The fastest-growing cities in the just-released Canadian census reveal British Columbians’ renewed interest in slowing down by moving across the Strait of Georgia. The patterns are consistent with the resident sentiment in our Future of B.C. Housing Report.

By Chris Fair

Although you’d never know it by the gripes about Lower Mainland traffic, B.C.’s fastest-growing cities are not Surrey, North Vancouver or New West. In fact, the places with the largest percentage of population increase from 2015 to 2016 are not in Greater Vancouver at all.

The cities sitting atop our provincial slice of the just-released Canadian census are on Vancouver Island. As in: that place so many of us swore off, given spiralling ferry fees and difficulty in scheduling access.

As it turns out, we don’t seem to mind all that much.

In fact, the province’s fastest growing city for the past five years is the rugged (in so many ways) western suburb of Victoria.

real estate Vancouver Victoria

B.C. resident answers, by demo, about where they would most like to live if money was no object.

B.C.’s Fastest-growing City

Langford, part of the Capital Region District’s West Shore, is the historic flip side to Victoria—sprawling, where the B.C. capital is hemmed in by inlets, gorges and straits. As a result, it’s so much more affordable. It’s also the land of golf courses, monster trucks and mountain lakes, along with rivers and streams and all the outdoor pursuits that such terrain serves up.

Today, Langford boasts 40,000 residents, already almost half of Victoria’s 85,000, and it grew 6.7% in 2015/2016, after a 7.4% jump in 2014/2015. It is the engine that is powering the rapid population growth (and resulting real estate appreciation) of the Capital Region and the South Island.

British Columbians’ positive opinion towards Victoria, its suburbs and the South Island in general was expressed strongly in our Future of B.C. Housing Report.

According to our respondents, Victoria is perceived as a coveted place to live, with Greater Vancouverites identifying it as the second-preferred location to move to, after Vancouver. Notably, 23% of B.C. Gen-X respondents looking to move elsewhere (if money was no object) prefer Victoria, followed by 22% of B.C. Boomers and 18% of Millennials.

The real estate market is already reflecting the pull of the South Island. The local market is experiencing one of the most intense price spikes in recent memory, with a 23% annual appreciation in 2016 (according to the local real estate board). Although speculation abounds about foreign buyers being diverted to Victoria by Vancouver’s foreign buyer tax and empty house penalties, our research shows that British Columbia buyers are the most likely to choose the Victoria area.

“If you’re going to cash out of your Vancouver goldmine,” Urban Planner and SFU City Program Director Andy Yan tells Resonance, “you’re going to seek a place with most of the big-city sophistication on a smaller scale. In B.C., [a] smaller [version] of Vancouver [is] Victoria.”

Mike Nugent, the former president of the Victoria Real Estate Board, notes that it’s not just B.C. dollars flowing in. Homeowners cashing out across the country are making their loonies work harder by opting for the South Island versus the Southern States, with their 35% premium. To say nothing of the political tire fire.

real estate Vancouver Victoria Nanaimo Vancouver Island

B.C. resident answers, by demo, about where they would most like to live if money was no object.

Mid-Island Rising

Also in the Top 15 faster-growing cities in B.C.? Once-sleepy Island towns like Tofino, Courtenay and Comox.

In fact, Tofino, the idyllic town on the edge of the country, is B.C.’s third-fastest growing city with a 3.9% increase in 2015/16 – despite a shrinking population over the past few years.

Larger island cities are also growing quickly. Courtenay is up 3.1% after a 1.4% jump in 2014/15. Sister city Comox is up 3%, after a relatively flat 0.4% growth the previous year.

Property owners on the Island are enjoying healthy gains from the migration across the Strait of Georgia. The entire Island was up 7% in 2016, with the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board’s median list price hitting $350,400 while the average price of a single-family home was $397,375.

The Comox Valley is scorching, up almost 10% in 2016 with the benchmark home price hitting $354,100. Nanaimo, the second largest urban centre on the Island after Victoria, has always been a popular relocation zone, with plentiful housing stock and affordable prices. That all may change, with a year-over-year benchmark price increase of 6% to $367,000.

Not surprisingly, the Harbour City’s population grew by 2.9% last year, after a 1.7% increase in 2014/15.

The nearby retirement favourite of Parksville was also amongst the province’s fastest-growing cities according to the census, with a 2% jump last year after a similar 1.7% increase the year before.

To learn more about the sentiment of B.C. residents towards housing, plus the opportunities and threats to the provincial real estate industry, download your free copy of the Future of B.C. Housing Report, or get in touch with us.

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