 or so hit age 15, the official working age. Those are not good numbers for a province looking to grow.

“It leaves a gap of about 4,000 workers every year that the domestic labour supply can’t meet,” Saillant said.

In sum, New Brunswick is rapidly going grey. Any short-term bump in the number of young people throwing in the towel in Toronto, mid-pandemic, and zeroing in on a new life in, say, Moncton is a “mere blip on New Brunswick’s long-term demographic trajectory,” he said.

It’s not all bad news. For those younger people who actually take the leap, and who aren’t simply bringing the job they have elsewhere with them, they land in a province looking for skilled workers in information and communications technology, advanced manufacturing, agriculture and aquaculture and more.

Unlike bygone days, New Brunswick already enjoys annual net gains in inter-provincial migration. Prior to the pandemic crashing the numbers, the province also welcomed about 6,000 immigrants a year.

The out-of-province transplants are often baby boomers — yup, more seniors — but they typically arrive flush with cash after having sold a home in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and points in between.

More people, especially people with disposable income, boost the local tax base. They also splash cash around the local community and fatten federal transfer payments. Boomers dine out, go to galleries and renovate kitchens. They buy new cars, get involved as volunteers, require doctors and nurses, and, as they near the end of their life’s journey, may need long-term care.


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“Overall, that’s a net positive,” Saillant said.

Even the oldies can turn out to be goodies, particularly when what they most add to a community is their enthusiasm for the place.

Ed Pavich, right, and his partner, Graeme Johnson moved from Ontario in September, lured by the cheap real estate.
Ed Pavich, right, and his partner, Graeme Johnson moved from Ontario in September, lured by the cheap real estate. Photo by Ed Pavich

Consider Ed Pavich. The 58-year-old banker was, as of March 1, 2020, preparing for a career shift with his employer in Niagara Falls, Ont. But when COVID-19 took hold, plans changed, and he opted for early retirement instead.

He and his life partner, artist Graeme Johnson, started looking at New Brunswick real estate. Neither had roots in the province. They had visited, though. The people seemed nice and the scenery was pretty, so they got serious and snapped up a four-bedroom Dutch colonial-style house bordering a forest outside Fredericton, with a pool and a barn that is now home to three pet alpacas, Zamir, Opus and Clovis.

They also have three large dogs and an extra $200,000 in the bank, thanks to the nice, but unremarkable three-bedroom, two-storey house with a small backyard they sold back in Ontario.

”I feel as though I have always belonged in New Brunswick,” Pavich said.

Their Dutch-style colonial home just outside Fredericton has a barn out back that is home to the couples’ three pet alpacas — and a pool.
Their Dutch-style colonial home just outside Fredericton has a barn out back that is home to the couples’ three pet alpacas — and a pool. Photo by Ed Pavich

At first, the couple was “freaked out” by the locals’ friendliness. People are friendly enough in Ontario, but they are not nearly New Brunswick-friendly. Neighbours they had never met offered to do their shopping as they rode out their two-week quarantine in September. Gift baskets magically appeared at the front door, as did dinner invites. New friendships bloomed. People bought into mask-wearing protocols. Social distancing actually seemed cool. Community came first.


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Johnson is now kicking around the idea of opening a bed and breakfast — working name: Maritime Mary’s Guesthouse and Alpaca Ranch. Unlike Pavich, he confesses to being a tad homesick. New Brunswick is awfully quiet. But as the weather has improved, so have Johnson’s spirits — further buoyed, no doubt, by their decision to splurge on a vintage Porsche Boxster.

“We are getting it shipped from Ontario,” Pavich said. “We have gotten so lucky. Everybody here has been so friendly.”

Of course, friendliness and better affordability aren’t exclusive to New Brunswick. Small communities, east, west and central, have been zeroing in on city slickers’ pandemic angst and overpriced housing heartache in an effort to entice them to relocate.

Owen Sound, Ont., a pretty spot on Georgian Bay a few hours northwest of Toronto, offers newcomers a new pair of plaid work-from-home pyjamas. Kawartha Lakes, to the northeast of the big city, is highlighting its newest famous resident, Erica Ehm.

