House Prices in a Heritage Area: The Case of St. John's, Newfoundland

Article excerpt


Does the designation of a heritage conservation area have a significant effect on house values? Previous studies, almost all based on American data, do not provide a simple answer to the question. Using data on the sales prices of houses in St. John's, the capital city of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, this paper attempts to determine whether the creation of a Heritage Conservation Area in 1977 enhanced the value of houses within it. The City's abandonment of controls on building materials complicates the analysis. However, the conclusion is that there is no clear heritage premium. The reason for this may be the absence of clearly defined, rigorously enforced heritage conservation regulations.

Keywords: House prices, heritage area, St. John's


Est ce que la designation d'un quartier comme zone de protection du patrimoine a un effet significatif sur le prix des maisons ? Des etudes precedentes, presque toutes basees sur des donnees americaines, ne fournissent pas de reponse claire

a cette question. Base sur des donnees du prix de vente de maisons a St. John's, la capitale de la province de Terre-Neuve et Labrador, cette etude tente de determiner si la creation d'un secteur de protection du patrimoine en 1977 a augmente la valeur des maisons situees dans ce perimetre. La decision municipale d'abandonner les controles sur les types de materiaux utilises complique l'analyse. Cependant, on peut conclure qu'il n'y a pas d'effet evident des zones de protection du patrimoine sur le prix des maisons. La raison peut etre l'absence de reglements clairs et rigoureusement appliques sur la protection du patrimoine.

Mots cles: prix des maisons, zone de protection du patrimoine, St. John's


St. John's is the capital city of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. In many ways it is an ordinary Atlantic Canadian city with a downtown that is a dense mix of residential, commercial and institutional land uses. Its population of about 175,000 ranks the St. John's Census Metropolitan Area 19th among the 27 Canadian CMAs. In 1977 the City designated 111 acres (45 hectares) of its inner city as a Heritage (HA). A series of expansions between 1987 and 2004 brought it to its current size of 536 acres (217 hectares). It was hoped that the heritage designation of the central heart of the downtown would preserve the residential function and social mix and also preserve the distinctive architectural character of the townscape. The residential function has been retained, and the amount of residential land use has actually increased as a result of adaptive reuse of a number of commercial and institutional buildings. Unfortunately, the architectural character of many of the streets has not fared as well (Sharpe and O'Dea 2005).

This paper asks the deceptively simple question of whether creation of the heritage area has had any observable impact on the value of residential properties. If a heritage premium exists, it would have to be the result of a general heritage ambience, since the housing stock in the HA is remarkable homogeneous. There are no really obvious heritage focal points in the residential sector. Unfortunately the question of whether there is a heritage premium inside the HA cannot be unequivocally answered. In 1992 the City decided to remove all restrictions on the type of cladding, and the size and characteristics of fenestration and door openings on buildings in the HA. This makes a longitudinal study difficult, since it must deal with two different regulatory regimes, an earlier one with more stringent regulations than the later one. This difficulty notwithstanding, the basic conclusion of this study is that no clearly identifiable heritage premium is evident either prior to, or after 1992. We are on safer ground in the earlier period in terms of demonstrating the apparent non-effect of heritage designation. For the period after 1992 it is more difficult to demonstrate the existence of a heritage premium because the change in regulations effectively rendered the heritage designation meaningless. …