How The Pandemic Has Impacted Haliburton Real Estate and the Cottage Market

How has the pandemic impacted Haliburton real estate and the cottage market this year?

Troy Austen:
In 25 years in the business, I never would have expected that a pandemic would have made the craziest real estate market I've ever experienced. It's just changed the way of everybody's thinking. So many people now, they're just trying to figure out a way how they can either move and retire to Haliburton, or how can they move here, still do their work, and maybe only have to go back to the city once a week or every other week. It's just crazy how this pandemic has changed society and the way they think.

Interviewer:
What has that done to the inventory for listings available?

Troy Austen:
Inventory right now is low. I do put a lot of that onto this pandemic. The market got started later. People want to move here, but it also just kind of put off our normal spring market. It's just started later and lasting longer. Usually come Canada Day, we can just go, "You know what? I'm kind of glad that the busy season is over, and we'll revisit again next year," but no, this year has just continued right on, and I've never had so many inquiries.

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Interviewer:
Wow. What else is happening as far as listings? Is it typical? Are you seeing the same types of listings on the same lakes, or are you seeing listings you haven't seen before in past years?

Troy Austen:
It's the same that way. We're seeing all kinds of new listings here, but that's typical for every year. In the last 10 years, there's just been so many new builds done too that the quality of properties that we're seeing now... It used to be typical three season ma and pa cottages from back in the '50s, '60s, '70s, and now we're just seeing these places that are just absolutely incredible, beautiful places. Dealing with all local contractors and friends and stuff like that, different people in the building trades, they've never been so busy.

People are just finding a different way now to live. They really want to social distance. My friend that owns the pump shop, he had 28 hot tubs. They're gone. They can't get them again until September. So everybody's sitting in their cottage the last three and a half months. The media was saying, "Oh, don't go to the cottage." Well, everybody's been at their cottage, and I don't blame them. They've been there for three and a half months. So now they want, "Oh, let's build a deck, and let's get a new roof. Oh, let's get a new boat. Let's get a four wheeler."

Interviewer:
Everyone's finding ways to create their own recreation, and Haliburton's a perfect place to be doing that.

Troy Austen:
Yeah, a 100%. There's nothing more beautiful than Haliburton. Again, right, you're two and a half hours to Toronto.

Interviewer:
So for people who have not been cottage shopping in say 10 years, what's changed as far as the average price points of cottages and what they should be expecting and what they're seeing? Because I know if you were thinking of getting a cottage in the $200,000 price range, it's just nonexistent.

Troy Austen:
Yeah. We've never experienced a market like this. A lot of our properties, especially with the way we market with our social media, the majority of our properties we're getting multiple offers on them. There's not a whole lot of properties just sitting on the market. It's really, really active.

Advice For Buying A Cottage In This Market

Interviewer:
Any advice for someone who is deciding that they want to get out of the city and come up?

Troy Austen:
You have to be prepared. You have to do your leg work first. Be prepared that you're probably going to be in a multiple offer, or if you're not, you need to have your financing setup and be ready to go because if you're not, somebody else is going to be.

Interviewer:
Wow. So it's a completely different market than it has been for the last handful of years?

Troy Austen:
Yeah. You're not kidding. I wish I had a crystal ball because I thought when this pandemic hit, that's it. There's nothing going to happen. You didn't know what to expect. Foolishly, too many people listened to the media too much. I believe there's a lot of fake news there. Haliburton's been a safe place to be so far, and hopefully, it'll stay that way. People are being very respectful of social distancing. What I'm seeing so far is because of the supply and demand, and the prices, I can't believe how much they've come up in the last eight weeks. I think we're going to continue to see prices rise because, again, supply and demand.

Interviewer:
Wow.

A Seller's Market

Troy Austen:
So it's a great time to sell. It's definitely a seller's market. I hope we don't have a second outbreak. I don't know what's going to happen financially with the country. There been some really big winners out of this, and there's been some really big losers out of this, but then there's a lot of people that haven't been affected. 

Interviewer:
When does the season normally tail off and end, and what do you think is going to happen this year?

Troy Austen:
Well, right now usually is when we see the end of our rush for everybody wanting to get in for the summer. This year, it's still continuing to happen. We were always busy in July and August. Don't get me wrong, but it wasn't like the spring. Then usually what would happen again after Labor Day, a lot of people use their cottage for the last year. They put their place on the market, and then people start looking again. In the fall, markets are usually very, very busy as well, right through till the snow flies. Again, we used to be in the winter time, I had years, you never sold anything in the winter, which was fine with me because I like to go to Mexico, but the last three years, we've had really busy winters here.

