B.C. has its own Wild West
With rattlesnakes under the rocks and the hot desert air perfumed by Ponderosa pines and sagebrush, the arid triangle formed by Hope, in the south, Lillooet in the north and Merritt in the east represents a B.C. landscape right out of a John Wayne western.
Visitors are also in the wild west when it comes to purchasing recreation property.
This is not the place for faux lakeside Arts and Crafts townhomes or palatial retirement homes along the fifth fairway of a championship golf course.
Rather, it’s land that appeals to do-it-yourself outdoor lovers and adventurers of all kinds.
Fisherman can wet a line in the many trout lakes that run all the way from Nicola Lake to the south to the Thompson plateau near Kamloops.
Dirt bikers can roam at will across a vast network of old logging roads and game trails above Lillooet.
Towns don’t get any more wild west than Merritt — which boasts Canada’s largest country music festival each July — and there are also opportunities in Hope, at the far end of the Fraser Valley and B.C.’s “gateway to holidayland.”
Real estate in this rugged countryside is less about “recreation” and more about “re-creating” your working life.
Always yearned to run cattle on rangeland?
Don yer Stetson and head for the Nicola Valley, pardner.
Want to grow wine grapes on a sun-blasted hillside for a fraction of the price of land in the Okanagan? Check out the benchlands on Highway 12 north of Lytton.
Care to take over a restaurant with a loyal clientele and proven cash flow, and live in a house on the same lot?
Look at Lou’s Restaurant in Lillooet. The $499,000 asking price also includes a four-bedroom house on the same lot as the restaurant on Lillooet’s main street.
Starting our journey in Hope at the junction of Highways 1, 3, and 5, longtime realtor Hans Jeschek says the town of about 7,000 attracts people who are drawn to smaller communities so that they can get to know their neighbours and become involved in a much more active way than in a large city or suburb.
“Our neighbourhoods are very mixed; professionals and business owners live alongside people of more modest means, and everyone gets along well together,” he says. “If you go to the local library twice a week, you’ll likely meet most of the people in town at some point.”
Jeschek likes the new Silver Ridge development where 70 units in a strata-title subdivision are being prepared for sale later this summer.
For $299,000, buyers get a level 45 by 90 foot lot and a two-bedroom, 1,500-square-foot house with no basement.
From a purely recreation point of view, there are cabins at Jones Lake and in the Sunshine Valley east of town. Despite its name, buying in Hope is not for speculators looking for a quick flip. “Prices don’t fluctuate that much from one year to the next,” says Jeschek.
From a summer recreation standpoint, it would seem that Lillooet has it all.
With a summer climate that would dry out the moss and mould from the most rain-drenched Vancouverite, Lillooet has enormous potential, that finally, after years of on-again, off-again interest, seems to be bearing fruit — quite literally.
Real estate sales surged almost sixfold between 2004 and 2007, from about 20 in the first year to more than 120 in 2007.
After attending university in the Fraser Valley, Lillooet realtor Chris Graham returned to his home town to sell real estate in 1998.
“Most of the listings here are resales,” he says.
“The developable land is very rugged and much of it is in the Agricultural Land Reserve. A lot of people who come from out of town are looking for someplace cheap to use as a base camp for their recreational adventures.
“I can put them in a modest three-bedroom rancher in town for under $190,000.”
What’s really exciting, Chris Graham believes, is the opportunity to develop commercial vineyards similar to those found in the Okanagan, but for a fraction of the price.
“A couple from the Netherlands recently purchased over 80 acres (32 hectares) just outside of town for under $500,000 and they will be planting much of it in grapes,” he says.
Indeed, recent agricultural studies have indicated that the region holds plenty of potential for commercial grape growing, something the locals have been doing on a small scale way for more than 40 years.
Graham reiterates that people considering a move to Lillooet should be prepared to embrace the community, due to its relative remoteness.
However, all of the major police, fire and health care services are available.
Over in Merritt, the “real estate blowout” phenomenon has spread from trendy Yaletown condos all the way over to the shores of Nicola Lake.
Century 21 realtor Doug Beech reports that waterfront lots listed for as high as $500,000 were recently auctioned off by Ritchie Brothers for $350,000 and $310,00, respectively.
“The buyers did very well there,” he says, with some lake view lots going for as low as $118,000 — a reduction of almost 50 per cent from a year or two ago.
For the entrepreneur who wants to combine a passion for outdoor adventure with a viable business, the Corbett Lake Country Inn is for sale, with Colliers International as the listing agent.
Corbett Lake is one of the Thompson-Nicola’s most productive trout lakes and access to the lodge is better than ever due to the recent twinning of Highway 97C (the Coquihalla Connector) between Merritt and Peachland.
You can purchase just the lodge, lake and 10 cabins on 24 hectares for $1.745 million, or 98 hectares across the highway for only $750,000.
Beech says the land is well suited for subdividing into multiple-acre lots, which he says plenty of people are showing interest in. “We’re getting quite a few requests for 10acre (four-hectare) lots from out of town, from people who want peace and quiet,” he says.
Right now, Beech is listing 2.6 hectares right on the Nicola River — a four-bedroom home and two outbuildings — for $620,000.
It’s refreshing to see a part of the province where people are more interested in the trails they will hike or the fish they’ll catch than the money they’ve made or lost on real estate.
If you’re plotting an escape from the treadmill of urban life, give this ruggedly beautiful area a close look.
Including a lake, the Corbett Lake Country Inn is priced at $1.7 million.