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Why Chinese house hunters are increasingly drawn to Halifax

'It’s a beautiful city. You just don’t want to move away,' says one recent homebuyer

 
Zhihang Zhou (front) and his partner Ziyan Xiong (back) fell in love with Halifax after coming here for their post-secondary educations. (David Burke/CBC)

Dreams of a simple life by the sea are what drove Zhihang Zhou and his partner Ziyan Xiong to buy their first home in Halifax.

They fell in love with the city while attending Saint Mary's University and then the Nova Scotia Community College.


"For people like us, this is really the perfect place," said Xiong, "We're definitely planning to be in the city probably forever."

"We both grew up in a city that's not close by the ocean, so it really was quite amazing to come here in the first year to get to see all of these beautiful views ... we are the kind of people that enjoy a slower pace kind of life, so we don't like the big city as much," she said.

 
Zhou and Xiong say they love their new home's many windows because it makes it feel less enclosed than a traditional Canadian house. (David Burke/CBC)

The young couple bought their five-bedroom, $600,000 home for the long haul. They wanted to make sure it was big enough to accommodate family visits from China, and hopefully, the pitter-patter of little feet in the next few years.

The pair bought their home in the subdivision of West Bedford in November. Three of their neighbours live in similar homes and are also from China.

They're not alone. In the last five years, there's been slow but steady growth in the number of foreign buyers purchasing homes in Halifax, said Matthew Honsberger, the president-elect of the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors.

 
Matthew Honsberger says Chinese buyers generally want new, luxury homes that are move-in ready. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

He said on average there are about 5,000 real estate transactions in Halifax every year. Of those, about 150 to 200 homes a year are sold to foreign buyers, most of whom are originally from China. Honsberger said that's a big jump from five years ago when only about 50 homes a year were sold to people not from Canada.

He said Chinese buyers generally want new, luxury homes that are move-in ready. He believes new regulations in Toronto and Vancouver created to limit property purchases by foreign buyersmay have driven some recent immigrants to Nova Scotia.

 
Zhou and Xiong say one of the things that sold them on their home was its open concept design. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

"Vancouver increased their foreign buyers' tax and so that's driven foreign buyers to start to look across the country for other places to settle, and Nova Scotia offers an incredible quality of life and is still quite affordable," said Honsberger. 

Housing prices were also part of the reason Zhou and Xiong decided to stay in Halifax. They estimate their home would cost $4 million to $5 million in Vancouver or Toronto.

"The house prices here are pretty reasonable. You know, for the same money, we can afford a better and bigger house, " said Zhou.

 
At least three other homes near Zhou and Xiong's home are also owned by people who immigrated to Halifax from China. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

Honsberger said an increase in immigrants buying high-end homes may eventually push up housing costs, but the economic benefit of their spending in the local economy will far outweigh that.

Alexandra Baird Allen is the manager of the economic intelligence unit at Turner Drake & Partners Ltd., a commercial real estate consulting firm in Halifax. She said immigrants are needed to help drive economic growth as the population ages.

 

She said it's too early to make any generalizations about how an increase in Chinese immigration to Nova Scotia might have an effect on the local real estate market, but she doesn't believe there's any need to worry about high-end housing sales causing a spike in real estate prices.


"There's never one single thing that's driving the real estate prices," she said. "It seems unlikely that we are going to have the wild spikes in prices that have been seen in Toronto and Vancouver.

"We have a very steady, stable real estate market in the Atlantic provinces. I think that's very much a good thing and I don't see that changing."

'You just don't want to move away'

No matter what the future holds, Zhou and Xiong said they're happy with their decision to buy a home and stay in Halifax.

"We got the ocean. Once you get used to the ocean, really, it's a beautiful city. You just don't want to move away," he said.

 
 
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