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Okanagan housing prices drive exodus to Alberta and beyond

Cheaper housing, higher wages lure families east
Kelowna houses vineyard
The sunshine and beauty are assets, but high housing costs are driving some Okanagan residents back to the Prairies.

She’s 32-years old, has three children and a good income, but Andie is moving back to Alberta because it’s just too expensive in Kelowna.

The cost of living, especially housing, is forcing her to go back to Edmonton, where she grew up.

Andie came to the Okanagan in 2011 and pays $2,300 a month for what she describes as a very small, three-bedroom apartment. For a time, she shared it with her mother, to help cover costs.

“I have a full-time job, but I’m expecting. So, once I leave my job my income is going to go down and the cost of renting here is too high for our incomes," she says.

Andie says what she can find in Edmonton is half the cost and much bigger. She can also stay with relatives while she looks for a new job and home. She adds that the options for school and childcare are also better.

Unfortunately, the move is going to split up her family.

“My oldest is 12. He wants to stay because his friends and school and life is here,” she says. He will be living with his dad.

“My other middle child is 10 and he wants to come with mom. And I have a little five-year-old that’s just with me.”

Andie calls it very stressful. She earns $3,600 a month in Kelowna as a legal assistant but she suspects she will make that or more in Alberta.

Another woman who answered a question on the Kelowna Moms Facebook page about leaving the Okanagan for somewhere more affordable said her family moved to Edmonton earlier this year.

“We moved in January and bought a house for $332,000. Four-bedroom three-bath 2,700 sqft. Daycare for two kids ages three and one is only $400 a month full-time," Serena Husel Richardson posted. "My mortgage is cheaper than when we were paying for rent.... Honestly the only thing I miss about Kelowna is the nature... but we will just vacation there as we now have wayyyyy more money to do so!”

It’s not just young families that are leaving.

Kaye and Bob Chisholm of Brainy Bee Honey on Valley Road are returning to Saskatchewan after 22 years in the Central Okanagan.

“We’re going to sell this property and we’re going to move back to Saskatoon. We lived in Saskatoon before we moved here,” says Kaye, who acknowledges they’ll have to get used to Prairie winters again. “It is a known factor. It’s not like we’re going to something we don’t know.”

The exodus to the east is being watched by the Calgary Real Estate Board.

Chief economist Ann-Marie Lurie says they are seeing a shift in migration patterns with people starting to move back from other provinces, although fourth-quarter 2021 numbers still showed Alberta losing more people to B.C. She adds that it will be interesting to see if the first-quarter 2022 stats indicate a change in flow.

Calgary home prices fell along with oil prices nearly a decade ago and slipped even further during the pandemic. They have been climbing back up to 2014 levels in recent months. However, the median single-family home price is still well below Kelowna, at $629,000 in April.

“And we just went above $600,000. We were at $550,000 by the end of last year,” she adds.

Condo prices in Alberta’s largest city have not recovered from the pandemic hit.

“They’re still 10 per cent below where they were, unadjusted for inflation, back in 2014. And you put some perspective on that in price, and our condo prices–sort of like the average resale condo is under $300,000,” explains Lurie.

She notes outlying communities like Airdrie and Cochrane are even more affordable than Calgary. The benchmark price in Airdrie is $480,000 and in Cochrane, it’s $530,000.

Edmonton is also a relative bargain. The average April price for a three-bedroom home was $446,000.

Lurie points out that there has been job growth recently, especially in professional services that tend to come with better salaries, including in the tech sector and in the oil and gas industry.

“Coming from the fact we struggled for so long it is a nice change to see that growth. And we’re finally seeing it impact flows. What we were seeing during the pandemic was people were generally leaving to go to other provinces and we’re finally starting to see a turnaround in that,” she says.

She adds that it’s nice to see Alberta with a bit of an advantage after everything it’s been through.

“We don’t mind having them come back,” Lurie says.

Andie sums up what a lot of people in the Central Okanagan might be feeling right now.

“We pay for the sunshine and beauty here, I guess.”

But for her, that price is now too high.