Lately, my wife and I have been attempting to sell the kids on the merits of Saskatchewan.
Saskatoon is often called the Paris of the Prairies, we tell them. It was once rated the No. 1 city in Canada by Chatelaine magazine for air and water quality. What's more important than that?
There are lots of jobs in Saskatchewan, too. It still produces half of Canada's major export crops. Then there's the weather. Most Canadians have no idea that Saskatoon is one of the sunniest cities in Canada, receiving an average of 2,381 hours of sunshine annually. It says so on the city's website. That's about all the information there is on climate.
Our children are confused. Since birth, 19 and 16 years ago, respectively, our B.C.-born lads have been raised knowing they live in a wondrous part of the world. As long as sentences have made sense to them they've read that Vancouver is No. 1 in the world for this, No. 1 in the world for that. Now, it's all about the Paris of the Prairies.
"Here's a place in Hepburn just outside of Saskatoon for $197,000," I said to our eldest the other day. "On 80 acres with newer berber carpet and newer vinyl siding."
"You always said you'd live in a lean-to before you'd own a home with vinyl siding," he fired back.
"Okay," I pressed on. "Then how about this new home in Warman for $134,900? Two storeys, three bedrooms, corner pantry, white cabinets."
"Yeah," he shot back, "to blend in with everything outside."
"Hey," I said, "that's a couple months of the year."
The wonders of the Prairies have been a hard sell. Unlike Vancouver and most of British Columbia, which has become the easiest sell in the world, especially if you're a real-estate agent.
There isn't a bigger story in this province right now than real estate. It leads the nightly news. Dominates the front pages of the newspapers. And now it's beginning to scare the bejesus out of parents who know that if things continue as they are their child's only hope of getting into the market one day rests with them.
The numbers get more ridiculous by the day. A friend recently purchased a small, beautifully renovated cottage in the suburb we live in 30 minutes from downtown Vancouver for $485,000. It has about 1,500 square feet of living space. This was considered a steal three months ago. Most everyone agrees that if it were to go back on the market right now it would fetch more than half a million.
Real-estate sales hit a record high in June, when 11,437 units were sold, more than any other month in history. The sales were reported to be worth $3.78-billion, a 37.5-per-cent increase in dollar value from the previous June. There is big money to be made in real estate. A popular TV personality who had what many considered a great job talking about the day's traffic problems on a morning news program recently quit to sell homes.
Remember how we used to laugh when our parents told us how much they paid for their first home? You know, $25,000 with a $2,000 down payment. That's us now. We purchased our first home in Victoria in 1986 for $90,000 and $10,000 down. One day, not that far away, our kids won't find our story very funny as they try to scrape together a down payment for their first -- a three-bedroom rancher for $600,000.
We're already reading stories of parents refinancing their homes to help a child come up with a 25-per-cent down payment on a $250,000, 550-square-foot condo in downtown Vancouver. Or grandparents being tapped to help grandkids who want to get a place in Abbotsford, a suburb 60 minutes east of Vancouver (100 minutes-plus during rush hour), where the average price of a single-family home is more than $300,000.
There is hope for B.C.'s house buyers of tomorrow -- a massive correction.
Yale economist Robert Shiller, the man who predicted the dot.com bubble would burst, is saying the same thing is about to happen in real estate. He was quoted in a local paper as saying that so-called "glamour cities" like Vancouver -- where prices have accelerated most rapidly -- will be hardest hit when the day of reckoning arrives.
The New York Times also recently waded into this subject, profiling the real-estate collapse in Denver. There have been stories, too, about the house price crash in Sydney, Australia. So, there is hope.
Those of us who are 10, 15 years away from retirement are of mixed minds about a massive correction. Yes, it might be good for our kids, but many of us have been banking on that big real-estate cash-out at the end. Many people I know have factored it into their retirement plans -- you know, sell the house for $900,000, buy a smaller town home for $500,000, and then spend the rest on travel.
If real-estate prices go down the toilet, so will a lot of cruises and dreamed-about ventures to Bora Bora.
Thinking about it all can drive you nuts.
"Look at this," I told my son the other day, cornering him in the den. "You can get a home just outside Saskatoon on 10 acres that also has a barn, a milk house and a storage shed for $159,000. How cool would that be?"
"Oh, really cool," he replied. "Especially in December."