Imagine finding the perfect house, mentally deciding who is in which bedroom, imagining how the furniture will fit, getting your financial ducks in a row, and making an offer that meets the seller's asking price — and then losing the house to someone else.
Now imagine that happens two, three, four, or more times.
That, says Lisa Bjornson, the managing broker at Squamish's Black Tusk Realty, is the reality for many people trying to get a foothold in the local housing market.
"You may be dealing with a family that writes five offers," she said. "You have this almost herd-like mentality going through these houses, and you can see as many as six to 12 offers on one property."
"Third time is a charm seems to be the mantra," he says. "I feel for buyers. This is, without a doubt, a seller's market."
The current competition for Squamish homes is likely not sustainable, say the local real estate agents.
"It is a level of activity that we have probably have never experienced," Bjornson said. "All of us are struggling right now, whether you are a buyer, a seller, a tenant, an appraiser, a mortgage person, a home inspector, a realtor; we are struggling in this marketplace because it is like something we have never come across.
The market was pretty active before the cliff drop in March 2020, when everything shut down due to the pandemic, Bjornson said.
The market started to come back in June.
This continued right until the end of the year and the fourth quarter was busier than the first quarter of this year.
"I am thinking the only difference and the reasons the first quarter is grabbing more attention is the constant multiple offers that have been occurring, which signals demand is outstripping supply," Bjornson said.
"This, in turn, has accelerated prices even more since the beginning of the year."
Bjornson said offers are being made without subjects attached, which is not ideal.
"We have lots of offers that have no conditions," she said.
In March, a 'typical' single-family home in Squamish sold for $1,094,800 (benchmark price according to stats from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver).
A benchmark townhouse in town was at $826,600.
The benchmark price for a condo was $510,600.
From the fourth quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021, the median price for single-family homes went up 18%. Townhouses, or attached units, were up 15%, even though the number of units sold was down 25% (82 sold in the fourth quarter compared to 61 in the first quarter). Condo prices are up 12%, though the number sold is down 10% (75 versus 68), according to stats from Bjornson.
"Trying to compare year over year or month over month, which would be a standard analysis, is just not giving the picture of what has happened over this past year," she said. "The forces at play both in the health and economic worlds are like nothing any of us in our lifetimes have experienced, and it feels like we are making stuff up as we go."
Some buyers are getting priced right out of the Squamish market and moving away, both real estate experts said.
For sellers, while they may be getting a very handsome price for their home, often they are being turned into a buyer and facing the same competitive market that lacks supply.
"We have had a couple of instances where somebody has sold their property, but they have put in a condition of them finding something else, and the market has been moving so quickly that the time frame in between when they sold and when they have maybe found a property they want to offer on — if it is a four week period, you can have had a very significant price change. So what they sold for is now not in line with what they are buying for," Bjornson said.
More choice needed
Bjornson said a more broad spectrum of housing options is needed in Squamish to meet the demand.
"The reason behind the multi-family density issue, I get it. That is environmentally friendly, that is easier on services and all those things, but you need to have a continuum of housing."
She added that multi-generational housing is sought after in Squamish.
"You can have a lovely 2,200 square-foot townhouse, which could accommodate you, your children, and potentially a parent or parents, but they can't do the stairs in a townhouse. We don't have a single-level 2,200 square-foot [home] in this community."
More housing that caters to active seniors is needed, too, she said.
Who is moving in?
Bjornson said clients who can work remotely — or who are prepared to do the commute — are choosing Squamish for the lifestyle.
"The gap you could buy here and what you could buy in the city is now closed. Affordability is not the factor. It is the lifestyle," she said.
McQuade said he is seeing various buyers, those seeking the lifestyle and folks from Vancouver who can work from home.
He is also seeing out-of-province buyers making a move to Squamish.
As always, lifestyle changes precipitate moves as well, such as divorce.
Both McQuade and Bjornson noted the loss of long-time Squamish residents who are leaving: some who have been priced out of the local market, but others who are chasing the next Squamish.
"There are some people who feel they are losing their town, and then there are people who are excited to leave too. They may have friends who have moved to a smaller community, like Powell River seems to be really popular, Cumberland.... It is people who have been here quite a while who are sort of chasing that next Squamish."
Bjornson stressed that: "Realtors are not the drivers of any market; we can only work in it. This is a difficult situation for everyone in a different way right now, and we feel the stresses and strains that buyers, sellers, and tenants that we deal with are under."
McQuade said it is important for those looking to buy a home to understand it is a process.
"Be patient, but poised," he said. "You have to be really, really patient because it may take a while, but you have to be very, very ready when it comes time to take action."
Getting a local realtor is always a good idea, McQuade said, because they know what is going on in our community and have a good relationship with other local realtors.
For sellers, he said every case is different.
"Have you bought something already? Are you planning on buying something already? What do we think the demand is going to be for your home? Do you need to sell quickly? There are a lot of questions that have to be answered before you can really put a strategy in place," he said. "Oftentimes, the strategy is pricing the property at what we believe is the market value and then holding offers because there is so much demand — so we may say, 'We may not look at offers for a week or 10 days,'" he said.
While it is hard to say how long the hot market trend will last, McQuade says that there will always be demand for housing now in Squamish.
"We are past anything where people don't want to be in Squamish. People are always going to want to be here now; that definitely the future that we are in. What it boils down to is there are so many fundamentals that are so strong here that people are still going to want to be in Squamish for the same reasons that we are here today."