Cottage Industry: Annapolis Valley, the “Eastern Attraction”

Rising prices, bidding wars, blind offers – the search for seasonal real estate has become a battleground. Stories from 10 of Canada’s most popular vacation cities.

In the July issue of Maclean’s, and online every week here, recent buyers reveal what they had to do to get the homes of their dreams: raise family money, send relatives for viewings, board the first flight to Atlantic Canada after the bubble, or buy unseen sight, sometimes from thousands of miles away.

Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia

Average price holiday home (2021): $313,500

The market: Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley – brimming with Acadian culture, wineries, whale watching and more wineries – has long been a great place to visit. What’s new is how many out-of-province buyers are making their summer residences permanent. The price of recreational waterfront real estate rose 70 percent between 2020 and 2021, no doubt a spillover from fierce competition in the county’s coveted housing market. Demand for this idyllic area now far outstrips supply: In April, the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors reported that the county’s active listings had hit a three-decade low. On the cottage side, buyers are more willing than ever to pay a premium for the few properties that turn up.

the buyers: Dave Sheehan, a 60-year-old video producer, and his wife, Kelly, a 60-year-old educator for children with special needs.

Dave: Kelly and I lived on Tupper Lake, near Wolfville, Nova Scotia, for 22 years. Once I retired, we started looking for a cottage near the Minas Basin, about 30 minutes northeast of us. We wanted a place that was close to the salt water and had lots of space for our grandkids to play.

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We spent months shopping in the county until our dream home hit the market in April 2022. It had three bedrooms, lots of outdoor space with beach access, and was close to our extended family, all for an asking price of $200,000. It was listed on a Thursday and people had four days to post offers. The new approach to real estate here seems to be “quick to market, no counter offers”. Given the scarcity of inventory here, the sellers probably thought that if anyone wanted the cottage, they would make their best offer from the get-go.

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We saw the property that Saturday. We asked the broker if $237,000 would do it, or even $246,000. He said, “If you have $250,000, put it down.” That sounded like a lot for a house, but we listened. on On Sunday we offered $250,000, 25 percent more than asked, and on Monday we became homeowners.

Looking back, I’m glad we made a strong offer straight away, because we didn’t get far across the finish line. There were eight other bidders, including two who came in at $245,000. If this cottage had been on the market five years ago, it probably would have been $130,000, and people would have bid under ‘ask’, but that doesn’t happen anymore.

The value of houses here will only continue to rise. I moved to the valley from Halifax for high school and tourism is booming here like never before. It’s the stark opposite of what we’ve seen over the past 50 years, when people left the Maritimes for bigger cities. The old saying went, “Take the road to earn a living.” Now people are cashing in on their $1.5 million Ontario homes to build or buy in Nova Scotia for a fraction of the price — and pocket the leftovers. The influx creates traffic problems around the valley, especially in the area between Wolfville and Kentville. I saw it all coming when COVID occurred.

We can probably get $340,000 for this little house a year from now, but I don’t think we’ll sell it. I hope it’s a legacy for our family. We love it so much that we are moving part of the summer indoors. When you look out the front window at high tide, you imagine yourself on a boat.

This article appears in print in the July 2022 issue of: maclean’s magazine. Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here or buy the issue online here.

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