With deep ties, BC, Alberta adjust to a new real estate reality

Stuart Ridgway isn’t suffering from buyer’s remorse, having purchased his Chestermere, Alta., house in January, right after the once hot real estate market took a hit due to a drop in oil prices.

In fact, he sounds remarkably blasé, even though he’s seeing signs of a slowed market all around him and heard from his long-time real estate agent that there’s been a 40-per-cent reduction in sales. (Bloomberg reported a 44-per-cent drop since November).

More Related to this Story

He and his wife purchased the large Chestermere house for their family for $560,000, and he got “a reasonable deal,” he says.

They haven’t yet sold their 3,400 square-foot Calgary home that has been on the market for two weeks, listed at $440,000. But Mr. Ridgway is optimistic that once it gets close to the spring market, he’ll sell it off.

“The house in Calgary won’t go anywhere till the end of the month. But people are looking,” says Mr. Ridgway, an engineer who builds gas plants.

“Nobody in Calgary, particularly in oil patch times, is going to want to shell out $600,000 when they don’t know next week if they will have a job. It’s very much a feast or famine type of thing.”

But he’s not seeing panic, the way he did in 2008 and 2009. Prices are more balanced now, not the “stupid prices” he says he saw last fall when downtown one-bedroom condos were listed for $400,000.

“There’s more ‘wait’ this time around. In 2008 and 2009, that was a big surprise. Everybody panicked. The jitters don’t seem to be here. It’s a more cautious optimism.

“The house down the street from me went up for sale in January. It’s sold now.”

With every economic downturn, there will be those who panic. And then there are those who adopt a wait-and-see approach, who don’t make a move until they get a sense of which direction the market will go. If they’re not carrying a lot of debt and they haven’t lost their job they can afford the luxury of riding it out. They might even seize on the opportunity to snap up properties that drop in price, due to an oversupply of listings and seller desperation. After all, the thinking goes that you buy low, sell high.

That’s Don Campbell’s reaction to the situation. Mr. Campbell, senior analyst of B.C.-based Real Estate Investment Network, researches real estate markets across the country.

“I would say April, May and June will be a wonderful buying opportunity,” he says. “I’m just sitting on the sidelines right now, because prices haven’t started to move.”

Mr. Campbell is heavily invested in Alberta, with many rental properties in his holdings, including condos, single-family homes and light industrial.

“Generally, Albertans who have gone through it before are the least panicked,” he says. “It’s the new migrants to the province that are the ones who are jumping off and trying to time the market. And of course, Alberta grew so quickly over the last three years, so this is their very first downturn.

“Everybody else knows not to try to time the market, because that’s the opposite of what you should be doing.

“I have a lot of money in the Alberta market,” he adds. “I’m able to get a cash flow in Alberta, which is the most important thing, because inevitably there are dips along the way.”

With everyone watching from the sidelines, B.C. observers have perhaps a special interest. Secondary homes, such as vacation properties, are traditionally the first market hit by a downturn, and Albertans are big investors in B.C. real estate. Albertans are a big presence on Vancouver Island, and in the Okanagan region, from Kelowna to Osoyoos. Developers have responded to sustained demand from Albertans with major communities, developed in phases. Newly added flights from Comox Valley and Penticton have made commutes easy for what Mr. Campbell calls “the sanctuary market” – those younger Albertans who live in B.C. and work in the oil patch.

“If they are in the drilling and exploration side of it, they will be feeling it for sure,” Mr. Campbell says. “But it doesn’t mean they have to sell their house, because they are making $100,000 a year and have a lot of savings. And they have gone through the ups and downs in the oil industry, as I have.”

Eric Van Maren is taking a philosophical approach to the latest downs.

“I can’t do anything about the oil prices, so I try not to worry about it,” he says.

Mr. Van Maren is managing partner of the Osoyoos Cottages Development, the company that is building out 70 acres on Lake Osoyoos, a sun-lovers’ paradise. Single-family homes range from $300,000 to $1-million. Last year, half his buyers were from Alberta – a 20-per-cent increase over the year before. About 80 per cent of his buyers buy the homes to settle in; the other 20 per cent use them as vacation homes.

Many of their buyers are retirees or young Albertans in the oil industry who commute back to Alberta for work.

His buying season is May through October, so Mr. Van Maren says it’s early days yet. But he’s hopeful that, because a large chunk of his buyer demographic in B.C. is the middle-aged Albertan, his B.C. project might feel little impact.

“My feeling is our buyers are financially independent already,” he says. “I could even see it being a positive, in that they may decide to retire a couple of years earlier, if they are worried about their job.”

As well, he says, interest rates are low, and stable, and gas prices are down, which is good for the market overall.

The Van Maren Group is also a large investor in the development of single-family housing in Edmonton and Calgary. Mr. Van Maren expects those markets to slow. He is concerned about the Albertan retiree who still has a home to sell in Calgary, Edmonton or Fort McMurray.

“That could affect us,” he says.

Ross McCredie, president of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada, is also closely watching the Alberta market. In response to its bustling activity over the past few years, Sotheby’s had expanded with a Calgary operation.

“We looked like geniuses four years ago when we opened our offices there [Calgary]. Now, if someone were opening a real estate office in Calgary, they’d think twice about it.

“That’s why we operate the way we do. We corporately own every office. Whenever B.C. is down, then Toronto is up. Measure it out over 28 offices in Canada and we can balance it out.”

So far in Calgary, he’s witnessing a wait-and-see attitude.

“They are concerned for sure, no question. But no one is panicked. A lot of people put their houses on the market a week before Christmas, and I think they were first-time homebuyers and speculators.

“But anybody with experience in real estate knows you get the most value for your home in the spring.”

He says inventory is definitely higher, and the number of days it takes to sell a house has gone up significantly this year over last in Calgary.

“I think we’ll be fine, to be blunt, because high net worth individuals will still be wealthy. The market I’d be concerned about would be the entry market, the first-home buyers. If oil prices stay down for a long period of time, you will see concern there.

“But talking to developers, they’ve been through that market before, they’re not overly concerned. It’s not the blood bath that you are reading about.”

Meanwhile, Shaadi Faris says it might soon be time to go shopping.

Mr. Faris is vice-president of Intergulf Development Group, a Vancouver-based developer with major projects in B.C., Alberta and California, as well as long-time business interests in the oil industry. By spring, he says, he will be looking for projects by less-established developers that get pulled back due to the crisis.

“In the case of Alberta, we are still very bullish,” Mr. Faris says. “I think there will be opportunities this year to acquire new projects and new sites, because of this short-term fluctuation. We will definitely still position ourselves.”

Intergulf has significant investments in high-rise rental towers in Calgary, such as the Aura, and in single-family projects, such as Beacon Heights. Mr. Faris sees these types of projects as safer.

“Condo sales will get hit the hardest,” he says. “I think rentals will remain strong in Calgary, a safe haven people run to when condo markets are slower.

“The high-rise condo is a more recent phenomenon – Calgary’s strength is single family and low density.

“I think people will go back to what they know.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *