The condo market seems to appeal to two major groups: The first are urban professionals who don't want the hassle of a house, and for whom a downtown location and being close to amenities, to their work, is important. The other group consists of empty-nester retirees, many of whom would have lived in a home with a family at one point, perhaps outside the province, but who now want to live comfortably in Halifax without having to deal with stairs, yard work and renovations.
That said, the complexion of the condo market is different here than other Canadian urban centres. "Most developers are building apartment buildings as opposed to condo buildings because the vacancy rate is so low," says realtor Andrew Perkins, who works with Keller Williams Realty and runs The Condo Company and downtownhalifaxcondos.com. "There are some new [condo] constructions, but it's tough to get the city to pass them."
Also, many retirees lost a large percentage of their nest egg during the economic crisis that started in 2008, so apartments become a more reasonable expense.
But despite this, the demand for condominiums is going up. "We're not a Calgary," says Paul Viau of Stages Real Estate, who says he doesn't even advertise for his services since his website, condos novascotia.ca, brings in the clients. "We don't have 20 or 30 percent a year increases. But the prices are going up, bit by bit. I've got about 10 buyers sitting on the fence, waiting for something to come up...we're going to have a true spring market this year. It's going to be a bit of a sellers' market."
The evidence of the growing market is in Perkins' calculations: he estimates there was a three percent increase in condo prices in 2011 over 2010, and the number of sales went up 12.5 percent in the same time period. So the price isn't growing, but the market is, with 769 the total number of sales of condos in Halifax in 2011.
The danger with purchasing a condo under construction is they can take much longer to be complete than expected. Perkins purchased a condo himself in the Theatre Lofts on Gottingen Street, expecting it to be complete by September 2010, but it was a year later before he closed.
Joyce Richards handles the highest-profile new condo building in Halifax, The Trillium on South Park. "That is 95 percent complete," she said when we spoke to her in January, and she hears that more developments are primed to go ahead. "There's at least five big ones waiting to see whether the economy gets better, because the interest rates are good."
Domus Realty's Brenda MacKenzie says that with the announcement shipbuilding contract, builders are working on getting development agreements finalized and we'll see more new condo buildings soon. Though Trevor Parsons of Innovative Real Estate predicts it'll be a couple of years at least before we see any benefit from the shipbuilding contract. "What's happening is there's nothing for sale" right now, he says, adding that some realtors are hyping the contract more than the evidence of market growth would suggest.
But the double edge of the Halifax real-estate scene is that even though growth is slow, it's steady, and while the economic meltdown has had a more dramatic effect elsewhere, the market has maintained its value locally.
"As far as Halifax goes," says Viau, "I think anything's a good buy."
Recent condo projects
New on the scene
1445 South Park Street
84 units. 85 percent sold as of January 2012. Condos start at $500,000, and include granite countertops, six appliances.
The Theatre Lofts
Gottingen Street near Cornwallis
Completed in 2011. 43 Units. Condos priced between 139,000-$299,000. From 477-square-foot studios to 1,405-square- foot two-bedroom lofts.
Falkland Street Condos
Falkand Street at Gottingen
Completed in 2010. 55 Units. Priced between $160,000-$320,000.
A recent condo switchover from an apartment building, it’s located in Clayton Park, 45 Vimy Avenue near the Bedford Highway. Fully renovated. From 529-square-foot one-bedroom to 1,304-square-foot two-/three-bedrooms, with balcony. Priced between $155,900-$286,900. Selling three condos a month, booking six months in advance.
1326 Lower Water Street
An excellent buy, says Viau. “For what you get, right across the street you pay $300,000 more.”
6369 Coburg Road
Renovating right now. 114 Units.
124 Alderney Drive, Dartmouth
Spring 2013 proposed for the first stage, The Keelson, with more to follow. 1,200 residential units in total, interiors designed by Norman Flynn, with six Bosch appliances and air conditioning. “They’re sold out the first phase,” says Viau. “That’s never happened in Halifax” before the building was complete.