SYDNEY - An annual study of housing markets in six countries has found the Cape Breton Regional Municipality is the most affordable place to buy a home in Canada, and the fifth most affordable market internationally.
The annual housing affordability survey by New York-based Demographia International was released earlier this year. The Nova Scotia Association of Realtors received an award Wednesday from Demographia's Canadian partners, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, certifying Cape Breton's position on the list.
It surveyed 34 Canadian communities, looking at figures for Canada metropolitan markets with populations of more than 100,000. It found that the median household income in Cape Breton was $42,400, and the median house price was $90,800, for a median multiple of 2.1.
The survey considers homes in the urban centres affordable if the city's median house price is less than three years' median income.
Linda Smardon, president of the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors, said Cape Breton's position on the list can serve as a great marketing tool for the region, noting that it's home to amenities such as health-care facilities, and boasts community events such as Celtic Colours.
"I think it tells home buyers that there are great options in Cape Breton," said  "There are people from away who perhaps might consider returning home, for people looking for a retirement place, Cape Breton is a great option ... It also means that if you're making a reasonable income, you can find something to buy there. You can get something for $35,000, you can get something for a million."
When asked whether the affordability of homes in the region may reflect an aging housing stock, Smardon said Nova Scotia in general is a province where there is a combination of newer and older homes.
While real estate markets in many regions have recently suffered due to the credit crunch and economic downturn, Cape Breton is largely bucking that trend, Smardon said.
While there were 31 fewer listings for the first quarter of 2009 compared with the same period a year earlier, there were only five fewer sales. The average time a property remained on the market so far in 2009 declined by 19 days from last year, and the average price rose by $16,000.
"God bless Cape Breton," Smardon said. "When the whole country was going nuts, Cape Breton wasn't going nuts. The market was doing fine, but they weren't going over the top. They're able to weather this much better because they have a stable market, they don't have highs and lows."
Smardon said that in addition to people retiring in Cape Breton, she's also hearing of people working away and buying properties here while they are still affordable. Others are moving back to work  jobs were they earn less because they have a good deal of equity in their homes and can get more home for their money.
This year, the survey expanded coverage to 265 markets in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, including Cape Breton for the first time.
In Canada, the median multiple in Canada was 3.5. Vancouver was the least affordable market at 8.4. Other affordable markets included Thunder Bay, Ont., Chatham, Ont., Windsor, Ont., Moncton, N.B., Saguenay, Que., Saint John, N.B., Trois Rivieres, Que. and St. John's, N.L.
The median multiple for Halifax was 3.6.
All of the communities that placed ahead of Cape Breton on the list were in the United States.

Cape Breton Post, Sydney,Cape Breton, Nova Scotia


Wilda MacDonald

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CENTURY 21 Island Gateway Realty Inc.
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