(Editor’s note: This is part of a continuing series of stories about “snowbirds” in the Valley of the Sun.)
Much ado has been made of the real estate market in Arizona over the last decade. From good times and “McMansions” to a terrible rock-bottom scenario after the real estate bubble disaster, it has been a long ride. One demographic, however, kept buying houses throughout the economic turmoil — Canadians.
Coming mostly from Alberta and British Columbia, residents from the “Oil capital of North America” fled the cold (as well as housing prices nearly double, per square foot, the prices down here) to escape the winter and relax in the Valley of the Sun.
“Ultimately, end of story, it’s sun and warmth. That’s all there is to it,” said Rick Metcalf, founder of CANAM Realty Group. “If you have cash, you are 50 to 60 years old and you want a vacation home, the cost doesn’t matter.”
He specializes in selling local real estate to Canadian buyers. Metcalf bought his own vacation home in Phoenix some 20 years ago and eventually moved from Edmonton, Alberta, to Arizona permanently.
He said that when the market here crashed, Canadians came out of the woodwork — not just vacation buyers but investors as well. He estimates that 90 percent of Canadian owners he manages property for are investors.
“They have a lot of questions just about pools and maintenance,” said Reveille Schaeffer from Arizona Focus Realty, another group that specializes in home sales to Canadians. “A lot of them, they are looking for sun, so they want a south backyard or a west backyard.”
Golf courses, shopping malls and heated pools top the list of demands for northern homebuyers. When the Arizona economy took a nosedive, and convenience services were hardest hit, those who came south with money to spare were able to buy amenities for next to nothing.
“I guess we should be thankful to them for keeping the market going,” said Michael Orr of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
Orr said that fluctuations in the exchange rate have had a decent impact on the number of Canadians buying houses in the state. The rate of Canadian homebuyers in Maricopa County fell from a whopping 6 percent of houses purchased in the county in April 2011 to 1.5 percent in May 2014. Oddly enough, as the market in the Valley has improved, Canadian buying has slowed, and for the same reason, local buying is up.
“They’re pretty price-sensitive,” said Orr. “What they are looking for is not necessarily the same as what local residents would be looking for.”
Korey Stewart, a real estate agent with the Keller Williams Kenny Klaus Team, said locals are often quite happy to have “snowbirds” move into their communities because the houses they buy are often eyesores that they proceed to fix up, uniformly improving the property values of the area.
“Most Canadians that I meet, where they are is a different place in their life from most [people] that you meet,” said Stewart, about how Canadians think they are perceived by locals. “They assume we don’t want them here, especially when the previous owner was foreclosed on.”
To the contrary, he said. “They’ve made a positive impact on the market,” Stewart said. “They pretty much just cleaned up the mess.”
The good news is that Canadian buying is still happening here in the Valley, and looks as though it will continue, even at decreased rates, in the future. Real estate agents are encouraging continued migration, in some cases even going up to Canada in person to teach seminars on living in Arizona.
“They have always been so incredibly welcoming,” said Schaeffer, who travels to Canada multiple times annually. “We never hardly have to get a hotel room. They are just so easy to be around and sociable and friendly.”
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