This article is more than 2 years old.

North Bay, Ont., family moves to Halifax, can’t find house to buy

Low housing inventory, record sale prices put family in real estate squeeze

3 min read
A sold sign from RE/MAX nova is swaying in the wind outside a home in Dartmouth, N.S.
caption As housing prices rise, people are finding it harder to buy a house in the Halifax area.
Dawna Candelora

A family moved to Halifax late last year for a better life, but instead of moving into their perfect home, they’re in and out of Airbnbs. 

As Nova Scotia reaches a population of one million, people are finding it difficult to navigate the new housing market.

Ben Smalls moved from North Bay, Ont., with his wife and four-year-old daughter in late November 2021. 

The 31-year-old has admired Halifax since he was a teenager. He wanted to attend Dalhousie University for a degree in commerce but decided to stay home and save money instead.

When his friends from Toronto moved to Halifax in 2017, he had a chance to visit the city for the first time since his teen years. He stayed for a week to help his friends settle into their new Spryfield home. 

“This is where I belong,” he said to himself the day before he left to go back to North Bay. 

Based on his research, Halifax real estate wasn’t much different from home. 

He didn’t need to be in a central location but wasn’t looking to be too far from the city. Smalls was most interested in properties around Spryfield, Fairview, Clayton Park and Lakeside.

Smalls says he’s a homeowner at heart and had no desire to rent. 

When COVID-19 put his Royal Bank of Canada investment job at home, he took that as a sign. 

His wife already worked from home. All she needed was a home office and to be within cycling distance of a school. 

“I built up a pretty healthy savings through my twenties and said I would use it for something important, like an adventure, or a new life or something. I was fine with surviving off that while we settled into our new home,” says Smalls. 

Smalls said he and his wife had trouble buying a house without seeing it in person. After almost two years of looking online, Smalls left his job with Royal Bank. They sold their house in North Bay, leased a storage unit in Halifax and kept their belongings there until they found the perfect home. 

Except they never found it. 

In early December, when Smalls and his family began their search for a house, there were around 226 single family houses on the market in Halifax. One year earlier, in December 2020, there were around 579.

The single family homes Smalls was looking at went from being on the market for 46 days, to around 18. Because there are fewer houses to sell, and more people wanting to buy, offers are the highest they’ve ever been. 

“People are offering whatever they can pay just so they can snatch the house they want before it’s gone,” says Smalls.

The Nova Scotia Association of Realtors says the median sale price for single family homes in Halifax and Dartmouth is at a record high. 

According to ViewPoint Realty, the median asking price for a single family home Dec. 2-9 was $389,900. The median selling price for a single family home was $436,000. Last year, there was only a $10,000 difference between the median asking price and selling price.

Now, in January 2022, it’s almost the same, but there are even fewer houses for sale – 161 as of Jan. 13.

Smalls has been staying in Airbnb units for around a week at a time. 

“We spent Christmas with our friends in Spryfield. We stayed with them when we first came, but they have a newborn, so it wasn’t easy. They needed their space and we needed ours,” says Smalls. 

“I’m just glad we knew someone who lives here. This would’ve been so much worse if we didn’t.”

Smalls says the high offers are his biggest problem. 

“I’m happy for people who can afford to pay that much, I really am. I’ve been so close on some houses, almost to closing, and then someone comes along and offers $20,000 more. $20,000 is a lot of money.”

Smalls says his standards for “the perfect home” have lowered in hopes of finding one soon. 

“I don’t mind driving a little farther, getting my hands dirty, doing renovations, finishing a basement. We were originally looking for a four-bedroom home, but now we’re looking for two or three bedrooms. I have a few offers out there right now and I hope one of them goes through. We just need to find something. Money runs out eventually.” 

Living off his wife’s income and his savings account since moving, Smalls says he’ll need to find a job in Halifax quicker than expected.

Share this

About the author

Carleigh MacKenzie

Carleigh MacKenzie is a Cape Breton-born writer. She is the copy editor for the Dalhousie Gazette and the vice-president of Dalhousie’s Creative...

Have a story idea?