Pandemic lockdowns accelerate rural property quest as urban upsides evaporate
By Frank O’Brien | February 16, 2021, 12:00pm
Six-acre, seven-cabin Eagan Lake Resort in the south Cariboo sold in 2020 for $1.1 million | Submitted
Evidence is mounting that more city dwellers want rural real estate.
In the past eight months, more than 62,000 Vancouver residents searched for property through Landquest Realty, a New Westminster company that specializes in B.C. rural and recreation real estate. Approximately 458,000 new users have jammed the site since June 2020.
While many searches also originated from Burnaby, Calgary and Edmonton, Vancouverites represent the largest share (12%) of those looking for a rural home or investment property.
Most buyers want acreage and waterfront listings, according to Cole Westersund, a Landquest agent who released the data.
In 2020, there was a substantial increase in sales of homes on at least five acres throughout each major region in B.C. compared with 2019, he noted.
According to Landcor’s data, the Lower Mainland saw the largest year-over-year sales increase for parcels of five acres or more: 58%.
“Escaping urban lockdowns became a central focus for real estate buyers in 2020,” Westersund said, adding that waterfront sales in rural B.C. have been “unprecedented” since COVID-19 arrived.
In northern B.C. and the Cariboo region, where an abundance of lakes provides the lowest price waterfront in the province, 392 lake-front parcels sold in 2020, up 24% from 314 sales a year earlier.
The trend was even stronger in both the Kootenays and south Okanagan, where year-over-year waterfront sales volume increased 38% and 75%, respectively.
According to the BC Real Estate Association (BCREA), residential sales in the central Okanagan increased 20.4% in 2020 compared with 2019 and are projected to rise a further 10% this year. Sales in the Kamloops region are forecast to increase by about 12% in 2021, compared with last year, with a similar hike in northern B.C.
In Greater Vancouver, the highest price increases in January 2021 for detached houses were on bucolic Bowen Island, with a 30.3% lift from a year earlier, and the lower Sunshine Coast – also accessed by ferries – up 28.9%.
This compares with an average year-over-year price increase of just 7.2% in the city of Vancouver, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.
Freddie Marks, manager of 3 Group, Nyda Realty in Agassiz, who sells rural real estate, noted that city life has become strained during COVID-19. Increased homelessness and street crime, constant masked outings and “outdoor spaces where you can’t get away from other people has just become too much for many urban residents,” he said.
In more rural Chilliwack, Marks noted, detached housing sales since last March are the highest in 16 years.
Some buyers were also seeking income-generating resorts, campgrounds and guest ranches, which can be found across rural B.C. It was not uncommon for such listings to attract “full-price offers and multiple offers,” Westersund said, with bids coming from across Canada.
In northern B.C. alone, a dozen such resort-type properties sold last year, at an average price of approximately $952,000.
An example is the six-acre Eagan Lake Resort, at Bridge Lake, an unincorporated village in the south Cariboo that is about a five-hour drive north of Vancouver. The lake-front parcel has seven rental cabins and camping and recreational-vehicle sites, plus a private house. It sold for $1.1 million, about equal to the January benchmark townhome price in Vancouver.
Westersund said early indications are that the rural real estate rush will continue into this year.
“The Landquest website saw viewership double in 2020,” Westersund said, “and in the first few weeks of 2021 has been averaging a record 5,000 unique visitors each day.” •