Older homes play big role in Nova Scotia real estate prices

Maan Alhmidi 

Published: May 08,2019 at 7:43 p.m.

Houses in Nova Scotia are much smaller and cheaper than those in Ontario and British Columbia, new Statistics Canada data reveals.

Single-detached houses are the small in Nova Scotia, when compared with Ontario and B.C.

“We’re looking at above grade living area, so that does not include finished basement,” said Jumana Al-Tawil, an analyst with StatCan.

In Nova Scotia the median living area in a single-detached house is 1,150 square feet. In Ontario, it’s 1,520 sq. ft. and in B.C., it’s 1,430 sq. ft.

That’s because there are many older smaller houses in Nova Scotia, said Brian Lilley, an associate professor of architecture at Dalhousie University.

“There’s been a fair amount of suburban development around Halifax, but the existing housing stock still outweighs all of the new building,” Lilley said.

“I think the older houses in Halifax play a much greater role than, say, older houses in either Toronto or Vancouver,” he said.

Most Nova Scotians live in a single-detached house

A single-detached house is a property with one residential unit, which is not attached to another structure. A semi-detached house is attached to another structure. A row house might be attached on more than just one side.

“We found that row houses are actually biggest in Nova Scotia, compared with Ontario and B.C,” said Al-Tawil. That’s because “most of them were built recently,” she said.

Data shows that 93 per cent of Nova Scotia row houses are located in Halifax.

However, row houses make up a very small portion of the province’s housing units. There are only 3,450 row houses here, while there are 311,705 single-detached houses, 11,925 semi-detached houses and 11,695 condos, the StatCan analyst said.

Cheaper homes due to depressed economic growth

Housing is less expensive in Nova Scotia compared to the other two provinces.

For single-detached houses in Nova Scotia in 2018, the assessment value per square foot is $113. It’s almost twice as much in Ontario at $205 per square foot and almost three times higher in B.C. at $317 per square foot.

“It’s really the same story for semi-detached houses,” said Al-Tawil. In Nova Scotia, the assessed value of semi-detached houses is $124 per square foot, compared with $278 in Ontario and $305 in B.C.

“When you look at rowhouses, again, it’s $143 (per square foot) in Nova Scotia, compared with to $229 in Ontario, and … $360 B.C. So, you can see the differences, the big discrepancies there,” Al-Tawil said

“The assessment value per square foot for each property type are considerably lower in Nova Scotia than it is in Ontario and British Columbia,” said Al-Tawil. “That’s the main take-away from the per unit assessment values.”

The price difference is rooted in the economy. Over the last 50 years, Halifax has been slightly depressed compared to the rest of the country, Lilley said. “It’s only recently that some form of growth has really started happening here.”

“We’re seeing a lot more condominium towers downtown … that’s very good from a sustainable point of view,” he said.

Vancouver and Toronto are much larger cities than Halifax, so there is a greater density in both of them, Lilley said. That pushes housing prices up.

“Vancouver has actually been going through a boom for a number of years now,” Lilley said. “As the Toronto metropolitan region grows, of course, the housing prices will go up … it’s at the point now where Toronto and Hamilton are almost merging together as one bigger unit.”

British Columbia and Ontario have been economic powerhouses for Canada. Both of them are home to many of the country’s major corporations. That creates a much bigger housing demand, Lilley said.

Nova Scotia “has been the much poorer cousin,” he said.

Things started to change about 10 years ago when Irving Shipbuilding Inc. in Halifax won the multi-billion dollar contract to build warships for the Royal Canadian Navy.

“I think it’s as healthy as I’ve ever seen it economically. And that’s reflected in a number of new buildings that are being built here,” Lilley said.

“From my point of view, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have slower growth rates, in the sense that it doesn’t affect communities as dramatically,” he said.

The problem that often comes with downtown core development projects is they can lessen a feeling of community. “People could just mind their own business,” Lilley said. “So, it remains to be seen how much community infrastructure comes along with the towers.”

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