Which market has outperformed Vancouver by over 30% in the past five years and still has massive potential for an upswing? We’ll give you a hint: there’s a $3.5 billion dollar ski hill proposed with chairs to be running by 2025. Still don’t know? It’s a bedroom community 45 mins from Vancouver with a scenic commute that rivals the Pacific Coast Highway? Still not sure? You may need this episode more than anyone. Squamish Municipal Councillor, John French, sits down with Adam and Matt to discuss all things Squamish, from detailing what makes Squamish an incredible place to live to outlining all the exciting things to come. Oh, and the rents are not bad either! Head west young man/woman! North-West!
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John is municipal councillor in Squamish. He was born in Squamish and grew up in the Community. He moved to Vancouver for his post secondary education and then to Fort Nelson, BC for his first job. After living in other areas in BC, he realized he wanted to get back to Squamish. He made his way back in 1990 and bought a home. Outside of being a councillor, he is in the building supply business and is seeing first hand the development boom in Squamish.
On how Squamish has changed since he was a child:
When John was a child, the population of Squamish was approx. 5,000 people. He knew many members of the community and most of the kids his age through sports and living in a tight-knit community. The forest industry used to play a major role in Squamish during the 70’s and 80’s which contributed to this close-knit feel. Currently, the population is approx. 21,000 people and has grown considerably over the last 5 years. Squamish can be considered a bedroom community for Vancouver with many people living in Squamish that are working in Vancouver or Whistler or telecommuting. This allows people the flexibility to live in the community they want with all the outdoor amenities they love, while also working at well paying jobs outside of Squamish.
On the unique challenges that the growth has created for the community of Squamish:
This has created pressure on infrastructure. There are aging water pipes and sewer lines that are in need of replacement. It becomes expensive when a community is replacing the current infrastructure and also building new areas at the same time. The demand for new housing is high because people want to live in Squamish. The added population also creates pressure on the facilities, including the recreation amenities (ice arena, swimming pool). The council is looking at how the current recreation facility can be expanded and how they can raise the money to do so.
Generally, the population is steady and consistent over the year with no large swings due to seasonality. There are people coming in the summer months for recreation, but they are day visitors. Squamish does not see transient workers like you see in Whistler where people are attracted by the ski hills from other parts of the world.
On the challenges of finding housing in Squamish:
It is difficult to find housing for renters. There is pretty much a 0% vacancy rate and renters are finding their rents are increasing steadily year over year. It is not cheap to live in Squamish and it is forcing some of the long-time residents to move to more affordable areas in greater Vancouver.
People love to live in Squamish and employers have taken advantage of this. Employers in Squamish are paying a lesser wage than you would see in Vancouver for a similar job. People are forced to choose if they want to commute to Vancouver from Squamish to make a bit more money or take the lower pay to avoid the commute. In most situations, the greater wage in Vancouver will cover the costs of commuting to work.
On what he envisions for the next 5 years in the community:
There were major improvements to Highway 99 around the time of the Olympics which made the highway a lot safer. It also made the drive from Squamish to Vancouver just under an hour, when it used to be just over an hour for the same trip on the old highway. Breaking this 1 hr psychological barrier attracted people to move to Squamish that wanted to commute to Vancouver.
Right now, you don’t see any large condo developments like you do in Vancouver, but you will start to see them in the future. Developers will be purchasing a line of single-family properties to build multi-family units with commercial space on the ground floor – similar to Vancouver. The housing in Squamish has been growing ‘up’ with more condos and larger buildings, but Squamish also has surrounding areas that can be developed. There are caps on these new areas that will not allow them to be developed for residential living until the population demand is met. At this current time, single family lots are not selling as quickly as they have been in the past, so this may take some time for developers to move outside the city.
On the type of people that move West to Squamish verses people that decide move East from Vancouver:
It seems that people that choose Squamish over moving to the Fraser Valley might be more active, enjoy hiking in the outdoors and are less concerned with affordability. There is an argument to be made that people moving east from Vancouver are chasing affordability and are less concerned with their immediate outdoor amenities. People moving West to Squamish are almost certainly relocating to be close to the amazing outdoor amenities in both the summer and winter.
On what he’s excited about in the future for Squamish:
World class kite sailing, world class climbing, world class mountain bike trails, some amazing golf courses, lakes and rivers, snowmobiling in the winter, watersports in the summer – all of these outdoor amenities. This is what attracts people to Squamish – world class outdoor amenities.
