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Market Analysis, April 2018, Salt Spring Island

April 2018, Salt Spring

Welcome to my world!

I am lucky to be able to live and to work on Salt Spring Island. I hope you enjoyed this video by a Vancouver based travel writer…who hopes to one day also live on Salt Spring. I thought he caught the essence of this magical place.

April is perhaps the true beginning of our real estate market “season”. Whispers of the year’s tone can appear around March Break, but the main action becomes evident by April.

We entered Spring with a very thin inventory of listings, in both residential and undeveloped land options. A lack of inventory, coupled with renewed buyer desire, does result in price escalation…the economic dynamic of supply and demand.

The “Speculation Tax” in the BC Real Estate Market

There can be interruptions to a market flow…the suggested speculation tax mentioned in the provincial government’s February budget appeared to be about to become such a non-market interruption. However, in late March, the government agreed to exempt the Gulf Islands from this tax. Initially, the capital regional district boundaries had put the speculation (vacancy tax) onto the Southern Gulf Islands, too.

The Islands Trust (the form of governance since 1974, on the Gulf Islands) created a secondary home/recreational/discretionary region.

Lack of affordable housing and work-rental choices are issues everywhere…Salt Spring’s approved affordable housing projects are not able to proceed because of a CRD water moratorium. The CRD needs to address this. More info? Call me.

April is an interesting month…it starts with the cool of March and ends with the largesse of almost-May. Every day is longer, softer temperatures encourage “real Spring” to energize us, and the exterior world welcomes us back.

Inventory

Whether inventory grows again and stabilizes prices or whether inventory remains thin and prices start to rise, Salt Spring and the Southern Gulf Islands remain their serenely beautiful selves…and with some creative thinking, it is always possible to seek ownership. Some ideas? Call me! There is always opportunity.

We live in a time of shift. Salt Spring and the Southern Gulf Islands enjoy proximity to major centres…they are apart but are not isolated.

Artificial Intelligence brings new technological benefits to our lives. The Gulf Islands, including Salt Spring Island, are time tunnels to previous times. Frozen by the 1974 Islands Trust mandate (“to preserve and protect” the environmental beauties of the Gulf Islands, for the benefit of all B.C. residents), the islands are all about direct experience of the natural world.

Salt Spring welcomes you to enjoy its parks, hiking/walking trails, farmgate organic produce, farmers markets, winery tastings, cheesemaker farm, art galleries, studio tours, live music venues, theatre experiences, marine discoveries…spas, alternative health opportunities, yoga retreats…great restaurants to tempt the palate…feed the body, the mind, the soul on these tranquil Gulf Islands.

Market Analysis, March 2018, Salt Spring Island

March 2018, Salt Spring

Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island

March…it brings with it “real Spring” (the one marked on the calendar), plus is the beginning of our main grid of sales activity.

Beginning of the Canadian Market Season

March Break to the Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend (mid-October) signals our “season” in our secondary home/discretionary/recreational region.

The busiest months are July, August, September, of course, and these months also encompass high tourist season, but holiday weekends in earlier months, and school holidays (March Break), begin the rhythms.

March is beginning with very little inventory for sale. High buyer demand (in the entry level residential segment) continued throughout January/February, in spite of weather hesitations. There may be some few new listings yet to come onstream, but there is much less choice for a buyer.

The definition of a buyer’s market: lots of listings and very few buyers. A seller’s market? Few listings and many buyers. This scenario often leads to higher list and sale prices.

Sellers and listing agents do not set markets. Buyers do that. Strong buyer demand and few purchase choices create rising values. The economic maxim of supply and demand is a real one.

There are always opportunities for a buyer in a seller’s market. If interested in a property, though, one must be prepared to act. Bidding wars are rare on a Gulf Island…but back-up offers do come into play.

How will new tax affect real estate market?

The new coalition provincial government raised the offshore purchase tax to 20%, at their February budget. It still applies to metro-Vancouver, but now will also apply to Victoria, to Nanaimo, and to Kelowna. For Salt Spring, many buyers are from Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. Will the tax create a hesitation in sales there, as the initial tax did in August, 2016? Those sellers in Vancouver have become many of our Island buyers.

The provincial government is stating that they are bringing in empty home taxes, in an effort to stop speculation…in their words: to stop people treating the housing market as a stock market. They tie this to the affordable housing crunch, which is a feature of all communities, but this also involves the B.C. Tenancy Act (many people choose not to rent their homes).

