Through the summer, Columbia Valley residential real estate saw plenty of activity. Despite secondary market prices and listings declining in April and May compared to 2019, sales data compiled by the Kootenay MLS for Invermere (town and rural), Radium, and Canal Flats suggested a robust marked rebound.

August sales statistics showed significant year-over-year growth in sold and new listings: 105% and 37% respectively. For the month of July, there were 60% more sold listings and 15% more new listings. June saw a similar story though new listings declined 19%.

Year-over-year list and sale price for June, July and August have shown less drastic swings. August list and sale prices both declined by about 2%. July list and sale prices were down 6% and 3%. June meanwhile saw an uptick of 7% and 5% respectively. “That data is good, but it can’t be relied on too heavily for insights,” said Geoff Hill of MaxWell Realty. “We live in a big region with lots of different buyers for different reasons.”

Developers and builders note the valley’s new-build market is in fine shape. “I’ve had more calls in the last three months than I normally get all year,” said Richard Unger of Ski Home Ltd. Highland Crossing developer Larry Kerr shares the same sentiment. “There’s more interest right now, more people are looking.” Both Unger and Kerr have plans to bring more product to the valley. “Phase one sold out and phase two [of Highland Crossing] will kick into gear this winter,” said Kerr. Unger’s townhome development on the corner of 9 Ave. and 9 St. in Invermerein Invermere also sold out quickly. “It seems like anything under $500,000 is gone like that,” said Unger snapping his fingers.

Unger thinks strong valley demand is a result of favourable demographics and COVID. “There are more baby-boomers now looking to make the move to an area like the Columbia Valley for its world-class amenities. COVID has been a catalyst for that trend to accelerate. Most folks that I meet with are nearing approaching retiring age. And retirees now are more active than ever. The valley suits this trend well.”

But as Hill said, the valley has a diverse range of buyers with varying socio-economic backgrounds. Not everyone can afford Invermere. “There is increasing pressure outward from Invermere,” said Hill. “People are realizing that the small fortunes they used to spend on international travel can equal a down payment in the Radium, Fairmont and Canal Flats markets.”

A lack of inventory in the long term rental market has also contributed to more people choosing to buy. “When COVID came along, and people were locked in their house, once they could come out again, they did with vengeance. I’ve seen run on inventory in the last few months.”

Panorama meanwhile is also very busy. “Panorama inventory is at its lowest level in 23 years,” said Paul McIntyre of Panorama Real Estate. “Prices were rising from last summer through the winter until the resort shut down. But when it reopened, the market picked right up where it left off.” McIntyre thinks there are two main reasons. “With COVID people looking closer to home for their travel and the Columbia Valley has always been Calgary’s playground. The more important factor is the fine job the resort’s ownership group has done. They’ve pumped over $30 million into making the resort a better product, and they’ve done well in raising regional awareness. More people are realizing that Panorama is the best choice in the region.” Panorama is in the midst of looking to add new townhomes to address a shortage of inventory.

There are headwinds. Prices for some building materials has skyrocketed in recent months. “Plywood and dimensional lumber, basically lumber in general has tripled in price,” said Mandy Cox, Rona Invermere’s Store Manager. “Pre-COVID orientated strand board [a common lumber metric] l sold at $11/sheet. Since July, the price has gone up to $36/sheet. I’ve never seen anything like it. And it’s not just local the same has occurred across the country.” Cox believes lumber’s price spike is so severe, and the government should intervene. “It keeps going up. It’s at the point where contractors can’t honour agreed upon cost estimates. It’s very inconvenient to builders because they have to somehow pass that increase on to their customers. I’ve seen contractors quote $100,000 to sheet a house, and two days later, the cost has risen to $130,000.”

However, industry observers are confident the bullish trend in sales activity will continue through fall and into winter. “The virus reminded out of province buyers that life is short,” said Kerr. “They are now more than ever considering an alternative to the city with family and recreation in mind.”