Evidence is mounting that tales about more city dwellers rushing to buy rural real estate during the pandemic are more than anecdotal.
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, part of an avalanche of 458,000 new users who have jammed the site since June 2020.
While many searches also originated from Burnaby, Calgary and Edmonton, Vancouverites represent the largest share – 12 per cent – of all those looking for a rural home or investment property.
Information from Landcor Data Corp., which tracks every real estate title transaction in the province, shows seekers are taking action.
Most buyers are looking to buy 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 to 2019, he noted.
The Lower Mainland saw the largest increase of sales of parcels of five acres or more, with a 58 per cent year-over-year increase, according to Landcor’s data. The South Okanagan region experienced a 38 per cent surge in sales, with the Kootenays seeing a 37 per cent increase in acreage sales, compared to 2019. The Kamloops region saw sales increase 10 per cent, while such sales in northern B.C. increased 7 per cent.
“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 lakefront parcels sold in 2020, up 24 per cent from 314 sales a year earlier.
The Kamloops region saw a 30 per cent year-over-year increase in waterfront property sales, with 159 sales in 2020 versus 123 in 2019 and 120 in 2018. The trend was even stronger in both the Kootenays and South Okanagan, with waterfront sale volume increases of 38 per cent and 75 per cent respectively, year-over-year.
According to the BC Real Estate Association (BCREA), total residential sales in the central Okanagan increased 20.4 per cent in 2020 and sales are projected to rise a further 10 per cent this year. Sales in the Kamloops region are forecast to increase by about 12 per cent in 2021, compared to last year, with a similar increase 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 per cent lift from a year earlier, and the lower Sunshine Coast – also accessed by ferries – up by 28.9 per cent.
This compares with an average year-over-year price increase of just 7.2 per cent in the city of Vancouver, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.
Freddie Marks, manager of 3Group, 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 have 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. “Similar gains were seen in Agassiz, Harrison and Hope,” he added.
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, about a five-hour drive north of Vancouver. The lakefront 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 the rural real estate rush will continue into this year.
“The Landquest website saw viewership double in 2020, and in the first few weeks of 2021 has been averaging a record 5,000 unique visitors each day,” Westersund said.