I write these market updates at the beginning of each month, and do updates via my blog, as the month proceeds. Check out my blog for March 1st. It gives the Vancouver Real Estate Board’s recap of the February Budget. There is some confusion right now, but the offshore purchase tax (at the moment) only applies to Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Kelowna.

Changes to the Real Estate Services Act of B.C.

Changes to the Real Estate Services Act of B.C. were meant to take place by March 15th. The government wasn’t ready with courses for realtors, or with new contract forms paperwork, for the proposed substantive changes. The date has now been set for June 15th. Until then, it’s business as usual.

2018 seems to be a time of change. For Salt Spring and the Southern Gulf Islands, locked into a form of governance from 1974 (Islands Trust), we might appear to be a time tunnel, but these beautiful islands are on the doorstep of major centres (Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle), and being slightly “apart” does not mean isolation.

It is now stated that all knowledge we possess right this minute will be replaced within 18 months. Hmmm…. The creative response of the artist may be needed more than ever.

Meantime, technological shifts are streaking right along, in our post-Internet world: crypto currencies, block chain investing, 3-D printers, robotics, artificial intelligence (will those machines out-think us?), driverless cars, smart homes, smart phones, online lives, meshed reality…. Hmmm….

1974 is beginning to sound pretty good? It still exists on the Gulf Islands…thanks to the Islands Trust. One can always go out to visit and sample the “always on” world and then come back home to your chosen island.

Are you seeking a Salt Spring Island or Gulf Islands property? Call me. Your best interests are my motivation. Benefit from my knowledge, expertise, and negotiation skills.

Salt Spring offers an authentic artists community, a temperate climate that sustains vineyards, olive groves, small holding farming, plus encourages appreciation of the preserved natural beauty. “Discover Yourself Here” is the tag line of the local Chamber…and it’s true.

Market Analysis, March 2017, Salt Spring Island

March 2017

So…the season begins….traditionally, March Break to Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend (mid-March to mid-October) offers the traditional grid of real estate sales action in the coastal secondary home (recreational) markets…which includes Salt Spring.

Salt Spring is basically a seasonless market, though, and people visit year round…real estate sales can occur at any time.

If one is seriously for sale, then one needs to “be exposed to the market”. The digital world, which is now where most buyers first encounter a listing, does not recognize weather or time of year. If wanting to sell, it’s important to be found on a buyer search, at any time.

For a buyer, statistics show that they look for property almost 2 years before buying, via Internet sites. Yes, they are “interested”, but not yet “ready”.

About 6 weeks before they are in that “ready” state, they connect with a realtor and make appointments to view what has caught their attention. Once they physically arrive and view, they will see other options, too. Thus, the buyer may or may not purchase the property that first caught their attention.

Hmmm…in secondary home markets, where most buyers are from elsewhere, it often takes two (and sometimes three) visits before a purchase. Since these buyers are often from afar, there can be substantial timelines between visits…sometimes 3 to 4 months, or longer.

Time lags are a part of real estate sales in secondary home/discretionary markets. Days on market are not significant in recreational/by choice regions. Sellers know how long they’ve been listed, but to a buyer who has just started a search, everything is “new”. If a newly listed property sells quickly, it often means that a buyer has turned up for that second or third visit, right at the time the listing came onstream.

So many changes to the real estate industry, all of them driven by technological shifts, but some things remain the same…especially in the recreational/discretionary regions.

Customer service, knowledge of the area (both inventory and market trends), negotiating skills, an authentic interest in a consumer’s concerns, knowledge of zoning/bylaw issues (very important on a Gulf Island, which is governed by the Islands Trust), a good short-list of qualified professionals to aid the consumer (property inspectors, legal advisors, septic installers, water test labs, architects, contractors, mortgage advisors, etc)…a local realtor understands the area and can interpret the many local issues.

An Internet search is helpful, but some items in a recreational region are best discussed with a knowledgable & experienced local realtor. That interpreter function is an essential addition to any internet based information.

Market trends: like any market, real estate also experiences that wave-like model…up and down and somewhere in between. Markets are never static.

The global downturn of late 2008 lasted for almost 8 years in our local region…some areas saw recovery much earlier. For Salt Spring and the Southern Gulf Islands, the recovery began in mid-March, 2016. There were earlier whispers of action in late 2015, but a marked upsurge in residential sales volume began in early Spring, 2016. By year’s end, inventory had thinned out and prices had stabilized.

A seller’s market is characterized as low inventory coupled with high buyer demand. This scenario can lead to price escalation.

