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The Current World of Edmonton’s Recreational Properties

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It seems like such a distant, rear-view mirror memory glance but after the pandemic’s flee-for-the-great-outdoors bounce, interest in Edmonton region recreational properties is still high, though maybe a bit stabilized from its peak.

Although provincial and Canada-wide recreational property prices vary, a tight supply and demand situation is similar – too much demand and not enough supply. From British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia, chronic low supply and growing demand continue to challenge Canada’s residential real estate market, particularly in the leisure-driven recreational property markets.

Despite spikes in benchmark prices and mortgage rates and some speedbumps in the economy, demand for recreational properties continues to vastly outstrip inventory in many cottage regions across the country, including Alberta. Specifically, in the areas within a reasonable drive for Edmontonians – from west of Stony Plain to the Pembina River and from Lake Wabamun to Isle Lake and Lac Ste Anne – the Edmonton region’s recreational properties continue as a hot market.

“We serve the areas within an hour and a half west of Edmonton, including Lake Wabamun, Lac Ste. Anne, Isle Lake, Jackfish, Lessard and the surrounding communities,” says Charlene Anderson, broker with Edmonton Lake Property, RE/MAX Real Estate. “Year over year, the hot spot trends can shift. Lake Wabamun lakefront is, by far, the most coveted and hardest to find property in the area. During COVID, we also had a major increase in demand for Lake Isle, and Lac Ste. Anne has also been very busy, year over year.”

While the real estate recreational property factors drive the market, the unique desirability factors of each area are obviously important when it comes to demand. Each area has its own features and selling points.

“Lake Wabamun has clean water and is a large lake with good depth,” explains Kelvin VanDasselaar, who is also a broker at Edmonton Lake Property, RE/MAX Real Estate. “It is very easy to travel to from the city; making a trip out to the lake on a spur of the moment very easy.  It has beautiful subdivisions and five summer villages. Lake Isle is a calm lake that has stunning sunsets and it’s broken up by small islands, making it the perfect place for kayaking and other fun. Lac Ste. Anne has very diverse communities and Alberta Beach is a tourist destination with restaurants, bars, a museum and lots of lake activities.”

He adds, “Each lake has great access and choices to many different golf courses and RV resorts, with more being developed every year.”

When it comes to Edmonton region recreational properties, low supply but desirability and increased demand continue to impact prices.

Anderson crunches the numbers to point out that in 2022, the Lake Wabamun area was consistent. The average price of lakefront Wabamun recreation properties was $851,000 and off-lake properties averaged $379,000. Lake Isle recreation property stats show an average lakefront price of $410,000 and an off-lake average of $258,000. Lac Ste. Anne had a lakefront average of $542,000 and $332,000 for off-lake.

There are several key differences between conventional home buyers and buyers of recreational property in areas like Lake Wabamun and Isle Lake.

“Our buyers are not traditionally first-time buyers and the payment requirements are different for recreational properties,” VanDasselaar says. “For many of our buyers it is a second property, but we are starting to see a shift of more people moving out here year-round as primary residences.”

Anderson adds that, “The uncertainty we saw in people about the interest rates rising has seemed to settled and consumer confidence is restored. Also, it’s a sign of the times, but Airbnb and similar online platforms are also bringing out different kinds of buyers.”

While commercial real estate usually measures the flight-to-quality trends based on location, value and other factors in the market, recreational properties focus on flight-to-quality-of-life.

Recent surveys show that a majority of Canadians living in recreational markets are happy with their chosen quality of life and recreational property sales activity is driven by young couples and families, empty-nester retirees, out-of-town buyers and some investment buyers.

Particularly in the past four or so years, technology is also a market driver, making a subtle but certain difference in the enjoyment and demand for Edmonton-region recreational properties. Transformational work trends like Zoom and other work-from-home tech options are not only blurring the lines between working in an office or working remotely but also between working from a suburban home or from a recreational property.

“During the pandemic, we definitely noticed an increased demand for reliable rural high-speed internet in our popular rec property areas,” Anderson says. “Upgrades have been made and it has resulted in bringing people out to live here year-round, away from the hustle and bustle of the city centers.”

According to the most recent RE/MAX Recreational Property Report, whether people return to in-person work or opt for work-from-home, combined with a positive trend of inter-provincial migration into recreational markets as a primary place of residence, the demand for recreational properties, especially in desirable areas like Lac Ste. Anne, Lake Wabamun and Lac Isle, is likely to continue this year. Liveability and affordability will boost the trend.

Real estate trends, particularly in recreational property markets, indicate a significant shift; not only in values and activity but a noticeable shift in buyers. For many years Baby Boomer generation was the primary driving force behind the recreation property market. For various reasons, things have changed. Generation X buyers (now in their 30s and 40s) are a factor in the market, now joined by Millennials in their late 20s and early 30s.

However, Edmonton’s recreational property positivity is laced with some prudent cautions about using these properties as speculative investments. Real estate experts advise against considering a quick flip investment strategy for recreational properties and they warn that it’s simply bad judgement to plan on an increase in value.

The projections underscore that, if a recreational property is ever considered as an investment, it must be considered a very long-term investment. Boomers who bought their cabin or cottage 10-15 years ago are not selling and considering that property as a legacy for their family.

According to numbers and past history, the majority of current recreational property owners plan to keep their properties long-term, with a majority stating that they are somewhat or very unlikely to sell their property, even at retirement.

Anderson emphasizes that, although recreational properties should only be considered as long-term investments, they are solid and secure investments.

“Based on recent sales equity, recreational properties in the Edmonton area are secure and safe investments. Also, with options of short-term rental platforms and with the short travel time to our capital city, there is a safe revenue stream if an investor is looking at longer term secured income.”

Real estate experts agree. Technology and two pandemic-disrupted years have impacted lifestyles in many ways, particularly the appeal of recreational properties. Some things have forever changed. The way we view our homes and our connection to community and nature has shifted.

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