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Remote working and affordability driving Rocky Mountain House residential sales

People who do not need to go into the office seeking out affordable acreages

Central Alberta house sales are down across the entire central Alberta region with a few communities showing modest increases.

Rocky Mountain House is an outlier. The community of about 6,300 saw residential sales soar 37 per cent — 173 sales this year compared with 126 through the first 11 months of 2021. Nearby Clearwater County did not have the same spike — 291 sales compared with 325 in 2021 — but the numbers were far above the previous four years.

By comparison, house sales were up six per cent in Red Deer and down 14 per cent across the entire central Alberta region year over year.

Larrissa Kalyn, broker-owner with Rocky’s Century 21 Westcountry Realty Ltd., said there are a few forces at work, among them a growing penchant for working from home. Even better is when that home is affordable and located within a relatively short drive to the province’s two major cities and the West Country’s natural beauty.

“We have a lot of people coming in from B.C. and Ontario or from out east looking for acreages,” said Kalyn on Friday. “With people being able to work remotely, it’s really opened up. People can live wherever they want.

“And for a better cost of living and affordable housing, people are coming this way.”

Red hot B.C. and Ontario housing markets have put homes out of reach of many first-time home buyers or others who do not have the money to buy in the many communities where average house prices approach $1 million.

Alberta, and especially central Alberta, offers an affordable option as well as providing job opportunities, said Kalyn, who is chair of the Central Alberta Realtors Association.

“We’re also getting a lot of people who are retiring too, who can sell their places there and come here and get something equivalent for probably less than half the cost. It just frees up some extra equity for them.

“A lot of people when they’re looking at that they’re just seeing the perks.”

Nice homes that sell for $500,000 to $600,000 in the Rocky Mountain House area can be easily double that in the over-heated markets elsewhere in Canada. Homes are also less expensive in Rocky and Clearwater County than other counties closer to the big centres, such as Mountain View County between Red Deer and Calgary.

That means new Rocky-area homeowners have a lot more money to travel or pursue some of the other items on their retirement bucket lists.

Rising interest rates are not much of a deterrent to many buyers who do the math on mortgage payments for a much less expensive home and still want to buy.

The biggest obstacle facing many buyers is a lack of inventory, she said.

“We have probably a list of 20 buyers. When we come up with an acreage close to town with a decent-sized home and a garage in that middle market ($500,000-$600,000) we probably have competing offers on it.

“But we just don’t have that product.”

Currently, there is about three month’s worth of inventory, compared with 12 month’s worth a year or so ago.

Kalyn said she was listening to a presentation by an economist recently who said that lack of inventory had been a drag on housing sales in many places.

She hopes that area developers will see the opportunity and start building more homes on spec. There is an acreage subdivision west of Rocky that appears to have caught the interest of home builders after lots sat empty during the pandemic.

While acreages are among the hottest properties, starter mid-range homes and first-time buyer homes are also selling well.

And it’s not just Rocky Mountain House. She has an office in Sundre, where sales are also strong.

“We’ve been really busy with the acreage sales. We can’t even keep them on the market.”

Given all of the factors in favour of her area, she hopes 2023 will also be a good year. Having enough homes to sell will be the key.

Other central Alberta sales figures year over year (last year in brackets):

• Blackfalds — 289 (300)

• Innisfail — 168 (162)

• Lacombe — 276 (292)

• Penhold — 92 (74)

• Ponoka — 142 (145)

• Rocky Mountain House — 173 (126)

• Stettler — 122 (136)

• Sylvan Lake — 516 (490)