Northern B.C.’s housing market is apparently defying COVID-19 and the subsequent economic hit, but some communities are doing much better than others.
Overall housing sales were up 83 per cent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year as the first signs of the pandemic emerged, according to the BC Northern Real Estate Board (BCNREB).
“A surge in home sales is already under way with the first quarter on a record pace”, said BCNREB president Shawna Kinsley.
She noted that sales in the fourth quarter of 2020 were 21 per cent higher than in the last three months of 2019.
The average home price for the northern region was up 22 per cent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2021, to $361,102.
The BC Real Estate Association expects an overall increase in northern B.C. housing prices of about 5 per cent in 2021. This may be an underestimate, since prices in some northern communities are up nearly 50 per cent compared to early in 2020.
Not surprisingly, in forestry-dependent towns like Mackenzie, the real estate market has been comparatively cool due to sawmill closures. Fort St. John’s housing market also suffered a chill over the past year after low oil prices took the steam out of oil and gas exploration.
Northwestern B.C. is a different story.
Kitimat, Smithers and Terrace experienced relatively strong real estate activity in 2020 and into 2021, with demand generally outstripping supply and pushing up prices.
“I think in the whole western part of northern B.C., like Smithers west, it’s been very hot,” said Sandra Hinchliffe, a Smithers real estate agent and BCNREB vice-president.
Some of the frothiness in northwestern B.C.’s real estate market can be attributed to major investments in the region, notably the multibillion-dollar LNG Canada project in Kitimat.
In Kitimat, 41 homes sold in the first quarter of 2021, up from just 17 at the same time last year.
The average price in the LNG terminal city is now $384,849, up a startling 48 per cent from a year earlier.
Smithers saw prices soar 47 per cent year-over-year in the first quarter, to an average of $385,062, though sales remained virtually unchanged with 22 transactions.
Sales and prices were higher in most communities, but dipped slightly in Fort St. John, the second-largest city in Northern B.C., to an average of $376, 884, despite sales more than doubling from a year earlier in the first quarter to 92 transactions, the BCNREB reports.
Housing sales in Prince George, the largest city in northern B.C., experienced a 127 per cent sales increase – to 99 homes – with average prices up 17 per cent to $450,901, when compared with the pre-pandemic first quarter of 2020.