On possible Ski resort proposed to the area – 3.5 billion investment to be completed in 2025:
There has been some pushback by the locals, but there are also keen supporters in the area. A version of the project has been in the works for a long time. The first proponent started the project in the 1980’s, but ran out of money and went bankrupt. Right now, Squamish is as close as the community has ever been to make this ski hill a reality. This would bring tourism jobs to the area and have excellent economic potential. John supports the project.
John is confident that the project will move ahead and all signs are pointing to it being a serious project. It could have some negative impacts to the Squamish area by forcing greater capacity issues on highway 99 which is already at full capacity due to Whistler. People associated with the project that are looking at remedies for this, including types of mass transit. Positive aspects of the project would include bringing jobs to the area. Squamish is already a community where young people are not able to find jobs to sustain themselves after high school, so this would bring lots of new jobs to this demographic.
On density and the downtown and surrounding areas:
The downtown is where the ‘building up’ will be. There has been an emphasis in the last couple of years to revitalize the downtown area which would include redeveloping older properties. There is a lot of construction in the downtown area currently and along the town parameter – 900 townhome units are going in this space with links to the downtown via bridge. It is a great housing plan that will provide some of the revitalization that was needed.
On Airbnb in the area and if there have been any issues or restrictions:
Airbnb is an ongoing conversation and town council is currently reviewing this issue as it is growing in popularity. Airbnb is having an influence on the rental market for long term tenants in the area. We are seeing landlords looking to provide short term Airbnb units instead of long-term rentals for locals because there is more money in Airbnb. Squamish will be looking to Whistler, Vancouver and other areas like Revelstoke to see how they addressed the Airbnb issue and insights to possible regulations. Most likely Airbnb will become more restrictive in Squamish to ensure the community housing needs are provided for.
The five-wire (Squamish edition):
- Favorite neighbourhood in Squamish: Garibaldi Highlands
- Favourite restaurant or bar: Salted Vine
- Downtown penthouse or house in Garibaldi Highlands: House in the Highlands
- First place he brings someone from out of town: Sea to sky Gondonla
- Something he’s bought for under $500 in the past year that impacted his life: Paper day planner. He find’s that he remembers something much better if he writes it down on paper – used in conjunction with his iphone.
Additional interview with Tiffany Sprenkels, Property Manager with Elevate Performance Realty & Management in Squamish:
On the rental market in Squamish:
The rental market has climbed with the real estate market over the last 5 years. Generally, it has been quite busy. It was slow over Christmas, but since February it has been busy. There is a bit of overflow from the Whistler market in the winter time that coincides with the Whistler busy season, so we see some increased rental activity in Squamish due to seasonality at that time, but it is steady all year except over Christmas.
On the typical tenant profile:
It varies a bit. There are lots of young couples moving from Vancouver to Squamish. There are also lots of young families. Generally, these groups like to rent first and live in the area for awhile before they see what they want to purchase.
On average rents and absorption rates:
For relatively new condos, 1 bedroom or 1 bedroom + den, you can expect rents of $1,500 – $1,700 per mth. A two bedroom would bring you $1,800 – $2,200 per mth. A 3 bedroom townhome can bring you $2,500 – $3,000 per mth. We also have people renting basement suites, but the rent normally depends on the space and the finishings. Normally, tenants can ben secured for a property very quickly after the place is ready to rent. We don’t see units sitting empty for a full month at any time.
On the best buy in Squamish:
There are some new buildings in downtown Squamish that will be completed in the next 2 years or so that will impact the market – but it is too soon to tell. People looking long-term are purchasing a home with a basement suite or carriage house if they want to live in the area. Generally, if you invest in a condo or townhome in the area for rental, you shouldn’t have any problems renting it out.
On what type of property is performing better than others:
There doesn’t seem to be any type of property that is performing better in Squamish. We see demand for all types of properties and things are pretty even for demand between 1, 2 and 3 bedroom rentals. Areas also vary depending on the client. People interested in mountain biking will choose an area like Garibaldi Highlands, but eco-friendly or one car families might choose downtown. If you are a commuter to Whistler, you might choose the most northern neighborhood. All the neighborhoods are popular for the different people that are attracted to Squamish.
On the most active market right now for furnished or un-furnished rentals:
Unfurnished is in more of a demand. More people are looking to establish their roots in Squamish versus looking for short term rentals. Short term furnished are most popular with companies that have a short-term projects in the area or for families that are in the middle of purchasing or moving to the area. Airbnb is also popular, but generally, unfurnished long-term rentals are the most popular offering.
Find out more about Elevate Performance Realty & Management.
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