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Focus of Country Living Show on Recreational Homes

Susan Balcom, The Vancouver Sun, January 20, 2000

Buying recreational land used to be something people did in their retirement. Couples dreamed of quitting their jobs, selling their homes, and escaping to a simpler life in the country. But the dreams waited until the magic age of 65. Now, thanks to more flexible work schedules and telecommuting, 20-year-olds are shopping for property in the country, both as an investment, and to enjoy now on weekend get-aways.

Typical of the trend are two young men from Vancouver who recently bought 40 acres near Williams Lake. The property, which has a small lake on it, is tucked away in the hills, with no other homestead in sight. Although both men have jobs in the Lower Mainland, they’re able to manage their work so they can get away for three and four day weekends.

"They come in every two weeks and ask my advice on things like how to clear land, and how to build a cabin," says Rudy Nielsen, president of Niho Land & Cattle Co., owner of one of the largest private recreational land portfolios in B.C. "They’ve now built their cabin. And they’ve just spent a couple of weeks there, in January.

"When they get tired of it, they will sell that property, pick up a profit of $20,000 to $25,000 and go and buy a bigger piece."

Niho Land, an exhibitor at the 5th Annual Country Living Show (opening tomorrow at the PNE Coliseum), has donated a small recreational lot in the Kootenays as the grand prize for the show.

The 30 by 120-foot lot is in the ghost town of Ferguson, an area Nielsen sees as a prime base camp for backpackers and campers.

"The lots are for your recreational vehicle or your tent. It’s getting so busy with campsites these days that on a good clear day you don’t get a campsite unless you book ahead. We are offering these lots as the most affordable recreational property."

Vancouver architect Monty Wood, of Montgomery Wood Architect Ltd. says some of the most satisfying homes he designs are for recreational property. He always visits the site, studying the topography, the landscape, the orientation to sun and exposure to wind.

"When you’re dealing with recreational property you’re not dealing with a house," he says. "You’re dealing with the land. People want to be outside. You’re dealing with the living outside. It’s finding those outside spaces that’s absolutely important. Then, what’s left, you build on"

The biggest-demand area for recreational property is within the "four-hour corridor" – four hours’ travel time from the Lower Mainland. The farther you go from the city, the cheaper the price of property.

"Twenty or 30 years ago, the big thing was the Gulf Islands. But they’ve gone right out of price for the average person and there’s a problem with traffic," Nielsen says, "People now use the Coquihalla Highway to get into the Interior."

In the Merritt area, which is dominated by several large ranches, raw land sells for $800 to $1,200 an acre. A little farther away, in Kamloops, prices drop to well under $1,000 an acre.

Nielsen divides the market for recreational land into four kinds of buyers: families with children, weekend cowboys, outback adventurers and extremists. Each group is after something a little different.

Families with children usually want a cabin on a lake. Nielsen steers them towards 100 Mile House, about a six-hour drive from Vancouver. "That’s the area for inexpensive cabins."

Weekend cowboys are people who can afford to buy land within the four hour corridor. They don their cowboy boots on Friday night and head for ranch country, returning to the city on Sunday. Aspen Grove (between Merritt and Princeton) and Merritt are popular destinations. "It’s expensive, so three guys might share one property and put a trailer on it. The guy next door takes care of their horses during the week. It’s very sociable."

Outback adventurers prefer more remote areas and are willing to dive six or seven hours to escape the city. The Chilcotin is a prime location.

Extremists, Nielsen says, are the smallest group- those who "think the end of the world is coming." These people buy land in isolated locations, build a basic cabin, and stock it with provisions, just in case some catastrophe such as an earthquake or a major financial crisis occurs.