The world has changed completely, within eight weeks.
The “Before”, for Salt Spring Island and the Gulf Islands, describes life before March 12th.
We are not yet in the “After”. Are we even half-way to a recovery?
All of B.C. was told to shut-down on March 12th…to stay home and, if had to be out, then social distancing was required…in an effort to “flatten the curve” of the covid-19 virus.
Businesses closed, schools closed, people suddenly out of work, massive government funding options created, cancellation of events, and a total turn to an online world. Nothing is untouched.
On the Gulf Islands: Accommodations closed, restaurants closed unless could offer take-out, all non-essential businesses closed, and visitors to recreational regions encouraged to stay home/not to visit (campgrounds and parks closed), and even owners of cottages/seasonal homes in such recreational areas requested not to go to them.
B.C. Ferries cancelled some major routes and reduced sailings on others. People were requested to only use ferry travel for essential services. Floatplanes not flying regular routes.
The governments fears throughout Canada: the health services would not be able to cope with an inundation of virus affected citizens, and so this led to these massive closures/sheltering in place requirements.
There is no knowledge yet as to when these restrictions will be softened or lifted. Some projections say “maybe” by Summer…others worry about a resurgence of the virus in the Fall…some think possibly by Spring 2021…still others say not until there is a successful vaccine (two years?).
The Federal and the B.C. governments stated in mid-April that the current stay at home/social distancing measures would remain in place until at least mid-May. All government spokespeople continue to remind us that it will never be a return to life as it was, pre-March 12th.
Has the pandemic affected the Salt Spring Island Real Estate market?
At this beginning day of May, then, in Salt Spring and Gulf Islands real estate, we are seeing a continuation of a very thin listing inventory. This lack of listings trend began in November, 2019.
Most sales to date in 2020 took place in January, February, March…the “Before”. Some completed sales took place in April, but they were based on business that began, and became “firm” (unconditional), before March 12th.
March showed a divide: the first two weeks were showing strong activity and a sellers market projection. The last weeks of March were seeing the opposite: hesitation and lack of action. April extended this lack of activity.
The very few new offers that did come in during April seemed to be from people who had already been looking (sometimes for two years or more) at Salt Spring, and who had finally sold their Vancouver house, and so could finally act. These few April completions were what I call “old business” outcomes. Currently, “new business” is on hold.
With people stuck at home, they may be looking at MLS and other realty sites as a sort of entertainment. Earlier, when super busy, such searchers may not have easily found property listings on Salt Spring and the Gulf Islands.
What should sellers do during the crisis?
Now, with time to spend, delving about in the secondary home/rural/recreational areas, there is a serendipity/discovery thing going on. A good idea, then, for sellers to remain visible to potential buyers…even when these buyers are not able to turn up physically, in immediate response to what caught their attention online.
Such city dwellers may also have it in mind to seek smaller communities, after things lift, with the ability to garden/to be self-sufficient. A seeking of a gentler “back to the land” experience?
The inquiries level is high, in spite of the fact that physicality to view is not possible right now.
With the Ferry schedule changes in early April, it is no longer possible to do a day trip viewing on a Gulf Island, if arriving from Vancouver/Lower Mainland…where most of our buyers still come from.
There may be a pent-up demand now building for all secondary home coastal communities…if one considers the strengthening inquiries.
Be visible, is my advice for sellers…and be patient. Although follow-up visits for interested inquirers are not possible right now, they clearly want to come. Another interesting feature: exceptionally low interest rates.
What are the prices for real estate currently on Salt Salt Spring?
Prices on Salt Spring and the Gulf Islands are remaining stable for now…and if the listings remain low, then price reductions may not be a factor in any “After” experience. With little activity in April, media statistics won’t look good in May…but such a read-out is artificial. A “pause” is not necessarily a “fall”. That said, the financial collapses due to the shut-down have caused inability of some buyers to complete a purchase. All aspects of a purchase can be affected by a particular buyer’s financial distress.
How are real estate agents in BC dealing with the protective measures & social distancing?
When any viewings do take place, the same protocols will be in place as for any other business serving the public: gloves, masks, social distancing, sanitizers for hands, surfaces, door knobs. It may be necessary for viewers to sign a “sign-in” sheet, attesting that they have not recently travelled out of the country and also that they are not experiencing any symptoms. These protective measures are there to benefit both seller and buyer.
The key to sales outcomes for Salt Spring and other secondary home areas? It’s dependent on the “When” of a recovery. This timing issue will also affect pricings…the longer things remain “stuck”, the more it will affect price points for real estate. Uncertainty is not good for any market economy.
IF restrictions soften by Summer, and there are limited business openings allowed in the recreational regions, and IF Ferries offer more sailings, there may be a very short sales “season” for the Gulf Islands/Vancouver Island…If no changes, and restrictions continue unabated, then many local tourism businesses may never reopen. This is a societal shift and an online communications world may not favour all small businesses, especially in seasonal and rural areas.
Salt Spring and the Gulf Islands are currently experiencing Spring’s largesse. The Southern Gulf Islands are some of the most beautiful areas in Canada. All seasons offer something special, but late Spring and early Summer are truly breathtaking for the Islands. The Pacific Northwest Coast smiles at this time of year.
If you are lucky enough to live here, it is important to “look around”…to enjoy Nature’s display. Those Romantic era poets and musicians were right…imbibing Nature does restore one.
For those not here, and unable to visit due to the restrictive measures, it’s a time to remember previous visits, to look at tourism site photos as reminders, to think about future trips when one can again re-experience the delectable Gulf Islands and special Salt Spring Island.
What’s Salt Spring Like Anyway?
The Salt Spring Chamber’s tag line: “Discover Yourself Here!” Is a promise for the future. These generous and welcoming Islands await your future return. “Beauty is a joy forever” (as John Keats, one of those Romantic poets, reminded us).
Salt Spring and the Gulf Islands are a land and a sea experience. Sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, are all opportunities in the Gulf Islands. They are renowned as being in some of the best protected boating waters in the world. There are lakes that offer fresh water fishing. Hiking/walking trails abound. Parks beckon. Beachcombing pleasures await.
Floatplanes, when back to regular schedules, also offer 30 minute “discover the islands” flights. There are vineyards with wine tastings, olive groves, berry farms, cheesemaker gem with bistro, plus cideries and craft brewery tastings. The artist presentations at ArtCraft, at the Saturday Market, on the studio tour inspire us all. Alternative wellness/spa experiences energize us. Farmers markets and farm gate stands offer organic produce. Our superb restaurants and coffee stops bring us great food, delivered with an Island welcoming service.
These pleasures are waiting for us when the economic engine on the Gulf Islands restarts. It is a seasonal/visitor economy. All Gulf Islanders/Salt Spring Islanders look forward to welcoming everyone back…just later.