Is there affordable real estate in B.C. outside of Vancouver?

Check out Kimberley and Cranbrook for a dream home in the Rocky Mountains

Real estate in B.C. is not all the same. Find affordability and amenities in this location in the Rocky Mountains in southeastern British Columbia

By Virginia Rasch

A new house has wooden posts supporting the front porch with a canoe hanging from the porch ceiling.
Lots of wood and natural light are features of homes in the Kimberley and Cranbrook area of southeastern B.C. The canoe hanging from the porch ceiling alludes to the outdoor lifestyle. Photo courtesy Sandy Smith.

There’s a lot more to beautiful British Columbia than Vancouver, Victoria and the Okanagan. The illustrious Kootenays are tucked among the lakes, forests and mountains of southern B.C., which includes the Rocky and Purcell Mountains. Kootenay cities such as Cranbrook and Kimberley are so much more affordable than those overcrowded but well-known parts of B.C.

“With COVID-19, people are realizing how important lifestyle is,” said Sandy Smith, a seasoned Realtor® with over 20 years of experience in the real estate market in the Cranbrook, B.C. area. “Folks have discovered they can work from a home office so they can choose where they want to live.” And Sandy’s sales in the past year and a half have reflected that fact.

As the founder of Sandy Smith Personal Real Estate Corporation, she’s had a busy year and a half with the high demand for properties in the area. Her daughter, Justine MacDonald, is a licensed Realtor® and a partner in the well-known and very successful Cranbrook real estate business.

“With COVID, instead of people buying secondary homes as vacation rentals, we’ve had a lot of people from bigger centres like Calgary and Vancouver buying their primary residence as a recreational property when they realize they can work from home,” said Justine.

The real estate market has been so frenetic in Cranbrook and Kimberley that Sandy was advising some of her sellers to slow down and keep their houses on the MLS for at least 48 hours.

Who are these buyers scooping up real estate in the Kootenays? Sandy said approximately 70 per cent of the buyers are not from the region, that is, the East Kootenay. Most people are buying their primary residence but a good number are secondary homebuyers. They also include recreational property buyers, investors, and new retirees or soon-to-be retirees.

Because of the growth of the College of the Rockies and the dearth of rental properties in Cranbrook, Sandy is also helping parents—including international ones—buy houses for their children to use while they are in college.

A paved walking path follows a lakeshore with mountains in the background.
Walking trails and places to hike are bountiful in the Kootenays, such as this park in Cranbrook. Kerry Shellborn photo.

Why Cranbrook, British Columbia, is a great place to live and work

Cranbrook consistently appears on lists of the best places to live in Canada. For example, Cranbrook was Number 52 out of 415 communities ranked as best places to live by Maclean’s a few years ago.

The biggest draw of the Kootenays is the fabulous outdoor lifestyle and outstanding scenery. The region includes a huge diversity of lakes, parks and trails for four-season recreation. There are eight golf courses within a 30-kilometre radius and several are within city limits as well as several ski resorts nearby. Justine said that even at the peak of the pandemic, Kootenay folks went outside for exercise, fresh air and solitude.

In 2021, BC Business ranked Cranbrook Number 41 on its Most Resilient Cities in B.C. Formerly called the Best Cities for Work, the annual ranking was revamped to reflect the COVID-19 pandemic and a shift toward broader economic health. The Cranbrook area includes many employment opportunities and low commute times, a real selling point of the region.

“How many people have said I don’t want to travel and be in a vehicle for an hour going to work and an hour going home—I don’t have to do that anymore,” Sandy said.

Other amenities of the region include a regional hospital, a multi-purpose stadium with a local hockey team and an entrepreneurial spirit that creates many unique small businesses, including a local brewery and a local coffee roastery.

For folks who like to travel, Cranbrook is only 80 kilometres from the Canada/U.S.A. border. Not only does Cranbrook have a regional airport on the outskirts of the city, but there are three additional airports nearby: both Calgary, Alberta, and Spokane, Washington, airports are 3.5 hours away, and Kalispell, Montana, is close too.

“If you want to fly to Las Vegas, you can drive an hour and 40 minutes to Kalispell and get a direct flight to Vegas,” Sandy said.

Cranbrook and its surroundings are rich in historical, cultural and artistic amenities as well as restaurants and farmers markets offering local food and drink. (See sidebar below for a list of amenities.)

A brown wooden house on a slope has huge windows and a large wrap-around deck.
This exceptional home is an example of one of Sandy Smith’s listings, with mountain and lakeside views. Photo courtesy Sandy Smith.

Why Cranbrook is a great place to retire or invest in real estate

According to Sandy, people are selling their homes in more expensive markets like Vancouver and turning that cash into luxurious homes in the Kootenays with cash to spare—for renovations, travel or their retirement nest eggs.

Besides all the aforementioned great reasons to live in the East Kootenay region, Cranbrook has additional feathers in its cap because it has the designation of an Age Friendly City and it consistently makes the list of best places to retire in Canada.

Based on World Health Organization and federal and provincial criteria, an age friendly community is set up to help seniors live safely, enjoy good health and stay involved. It allows not only seniors but people of all abilities to continue to live happy, healthy and as independent as possible lives.

MoneySense, a financial media website, ranks cities in Canada as the best places to retire based on 33 categories, including health care, culture, taxation, amenities and weather. Cranbrook was ranked as Number 24, and indeed, Environment Canada reports Cranbrook as having the most sunshine hours of any city in B.C. The region has mild winters and hot summers.

“Cranbrook has a lot to offer all ages,” Sandy said. “With a population of about 20,000, it is a community big enough to have the amenities but still small enough to be a small community.”

Investors wanting to invest in real estate are attracted to Cranbrook because it ranks high in many crucial factors, including a strong economy, a high quality of life and population trends that show the demand by folks wanting to relocate to the area. Being at the junction of two major highways (Highways 3 and 95), Cranbrook is an important regional hub.

The snow-clad Rocky Mountains are the backdrop for an open expanse of tan grasses and evergreen trees.
Rocky Mountain living includes great scenery, a pleasant climate and year-round outdoor recreation opportunities. Kerry Shellborn photo.