Houses in the western areas of Prescott-Russell have sold for tens of thousands of dollars above the asking price, as high demand, low supply and little capacity for construction had forced up prices since the end of June. The rise has been partly attributed to the similarly strong Ottawa sellers market.
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“Rural areas in the region have seen an uptick in interest, as buyers look to secure more space and amenities to accommodate a shift toward working from home,” the RE/MAX fall outlook report said. “In the wake of COVID-19, the typically busy spring season in the Ottawa housing market was delayed until June 2020.”
Beauchamp Team sales representative Fern Beauchamp said some parts of the region, such as Russell, Embrun and Limoges, were increasingly seen as satellite suburbs from which residents could pair the comforts of rural living with the urban amenities of Ottawa. He said that convenience would keep people interested beyond the changed conditions of the pandemic.
“People are working from home now, but a lot of people will be working from home in the future and won’t be going back to the physical office even once the pandemic’s over,” he said. “Now you don’t have to worry about going to work every morning and being stuck in traffic, why wouldn’t you live out here? It’s going to be cheaper, there’s more of a yard, your vehicle costs are not going to be anywhere near what they are now.”
Beauchamp said few properties had been listed from the start of the lockdowns in March through to the end of June. But there was record demand during the same period; sixty showings and 24 offers were made on three properties he listed in a single week.
Listing numbers improved over the summer, but demand had remained constant during that time. Beauchamp said the relatively low property prices compared to Ottawa had attracted buyers from the city, he said. The situation had even led to higher prices in traditionally overlooked areas, such as Plantagenet, St Isidore, and Curran.
“When you start selling your townhouse in the city for $450,000, then you come out here to buy; now you’re in the candy store,” he said. “You can buy a single house for under $400,000.”
That created a strong seller’s market in the region, but made it difficult for first-home buyers. Competition for homes had been exacerbated due to the lack of immediate new build opportunities. Builders in Clarence-Rockland, for example, had been booked out for at least a year, leaving those in need of a quick move with only older properties to choose from.
“Usually you’d ask $400,000 to get maybe $395,000,” Beauchamp said. “Right now, you would be asking $400,000, trying to get $450,000 on a townhouse for example. “It’s not a fun time for renters, it’s not a fun time for first-time home buyers.”
The higher demand was expected to continue beyond the pandemic. Despite the lockdown, Russell Township recorded 21 more building permits for single detached dwellings in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Multi-residential permits were down, however, with only 73 in the first half of 2020 compared to 147 during the first half of the previous year.
The township’s building, planning, and economic development manager, Dominique Tremblay told a council meeting in October that numbers had improved from July onward, as people continued to request permits for new developments or amendments to existing properties.
“We were a bit worried at the beginning of the year because of COVID,” she said. “But people have a lot of time on their hands and they’re still developing and we’re still issuing building permits. We expect that the number of building permits would be approximately the same as 2019. It’s good to see, given the situation that we’re in.”
Falls in the housing market, meanwhile, should not be expected any time soon. Beauchamp said that, like Ottawa, the western areas of Prescott-Russell were dependent on public sector growth and stability.
“Our buyers are civil servants, they’re in construction, we have a lot of people in the medical field, policemen, firemen,” he said. “The market here doesn’t fall unless there are cutbacks in the civil service.”