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Vancouver Real Estate Escape from Vancouver? Housing bargains hard to find in the suburbs

A sign outside a house for sale in Squamish, B.C.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Home buyers seeking refuge in Vancouver's suburbs face a harsh reality – it has become increasingly tough to find bargains in recent years.

While budget-minded buyers have been flocking to the suburbs for at least a decade, the trend has been especially noticeable in price jumps over the past three years, industry experts say.

In Squamish, located 65 kilometres north of Vancouver, the benchmark price for townhouses has surged 40.6 per cent over the past year to $883,000. Compared with three years earlier, the price for townhouses sold in Squamish has skyrocketed 141.6 per cent. The benchmark price is an industry representation of the typical home sold in an area.

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Industry observers say the suburban rally is starting to show signs of fading in some cases but still seems strong in others. November's townhouse price in Squamish fell 1.8 per cent from October, while rising 1.8 per cent in Tsawwassen and climbing 1.1 per cent in Coquitlam.

Real estate tends to be less expensive as buyers travel farther away from the City of Vancouver, where the benchmark price for townhouses sold last month hit $1,132,900, up 15.5 per cent compared with November, 2016, and a 0.4-per-cent gain month-over-month.

The benchmark price for detached houses sold within Vancouver's city limits was $2,418,900 last month, up 3.8 per cent year-over-year and a decrease of 0.6 per cent compared with October.

On Vancouver's west side, November's $3,573,700 benchmark price for detached houses is 1.5 per cent higher than the same month in 2016 and down 1.5 per cent from October.

Vancouver real estate agent Steve Saretsky said prices tell only part of the story because for the same amount of money, a buyer is able to pick up a slightly larger and nicer detached house in the city than a year ago. "The momentum for detached properties in Vancouver has definitely slowed," he said.

In the first half of 2016, it was common to see prices jump at least 30 per cent year-over-year. The B.C. government introduced a 15-per-cent tax on foreign buyers in the Vancouver region in August, 2016, helping slow sales volume and temporarily sending prices down. Some bedroom communities such as Squamish, Abbotsford and Mission are not subject to the new tax.

The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver's statistics released on Monday show residential market strength in several suburbs such as Squamish, Maple Ridge, Port Coquitlam, New Westminster, Pitt Meadows and Whistler.

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Condos sold in Maple Ridge last month, for instance, had a benchmark price of $279,600, up 36 per cent in the past year, while Port Coquitlam saw the condo price surge 35.6 per cent to $435,900. By contrast, condos sold on Vancouver's west side saw a gain of 17 per cent over the past year to $811,200.

In the suburban territory covered by the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board, the benchmark price for condos sold in November reached $376,700, up 36.6 per cent from a year earlier and a 2-per-cent gain from October.

The Fraser Valley board's boundary includes the sprawling and less expensive suburb of Surrey. Other communities include White Rock, Langley, North Delta, Abbotsford and Mission.

Single-family detached houses in the Fraser Valley territory last month fetched an average price of $1,011,787, up 11.9 per cent from a year earlier and a 1.4-per-cent decrease from October.

The Greater Vancouver board's price for detached properties last month averaged $1,733,899, reflecting the expensive market in the City of Vancouver and nearby suburbs such as Burnaby and Richmond. That regional average is 7.5 per cent higher than November, 2016, and a 3.8-per-cent drop from October.

Sales volume for various types of housing in Greater Vancouver increased 26.2 per cent over the past year while climbing 39.8 per cent in the Fraser Valley. "Home buyer activity is operating above our long-term averages, particularly in our town home and condominium markets," Greater Vancouver board president Jill Oudil said in a statement.

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