‘Where a penny can still buy you something’: Manitoba real estate deals look to entice homebuyers from big-city living

WINNIPEG — With the rise of remote work and record-setting real estate sales, some Manitoba communities are trying to entice people to make the switch from city lights to rural nights.

A penny per square foot or a $10 lot are just two real estate bargains out there for those willing and able to relocate.

“Because of COVID we have been able to enjoy our lifestyle a lot. We have a lot of space,” said Eleanor Dnistransky, a community development officer for the Birtle Miniota Community Development Corporation. “When we heard stories of people in cities that were apartment-locked or house-locked because of their lot sizes and stuff, we thought this would be a really good idea.”

That idea prompted a municipality to launch online ads, touting the Prairie View Municipality as a place, ‘where a penny can still buy you something.’

Municipal-owned residential lots are going for a penny a square foot. For those wanting to start a business, commercial lots are going for a whopping five times that price at a nickel.

The municipality said its biggest asset is land, and it is looking to capitalize on it now that people may be looking to exit highly populated places. Not to be outdone the RM of Pipestone, which also has some property deals up for grabs.

Pipestone first started offering the $10 lot deal on residential and mobile home lots back in 2009 as part of a strategy to increasing its population.

“COVID has definitely created an impact for economic development for rural communities in the sense that people are able to work more remotely and they’re realizing that is more feasible to do,” said Tanis Chalmers, manager of economic development with the RM of Pipestone.

“We have seen an increase in inquiries definitely into the communities in our municipality,” said Chalmers. “That increase has been actually seen in multiple avenues, with the $10 lots, also the purchase of existing homes which we also offer grants on.”

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Despite the increase in inquiries over the past six months, Chalmers said no builds have taken place. She attributes that to other factors including the meteoric rise in cost of lumber this past spring.

Overall, 49 new homes were constructed in the municipality over the past 10 years, with some of those being rural-based on acreages or farm properties. The new residents come from a variety of backgrounds, but Chalmers said reasons for moving to the area often depends on work.

“Doing all these programs helps. It has been noted that communities that do something are more successful with retaining and expanding their communities,” said Chalmers. “A combination of all these programs has helped substantially with the growth and sustainment of our communities.”

The $10 deal is a good one according to Brandon Area Realtors executive officer Jen Pearson, but she warns it all depends on what amenities you are looking for.

“Absolutely. Just in looking at other lots in our area, nothing compares to that,” said Pearson. “And if you can work remotely, it’s probably perfect.”

Throughout the pandemic, red-hot real estate sales have pushed up prices and strained housing stock.

April saw record home sales in the Winnipeg region eclipsing the 2000 mark for the first time, up 53 per cent from the five-year average for the month. It happened again in May.

In a release at the time, Kourosh Doustshenas, president of the Winnipeg Regional Real Estate Board, said, “Rapid sales are depleting our listings quicker than we can replace them.”

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June and July sales volumes dipped from the record-setting pace but prices were still up. The average price for a detached home in July was up seven per cent year over year to $377,789, with 54 per cent of those sales going above the asking price.

“If you look at 2021 as a full-year marathon, not shorter runs such as weekly or monthly periods of time, the blistering pace set earlier in the year has evidence of slowing down,” said Doustshenas in a release. “Sales are still well on pace to finish the year in record fashion.”

Record sales have not been limited to urban areas to major centres.

“Since last summer when we did see an increase in sales and it’s just continued ever since,” said Pearson. “Not just urban areas like Brandon or Winnipeg, our rural areas have seen an increase in sales as well.”

“I think the pandemic has definitely affected it. The way people spend their time, what is important to them. The ability to work from home as well as interest rates and perhaps people not being able to travel and putting that money towards a home.”

Pipestone and Prairie View are not alone in trying to entice potential city transplants. Oak Lake, located about 30 minutes west of Brandon, touts small-town living with big city web speeds and, “the ability to soothe your big city blues.”

An ongoing marketing campaign targets potential remote workers with bold type promoting working from home.

“A lot of people are seeing that small towns are offering a lot more than people ever thought of before now that we are in this situation,” said Dnistransky. 

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