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The South Shore area of Nova Scotia was one of the first areas in North America to be colonised by Europeans. During the 17th century French, and later British, settlers arrived and established thriving villages, building up economies linked to fishing, farming and shipbuilding.
Today, Lunenburg, a fishing port and Unesco world heritage site in the South Shore is an established location for Canadian mainlanders to buy second homes, with its attractive colonial architecture. It is a quaint but bustling place popular with tourists and surrounded by thick forest, broad lakes and dotted with fishermen’s cottages.
In 2013, the average price of a resale home in Lunenburg County was C$194,075 (£105,237), according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, but properties here and nearby can sell for much more. Tradewinds Realty, a local agent, is currently selling a three-bedroom oceanfront house built using timber and Vermont slate, with four acres of rocky shoreline, in nearby Port Medway for C$990,000.
Given the region’s history, it is perhaps fitting that just north of here, and within half an hour’s drive from the province’s capital Halifax, a golfing development is hoping to entice Europeans back to Atlantic Canada after a downturn-led hiatus of British and US buyers.
Forest Lakes Country Club is a new 1,700-acre development of houses and apartments with leisure facilities, shops, restaurants and a golf course designed by Nicklaus Design – the firm founded by golf legend Jack Nicklaus.
“There’s nothing else like Forest Lakes in the area,” says Donald Marr, the principal partner at Terra Firma Development Corporation, the developers behind the resort. “The strength of the economy, the local infrastructure and the accessibility and leisure appeal of the area will make it popular with British, North American and German buyers. People have this idea that Canada is really far away, but Nova Scotia is actually only about six hours from London.”
When completed, Forest Lakes should contain 2,700 residential properties. Kayaking, quad-biking, horse riding, ice-curling and, of course, golf will all be on offer to residents. The properties, ranging from apartments and cottages to mansion-style homes, will go on sale from March and be priced from around £260,000 to £3m.
There will also be an on-site property management company for owners who want to rent their property.
Construction began last year and it’s hoped that the first units will be completed in spring 2015, along with nine holes of the golf course. The whole resort is expected to take 15 years to build.
Terra Firma has already attracted British interest, having sought development funding from individual investors at an early stage by selling shares in the land itself. Several hundred buyers bought plots, 40 per cent of whom were British.
Some local agents, however, question the long-term resale viability of projects such as these, particularly following the difficulties faced by the C$300m Louisbourg Resort Golf and Spa in nearby Cape Breton, where construction has stalled.
“The difference with Forest Lakes,” argues Marr, “is location, location and timing. Forest Lakes is so close to Halifax it’s a much more attractive option for Europe, and it’s also a far better time for the second home market globally.”
Under the watch of former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney (now governor of the Bank of England), Canada’s economy – and real estate market – suffered far less during the global downturn than many other countries, and for the sixth year running the World Economic Forum voted Canada as having the most stable banking system in the world.
Nova Scotia has proved particularly stable where house prices are concerned. According to the Teranet/National Bank of Canada house price index, the average annual growth rate in Halifax over the past four years has been 3.2 per cent, compared with 6.5 per cent in Toronto, where there has been a speculative building boom in recent years. “This reflects a more domestic and stable local market for housing, in contrast to the more well-known leisure resorts and major cities,” says Paul Tostevin, an associate at Savills World Research.
“Nova Scotia has the potential to become a major bolt-hole to the large east coast cities of both the US and Canada in the way that Whistler is to Vancouver on the west coast.”
In contrast to some of North America’s leisure destinations, Nova Scotia is not solely reliant on the leisure market for its prosperity, adds Tostevin. “The region is a world leader in shipbuilding, has large offshore oil and gas reserves and an innovative forestry industry.” Halifax’s Irving shipyard recently won a government contract worth C$25bn – a 30-year project to build the next generation of Canada’s ships.
The majority of buyers in Nova Scotia are from the Canadian mainland, but the developers behind Forest Lakes are hoping to attract British and American buyers. Typically, US interest comes from wealthy Bostonians and New Yorkers (just two hours away by plane). And the falling value of the Canadian dollar could make real estate even more attractive to US buyers. The loonie, as the currency is colloquially known, sank to its lowest level since 2009 in January.
● Both buyer and seller need to hire a lawyer and fees average at about C$1,500. A home inspection costs about C$450
● Temperatures in Nova Scotia range from -9C in winter to 28C in summer
● The crime rate in Halifax fell by 10 per cent in 2012, according to Statistics Canada
What can you buy for ...
C$500,000: A three-bedroom timber-framed home with a sea view
C$700,000: A four-bedroom house overlooking the harbour in the village of Chester, Lunenburg County
C$1.5m: A Hamptons-style seafront mansion with five bedrooms, anchorage and several acres of land
This article has been subject to a correction since publication