“Listings are up and sales are up over last year – and we expect this to continue. Affordable housing and low unemployment rates will continue to lead the north into a healthy economy,” said BCNREB president Claudia Holland.
The confidence is mostly linked to the recent news that the Site C dam project would be moving to the next stage of approvals. If it goes ahead, the $6 billion-plus project would create thousands of construction jobs.
Talk of the power project has been rife for years, and while flooding a vast swath of countryside is more suspect than when, in the 1960s, former premier W.A.C. Bennett envisioned five dams along the Peace River, the project is seen as a potential driver of the north’s resource-oriented economy.
The two-year approval process the province is undertaking promises to spur speculative activity, say brokers in both Fort St. John and Dawson Creek.
“You’ll see a lot of people buying investment properties in this area,” said Trevor Bolin, who is the owner of Re/Max Action Realty in Fort St. John and Re/Max Dawson Creek Realty an hour’s drive east.
Fort St. John, where the average detached house sells for $326,000 – the highest price in the north – typically has a tight rental market, making investment properties to suit the needs of workers on construction projects always a sure bet. Bolin estimates there are 87 units available for rent in the city now, but with the loss of a 60-unit apartment building to fire on April 16 the available stock will evaporate quickly. During boom times, many companies often house workers in local motels.
But because of the current lack of units and the construction of a new $297.9 million regional hospital this year requiring 300 workers, investors will be keen to snap up residential properties for rent should Site C proceed.
“We’ve got a lot in the works that’s going to take us through the next 20 years,” Bolin said. “You’re going to find that a lot of people from outside of Fort St.
John start buying up rental properties to get them on the market because by the time the construction phase of Site C comes we’re going to need 5,000 units readily available for rent.”
Kevin Kurjata, vice-president of the Northern Lights Real Estate Board and a broker at Bolin’s brokerage in Dawson Creek, is already seeing signs of speculative activity. His phone has been ringing since the announcement of the next phase of approvals for the Site C dam.
“At the very least increased optimism in the community will fan the flames. I’m already seeing it,” he said. “I’m already getting calls from people asking for their next move.”
And prices remain fairly affordable. In most northern communities, said Holland, “you can buy a lot of house for $225,000.”