Ottawa Valley real estate market hits new heights

Remote workers, highway expansion fuelling demand
Renfrew sign
...and growing.

Peter Vincent has been a real estate agent in Renfrew for nearly two decades. His mother has been in the business even longer – 37 years. Collectively, they’ve seen it all. Been asked all the usual questions. How old is that roof? What about the foundation or the furnace?

But lately, he’s been getting a totally different query kick-starting the conversations with potential buyers in his neck of the woods. 

What about high-speed internet? 

With countless businesses across Canada and especially in the Ottawa area employing a work-from-home strategy, buyers are looking for more and different amenities when thinking about purchasing a new home.

Renfrew County, about 45 minutes to Kanata and an hour to Parliament Hill, is seeing the same kind of hot real estate market as neighbourhoods closer to the city.

It’s one of the first times the area has experienced such a scenario. And, according to area experts, there are no signs of it slowing down. 

“There is a strong demand but a very short supply,” says Vincent. “We normally don’t have multiple-offer situations, but what’s happening in the big city is happening in our jurisdiction.”

Sales up, inventory down

Vincent points to Renfrew’s solid collection of schools, excellent hospital and increasingly vibrant downtown area, not to mention golf courses, ski hills, lakes – and yes, high-speed internet – as some reasons why working-age homebuyers are choosing the community over other locations.

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Downtown Renfrew. (Photo by Doug Kerr / Flickr)

“We’re seeing a lot of Ottawa people, or people that know they never have to return to the office buildings of downtown Toronto, choose here,” he says. “This year is unprecedented.” 

According to area statistics, the average sale price is up 12 per cent. Inventory is down 60 per cent year-over-year. 

Sherri Cobus of eXp Realty – another agent with 20 years’ experience – says she hasn’t seen anything like the market conditions 2020 has given her and her colleagues, COVID-19 aside. 

“It hasn’t stopped. We’re working seven days a week,” she says. 

Cobus gives an example in which she showed a potential buyer a home close to Renfrew’s downtown that was listed at $399,000. Twelve offers came through and it sold at just over $500,000, a full $100,000 more than asking. She describes it as a “nice bungalow” but there was no basement. 

“It wasn’t that desirable,” she admits. “We went in at $450,000 and it sold for $50,000 higher. Crazy.” 

Cobus says that for the first time in her career, when something is listed in Renfrew now there are usually several competing offers.  She says she’s seen many cash buyers coming from both Toronto and Ottawa who are prepared to make unconditional offers because they can get way more for their money in Renfrew County and can now easily work from any location.

It’s a new scenario for the county, and one that heralds interesting developments for the future, Cobus says.

She says the area has always been a buyers’ market and the influx of more working-age people into the community is exciting for Renfrew. The industry veteran says if a buyer is willing to pay a little more now, they can expect to see an appreciation in their property’s value, especially as a four-lane expansion of Highway 17 is set to move through Renfrew in the coming years. 

“People are paying these high prices here in Renfrew now, but I don’t think they’re overpaying,” says Cobus. The Highway 17 expansion through Renfrew “will up the values again,” she predicts.

Economy ‘tracking upwards’

Alastair Baird, the manager of economic development services for the County of Renfrew, says more and more individuals are deciding to move to Renfrew to run their business or operate a home-based business because of the lifestyle on offer.  

Baird says he’s connected with a new Renfrew resident who sold their condo in Mississauga and moved to the county. Then there was the older couple, he says, who sold their home in Kanata and moved to their Ottawa River hideaway full-time. And the young pair who started a business in Renfrew after selling their place in Toronto’s hip Junction neighbourhood.  

Moving van

Despite COVID-19 and its overarching impact on the area’s businesses, Baird says there are still a lot of new local retail and services options to serve the influx of homebuyers.

“We were astounded and pleased at how many new businesses did open right through the midst of COVID-19. Where we had growth, things were happening, and it continued despite the pandemic,” he explains. “That’s been good for everyone’s spirit to see a new retailer, a new service business come online. The economy here was tracking upwards and it did continue on that front.”

But while the Renfrew County Real Estate Board and the Canadian Real Estate Association can’t forecast what 2021 will look like yet due to COVID-19, longtime realtors in the area believe the same kind of sellers’ market will continue marching on. 

Buyers, sellers and agents are all navigating uncharted territory, but combine an outdoorsy lifestyle with new businesses and more affordable living than in major cities and you’ve got something special, industry veterans say. 

“As long as you have high-speed internet, the young people are going to buy for sure,” says Cobus of homes in the area. “And as the highway keeps coming up from Ottawa the value is going to go up in Renfrew again. We’re in a nice little niche here.”

First-time homebuyers

While Renfrew County’s real estate numbers have been heating up – the area’s real estate board says July of 2020 saw 278 units sold, the most in recorded history for that month, with a price increase of 20 per cent from last year – there is one segment of the market that has been left in the cold: first-time homebuyers.  

“I feel bad for young people trying to buy their first house here,” says Peter Vincent, a longtime realtor in the area with RE/MAX Metro City Realty. 

“You’re getting into situations where it’s always a fight. It’s a multiple-offer situation and they look at you and ask, ‘how much more should I go over?’ and I don’t know what to tell people.” 

Vincent says while the area has become even more attractive to young people who can work from home, it’s still a tough place for buyers to enter the market. He says he’s had to have some uncomfortable conversations with first-time homebuyers who have just started their careers, trying to convince them that they may have to spend upwards of $30,000 over asking just to get in the game. One of his latest clients ended up fifth out of seven offers for a property. 

“We went in with $15,000 over asking,” he says, “and we weren’t even looking at the bronze medal.”​