Albertans flush with money and eager to buy vacation or second homes in the Okanagan remain a huge catalyst for optimism in the Central Okanagan real estate market.
So when WestJet opened up daily flight service from Fort McMurray in the northern Alberta oil patch to Kelowna, a significant shift began to appear in local real estate buyer profiles.
That shift has hit home relatively quickly in Lake Country, according to Jason Koverchuk, director of sales and marketing for the Lakestone development on Okanagan Centre Road West.
Koverchuk says the driving factor of the sales interest is the close proximity of the district to Kelowna International Airport, which they advertise as 16 minutes away.
“That is something we’ve not seen before,” Koverchuk said. “It’s resonating within our demographic—younger empty nesters in their mid-50s who have seen their kids grow up and are thinking now about the next chapter in their lives as they approach retirement,” he said.
“They may be looking at commuting now, but in three to five years, they can picture themselves living here full-time, retired, in a place where they want to be.”
The price continues to be favourable for Okanagan properties, he added. Recent reports show that in parts of Alberta, such as Sylvan Lake near Red Deer, a lakefront cabin starts at $750,000 with anything under the $1 million mark considered a bargain.
As a comparison, Koverchuk says Lakestone has lake view starting prices of $195,000 and waterfront lot prices at $580,000.
“For people in a place like Fort McMurray, those working in the oil and gas sector are in a good position financially to buy a recreation or retirement property. They often work 10 to 15 days and are off for five days, so why not spend that time in the Okanagan, especially if you plan to retire here one day,” Koverchuk said.
“Being mobile and living in one community and working in another is becoming increasingly common today, so the closeness of the airport really offers some advantages for living in Lake Country.”
Koverchuk says while the local real estate market is showing signs of emerging from a five-year lull, he wouldn’t describe the current market as in a boom cycle.
“There are definitely signs of recovery out there but it’s partly due, I think, to competitive pricing. Compared to us, the real estate markets in Calgary, Edmonton and even Vancouver continue to be strong, so homeowners in those markets are looking at taking some equity out of their home and buying a lot, with the idea of building that Okanagan dream home down the road.”
Specifically for Lakestone, Koverchuk says lot buyers have two years to sit on a lot before having to start building, it’s a secure subdivision which helps alleviate concerns of safety, particularly for couples separated by work for long stretches or retired couples who like to travel, and the subdivision homes offer low maintenance appeal with regard to upkeep and yard work.
Koverchuk says Lakestone is reaching out to the Fort McMurray market, advertising in WestJet’s in-flight magazine and sign advertising at both airport terminals.
“It’s great for us to see the Alberta market back in the Okanagan. We’ve been waiting for it for the last five years. Last year we started seeing more Alberta buyers coming here to look, and this year they are buying.”
Koverchuk said the retiring baby boomer generation are far more adventurous when it comes to buying retirement or vacation home properties.
“I think in particular with vacation homes, people are making that investment with the idea of it becoming their retirement home one day. They can spend time here during the summer and commute back and forth if necessary, and rent it out during the winter months.
“The idea of purchasing a condo where everyone in the family jams into a smaller space for the summer or for a summer vacation doesn’t work as one day becoming a retirement home. We’re seeing a demand from families not to necessarily build a huge home here, but build a downsized second home for their use a couple of months a year during the summer, with the idea of retiring there further down the road.”