Boomers are living up to their name as they drive the real estate boom in the idyllic lakeside town of Osoyoos, B.C.
Because Osoyoos boasts one of Canada’s warmest climates and is just a short trip from B.C.’s Lower Mainland and Calgary, it’s a major draw for the over-50 set looking for a slower pace.
That shift means the average resident of Osoyoos (pronounced oh-sue-use) is now 58, compared with the B.C. average of 40, according to census data. It’s also resulted in a flurry of condo development and a push for health-care services for an aging population.
It’s a good time to be a real estate agent in the south Okanagan, thanks to the boomer demographic, much of it from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. Total sales volume increased 135 per cent between 2011 and 2014, according to statistics provided by the South Okanagan Real Estate Board.
Osoyoos Lake, with a 48-kilometre perimeter, is a central feature of the semi-arid town. The combination of climate, wine industry, orchards and the lake is desirable for people ready to shift gears from city to small town, Remax Realty Solutions agent Lidia Ferreira says.
Because so many Albertans have prospered from the oil and gas industry, they are able to retire early, usually in their early to mid-50s. Others are in semi-retirement, able to keep working part-time because of the short commute from the Okanagan to Alberta. Penticton is less than a one-hour drive away, and Calgary is a one-hour flight from there. As well, there’s now a flight from Penticton to Fort McMurray.
“For my own business this year, I would say Albertans made up 80 per cent of it,” Ms. Ferreira says. “They are often in semi-retirement, and they are coming to enjoy the mild weather. And then they are going back [to Alberta] for two or three months to work in their trade, whether it’s iron workers or oil field riggers.”
There will soon be another advantage to living in Osoyoos. Because of the boom, the region is seeing a boost to health care.
Last August, B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced plans for a $325-million expansion of the Penticton Regional Hospital. The plan is for an updated hospital that will serve the entire South Okanagan district, including Osoyoos. The two-phase project will include a seven-storey patient-care tower and space for the University of British Columbia’s new faculty of medicine program.
There’s another big draw for retirees: house prices. Ms. Ferreira has a listing on Jubilee Drive for a two-storey, 3,000-square-foot home with lake view, fruit trees, gazebo, covered deck and other features for $469,900. She recently sold a 3,100-square-foot ranch home on a third of an acre with lake, mountain and golf course views for $569,000.
Janice Palichuk purchased her two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,350-square-foot house for $258,500, in October, while on a trip to Osoyoos with her sister. She loved the house so much she bought it without consulting her husband Barry.
The Edmonton couple has since settled in Osoyoos. And Barry, who is in his mid-50s and a semi-retired ironworker, has plans to commute back and forth to Alberta for work. When he returns to work in the spring, he’ll fly out of Penticton. Their new one-storey house, with lake and mountain views, and nearby golfing, is in a gated community. Ms. Palichuk wanted the security of a gated community because her husband will often be travelling.
And as is the case with so many Canadian retirees, they were escaping the brutal winters back home.
“We knew we wanted to move here because of the weather – I’m asthmatic and the weather is great for my asthma,” she says.
But it’s not uncommon for retirees to miss big-city amenities when they settle down in small towns for the first time in their lives. For some, says Ms. Ferreira, it can be such a challenge that they eventually return.
“They age and then they start to think, ‘Oh no, I miss my kids and grandkids.’ We’re seeing some of that. It’s a small town.”
But Ms. Palichuk is sure they’re in Osoyoos for the long haul, regardless of the lack of big-box retailers and restaurants.
“Coming to a small town, it’s quite different,” she says. “But we can’t get over how much we love it. The shopping isn’t there, but it doesn’t matter. You can go to Penticton or Kelowna or across the border and go to the States if you want to go shopping.”
As for missing family, she concedes that being far from their daughter has been a downside. But technology such as Skype closes the distance somewhat, she says.
“Nowadays with Skype and texting, I talk to her more than I did in Edmonton,” she says, laughing.
The couple has discovered that they have so many neighbours from Alberta they feel more at home in Osoyoos than in Edmonton.
“In our old neighbourhood we used to know everyone, but in the last five years we hardly knew anybody. It’s because Edmonton has grown. And the cost of living has gone up so much in Alberta. Of course, coming here is culture shock for us. But it’s a wonderful culture shock.
The rise in the price of Alberta real estate was part of the reason for their relocation. Five years ago, the Palichuks had considered purchasing a recreational home in Osoyoos. Instead, they purchased a second home in Arizona because the prices there were so much cheaper. But as they approached retirement, they realized they had more purchasing power to buy in Osoyoos, since their Edmonton home had gone up in price. So they sold it, moved to Osoyoos, and kept their Arizona house for recreation.
“I would say the price of a house here that’s the equivalent in Edmonton is about $100,000 less,” Ms. Palichuk says.
In January or February, when the temperature dips, they’ll drive to Arizona.
“Of course, everyone here is giving us a hard time because it’s so nice here in Osoyoos. They wonder why we’d leave,” she says, laughing.
“Getting up every morning I look out the dining room window and see the lake. We’re up on a hill. I look the other way and I see the mountains. I would recommend anybody thinking of moving here to do it.”