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Easier access makes BC hot all over

Jeani Read and Ashley Ford, with files from Alex Frasier-Harrison, Vancouver Province, June 24, 2007

From the shores of Tofino to the mountainside resorts of the Columbia Valley, B.C. buyers seek out new areas for their recreation properties, and B.C. continues to attract buyers not just from this province, but also from Alberta and the U.S.

"The world has discovered B.C. It really has, and that is not going to change," says Rudy Nielsen, founder of New Westminster-based Landcor Data Corp. "But 94 per cent of sales are still to British Columbians."

From Vancouver Island to the Kootenays, developers are expecting another big year.

"In a word, it's busy," says Peggy Prill, a market analyst with the Victoria office of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

Elton Ash, regional vice-president of Re/Max of Western Canada, which produces an annual recreational property survey, sees no end to the strong demand. And, he says, "the last of the baby boomers won't be seen until 2013. That is where the greatest extent of the wealth is and they will continue to buy."

"Two years ago I could have told you what spots were hot," says Jennifer Podmore of MCP Intelligence, an industry resource that does everything from monitoring sales sites and development applications to following market trends. "Then, there were a few hot spots where you had to buy," she says. "Now anything within 700 kilometres of Calgary or Vancouver is hot. Now you've got everything."

The shift from hot spots to a whole hot province is all about access.

"The Kelowna airport has surpassed its 10-year plan and is now implementing its 2021 plan to extend the runways to accommodate 747s so you can get a direct flight from London," says Podmore. "Cranbrook is getting an international airport. And (towns such as) Windermere and Creston -- they all have little airports. Airlines such as WestJet and Pacific Coastal Airlines have done a lot. Anything within 45 minutes of any airport is a hot spot in B.C."

Even without the airlines, points out Podmore, "Part of (the experience) is the journey. The regions are being so well identified. You pick up wine in the Okanagan, buy borscht in Grand Forks, go for a swim in Christina Lake."

Nielsen agrees more buyers now seem prepared to go farther afield. The traditional rule-of-thumb on prices is, the closer to a major urban centre, the higher the cost.

The majority of buyers seek a four-hour driving distance from a big city like Vancouver or Calgary. He calls this the "golden circle." But, he says, that is changing and if you are willing to drive six to eight hours or more, as increasing numbers of investors seem to be, property and land become a whole lot cheaper.

More frequent float and light plane service to many formerly remote areas is also having an impact on people's buying intentions, says Nielsen.

The increased transportation results "in a lot more discovery," says Podmore. "That's what an escalated market does. It's made people figure out what they really love about where they go. When that pocket gets too pricey, people will go looking for the next best thing. Now they can look for the 10 next best things."

New developments continue to spring up across the province. The Columbia Valley region is still a powerful magnet for developers and consumers.

"I think this area will continue to grow aggressively over the next few years," says Michael Dalzell, director of resort sales and marketing for Kicking Horse Mountain Resort near Golden, which recently announced plans for a major ski-in ski-out townhome community called Aspens at Kicking Horse.

Dalzell says there are still some bargains to be had in the recreation property market. For example, Aspens' townhomes are expected to start in the $265,000 range. And the rise of fractional ownership has placed even higher-end luxury properties within the affordability range of many consumers.

Podmore now thinks of B. C. as a giant international recreation and retirement playground, and a 12-month-a-year playground to boot.

"What really changed us was Whistler," she says. "It made us think differently about the Rockies and the Kootenays as not just skiing, but as a summer resort, too -- sometimes more summer than winter now. It made us think of B.C. as a year-round resort."