Surging prices, bidding wars, blind offers—the search for seasonal real estate has become a battlefield. Tales from 10 of Canada’s hottest vacation towns.
In the July issue of Maclean’s, and each week here online, recent buyers divulge what they had to do to acquire the cottages of their dreams: pool family money, send relatives for viewings, hop on the first flight to Atlantic Canada post-bubble, or buy sight unseen, sometimes from thousands of kilometres away.
Average recreational property price (2021): $1,360,000
The Market: In the shadow of the picturesque Rocky Mountains, Canmore is regularly overrun by seasonal tourists looking to get their thrills from hiking and choppering around the Bow Valley’s craggy cliffs. Those who dare to enter Canmore’s current recreational real estate market also require an adventurous spirit. The area’s selection of row houses and standalone vacation homes are highly sought-after, so much so that prices jumped 33 per cent between 2020 and 2021. Recent attention from out-of-province buyers—and Alberta locals with a new appreciation for the area—has pushed Canmore’s once-rugged inventory into luxury-price territory.
The Buyers: Alice Abbott, a 58-year-old cryptocurrency executive, and her husband, Desmond Brown, a 63-year-old real estate agent.
Alice: I talked to some girlfriends about their retirement plans, and they made me reconsider my own. Desmond and I had mulled over a few destinations—Costa Rica, Italy and London—but we never felt at home unless we were in Canada. My mom lived in Canmore in the mid-’90s, and I loved how close it was to the mountains. It seemed to be the best fit.
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I took a trip out west last year with our youngest son, Felix, and spent a half-day with a Canmore real estate agent looking at vacation properties. When we got back to Ontario, I had another agent set me up to receive email listings tailored to our parameters. We wanted a place with three bedrooms that allowed short-term rentals and was walking distance from coffee, groceries and the restaurants of Canmore’s downtown strip. Properties facing Banff National Park can go for a premium, but paying a bit more for a view of Three Sisters and Ha Ling Peak was worth it to us.
At first, I couldn’t imagine buying real estate from a video walk-through, but it’s a big expense to fly across the country to see places that might sell before you can get out there. Canmore’s prices go up so quickly that a property’s value is determined by what comparable places sold for the day before. We bid on a three-bedroom condo in late January, which was listed at $749,700. We offered $853,000, knowing there were multiple bids. My realtor told me to sit down before she told me the winning amount. I said, “Well, if I’m going to lose, I better lose by a lot.” It sold for $981,900. Des and I realized we needed to increase our budget.
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In April, we found a unit in a self-managed fourplex that was very modest—not all modern slate finishes. I had passed over it several times, but without more inventory coming onto the market, we decided to ask our agent about a showing. It sold before we could see it, but a week later, another unit in the same fourplex hit the market. It ticked our boxes right away: it faced the mountains, the light and layout were good and it had ample storage. It was listed at $928,800, but I wanted to offer a little bit extra to secure it. We did a video tour on the 28th, and the next day, we offered $1,018,000—$13,000 above what the previous unit went for. The sellers accepted.
Maybe they would have jumped at less, but we didn’t want to lose out again. Plus, it won’t matter in a couple of years—we’ll just be happy we have this place. I can’t wait to see it in person. It closes at the end of June, and we have one buyer visit before then.
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