Smaller Prairie cities thriving on the back of petroleum and potash

By Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver Sun January 4, 2014 - I recently sold my condo for a laughable price and purchased a half duplex for an even more outrageous sum.

That's just the way things are in Vancouver, where residential real estate is hot to the touch, a daunting high-stakes pursuit that can leave its players feverishly counting their remaining pennies.

But, believe it or not, in the coming year the market is expected to be even hotter elsewhere in Canada.

That's according to a comprehensive study of Canadian real estate prospects, which suggests that Calgary gary is poised to leave Vancouver in the dust.

The recently released report, by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Urban Land Institute, examines real estate investment, development and home building in nine major urban centres across North America.

Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2014 identifies Calgary in Canada, and San Francisco in the U.S., as the hottest markets in their respective countries.

In Canada, Edmonton takes second spot, Saskatoon third. They are booming because of petroleum and potash.

Vancouver is back in fourth position, unchanged from a year ago, reinforcing a notion that high prices do not always suggest a booming market.

The study notes urbanization and densification trends continue to be all the rage in Canada, with locations near mass transit stations being in strong demand.

Buyers increasingly want to live in "mixed-use products," featuring office, retail and residential in one convenient location.

And these "commercial/multi-family developers are expected to have slightly better prospects than home builders."

Gen Y-ers are having an enormous influence on the real estate sector, says the report.

"This generation will be more urban and less suburban. They won't want to drive as much but will want to be mobile. From intown (sic) rental housing to collaborative office space to close-in warehousing to ensure same-day delivery from online retailers, Gen Y will be a noticeable force." This shift is taking place as baby boomers also are moving to core areas to be near amenities and health care services.

One reason why Vancouver is trailing the three smaller Prairie cities on the real estate front, the report suggests, is because of "a slowdown widespread through all sectors of the economy" in 2013.

It's a gorgeous place to live but Vancouver's employment growth was just 0.5 per cent last year, compared to 6.1 per cent in Saskatoon.

The office sector is particularly robust these days, with space being moved away from suburban areas and into city centres. Companies are also reconfiguring their office space, providing for multipurpose uses and less space per employee.

As for Calgary, the flooding of 2013 has not slowed its real estate sector. "Holding the top spot for both investment and development, Calgary moved into first place for homebuilding as well."

Across Canada, the real estate investment market "is expected to remain strong in 2014 as both domestic and non domestic investors find the Canadian real estate market attractive." But the report points to a particular problem, one that is a huge challenge in Vancouver. "Rising housing prices will put more focus on how the nation can continue to provide enough affordable housing to a population base fuelled by strong immigration."

How is a good question. Many homes on the east side of Vancouver are now selling for more than $1 million, even as median family incomes in B.C. remain below those in Saskatchewan and Alberta, and below the national average.

Which probably explains why Vancouverites have been seeing so many construction cranes hard at work, building more affordable, urbanized and densified communities characterized by tall, multi-purpose buildings. This, it would appear, is our future.

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