Would you like to subscribe to our newsletters?

Why Lower Mainland home buyers are heading to the Okanagan

Realtor Heather Angel says she's sold half-a-dozen homes recently in the North Okanagan and Kelowna area all to clients who are moving here from the Lower Mainland. And they all have one thing in common: they're all working from home.

"People are re-prioritizing their housing and living standards," Angel said. "There's more time spent at home because they're working from home, (and) they're looking for a change."

As the province enters month six of the pandemic and employers begin to announce that working from home will not be a temporary measure, people are starting to look at where they'd like to live, instead of where they have to live. And it seems many have their sights set on the Okanagan.

Along with the six properties the Royal LePage realtor has already sold to Lower Mainland buyers, she says she has another six all looking for homes. While it is not uncommon for people to move to the Okanagan, especially to retire, the new buyers Angel has been dealing with all cite working from home as the reason for the move.

Royal LePage realtor John Deak echoes his colleague's comments.

"It's people getting out of the Lower Mainland, able to work from home and afford an actual home," he said.

He recently sold two properties in the Okanagan. One buyer sold their property in the Fraser Valley and the other quit renting in Surrey and became a first-time buyer here.

"In both cases, their employers said, 'you're working from home, simple as that,'" Deak said.

And statistics from the B.C. Real Estate Association do show a trend towards moving out of the Lower Mainland.

From 2015 to 2019 around 45 per cent of real estate sales took place outside the Lower Mainland. This year that figure has risen to 50 per cent – an 11 per cent increase.

Five years ago real estate sales in the Okanagan accounted for about 12.5 per cent of all transactions in the province. By 2019 that number had grown to 15.5 per cent. And while realtors report plenty of Lower Mainland buyers, the most recent figure from July this year remained at 15 per cent.

B.C. Real Estate Association chief economist Brendon Ogmundson said it's too early to take much from the numbers, but certainly, new trends have emerged.

"There's a real shift towards paying for space," Ogmundson said. "A clear shift towards single detached homes... (and) just space in general."

It's something Angel says she's hearing constantly.

After six months of being at home all day every day, with screaming children and possibly an equally disgruntled spouse, it appears people aren't just after a den to convert into an office.

"A lot (clients) are saying to me, 'I don't want to see a townhouse, I don't want to see a condo, I've done that, I want more space, I want a yard,'" she said.

Regional statistics from the Okanagan Mainline Real Estate Board – which covers an area from Peachland to Revelstoke – shows sales in single-detached homes significantly outstripped condos and townhouses in August. While overall sales were up a whopping 43 per cent over August 2019, single-detached homes showed the largest gains. In August there were three times as many single-family homes sold in the central Okanagan compared to townhouses, and twice as many as apartments.

For a province in the midst of a pandemic, the housing market in the Okanagan appears to be ignoring it.

"For the first time last week I saw in the Central Okanagan our sales outnumbered the new listings," Royal LePage realtor Steve Wright told "It's the first time I've seen that in a very long time... normally there are twice as many listings as sales."

Wright said after three months at home looking at property online, demand pent-up, and when the pandemic phase three plan came into place everything changed.

"It was like someone flipped a light switch... all of a sudden we were at multiple offers," he said.

How the new work-from-home shift will affect the Okanagan housing market – and society – remains to be seen, but contrary to what many might think, there was already a strong contingent of "unseen" professionals in the region.

City of Vernon manager of economic development Kevin Poole said a 2019 Hidden Professions survey found the workers accounted for over $27 million in household income and $48.4 million in wages.

Poole said prior to the survey it was thought the majority of at-home workers would be in the tech sector working in their basements, but the survey found this wasn't the case.

"We were way more diverse than that," Poole said. "You name a sector, there's someone living in Vernon operating out of their house and operating in that sector."

That includes someone who owned a franchise in Ontario, but lived and worked in the Okanagan to people who work in the arts, science, and education sectors. The survey found the hidden professionals were more likely to be women than men, aged between 35 and 54 years old, had a university education, and made more money than most of the rest of the population. While the median household income in the North Okanagan is $63,364, the hidden professionals' household income is between $100,000 and $125,000 a year.

With the move to working from home slowly becoming the norm, the number of people escaping the Lower Mainland to live and work in the Okanagan is likely to continue. However, while companies save big and offload their downtown offices, their employees may find the novelty of not having to commute wears off.

The hidden professional survey also found around 85 per cent of those surveyed felt socially secluded by working from home.

"I really enjoyed working from home for the first six months. Then it got very challenging, I even had a plan to walk away from my very successful business to find something that would allow for more social interaction," one person told the report writers.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above.