A household name among the Gen-X crowd, the ex-Much Music VJ has built a successful digital marketing company and, as a podcaster, has been beavering away from a pretty place on a lake and telling people how great it all is.

Back in Hopewell Cape, a village on the Bay of Fundy, Annick Robichaud Butland was explaining to her caller from Ontario what New Brunswick is really like. Her kids are older now, but when they were little she would walk them down to where the school bus picked them up and watch the sunrise over the ocean.

It is a view she never tires of.

“People want to come to New Brunswick for the slower pace and the friendlier lifestyle,” she said. “So let us know when you come, because we’d love to show you around.”

• Email: | Twitter: oconnorwrites


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Luxury Real Estate Sees Unprecedented Growth in First Half of 2021 – Storeys



Canada’s luxury housing markets were on fire the first half of the year.  

The Engel & Völkers 2021 Mid-Year Canadian Luxury Real Estate Market Report reveals that Canada’s luxury market experienced unprecedented levels of growth in the first six months of 2021.  

The report combines market data with intel from Engel & Völkers’ local Canadian market experts to produce a residential property analysis for the markets in Halifax, Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver. It shares notable trends, in-demand neighbourhoods, economic factors, and changing buyer and seller preferences in three different price segments; under $1 million, $1-$3.99 million, and over $4 million. 

Factors like changing homeowner priorities, low interest rates, easy access to borrowing, and extra savings amongst professionals who stayed employed during 2020 combined to accelerate what Engel & Völkers calls ‘the COVID shuffle’. The report acknowledges the slight cooling of Canada’s red-hot housing market as of mid-April as competition levelled out. Overall, it forecasts that prices in premium markets are anticipated to stabilize in the short term while still increase in the long term as borders reopen in the wake of COVID-19 recovery. 

RELATED: Sale of Opulent Estate in Point Grey Breaks Vancouver Real Estate Record

In the luxury market, the start of 2021 brought an increase in demand for high-end condominiums. Driving the luxury condo sales market were (somewhat surprisingly) first-time homebuyers looking to enter the real estate market and retirees hoping to cash in their suburban homes, says Engel & Völkers. As many clients who moved to rural areas during the pandemic kept their city properties, luxury condo prices are expected to continue to rise with reopening rollouts across the country.

Interestingly, there is also an increase in multigenerational living. In fact, it’s the fastest-growing housing type in the country. Defined as homes with three or more generations living together, multigenerational homes allow families to redistribute and pool their resources to attain higher-quality luxury homes, says Engel & Völkers. The company forecasts that this fast growing phenomenon will become more frequent in Canada’s urban and surrounding areas. 

Engel & Völkers also reports global pent-up demand for properties in Canada’s major metropolitan cities. As international borders have remained closed since start of the pandemic, international demand upon their reopening is expected to drive the luxury market in Vancouver and Montreal in particular. Given Canada’s limited housing supply, this influx of buyers is anticipated to significantly strain the market. 

“After an unprecedented run, premium real estate markets are normalizing across Canada’s most in-demand cities, and that’s a good thing. At a global level, Canada’s real estate market is largely undervalued,” said Anthony Hitt, President and CEO, Engel & Völkers Americas. “But with low housing inventory and the buyer frenzy we saw in the first half of the year, Engel & Völkers believes the unprecedented demand for luxury properties will sustain. Local demand for luxury housing increased exponentially during the pandemic and international buyers are excited to return after a year of border closures. 2022 will be a year to watch.”


18-hour cities

Engel & Völkers finds that The Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) is a strong seller’s market that continues to draw both interprovincial and international interest. Draws of the city include its cultural attractions, the stunning landscape, and relatively attractive prices compared to other parts of the country, says the company. Last year, the average price for a home in Nova Scotia was $304,590 compared to a national average of $607,250.

