Lower Mainlanders flocking to small Thompson-Okanagan towns | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Lower Mainlanders flocking to small Thompson-Okanagan towns

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January 12, 2021 - 7:30 AM

When Tony Luck and his wife became empty nesters, they decided to uproot his business as a realtor in the Lower Mainland, where they spent most their lives, to small town Merritt and never looked back.

“A lot of my friends say ‘why Merritt? Why not Kelowna or Penticton?’ And I say if I do that I may as well stay in the Lower Mainland,” Luck says. "Those are busy communities. I chose Merritt because I used to camp in the hills around Merritt. We’d go camping, fishing, bike riding and for some reason, every time I came down a hill, I said ‘I’m going to live here.’”

Now as a realtor in Merritt with Royal LePage, he’s selling that same dream and finding lots of takers from the Lower Mainland buying the opportunity for a slower, less urban lifestyle.

READ MORE: Small communities in Thompson-Okanagan saw big increases in property assessments

“A lot of people love it here because it’s smaller, quieter, the weather’s fantastic and I think that’s what a lot of people in the Lower Mainland are looking for. They’re done with the people living on top of them and they want access to recreational activities and things like that.”

The increased interest is showing on the assessment roles and rental rates. Single-family home assessments for 2021 have climbed 12%, and the town currently has less than a 1% rental vacancy rate, he said.

And it’s not just Merritt.

Other small municipalities in the region saw an increase of 10% or more in their assessment rates for single family homes, including Sun Peaks, Logan Lake, Cache Creek, Lumby, Enderby and Keremeos. Kamloops saw a 6% increase and Kelowna saw a 3% increase in 2021 residential property assessments.

“I think we’re playing catch up (with other municipalities) and I think that’s maybe why that’s happened here with the demand that’s coming out of the Lower Mainland,” Luck said. “People are starting to look at Merritt. When we moved up here people thought we were crazy and then when they get here they go ‘wow, I can see why you moved here’ and we’re not that far from the Lower Mainland, which has driven (house) values as well.”

Princeton, where Judy Klassen is a realtor and property manager, saw a 17% increase in the 2021 single-family home assessments. She says many have come for the Copper Mountain mine but also plenty of newcomers from the Fraser Valley, and it’s putting upward pressure on home prices and availability.

"We’re seeing people will accept an offer on their place and we’re seeing a clause that we don’t see very often. People are saying ‘well I need to find a place to buy before I can sell’ and they’ll say I’ll accept the offer and ask for a clause to allow for a few days to find a new home, since there’s so little for sale,” she said, adding she has been working in Princeton since 1995 and hasn’t seen this happen before.

She said there may be a COVID factor as well.

“We’ve also seen due to COVID-19 that people are home more and they’re wanting bigger homes and they’re not wanting to be so close to their neighbour,” she said.

READ MORE: Modest rise in Penticton property assessment values for 2021

Christine Nichols bought a home in Princeton in 2018 and hopes to transition there from Port Moody.

“Personally we chose this rural area near Princeton because my husband spent his childhood summers in Hedley on his grandmother’s ranch with his cousins and love the area,” she said. "We both hunt, fish, ATV, snowmobile and are generally outdoors people so we have all this out our back door.”

After 24 years of living in Port Moody, she said with the noise, growth and densification there, she and her husband were no longer happily living in the city.

“Princeton is the magic three-hour drive from the Lower Mainland, that is one reason it has become popular for both weekend cabins and second or main homes. The Highway 3 drive has improved dramatically with new construction in the past 10 years,” she said.

But Princeton now has a rental vacancy rate of less than 1% (4% is largely considered healthy) and a housing needs report that was completed in 2020 for the town, outlined the need for diverse housing and affordable rental housing.

Other small municipalities in the region saw an increase of 10% or more in their assessment rates for single family homes, including Sun Peaks, Logan Lake, Cache Creek, Lumby, Enderby and Keremeos. Kamloops saw a 6% increase and Kelowna saw a 3% increase in their 2021 assessments.

Luck, from Merritt, made the jump before many others, and that’s working out in his favour. He’s living the dream and knows how it ends.

"We absolutely love it here, my only regret is that I didn’t do it years ago,” he said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 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.

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