This early in the season, it’s too soon to speculate on price points. All that can be said is that there might only be two or three property options currently on the market that will suit a buyer. Thus, the seller may benefit by achieving list price or close to it. If this lack of inventory trend continues, then price escalation may be a factor by the Fall Market.

There is always opportunity for a buyer, regardless of market trend in play. Creative ways to buy that special property, in a recreational area, can always be found…even in a seller’s market.

Market Analysis, September 2016, Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island

Beginning of the Fall Market

So…we begin the Fall Market…here it is, the beginning of September. The calendar says summer goes on till the 20th, but most of us see Labour Day Weekend as the “end”.

Sales volume in the Spring/early Summer market has gone up markedly on Salt Spring Island, in residential properties below $750,000. Over that price point, it remains softer.

In that entry-level residential segment, though, it could be described as sellers market conditions.

What does a seller’s market mean? Limited inventory plus strong buyer demand creates a seller’s market. Price escalation occurs with lack of product.

In a Gulf Island region, there is always a limited inventory

In a Gulf Island region, there is always a limited inventory. The Islands Trust, a provincial government body created in 1974, with the mandate to “preserve and protect” the environmental beauties of the Gulf Islands, for the benefit of all B.C. residents, also effectively “capped” growth.

On Salt Spring Island

On Salt Spring Island

Growth in the Gulf Islands is controlled by strict zoning/density bylaws. On Salt Spring, commercial zoning is focused in both upper and seaside Ganges Villages, and they can’t expand beyond their boundaries. The small commercially zoned options at Vesuvius, Fulford, and Fernwood cannot expand. Home occupations are encouraged, but there are rules around these usages, too.

As soon as growth is limited, values do appreciate over time. Between 2002 and 2005, prices escalated by around 60% on Salt Spring. Then a pause developed in 2006 and 2007. Late 2008 delivered the global economic downturn, and secondary home/recreational areas (globally) saw a sharp fall-off in activity. Between early 2009 and early 2015, prices locally had reduced by around 45%.

Buyers who acted between 2013 (the “worst” year?) and late 2015, have benefitted by that dramatic levelling off of prices, in the secondary home markets. It’s difficult for people to act before clear signals of a market shift are in place…those who do act seem to have that “wolf’s sniff the wind” directional arrow.

Important always, though, to be looking down the highway and not in the rear view mirror…opportunity is ahead.

By late 2015, one could see an improving trend coming into play in the secondary home markets. The Sunshine Coast and the Okanagan saw renewed activity in the Fall of 2015. Early Spring brought action to Victoria and to some Vancouver Island communities. Mid-Spring delivered activity to the Gulf Islands. Salt Spring (perhaps because of its year-round lifestyle opportunities) usually shows market improvement first, among the Gulf Islands choices.

The interesting thing is the change in the buyer profile for Salt Spring and the Gulf Islands: almost 100% from Vancouver.

Traditionally, a Gulf Island buyer has come from Alberta (perhaps 20% of coastal buyers?) or from the U.S. (perhaps 30% of coastal purchasers?). This time, it’s buyers from Vancouver, who have sold during the extremely “hot” market there. They are seeking new areas to reside…not just recreational/seasonal buyers, thus.

These previously Vancouver based buyers will live here year round, and that has all sorts of good outcomes for the day to day business life on the Island. Shop Local becomes a viable item when there is a year round resident, and not just a seasonal impact.

Within the past 11 weeks, sales volume dramatically rose (perhaps tripled?) in the entry-level residential segment. On Salt Spring, that would be between 300,000 and 750,000. Low inventory with high buyer demand leads to price escalation. Couple that with an area with a no-growth policy (Islands Trust) and you can see that we may be returning to that 2002 to 2005 model.

Opportunity continues to exist in upper tier priced residential, in undeveloped lots and acreages, in recreational cottages/cabins, and in commercial options. These market segments have not yet seen the quick sales of the entry level priced residential properties. As these property categories start to sell (and they are slowly becoming more and more active), and inventory begins to thin out, price points will also stabilize/rise.

The sales stats to date break out as follows.

January 1 to August 28 “solds to date”:

  • 26 sales between 1 and 200,000.
  • 29 sales between 2 and 300,000.
  • 47 sales between 3 and 400,000.
  • 45 sales between 4 and 500,000.
  • 44 sales between 5 and 600,000.
  • 26 sales between 6 and 700,000.
  • 10 sales between 7 and 800,000.
  • 9 sales between 8 and 900,000
  • 5 sales. between 9 and 1 million.
  • 16 sales between 1 and 2 million.
  • 3 sales between 2 and 3 million.
  • 2 sales between 3 and 4 million.

