British Columbia

Space, access to outdoors drawing homebuyers to B.C.'s Interior during pandemic: real estate groups

Property sales in B.C.'s Interior are on the rise, and real estate agents say a growing number of their clients are people looking for more space to wait out the COVID-19 pandemic.

Proximity to outdoors, work-from-home opportunities are driving interest, they say

Tracy Deboer (left) of Vancouver gets ready to hit the bike trails of Nelson, B.C., with two friends. A growing number of Lower Mainlanders are headed to B.C.'s Interior to enjoy the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Realtors say a growing number are deciding to stay for good. (Bob Keating/CBC)

Property sales in B.C.'s Interior are on the rise, and real estate agents say a growing number of their clients are people looking for more space to wait out the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a spring dip attributed to the coronavirus, residential sales in the Okanagan and Shuswap regions increased in both June and July, according to new numbers released by the Okanagan Mainline Real Estate Board.

In June, buyers purchased 791 units, up from 446 sold in May and 725 sold in June 2019.

July saw that number rise to 917, an increase from 810 in July 2019. The majority of sales were single-family homes.

Kim Heizmann, a Kelowna-based real estate agent and president of the board, attributed the increase to people looking for a change after experiencing life in lockdown.

She said the many of her clients are relocating from the Lower Mainland and Calgary following months working and socializing online in cramped urban quarters.

"If we do a second wave and a lockdown, [they're saying], 'We don't want to be locked down in the city,'" she said.

Condos in downtown Vancouver on March 20. Self-isolation during the pandemic has been a cramped and lonely experience for many in big cities. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Tyler Hancock, a Realtor in Creston, B.C., and president of the Kootenay Association of Realtors, said he's hearing similar comments from his clients. He said while Albertans usually make up the bulk of new buyers in the area, he's seen an increase in sales to people from the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.

"A lot of people that had to go into work are now able to work from home, so they're saying, 'Hey, if I can work from home, I'm going to choose an area that's more comfortable,'" he said.

"Our geographic distances are much further apart. We've got more acreages, you're not in multi-family homes, you've got more space."

Hancock said the temperate climate also seems to be a draw, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing more people to socialize outside.

"We've got wineries, lakes, trails... we're a four-season recreational area," he said.

Park, trail use up

In Nelson, B.C., Rob Stojanowski has definitely seen a growing number of people interested in getting outside.

"They are looking for anything that floats — kayaks, paddleboards — or anything you can get out there and hike or camp in," he said from his outdoors gear store. "[Sales] numbers are anywhere from 30 to 200 per cent up."

Joe Chiricho, general manager of community services for the Regional District of Central Kootenay, said parks and trails in the region are seeing visitor increases of anywhere between 50 per cent to 113 per cent compared to 2019.

"The public is saying we want to be outdoors more," he said. "People are taking [Provincial Health Officer] Dr. Henry's advice and gathering outside."

One problem Heinzmann and Hancock can see developing in real estate is low inventory: Across the Okanagan and the Kootenays, both said, the number of people willing to sell their homes is declining even as interest in buying grows.

"They don't want to move," said Hancock "We have a shortage of listings. I've been here 20 years and I've never seen that trend."

With files from Bob Keating and Dana Kelly

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