Throughout the first half of this 2021, Halifax’s real estate market began a historic run. From January to June, homes priced between $1 million and $3.99 million stayed on the market for an average of only five days, while homes priced below $1 million spent 43 days on market. Despite record low inventory numbers in February 2021, total sales in Halifax increased from the previous year. 

Overall, single-family detached homes were by far the most popular housing type. In the luxury bracket, 21 homes were sold from $1 million to $3.99 million in both April and May 2021, respectively. The average price hovered at $1.4 million during both months. This is a marked difference from the previous year, highlights Engel & Völkers, which saw zero sales at this price point in April 2020 and only five in May 2020 (though that was also at the height of COVID’s first wave). Now, as Halifax is open to the rest of Canada, Engel & Völkers anticipates a floodgate of interest from clients who were not prepared to purchase site unseen. Historically low inventory levels could create an even more pressurized situation, says the company.


18-Hour Cities

Montreal’s position on the urbanization curve is steadily climbing, says Engel & Völkers, as the city continues to attract buyers from French-speaking regions around the world. “Additionally, strong working and education opportunities paired with a charming European-like lifestyle have garnered interprovincial and international attention,” says Engel & Völkers.

Both home prices and production in Montreal continued to rise during the first half of 2021. Total sales priced $1 million or higher grew 115% in January, from 61 to 131 year-over-year. This compares to an only 17% increase in sales for all homes in the market, says Engel & Völkers, signalling a new era for premium real estate. Plexes did exceptionally well in the first four months of 2021, seeing a 74% increase in sales compared to the first four months of 2020. Similarly, condo sales for units priced $1 million or higher climbed from January to April 2021, totalling 138 units.

While Montreal is still one of Canada’s most affordable cities on the real estate front, Engel & Völkers forecasts it entering a strong growth period, with investors creating funds specifically for purchasing luxury detached homes in coveted neighbourhoods like Westmount and Outremont. This, coupled with growing opportunities and new construction projects, has positioned Montréal to be the new investor favourite of Canada’s real estate markets, according to Engel & Völkers.


18-hour cities

In the nation’s capital, the first half of the year brought a strong seller’s market that drove home prices to increase exponentially. Engel & Völkers point to fear of missing out among buyers that has resulted in a 513% increase in the number of homes sold in the $1 million to $3.99 million category from January to May 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. The uptick in notable sales in Ottawa was replicated in surrounding rural areas as well, says Engel & Völkers. 

Since January 2021, average days on market for all homes decreased steadily in Ottawa. In April, the average days on market for all residential properties dropped to 18, down 40% from April 2020, in the thick of the first wave of the pandemic. 

In May, Ottawa houses sat on the market for an average of 13 days. For condos, however, days on market increased. In April and May 2021, units sat for 122 and 110 days, respectively, an increase from 90 days in May 2020, says Engel & Völkers. The market began to level off by May. Although prices continued to increase, sales returned to pre-pandemic levels and there was a notable drop in seriously interested buyers. 

Engel & Völkers anticipates a return to a more balanced market in the fall. “As more government and tech jobs become available and borders reopen, Ottawa will likely see increased domestic and international migration,” says the company. “On a global scale, the city’s real estate is largely undervalued compared to other capital cities, leaving room for growth as Ottawa rises from a government town to a dynamic hub of tech and business.”


condo market
Toronto skyline/Shutterstock

Like other major Canadian cities, Toronto saw a record-breaking population loss from July 2019 to July 2020, with 50,375 residents leaving the city for rural areas. However, as restrictions ease and vaccines roll out, the city is seeing a renewed interest in urban living, says Engel & Völkers.

January 2021 started off strong, with average home prices rising to $967,885, growing by 15.5% year-over-year in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Overall, home sales were up by more than 50% compared to January 2020, for a total of 6,928. All homes sold in the $1 million to $3.99 million bracket nearly doubled from January 2020, with single-family detached homes driving this increase. Homes in this category sat on the market for 24 days in January 2021, down 33% from January 2020. “The luxury condo market, deemed almost extinct in 2020, has remarkably held its value into 2021, as the number of condo units sold valued between $1 million to $3.99 million has also doubled and prices have held,” says Engel & Völkers. 

