Nfld. & Labrador

Rising Vancouver prices prompt real estate refugees to relocate to St. John's

John Duchow and Marla Clarke say they dreamed of buying a home in Vancouver. But when prices kept outpacing their savings, the pair became "real estate refugees," forced out by an ever-climbing market.

'It's crazy, the price difference here,' says Marla Clarke of comparing properties

John Duchow and Marla Clarke are real estate refugees, moving from Vancouver to St. John's where their dollars go much further. (Krissy Holmes/CBC)

John Duchow and Marla Clarke dreamed of buying a home in Vancouver. But when housing prices kept outpacing their savings, the pair say they became real estate refugees, forced out by an ever-climbing market.

Duchow and Clarke decided to look east to St. John's, where Duchow has family roots and Clarke was more than willing to plant some new ones. 

The couple packed up and made the move, recently purchasing a three bedroom, three bathroom heritage home on Patrick Street in downtown St. John's that spans about 2,500 square feet. 

With housing prices in some other provinces reaching all-time highs, some people from away are looking to this province to buy their dream homes.

"It was very nice to be able to come to a place where you can acquire a slightly larger piece of land or a house for a very affordable price in the grand scheme of things," Duchow told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

It's crazy, the price difference here.- Marla Clarke

The couple had been saving their money and looking at properties in B.C., but said there was no way they could afford to buy a home in the area.

After hiring a real estate agent and looking at 40 different houses, Duchow and Clarke bought their home for $310,000 — millions less than what a comparable home would go for in Vancouver. 

"I had friends and co-workers that were buying vacant lots with condemnable houses on them for $1.2 million, and that's not even close to being in the downtown corridor," Clarke said.

"It's crazy, the price difference here."

What does $1.2M get you?

A simple search of real estate listings in Vancouver versus St. John's illustrates the differences in value.

With $1.2 million to spend, one could purchase a modest downtown apartment or an 1,100 square foot townhouse out west. Compare that to St. John's, where buyers can snag a 4,880 square foot detached home on nearly an acre of land for the same price.

$1.2 million buys a 4,880 square foot detached home in St. John's (top), or a 1,076 square foot townhouse in Vancouver. (

Clarke said compared to B.C., the cost of living in St. John's is really quite affordable.

"I actually think the cost of living is pretty reasonable, considering that we can buy a house here — which we never would have been able to do in Vancouver — ever," she said.

"I'm finding the cost of living to be much more manageable in St. John's than it was in Vancouver." 

Duchow, a carpenter, said although the financial forecast in Newfoundland and Labrador looks dark, he hasn't noticed a slowing in the economy.   

"In spite of the state of the economy and where it appears to be going, it seems like everybody — who's in my profession, at least — is quite busy," he said.

Getting used to St. John's 

But moving to a new city on the opposite side of the country isn't without it's challenges. Clarke said finding a job in her field as a landscape architect in St. John's wasn't easy.

She said day-to-day life on the east coast has also been a bit of an adjustment.

"I forgot that people walking down the street say hi to you and talk to you," she said. 

"It was a really nice experience, actually, and I'm getting used to talking to everybody." 

With files from Krissy Holmes