During the COVID-19 pandemic, Karen Wright did something she’s never done before: She bought a house, without ever seeing it in person.
The former Toronto resident initially stumbled upon her new Nova Scotia house using Google Maps.
“I was Google rummaging about and I discovered a Victorian house on a big corner and I really liked it. There was something about it that attracted me to it,” she told Granthshala News.
Back in 2020, executive coach and vacant Nestor found himself longing for more space beyond the 900-square-foot Midtown Toronto condo.
“When the pandemic hit, I found myself spending very little space 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she said. “I was feeling the need for community and access to nature and the outdoors.”
His search led him to the city of Bridgewater, NS, with a population of about 8,600 residents. But the Atlantic bubble, which would have required her to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, made it “impossible” to attend the in-person show. Instead, she relied on a local real estate agent she trusted.
Wright took over the house he bought in January for $250,000. Over the long August weekend, she and her pup stepped into a corner in their four-bedroom, 2,400-square-foot century home.
There seems to have been a significant increase in the number of people like Wright who are buying homes and not looking unseen. Observers say this is a sign of how hot the housing market has become during the pandemic and is a reflection of a lack of domestic supply.
But this phenomenon is difficult to measure. The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) told Granthshala News that it does not track the circumstances surrounding the sale, including whether the property was purchased without looking at it.
Matt Honsberger, president of Royal Lepage Atlantic, says there has been a significant increase in this real estate trend during COVID-19. Pre-pandemic, 15 percent of home buyers in Nova Scotia were from outside the province, compared to 24 percent this summer.
He says they’ve been “coming here in huge numbers over the past eight months,” which has forced agents to rely more on virtual views, and new software that offers 360-degree views of homes. Honsberger says agents are also relying on FaceTime to meet with potential buyers.
‘Not as crazy as it sounds’
However, there is anecdotal evidence of this phenomenon beyond Atlantic Canada, from people with years of experience in the industry.
RE/MAX Sales Representative Tanya Hyatt, based in Kingston, Ont. Selling house for 15 years. She told Granthshala News that she has sold unseen assets “once or twice” over the duration of her career, but that four of her clients have made such purchases this year alone.
“Multimedia, 3-D tours, video, and floor plans make it easy to shop online, which is often one’s biggest purchases,” says Hyatt.
John Pasalis, president of Toronto real estate brokerage Realosophy Realty, explains what happened to the housing market during the pandemic to drive up home prices and fuel the buying frenzy: historically low mortgage rates, the desire for more space, unprecedented household savings rate.
“It is completely understandable that this is happening,” he told Granthshala News with an unseen view of the increase in purchases. “Quite frankly, it’s not as crazy as it sounds. People buy pre-construction homes based on plans. It’s not like they physically see the house.”
Tina Heniger is the population coordinator for Lüneburg, NS, as someone who actively recruits people to relocate to the port city, she says, saying it boils down to supplies, or lack thereof.
“Like the rest of Canada, we have some housing shortages,” she told Granthshala News. “So we talked to our municipal governments during the last municipal election and spoke to the provincial government to say ‘this is really an issue that we all need to pay attention to.
Becky and Terri Irwin are currently settling into their new home in Belledune, NB, having purchased Unseen Sight
The home, at 700 square feet, is smaller than the 1,200-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom home sold in Lindsay, Ont. But according to Becky, the backyard is about “six times” bigger, with “800 or so acres of bush, the ocean, and the fields around us.”
The couple craved more outdoor space and the price tag on their new home, which they say was $100,000 including all fees, or about one-fifth of their previous space.
Irwins says his retirement plan has long been a return to New Brunswick, where Terry grew up. The pandemic lockdown and restrictions have accelerated their planned move.
“Because of Covid, we are not living the life we want so we are going now, so we can really enjoy ourselves,” Becky said.
Before going shopping, the couple took help from family members living in the area.
“I asked my aunt and uncle to look over the house for us,” Terri says. “My uncle is a carpenter and I trust his opinion 100 percent. He looked at it and said ‘Yeah, that’s a no brainer.'”
Wright, on the other hand, was not able to get that kind of help and discovered a lot of things that needed work. According to her estimates, it would cost around $100,000 to fix the place to her liking.
“I had it inspected and the report says it has good bones and stands fairly upright for a 100-year-old house,” she said. “What did not come up in the inspection was that the front porch was, in the words of my contractor, a ‘safety hazard’.”
“It was a huge project,” she says.
Another surprise came when Wright first saw the backyard in person, and not through a wide-angle camera lens.
“My biggest disappointment or being disconnected from what I thought was the backyard” she says. “Backyard…