The company predicts the market will continue to normalize. New inventory coming on the market will remain low, which will likely increase pressure for buyers looking to enter, it says. While the city and GTA have not run out of buyers and sellers, Engel & Völkers predicts a slow summer and holding pattern scenario as lockdown restrictions ease.


Engel & Völkers reports a robust condo market in Vancouver since the start of 2021. “Sales remain stable and are continuing to increase, indicating that buyers are still interested in condo living or taking an initial step into real estate,” says the company. Condos at all levels within premium and ultra-luxury markets continue to sell to discerning buyers with an increased focus on quality over quantity. Rather than a focus on the amount of money they’re spending on a home, wealthy buyers are more concerned with the quality of the home, as its reflected in things like amenities, square footage, and parking, says Engel & Völkers. 

Like Toronto, Vancouver is emerging from the third wave of the pandemic in a promising position,” says Engel & Völkers. The company says significant growth in the pricy city is fuelled by buyers’ growing interest in real estate as an investment and desire to own primary residences. As in Toronto, recreational homes and property outside of Vancouver continue to experience high sales as city residents crave an escape from the concrete and more space. 

Vancouver is still in a seller’s market, but Engel & Völkers predicts that the west coast city will start to see a normalization period and return to a more balanced market in the fall, thanks largely in part to Canada’s new mortgage stress test. Finally, as we emerge from the pandemic, the city will experience an influx of national and international migration. According to Engel & Völkers, the luxury market will continue to grow steadily and see increasingly more ultra-luxury home sales.

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Calgary real estate predicted to moderate this year, with hot spring demand – Calgary Herald



Homes listed above $600,000 are starting to see sales and prices pick up

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The forecast is calling for hotter conditions — only not as heated as this past spring.


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That’s not a prediction about the weather. Rather it’s a forecast for Calgary resale real estate prices.

Royal LePage recently released its Housing Price Survey and Market Forecast predicting home prices and sales across Canada will remain strong throughout the rest of the year — just not as heated as the sizzling hot markets seen in spring.

“It’s not sustainable,” says Corinne Lyall, broker/owner of Royal LePage Benchmark in Calgary, about sales and price growth that occurred in the second quarter.

As the report notes, from April to the end of June, the aggregate price of home in the city increased by 9.7 per cent year over year to $568,500, a record high.

The price acceleration was driven by record sales, including an all-time resale record for any month, set in April of more than 3,200 homes, Calgary Real Estate Board figures show.


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Driving the market in the second quarter were single-family detached home sales. The median price for this housing type grew by more than 10 per cent year over year to $638,000, the study found.

Yet even the sagging condominium market saw growth, jumping by 4.1 per cent over the same span in 2020 to $226,000.

“One thing were are seeing is a bigger impact in the $600,000-plus whereas, years previous, all the sales were under $500,000,” Lyall says. “This is the first year I can remember since 2014 that we actually saw sales grow and an increase in price (in this range) because people were competing for these properties.”

Price growth has been even stronger nationally, the report notes, with the aggregate price of a home rising by about 25 per cent in the second quarter over the same period in 2020 to $727,000.


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In fact, 89 per cent of regions surveyed saw double-digit percentage gains. Royal LePage forecasts sales will remain strong for the year, driving prices higher — just not at the pace seen in the spring.

The aggregate price nationally is expected to grow to more than $771,000, up 16 per cent from the end of last year. Montreal is forecast to be the hottest market with a year over year price gain of 17.5 per cent.

Calgary is also projected to see price growth, though more moderate at 7.5 per cent, year over year.

Veteran realtor Wendy Morrow with Real Estate Professional Inc. in Calgary says the price growth amid the pandemic is hardly surprising, given rising demand and limited supply.

“Inflation has risen above what we expected this spring and summer due to pent up demand,” she says.


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But this problem is not unique to real estate, she adds. Inflation is rising throughout the economy due to bottleneck supply issues.

