Media reports of multi-million dollar bungalows in Vancouver or even just the astronomical cost of renting an apartment there can make the province’s largest city seem light years away from sleepy Cowichan Lake. But that boom in Vancouver’s real estate market has caused a ripple effect responsible for a surge in property sales here too.
“You’ve got all the people in Vancouver cashing out because they can sell their places for two or three million dollars and come here and buy something very comparable or on the lake and still put a million dollars in the bank,” said Sandy Stinson, owner and broker at RE/MAX Cowichan Lake.
“People are cashing in just because of the rise in the Vancouver market but also most people are over 60… And so they can finally come to these remote, resource-based towns because they don’t have to work.”
Stinson said another factor has been the price of oil — people in their 60s who were working in Alberta are not willing to wait for the economy there to improve, so they’re taking early retirement in Victoria, which then has the effect of pushing more buyers up to the Lake.
Last year, Stinson and her colleagues saw a 50 per cent increase in sales over 2014, and she said she’s pretty sure they’ll be seeing the same increase for 2016.
While January and February are typically slower months in terms of real estate sales, that hasn’t been the case this year. Spring and fall tend to be the busiest months, but last summer was still quite busy and Stinson anticipates that will be the case for this one, too.
She said that RE/MAX recently conducted a study that found recreational properties (not exclusively in the Lake district) are up 70 to 80 per cent.
“But I would say here it’s right across the board,” she said, noting an increase in the number of people looking for places $200,000 and under.
In terms of prices, Stinson said properties around $200,000 have seen the biggest price increases in recent years.
“Maybe they’re like $240,000 now… So those properties are kind of back to the 2008 prices, because we lost about 25 per cent from 2008,” she said, referring to the global economic crisis of eight years ago.
And its not just RE/MAX experiencing a surge in sales.
Patrick Miller is a realtor with Pemberton Holmes Realty and echoed much of what Stinson has observed. He said the most activity has been in Lake Cowichan and on the Youbou side of the lake.
“There’s places that have been up for sale for two years and now are sold. Lakefront property is pretty well gone. I think there’s only a couple more left that are on the lake that are on the Youbou side,” he said.
Miller has also been seeing buyers from Vancouver and Victoria, but said Nanaimo is also a hot market right now that is having an impact on the Lake in similar ways. He recently sold two properties to people from Nanaimo.
“The market is definitely drying up as far as product is concerned. We aren’t having as many listings coming up as sales are coming up,” he said. “Any property that is good is selling very quickly as long as it’s priced well.”
As the last waterfront properties in Youbou get snatched up, prospective buyers are seeking places with lake views or that are close to water access points like Arbutus Park.
“In Youbou we definitely need a boat ramp because a lot of people are looking for somewhere to drop their boat,” he said.
As with Stinson at RE/MAX, Miller said the majority of buyers are retirees or people over 60, but he’s seeing an increasing number of younger families coming to the Lake as well.
He said many are happy to have their kids attend Lake Cowichan School, with its smaller class sizes, which they hope will mean more one-on-one attention from teachers.
But the big question he keeps hearing from clients: what kind of growth can they expect from the Cowichan Lake district?
“I say it’s going to be a steady growth,” he said.
“It’s not going to be like Victoria or Vancouver, but it’ll be a nice steady growth. It’s not ever going to be that type of market that’s in those places.”