“I couldn’t take it anymore,” says Sylvia Cordova. “Being stuck inside a small apartment 24-7 was driving me up the wall. I had to get out.”
Last summer, Cordova was one of many who chose to leave their homes in Montreal.
“I started working from home because of the pandemic, and with the lockdown in place, I was stuck there, alone, all the time,” says Cordova. “After a few weeks, I thought I was going to go crazy, I needed a change of scenery, so my boyfriend suggested that I spend a week or two at his house.”
After about a month of living at the house in Île Perrot, they decided she should move in with him full time. Cordova says that having the extra space, both indoors and outdoors, as well as the ability to practice social distancing were major factors in her decision to move.
“In the city, I was limited to my small apartment with a tiny balcony, no place to stretch my legs or move around in, plus the streets were always crowded, making it hard to do any social distancing,” says Cordova. “Here, I have a nice house, a large back yard, wide streets and a lot less people.”
Cordova finds that her new home has had an amazing impact on her mental and physical health. She was able to find new hobbies and activities that have helped her cope with the pandemic.
“I’m a very social person, I love being with my friends, so even though I understand why we have to do social distancing, it was still hard,” she says. “My hobbies, especially gardening, became a way for me to cope with this. I was able to keep myself busy while growing and creating beautiful things.”
Cordova isn’t the only one who left Montreal because of the pandemic, according to a study conducted by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
“This isn’t a new trend,” says economist Francis Cortellino. “We see this happening every year, however, in 2020, the number of households leaving Montreal was much more substantial than before.”
The CMHC found that the number of Montrealers buying single-family homes in the suburbs was increasing by up to 500 a year. However, in 2020 those numbers spiked by 2000, to 8,700 a year.
“In the previous years, people were leaving because they wanted something newer and cheaper than what they had in the city,” says Cortellino. “Now with people at home a lot of the time, they want more space to move and do things. And if they can continue to work from home once the pandemic is over, they don’t feel the need to stay so close to their jobs.”
While it is too soon to know for certain, Cortellino does not think that this exodus will have any long term effects on the city.
“In the short term and medium term yes, because people are leaving Montreal houses and apartments, with no one coming to take their place,” Cortellino says. “This impact is felt by landlords and rental demand in particular.”
Cortellino explains that even as the pandemic has been pushing people out of the city, it has also been preventing people from coming in.
“In normal times, even though people would be leaving the city, we would still have immigrants moving to the city,” says Cortellino. “They would compensate for those leaving. But last year, we had very few people coming in because of the pandemic.”
Nonetheless, Cortellino thinks that once the borders and schools reopen, the situation will gradually improve and return to a more balanced state.
“Because people can work from home a lot more than before, I still expect to see higher levels of migration out of the city compared to before,” says Cortellino. “But with international students and workers returning, it should even out.”
RE/MAX real estate agent Dany Regimbal, is the one of many selling Montreal migrants their new homes.
“It’s been really crazy recently. I have days where five different families or couples come to visit a house,” says Regimbal. “This has never happened to me before, not to this extent. It almost feels like people are competing for the house.”
This recent surge in demand is greatly affecting the housing market, especially in the suburbs.
With mortgage rates being at an all-time low and the prices increasing rapidly, people are scrambling to buy homes.
“This is a sellers market right now,” says Regimbal. “There is more demand for houses than there are available, so people are paying a lot more than they used to, and I mean a lot more.”
According to the study by the Canadian Real Estate Association, the average price of houses in Quebec during the month of February increased by approximately 10 to 15 per cent compared to February of last year.
“I’ve seen houses that are worth $100,000 sell for almost $200,000 without a problem,” says Regimbal. “People really want a house, and they’re willing to pay for it.”
Regimbal explains that he’s noticed many people agreeing to take the house in its current condition in order to ensure that they get the sale. This means foregoing the chance to request repairs or credits from the sellers.
“I think people are tired of staying in smaller living spaces like apartments,” says Regimbal. “They desperately want a space where they can move around and do stuff, but safely away from others.”
“But once things return to normal, or at least somewhat normal, I think things will slowly return to how they were before the pandemic hit.”
It has been close to a year since Cordova moved out of the city and her new normal is living away from the city centre.
“I definitely miss certain things about the city,” says Cordova. “But I’m much happier living here. I have the space to do things that let me feel good mentally and physically, which is important in times like these.”