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Big-ticket homes lure Albertans

Ashley Ford, Vancouver Province,  August, 20, 2006

So just who is buying up B.C. property?

The simple answer is British Columbians, the bulk of them retirees from the Lower Mainland.

But there are plenty of outsiders who also want their piece of spectacular B.C.

Cash-rich Albertans may be a small percentage of buyers, but they are coming in droves and so are foreign buyers to a much lesser degree.

"Albertans are definitely coming and now so are people from Ontario, who seem to see the West with new appreciation," said Rudy Nielsen of NIHO Land & Cattle Co., which specializes in charting rural and recreation land and development.

The numbers tell the story, Nielsen said: "Albertans' share of the B.C. residential property market last year was 2.6 per cent or about $1.1 billion. They are significant players, especially in the East Kootenay region."

Of the 4,320 property purchases by Albertans last year, 22 per cent were in the East Kootenays. Kelowna was the next most popular location with Albertans, who accounted for 12.5 per cent of properties sold there.

It is estimated that 50 per cent of property around Invermere, Fernie and Radium -- a mere three-hours drive from Calgary -- is now held by Albertans.

But Vancouver Island has also become a target and the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board says 12 per cent of buyers in the market outside of Victoria are from Alberta.

It helps that WestJet flies to the Comox Valley. It is just an hour's flight from Calgary and a new airport services Comox, Cumberland, Courtenay and surrounding rural areas that a few years ago were regarded as little more than moose pastures.

Times have changed, and finding cheap property is a thing of the past with prices running well over $200,000.

U.S. purchasers, mainly from the western states of California and Washington, have long discovered B.C., but only comprise a sliver of the market. Californians, for instance, only purchased $239 million worth of B.C. property in 2005.

According to RE/MAX of Western Canada, foreign buyers from Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Europe are fuelling demand for big-ticket recreational properties on Salt Spring Island and at Whistler and Kelowna's Big White Resort. Nearby areas, such as Vernon, are also attracting more foreign buyers.

"But at the end of the day, by far the largest group buying -- 94 per cent -- are coming from the Lower Mainland," Nielsen said.