For these big-city homeowners who opted for smaller-town B.C. life—either before or during the pandemic—the change has been positive and lasting.
By Steve Threndyle
Back in 2019, tech recruiter Steve Sakamoto and his family cashed in on the rising value of their Coquitlam townhouse and relocated to Lantzville, the B.C. town north of Nanaimo that they’d visited on a family vacation a year prior.
Sakamoto is the kind of highly experienced knowledge worker who has been at the cutting edge of the telecommuting trend for over two decades. After his employer’s parent company filed for bankruptcy and he lost his job last October, he noticed with some chagrin that some potential employers weren’t necessarily interested in yet another virtual employee.
“Tech companies were already starting to tighten their belts and they were also beginning to demand a return to the office.” After completing a couple of short-term contracts, Sakamoto landed a remote-work position with Vancouver-based biotech giant Stemcell Technologies.
As a recruiter, Sakamoto believes that North American companies will lose out if they don’t continue to offer work-from-home options. “Technology has been developed to enhance human productivity, not to limit it.”
The Sakamotos have taken to Island life in a big way: they’re thrilled by the access to trails, beaches and all manner of outdoor activities. “We’re truly living in paradise and have no desire to move back [to the Lower Mainland],” he says.
RIDING A RISING TIDE
Similarly, the rising tide that lifted Lower Mainland real estate to unprecedented levels during the first two years of the pandemic prompted Ean and Sibylle Tinsel-Jackson to make a major lifestyle change.
“We had this big house in North Vancouver that we’d put onto the market in 2019 … but we didn’t get any bites,” says Ean, who has been a business coach in B.C.’s tech sector for the past 20 years. By 2021, they were able to re-list and get the price they were asking for. There was only one problem: “We had no clue where we’d go. We were going to be living out of our car if we didn’t find a place within two months,” he says.
Suitable houses in the places they liked, such as the North Shore, Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, were in very short supply and high demand. The Tinsel-Jacksons were already quite familiar with the Sunshine Coast, Ean, a keen ultra-runner, was the first person to run the 180-kilometre Sunshine Coast Trail nonstop, and the family had previously enjoyed kayaking in Desolation Sound.
A Powell River realtor virtually showed them two listings within their price range and said that they’d have to come up with a subject-free offer and be prepared to bid over asking price to secure either of them–common market conditions at the time.
There was a healthy margin between what they sold their house for in North Vancouver and what they ended up paying in Powell River, which doubtless eased the transition. Happily, the new house they selected had good bones and had been well-maintained, minimizing the risk they took on by making an offer that was not subject to an inspection before closing.
When Jackson decided to enclose the carport and build a garage, however, he came up against a challenging reality. “There are only a handful of drywallers here in town and they were booked up a year in advance.” Finding services for the family, such as a new doctor and dentist, has proven to be difficult as well.
“We said that we’d give it a year or two to see how things work out,” Ean says. “We’d lived in a lot of big cities and the timing was right to try a small town. So far, so good.”