2020-07-01

South Shore real estate sees winds of change

by Gayle Wilson

The South Shore's real estate landscape has changed substantially since the pandemic hit, with one of the area's prime real estate company's merging with another, and about half the typical number of buyers and sellers in the market.

But veteran realtor Tim Harris is happy to keep things in perspective.

After years of looking, the Chester-based company he co-owned with his wife and business partner Barbie Nunn-Porter, Tradewinds Realty has found "the right fit" with Halifax's Engel & Völkers (EV), he told LighthouseNOW.

And, as for current market conditions, he opined, "The values are holding, which is excellent."

In April, Harris and Nunn-Porter finalized the sale of Tradewinds with Engel & Völkers (EV) of Halifax.

But the timing with the pandemic was merely coincidental. According to Harris, the couple had been looking for a way forward for their company for some time.

'I'm 66, and a young 66, but we had, for several years, considered finding the right fit for a sale," Harris said. "And after running the company for 30-something years, I was certainly ready for a break."

There were no family members wanting to take over the business,. Nor were the owners ready to vacate the industry entirely themselves, or want to leave their 35 agents high and dry by closing up.

So they felt the best way forward was to find a buyer for the business.

They considered an internal purchase by an agent; they also looked at a Toronto company as well as a Canadian franchise.

"But it's all a matter of fit and feel. It's not like we're selling a tractor business," suggested Harris. As well as finding a buyer that matched their company's culture, it would have to be one that Harris personally would want to work with. Harris is now an associate broker and real estate advisor of EV, and Nunn-Porter is a realtor and real estate advisor for the company.

EV license partners Donna Harding and Sebastien Latulippe approached them last year about connecting the two boutique real estate firms, reported Harris, "After five years of looking for the right fit, there it was in front of us."

The two owner-couples were in "lock step" in their approaches to real estate, he suggested. And while Tradewinds had some reach internationally, EV's global activities is able to enhance this even more.

Harris and Nunn-Porter founded Tradewinds in 1989 and grew the company to have offices in Chester, Lunenburg and Annapolis Royal. These served the South Shore, Shelburne, Digby Shore, Yarmouth, St. Margaret's Bay, Halifax , Eastern Shore, Northumberland Shore and Cape Breton.

While Harding and Latulippe grew EV from four to 26 advisors in 18 months. Following the acquisition, the brokerage now has 58 advisors and eight staff.

"Under the leadership of Donna and Sebastian, I look forward to strengthening the service and market expertise our brand is known for to a greater geographic area. Particularly, I believe in times like these, our advisers of these two companies working together as part of our network will be a significant resource to the local community," Anthony Hitt, president and CEO, Engel & Völkers Americas, said in a news release.

The brokerage will deal with residential, commercial and land transactions, including urban and rural real estate, lakefront and oceanfront.

While Harris observed there currently are only 50 per cent of the buyers and sellers in the market over pre-pandemic times, he remained optimistic.

One of the reasons for prices holding stable is that supply of property is down 50 per cent as well. "There's half the product on the market," he emphasized.

Though Harris suggested that the pandemic "hasn't quite turned the market on its head," he maintained it has "changed the motivations of both buyers and sellers."

Before COVID-19 hit, some people may have been planning to sell, but after self-isolating in their homes for several months many of them are determining, "'You know what? We really like it here,'" he said. Rather than sell, these homeowners are now choosing to renovate.

Others have become more sensitive to the proximity to their neighbours, and determined, "We want something else," he suggested. At the same time, buyers across the spectrum were reluctant to go into strangers' homes for viewings during the pandemic. And sellers too weren't keen to have strangers come into their homes.

The upside of this is that the industry is seeing fewer so-called tire kickers. That suits realtors just fine, according to Harris, who noted that health regulations during the pandemic stipulate that for each viewing a home must be cleaned before and after.

"We aren't anxious to go and show 12 houses in a day with all the added work. So it's quite nice that we have fewer buyers," he said.

While he was expecting the market to begin normalizing again as the economy starts opening up, Harris said he and Nunn-Porter are looking forward to having more time to spend with their family and enjoy their small property in Costa Rica, pleased in the knowledge Tradewinds has become part of "a good brand."

"Sure it was a little heart-wrenching to see the signs come down," Harris admitted. But he's seen a lot of companies come and go in the real estate business. "I think I've lasted a good, long time," said Harris.

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