A few days after she retired from her job at age 54, Carla Fraser and her husband packed up their home in Maple Ridge, B.C., and moved to a lakefront vacation property in Sheridan Lake, in the B.C. Interior.
“The plan was always to retire somewhere on a lake … We found this place and fell in love,” says Ms. Fraser, a former manager with the Canada Revenue Agency, now 56. The couple also made some money on the sale of their Metro Vancouver home, which meant they could retire a bit sooner.
The Frasers are among the many young retirees giving up urban living for the small-town life, and, in many cases, lower house prices. According to Statistics Canada, from July, 2019, to July, 2020, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver saw more people moving out to other regions of their provinces than they did moving in.
Retirees flocking to rural regions
Many are people who now work from home, but retirees are considered to be among the home buyers heating up traditionally recreational markets.
An example is Peterborough and the Kawarthas, between Toronto and Kingston, Ont., which saw a 70-per-cent increase in average recreational sale prices in 2020 versus the year before, according to Re/Max Realty Inc.’s 2021 Recreational Property Report. Ucluelet, B.C., on the west coast of Vancouver Island, saw a 104-per-cent jump in waterfront home sales over that period, while Sylvan Lake, Alta., saw a 61-per-cent jump for homes on the water, the report says.
The report also says 15 per cent of people who weren’t looking for recreational property before the pandemic are now. Population shifts suggest that, like Ms. Fraser and her husband, many of these buyers likely plan to live in these smaller communities year-round.
“In the city, the lots are getting smaller, the houses are getting closer together, it’s getting more congested,” Ms. Fraser says. “It’s just too much; too much traffic, it takes too long to get anywhere.”
Their property is a six-acre lot on Sheridan Lake waterfront, about a 550-kilometre drive northeast of Vancouver, with a new lifestyle including boating and jet skiing.
“Up here … there’s an adventure to be had,” she says.
The realities of rural living
One of the adventures, without a doubt, is a real Canadian winter. To make sure it was the right move, Ms. Fraser and her husband visited the area during the winter before making a permanent move.
They loved it, but they also had their eyes wide open.
“You’ve got to be prepared for it,” Ms. Fraser says. “There are mosquitoes in the summer and it can get cold in the winter, so if you’re somebody that needs a shopping mall and you like to get dressed up every day, this isn’t the place for you.”
People sometimes romanticize a rural life, but it can also be hard work, she says. Chores often include cutting larger lawns, clearing brush, hauling wood and shovelling a lot of snow.
“The winter is the big thing. As long as people are prepared and they’re not expecting the same weather as on the coast, it’s fine,” Mr. Fraser says.
Kathy Coleopy agrees. She and her husband bought a vacation home in B.C.’s Cariboo region in 2007. As retirement approached, they decided they would move there full-time. They bought a larger house more suitable for year-round living and made the move from Metro Vancouver in May, 2018.
“Compared to the perpetual grey slush of Vancouver or Coquitlam winters, the cold doesn’t bother me,” says Ms. Coleopy, 64, who used to work as a paralegal in downtown Vancouver. “If you bundle up, you’ll be just fine.”
There was some getting used to the pace of life in rural Cariboo, where she lives on a lake near the small community of 100 Mile House. Most stores are closed on Sundays and nobody is in much of a rush.
“I kind of appreciate now that the person who’s right ahead of you in the supermarket line might end striking up a long conversation with the clerk because they know each other. If you’re still in city mode, you start to get anxious, tapping your foot, come on, I’m in a hurry,” she says. “You have to learn to slow down a little bit.”
The trend toward suburban and rural buying is expected to increase average sales prices in some recreational markets by up to 30 per cent, according to the Re/Max report. However, in comparison to urban prices, they’re still relatively affordable.
Angela Nolan, a Re/Max agent based in Hamilton, Ont., says she has seen more clients moving to rural and remote locations in Ontario’s cottage country, including her son. The pumped-up pandemic real estate market has priced people out of even smaller cities, she says, and more are looking to go farther afield than suburban centres.
“They’re able to perhaps retire earlier and not have to work until they’re 65 because the prices are less expensive,” she says. “A lot of people have seen their parents and grandparents work so hard for so many years, save their money thinking of retirement and they don’t even survive three years after they do retire. So, for a lot of people, the goal is to retire earlier and sometimes moving to a more rural area allows people to do that.”
Small-town life isn’t for everyone
Of course, small-town life isn’t for everyone. Ms. Nolan tells clients to consider there will be fewer amenities than they may be used to, including health care services and public transportation. She’s had clients who have found life too slow.
Culture and amenities are pulling people back to large cities, says Paul Maranger, a broker and senior vice-president of sales for Sotheby’s Canada.
“As people age, the probability that they require more specialized health care increases,” Mr. Maranger says, adding that access to a family doctor can be challenging in some smaller communities.
Proximity to adult children and grandchildren also bring retirees back to urban centres, says Christian Vermast, senior vice-president of sales for Sotheby’s Canada.
“We are hearing that they need to be in the city if they want to see their families,” he says.
Still, Ms. Coleopy has no regrets.
She enjoys the pace and camaraderie of a small town and isn’t alone. Her sister-in-law and her husband recently moved to the community from Maple Ridge.
“They paid us a visit and we showed them around,” she says. “When we told our local friends and neighbours about that they said, ‘Oh yeah, that happens all the time.’ ”