Interviewer:
So we don't expect that to change this year?

Troy Austen:
Well, again, I wish I had that crystal ball. I'm just playing it. You want to know how the real estate's working? Just ask me. If you don't like it this week, ask me again next because it changes.

Interviewer:
So true.

Social Distancing & Showings

Troy Austen:
And another way that things have really changed, as well, and it's kind of changing week by week, with social distancing, staying six feet away. I myself have always been a germaphobe, so I've always been crazily washing my hands anyways, and not touching the doorknobs. And it's a huge question that people are asking, and that's safety. So where each place... A lot of them are empty when we list the cottages, but there are people in some of these houses, so we're customizing how our showings are going.

We have a questionnaire and some questions to ask people before they come to look at a place, and we'll custom set up how showings are going to happen. We have one coming this week and they're in their eighties, and they're very concerned; they're in that age group where safety is a concern. So what we'll do is we'll just have all the lights on and the doors open ready for the booked showing time. The sellers won't be there. When people go inside, we're going to have gloves and masks there, and just ask them not to touch anything. And then they can go through the inside if they're comfortable with that. So each individual listing will handle it differently.

We change how we're doing things week to week. So when this pandemic first hit, I just shut everything down and said, "Everybody go home." And everybody was scared, didn't know what to do. Shutting down was the responsible thing to do. With our team, we were already working completely online; we're paperless. We were already using Zoom meetings for our own team every day for our own meetings, because it's hard for 10 people to get together. So it's nothing new for us; we really didn't have to change anything. We tweaked a few things, as you know, but it just hasn't changed many things that way.

Interviewer:
As far as... I feel like, in the Haliburton cottage market, the cottage market, specifically, compared to the residential market in the city, you've had it a little easier, because a lot of the properties that you are showing are already unoccupied, because the primary residence is in the city.

Troy Austen:
Yeah. So that's actually how we started back. As I said, we just sent everybody home, said, "Sit at home; we just need to find out what's going on." But we had so many inquiries and emails and phone calls. And then finally, just one day, I got talking to Jeff and I said, "You know what? We have all these empty cottages and vacant lots. Why don't we put those up for sale? We're not putting anybody in danger that way. Let's do it and see what happens." So that's how we started things, because we had so many empty cottages and then boom, they were selling. And then we worked our way up to where we are today.

Cell & Internet Service Coverage Increasing

Interviewer:
Which is crazy busy, no time to breathe, and needing more cottage inventory because you have more buyers than you have sellers right now.

Troy Austen:
Exactly. Another huge question we have now is, because everybody's going to start working differently, and it's always been a bit of a problem, especially in certain areas of Haliburton County. There's some places that have great Internet and great cell reception, and there's other areas that have terrible cell reception and brutal Internet. At my cottage, it costs me a little bit of money, but I'm just running off a hub. But I put in about a $1,500 cell phone booster, so I always have perfect cell range. We also put that in at our Haliburton Lake office, but this has been in the works since last year, there was $290 million, I believe. Don't quote me on it, but I think it was $290 million, through the Ontario government, was budgeted for better cell range and Internet in Northeastern Ontario, which is Haliburton County. I believe there's a board of about 10 people. And then about three weeks ago, I think, I noticed that Doug Ford announced again $100 or $110 million more to go towards that project, and it can't come soon enough.

(See Ontario announcement here: https://news.ontario.ca/opo/en/2020/06/ontario-improving-broadband-and-cell-service-for-rural-communities.html This is part of the province's $315 million initiative called Up to Speed: Ontario's Broadband and Cellular Action Plan.)

Interviewer:
Well, and Haliburton has had massive improvements, right, in the village in the last two or three years? Right?

Troy Austen:
Well, you know how that works. We finally got Internet there... Oh, sorry, we got fiber optic at our office there, and we were running so much video... How many times did we just shut down the whole Internet in the office? So you girls would always download everything at night when everybody was gone, and now you can download the same thing with everybody there in like seven minutes. It's incredible; what a game changer.

Interviewer:
Yeah. And I'm sure that's going to impact home values and pricing throughout Haliburton County, because now it really opens up the ability for people to work from home, and people from all sorts of different job capacities who really required Internet to be able to now operate at the same speeds as everyone in the city.

Troy Austen:
Yeah, exactly. And also it saved me a lot of money on laptops, too. Frustrated tossing out the second window of my office there was getting a little expensive.

Interviewer:
Haha! True story!

Questions?

Contact Troy Austen, Team Haliburton Highlands RE/MAX at 705-455-7653

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