August 25, 2017

The Okanagan beckons


Young and old alike are drawn by the slower pace and lower costs of the Kelowna area

By  Michael Bernard 

Former Vancouver land development executive Lisa Lock recalls a TV commercial that epitomizes what she didn’t like about the harried life she used to lead in the Lower Mainland.

“It was a commercial of a woman driving home, and she is chopping vegetables while she is driving. I remember I would be driving home saying to myself, ‘I just wish I had the carrots here (to chop) so I could save time,’” says Lock, who had three boys under six at the time.

Her family’s flight to a more relaxed pace in Kelowna last year is becoming an increasingly common story as young families and retirees alike seek to start anew in the Okanagan.

Those who share their stories talk about being turned off by the stress of traffic congestion and the mounting costs of Metro Vancouver life. Travelling anywhere in the region has added to the time they spend in cars, while cutting time for family, friends and recreation.

Realtors have noticed more Lower Mainlanders coming to the Okanagan while the number of incoming Albertans has dropped, says Pamela Hansen, president of the South Okanagan Real Estate Board. “It used to be 20 per cent of buyers from Alberta and 10 per cent from Metro Vancouver and now it has flipped over.”

Tanis Read, who heads the larger Okanagan Mainline Real Estate Board, says the Metro Vancouver refugees are generally younger. “It is a change in the demographic of the population and you see it in Kelowna’s restaurants and in the shops, that it certainly is not retiree land anymore.”

While home sales are less frenzied than in 2016, the pace remains steady and prices continue to rise. The board’s monthly survey found Lower Mainlanders accounted for about 21 per cent of all buyers in June, up 19.9 per cent over June 2016. Meanwhile, the average price of a home rose to $560,935, a 10.6 per cent jump over the same period in 2016.

The Okanagan’s abundant sunshine and slower pace, however, still draw retirees like Joy Wilson and her husband Bill, 75, who moved up last December. They had been thinking about “upsizing” after going from a large West Vancouver house to a hillside townhouse half the size. Then Wilson spotted a Vancouver Sun article last summer on Lakestone, a single-home development overlooking Okanagan Lake and, he says, “It was love at first sight.”

Wilson says she and her husband find it easier to get outdoors here and have purchased inflatable kayaks to take down to the lake.

After musing for two years about selling their Fairview slopes condo and Whistler getaway, information technology executive Chris Turton and former flight attendant Michelle Charlebois retired and moved in June to Skaha Hills, a development on Penticton Indian Band land overlooking Skaha Lake.

“We felt Vancouver was getting so busy, with the aggressive driving and everybody in so much of a hurry,” said Turton.

But, increasingly, it’s thirtysomethings like construction manager Dan Martynov and his wife Stellina Clendenning who are pulling up stakes in the big city. They had given up hope of ever owning a single-family home in North Vancouver, where a fixer-upper can cost $1.3 million. After committing to Kelowna, they sold their one-bedroom townhouse in a day, began checking out Okanagan employers and within weeks had received multiple job offers.

Martynov signed up with Kelowna’s Mission Group while Clendenning has become a pastry chef at the Sparkling Hill resort near Vernon.

The gamble paid off in another big way: The couple finally found their dream home—a 3,030-square-foot, 17-year-old house on a quarter acre overlooking Lake Okanagan. And it cost just $50,000 more than their North Van condo.

Lisa Lock and her husband Eric managed an equally transformational change in a short time frame. After a pre-renovation appraisal in early 2016 revealed their 2,700 sq. ft. West Van home’s price had gone through the roof, they decided to take a chance. They sold it in a day for $2.7 million and bought a 5,500 sq. ft. home in Kelowna’s tony Wilden development for less than half the price, pocketing the
$1 million difference.

After landing new jobs in Kelowna, they now have enough time for the better things in life—like spending more time with their kids and having lunch together every day.

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