Yet supply in the resale market should grow in the months ahead, Morrow says. “This will soften the real estate market prices somewhat.”

Still, uncertainty remains with COVID variants and vaccine rollout, among other concerns like job growth.

“None of us have a crystal ball as to what will happen,” Lyall adds.

What is certain is the city remains an attractive place to call home, she says.

“Calgary is a great place to raise kids, be close to the mountains… and so there’s a really great lifestyle here that a lot of people are attracted to.”



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Out-of-town interest drives local real estate market – Mountain Xpress



Dave Farrell was new to town. He and his wife, Shelley, had just settled into a West Asheville rental after moving from Connecticut in early April. The couple planned to use their temporary digs as a home base for house shopping. They expected a competitive market.

What they experienced, Dave Farrell says, was extraordinary.

“It was crazy. Things would come on the market, and had maybe been available for an hour, and we would learn they had already been sold. That happened to us five or six times. We would never even get a chance to look at the place, and it was already gone,” Farrell explains.

The Farrells are just two of the many out-of-town buyers who have sought to relocate to the Western North Carolina mountains over the past year. That demand has supercharged an already hot real estate market: According to Redfin, a nationwide real estate brokerage, Asheville home prices were up 22% year over year in June, selling for a median price of $411,000. Area homes now sell after a median of 42 days on the market, compared with 63 days at the same time last year.

While the market may be challenging for outside buyers, it’s even harder for locals searching for homes. The latest available data from searches by Redfin users shows that the average real estate budget for an outsider moving to Asheville was $615,500 as of April, 31% higher than the average local budget of $469,000. That disparity between outside and local buyers was greater than in either Charlotte (21.1%) or Raleigh (25.2%); those cities also had lower average out-of-town buyer budgets at about $554,000 and $543,000, respectively.

Alexandra Schrank
GAME CHANGED: Alexandra Schrank, an Asheville-based real estate agent with the Mountain Star Team of RE/MAX Executive, says she commonly sees offers of $30,000 or more over asking price on Asheville homes. Photo courtesy of Schrank

Alexandra Schrank, an Asheville-based real estate agent with the Mountain Star Team of RE/MAX Executive, says the Redfin numbers square with her on-the-ground experience. And for locals with lower budgets, she continues, options in the Asheville market are severely limited.

“If your budget is $300,000 or lower, it is almost impossible to find anything,” Schrank says. “We are seeing double-wide trailers selling for $250,000.”

Driving factors

Schrank calls the COVID-19 pandemic “the biggest game changer for real estate.” Low inventory due to slower building activity and low interest rates set to stimulate the economy, she says, have generated high demand both in Asheville and across the country. The national median home sale price in May 2021 was over $377,000, up 26.3% year over year, according to the most recently available Redfin data, and the median home sold in 16 days, down from 38 in May 2020.

Increased adoption of technology driven by the pandemic, she adds, has also increased the ability for real estate agents to market properties to potential out-of-state buyers. In-person real estate showings were not considered essential business during the first month of COVID-19 emergency orders, leading both agents and clients to become more comfortable with virtual home visits. “We continued to work through the pandemic, and people were buying houses sight unseen,” Schrank says.

Those recent changes to the market have intersected with longer-term trends. Justin Purnell of eXp Realty says roughly 80% of his buyers are coming from out of town, up from about 50% 15 years ago — and many of them are driven by climate change. As previously reported by Xpress (see “Head for the Hills,” Aug. 26, 2020;, sea level rise alone could drive a 5% increase in the Asheville metropolitan area’s population by 2100.

These buyers, says Purnell, “want to get out of the California fires, coastal hurricanes and high temperatures. Climate is a big reason they are coming, and for the mountains, and all there is to offer here. They all want that lifestyle.”

