For some young Vancouverites, it’s Kelowna or bust

Growing ranks of young professionals head to the Okanagan for work and life
Kelowna has become a magnet for many young Vancouverites squeezed out of the Lower Mainland’s real estate market | Josef Hanus/Shutterstock

Kemp Edmonds and his wife were both born and raised in Vancouver.

But they won’t be raising their own child in Vancouver – or in Burnaby, Richmond, Coquitlam or Surrey.

“We started to look for a home in Kelowna and, to our amazement, a house by the lake cost virtually the same as a two-bedroom, one-bathroom condo in East Vancouver,” Edmonds, 34, told Business in Vancouver. “So we made the change.”

Real estate statistics show there is a growing trend of Vancouver residents moving to Kelowna, a city of just under 200,000 five hours east of Vancouver. 

In January 2016, buyers from the Lower Mainland overtook purchasers from Alberta, reversing a previous trend for out-of-region homebuyers, said Corie Griffiths, manager of the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission. Buyers from the Lower Mainland now represent between 11% and 15% of purchasers, while the proportion of Albertan buyers has dropped to 6% to 7% from the previous range of 15% to 18%. 

Two primary markets are driving the increase, Griffiths said: older families whose children are often still in school who have reaped the windfall of rapid real estate gains in Vancouver, and younger professionals who are moving to Kelowna for a combination of work, cheaper housing and lifestyle reasons.

Between January and April 2016, residential prices in the Central Okanagan jumped 18%, compared with a slight price decline between January 2015 and January 2016, according to the Okanagan Mainline Real Estate Board. The increase echoes the 30% rise in Vancouver home prices between April 2015 and April 2016.

Coming to Vancouver, but leaving too

Young people are still coming to Vancouver: a recent study from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver found that the population of 20- to 34-year-olds increased 18% between 2005 and 2015, while a comparison by the Conference Board of Canada showed Vancouver has the highest proportion of 24- to 35-year-olds compared with Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. 

But school enrolment numbers for Vancouver continue to decline, compared with steady increases for Metro Vancouver suburbs like Surrey and Langley and satellite communities such as Squamish. In both Victoria and Kelowna, the number of students enrolled in kindergarten through high school dipped between 2012 and 2013, but began to recover starting in 2014.

Edmonds’ journey from Vancouver to Kelowna started when he accepted his “dream job” as a marketing director with FreshGrade, a tech startup based in Kelowna. His original plan was to fly back and forth between Vancouver and Kelowna. With a baby on the way, he and his wife were looking for a three-bedroom condo or townhouse in Vancouver, but they quickly hit their price ceiling. 

“You start to reach up to $700,000, $800,000,” Edmonds said, adding that he’d long ago ruled out living in the suburbs because of the extra commuting time. “I presented this option that we could move to Kelowna.” 

Robyn Setter describes herself as a “small-town kid” who grew up in Kamloops but moved to Vancouver in her early 20s. The human resources co-ordinator for Bardel Entertainment, an animation company with offices in Vancouver and Kelowna, jumped at the chance to relocate to the Okanagan and get back to a slower pace of life.


Left: Much cheaper real estate was a factor in Kemp Edmonds' decision to move to Kelowna permanently. Right, Robyn Setter and her boyfriend, Josh Kelder, jumped at the chance to return to their small-town roots | Submitted

Housing costs are much lower – the 28-year-old lives with her boyfriend and their dog in a two-bedroom garden suite she describes as “cheaper than Vancouver and more than twice the space,” including access to a yard. Part of her job now involves helping other employees relocate, and six people have joined the Kelowna office since Setter moved there in February.

Seeking more workers

But even as some make the move, technology and animation companies are still urgently seeking workers to relocate to the Okanagan.

Bardel first decided to open a studio in Kelowna in response to B.C. government tax credits targeted to the region, said Richard Grieve, vice-president of finance. The company has been able to staff the Kelowna office with junior animators who have been trained at local colleges, but it’s been slower going to persuade senior staff to relocate. 

Among Vancouver-based animation companies, competition for workers has become fierce; in Kelowna, Bardel is competing with far fewer companies for staff. The company has also had some success in recruiting senior talent from overseas to come to Kelowna.

Because of that dynamic, Bardel doesn’t plan to expand any further in Vancouver, but wants to expand its Kelowna workforce from 50 to 120, Grieve said. The company plans to collaborate more with post-secondary animation programs in Kelowna and is considering opening its own school there.

It’s a similar story for Edmonds’ new employer: "FreshGrade is seeking senior mobile talent!" he wrote in an email.

@jenstden

jstdenis@biv.com

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