There is always opportunity in any market trend. Creativity wins the day in a discretionary region. A buyer’s market means lots of inventory and few buyers. A seller’s market means little inventory and lots of buyers seeking.

Market Analysis, May 2016, Salt Spring Island

Market Analysis, May 2016, Salt Spring Island

Market Recovery - Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island

Signs of a Seller’s Market Recovery

Yes, it’s really true…after an 8 year market downturn, we are finally seeing a resurgence of authentic activity in our secondary home/discretionary real estate market.

Many listings had followed the market down. Fine properties and well-marketed…but few buyers around. In a downmarket, buyers are scarce. In past five weeks, many of these long listed properties have now sold. Very few new listings are coming onstream to replace these steady “solds“…this is the sign of a seller’s market.

At the moment, it appears that sales volume has doubled over the same period as last year and that prices have stabilized (meaning that the buyers are having to offer close to or at list price to secure a property). Price rises and back-up offers may be next.

Salt Spring Island Ganges Harbour - Market Recovery

Salt Spring Island Ganges Harbour

Vancouver Origin

This authentic recovery is very new…began from one-day-to-the-next, approximately 5 weeks ago. Most buyers are from Vancouver. They have sold properties in Vancouver’s hot market, and are now seeking alternative places.

In late Fall of 2015, these property seekers were first looking on Sunshine Coast & in Okanagan communities.

Finally, it’s now the turn of Salt Spring, Gulf Islands, and Vancouver Island, to be considered as the new lifestyle choices.

The desire for a unique hard asset investment is strong again. The “safe haven” seeking may also be a part of sales in our beautiful coastal region. The natural rhythm of a market recovery…every 10 years there is an uptick?…is also a part of this return to a strong sales pattern. There is never just one reason for a market recovery.

Recoveries are never even-handed, especially when they first begin. There remain very pleasing properties at approachable prices. There are still opportunities for a buyer.

As residential offerings continue to thin out, it may be that an undeveloped land purchase will be in a buyer’s favour. Build a cottage, or barge on a home being saved from a city’s destruction, or consider a package home.

A renovation project on great land should always be considered.

Call me for ideas that work.

Creative financing can be a buyer’s friend in an upmarket trend.

September 2015, Market Analysis

September 2015, Market Analysis

Salt Spring Island, 2015

Salt Spring Island, 2015


Real estate is always a sure-fire conversation starter. “What’s the market doing?” is a classic opener.

For those who have been holding secondary homes/recreational properties, during an almost eight year downturn, it’s welcome news indeed that the answer is now “Definitely improving!”.

All markets are cyclical in nature

All markets are cyclical in nature. Sellers would prefer to sell on a high, and buyers would love to buy on a low. Recognizing pivotal market trends is a tough call. It’s usual to understand things when they have already passed by…easier to enjoy that 20/20 vision of the past.

The recreational markets are particularly difficult to call. Unlike a primary residence/city marketplace, where one lives year-round, works there, sends children to school there, the secondary home/rural marketplaces are by choice areas.

Old Scott Road

Old Scott Road

No one “has to” buy a property on a Gulf Island or in a rural community on Vancouver Island. Such a decision is totally discretionary, and does require consumer confidence in economic outcomes.

The post-Internet world we all now inhabit has changed the fabric of recreational ownership. It’s probable that 100% of such purchases start with an Internet search, and possibly that start occurs a good two years before a purchase is even seriously entertained.

That internet search puts all recreational regions on the same level. The buyer is no longer specifically targeted to one area… all such regions are now in competition with each other. Choice is huge.

The difficulty with several evenly weighted choices is that the viewer of same may put off acting. A buyer wants to “be sure”, before choosing. Why this place? What about that one? How to decide? Too many choices may mean no decision is taken.

I often think that a happy visitor experience in a recreational area can lead to a real estate purchase there. Successful tourism outcomes seem to drive all secondary home economies.

So…tourist discoveries are apparently showing their best patterns since 2007. Real estate sales volume in rural/recreational regions has improved dramatically. We may be just at the beginning of a market trending upward, in such discretionary areas. This might be the brief equilibrium moment between a buyers and a sellers market.

The allure factor that encourages a discretionary property decision might be the opportunity to live, even part-time, in a kinder gentler place. To be self-sufficient. To remember our essential selves.