Justin Purnell
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: Justin Purnell of eXp Realty says his client base has shifted to roughly 80% buyers from outside the area, up from about 50% when he started as a real estate agent 15 years ago. Photo courtesy of Purnell

And the greater acceptance of remote employment, Schrank says, is allowing people from all parts of the country to relocate. “[Out-of-town buyers] make better money than someone from here. Having more income means they can get prequalified to offer more money, or many will have cash,” she says. “Out-of-towners are beating out the locals.”

Seller’s market

Schrank primarily works with local sellers, many of whom are benefiting from the high demand and low supply of homes in the area. Some of those locals, she continues, “feel like Asheville is getting unaffordable. Many are moving to South Carolina and Tennessee just to get out. They are cashing out.”

Sellers receiving upward of seven offers in 72 hours, often for $30,000 to $40,000 over their asking price, is not uncommon, according to Schrank. “I’ve never seen it like this. I put stuff on the market and think I am overpricing, then end up getting over asking price,” Schrank says.

For many out-of-town buyers, those prices may not seem unreasonable. Despite the recent surge, Asheville’s median home price is only 9% higher than the national figure. Many large urban markets, including Los Angeles ($935,000), Seattle ($800,000) and Boston ($750,000), had much higher median prices as of June, according to Redfin.

Asheville residents since 1977, Marsha Browning and her husband, Joseph, are reaping the benefits of the current market as sellers while simultaneously struggling as buyers. The two say they wanted to downsize while capitalizing on the high prices for local real estate.

“We sold our house in two days,” Browning says. “We listed on a Friday night at 6 p.m. and had a contract Monday morning. They offered way above,” she adds of the Florida-based buyers, who paid $481,000 for a house the Brownings bought in 2019 for $340,000 and listed at just under $460,000.

As buyers, the Brownings are unwilling to leave Asheville and the doctors they have built relationships with over the years. But for now, they’ve decided to wait out the market by moving into a Weaverville rental apartment.

“We don’t want to purchase right now,” Browning says. “It is really hard. Out-of-staters come here and have the money. We have a $350,000-$400,000 budget, but most of the houses are way over $400,000. The $300,000s or less usually need a lot of work.”

Ripples and bubbles

Despite the crowded market, examples do exist of buyers able to find something within their budget. The Farrells, with a budget between $300,000 and $500,000, were the sole bidders on the third home they targeted in their search, located in Woodfin and priced inside their range. “It’s only a year old,” Dave Farrell says, “and everything is still brand-new. It’s great.”

But local nonprofits seeking to promote and develop affordable housing options argue that individual successes don’t address the structural issues in Asheville’s market. For Scott Dedman, executive director of Asheville-based Mountain Housing Opportunities, lack of supply is a primary obstacle, and the result is higher rents and homeowner prices.

“In Buncombe County, more than 8,500 renter households are paying more than half of their income for rent. That’s about 21% of [Buncombe’s] renter households,” Dedman says, referencing 2019 census data. “At the same time, more than 5,000 Buncombe households are paying more than half of their income for homeowner costs, about 8% of Buncombe homeowners.”

Increasing supply, Dedman feels, would help. He shares some frustration with residents who protest against new residential development, especially in downtown or other areas with easy access to jobs and services, and encourages them to think about the affordability implications of restricting construction.

“We live in a popular place,” Dedman continues, “and many of us are here for the same reasons that newcomers are here. So there is high demand for land and homes. The question should be, are we working hard enough to meet the increasing demand with new housing supply?”

Like Schrank, Purnell suggests that the Asheville market may soon reach its own limits. He’s seeing an increase in buyers simply choosing to bypass the city and look at other parts of WNC, such as Jackson and Macon counties, or even outside the state altogether.

“Some buyers have sticker shock,” Purnell says of the current Asheville market. “They can’t believe how much it costs to live here. If they want mountains, they can go to South Carolina or Tennessee and find much better prices.”

And while Schrank says she has witnessed steady increases in home prices during her six years as a real estate agent, she is bracing for an eventual correction to the market. As COVID-19 emergency measures come to an end, she predicts an increase in foreclosures this fall and potential increases in inventory by spring 2022, which may cause prices to drop. “Everything that goes up has to come back down,” she says.

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