Lower Mainland real estate ‘refugees’ head to Vancouver Island for better home values, quality of life

The couple sold their 25-year-old townhouse in Walnut Grove in north Langley for $700,000 and, last December, bought a new 2,000-square-foot home, including basement, on a compact lot in the Cowichan Valley, near Duncan on Vancouver Island, for $432,000.

They pocketed the difference and packed their bags — with no regrets.

“We couldn’t fail to take that money off the table,” said Shelagh, who worked at HomeSense for 13 years. “Initially, when I thought about retirement, I was terrified. You hear there’s not going to be any money left for your pension, that you have to save for yourself, and I wondered how we were going to do it.

“Now, here we are, a brand new house — and so many wonderful things.

“Peter calls us Lower Mainland refugees.”

New figures from the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board show that Lower Mainlanders last year accounted for a record 26 per cent of home buyers on the Island north of Greater Victoria — up from 10 per cent just three years ago.

Four out of five are buying homes as their principal residence.

“They’re cashing out,” said Don McClintock, a Duncan realtor and president of the real estate board. “Not necessarily retiring; they may have a portable business.”

Most are middle-class — not affluent, by any means — fleeing the noise, traffic and humanity, and reaping a tidy profit in the process.

Often, they are flush with enough cash to buy a much better home outright — or, for younger adults, enough to get them out of condos and into a detached home and maybe even a bit of rural property.

“I’ve never had as many Vancouver buyers as I have now,” said Janice Stromar, a realtor 15 years in Nanaimo. “It’s a wide variety, including young people and those in the medical and tech fields.”

Rick Western and Susette Cote sold their half-share in a duplex in North Vancouver near Lonsdale just over a year ago and bought a near-new rancher near Parksville on Vancouver Island.

Susette Cote and Rick Western received half of almost $1.9 million from the sale of a 1974 North Vancouver duplex co-owned with relatives and bought a five-year-old, 1,400-square-foot rancher near Parksville for $448,000 in February 2017.

They thought about buying a condo in Vancouver but most wouldn’t take their black Lab, Reggie. “The dog is a big factor in why we’re here,” Susette said with a laugh.

Rick had worked for his brother’s window business and Susette for Safeway, and both are now retired. One factor in the purchase is that their two grown children said they’d be more likely to visit them on Vancouver Island.

Getting away from the ever-worsening North Shore traffic has bought them peace of mind.

And while Rick hasn’t made as many new friends as he’d hoped, he love