Canadian buyers help fuel Palm Springs real estate resurgence
Palm Springs real estate agents like Eric Meeks know well the lure of the desert for Canadians seeking the sun and a break from freezing winter temperatures, snow shovels and the kind of cold, blustery weather that turns umbrellas inside out.
Which explains why Meeks, who works for Coldwell Banker and partners with his Langleyborn wife Tracey Wrubleski Meeks, says 70 to 80 per cent of his business is Canadian buyers, mostly from the western provinces, and why he continues to see a growth in interest from north of the border. It doesn’t hurt, he admits, to have a Canadian wife who has helped their business grow courtesy of her Canadian contacts.
“We sometimes joke that other agents might pick on neighbourhoods that they ‘ farm,’ ” says Meeks. “We farm Canada.”
Meeks has lived in Palm Springs for the past 35 years and has watched both the local and snowbird housing market change over the years.
Today, he says, prices are rising, following a cyclical decline. For instance, he says, a home that cost $ 500,000 in 2006 would have dropped to about half that in the subprime crisis post- 2008, but these days, that same house is closing in on $ 400,000.
Traditionally, he says, his Canadian clients are baby boomers or retirees looking for a retirement getaway, or an investment, but that’s changing, with a younger clientele heading south searching for a vacation home.
And they know what they want.
“Canadians are looking for a south or west- facing patio with sunshine and a view. They want to be close to a pool. They want the Palm Springs lifestyle during the dead of winter. They’ll come down for a month or two over a year, and often rent it the rest of the time.”
As with any major expenditure, he urges Canadian buyers to do their homework, especially when it comes to purchasing and owning U. S. real estate.
American taxes are payable on rental income, for instance, and there are other taxes and considerations, such as what happens to the property when you die.
Cash purchases, of course, are less complicated, and traditionally the payment of choice because, until recently, Canadians had difficulty securing local mortgages.
And, comparatively speaking, at least for Metro Vancouver shoppers, Palm Springs is affordable.
“There’s still good deals down here,” says Meeks, including condominiums in the $ 100,000- to-$ 150,000 range, as well as mid- century modern homes, with pools, for $ 400,000 to $ 500,000.
As an example, he sold a three- bedroom, three- bathroom condo with all the attendant amenities to a Canadian from Saskatchewan, for just under the $ 300,000 asking price. It was built in 1990 and located in La Quinta, one of the nine side- by- side towns spanning the Coachella Valley.
And there’s no question that the resurgence of their popularity in recent years means that the mid- century modern “is leading the craze in the desert.”
Meeks remember his parents owning a mid- century house in the Alexander Estates, a now coveted Palm Springs neighbourhood where famed architects Dan Palmer and William Krisel partnered with the Alexander Construction company in the 1950s and began building affordable, so- called starter mid- century houses. By the mid- 1960s, there were close to 2,000 of their houses in neighbourhoods like Vista Las Palmas, Twin Palms and the Racquet Club, ranging from modest to expansive, but all renowned for their stylish and airy insideoutside lines, punctuated by glass walls, steel and concrete construction and clerestory windows.
Meeks’s parents sold their Alexander in the 1980s for about $ 120,000 and, over the years, as the mid- centuries fell out of favour for larger Spanishstyle homes, Tuscan villas and more nondescript condos, many of the Alexanders fell into disrepair.
Back on the radar, especially in the wake of the 2008 subprime meltdown, the Alexanders are once again a hot property, with hundreds of them being restored and renovated by mid- century enthusiasts, some of whom are flipping them but many who are choosing to fix them up and keep them.
And when they come up for sale, which isn’t as often as they once were, they’re fetching top dollar.
Palm Springs agent Chris Menrad bought a flat- roofed Alexander mid- century house last year for $ 430,000, and spent a year renovating and restoring the four- bedroom, three- bath house. He relisted it this spring for $ 842,000.
The home is one of about 90 Alexanders in the Twin Palms neighbourhood, built on a big corner lot in 1957, with 2,080 square feet inside and a now picture-perfect backyard pool and spa out back.
When he bought it, says Menrad, it was “basically a dead house,” and hadn’t been lived in for three years. It required a complete renovation, including the electrical and plumbing.
Menrad, who was surprised to learn the original architect Krisel was still alive, managed to convince him to help with the project, using the now 90- yearold’s original plans, as well as new drawings he did for the outdoor landscaping.
He enlisted Krisel for his personal Alexander home as well, which he bought as a vacation getaway in 1999 for $ 220,000. It was in good shape but he wanted to “bling it,” so he spent some time and not a little money on areas like the kitchen and more Krisel- designed outdoor landscaping.
A stock trader based in Laguna Beach, Menrad didn’t move permanently to Palm Springs until three years ago, drawn by the new- found vibrancy of the desert lifestyle and the architecture. He earned a real estate licence and, to date, has bought and fixed four Alexanders, though he says it’s more of a hobby — albeit it an expensive and time- consuming one — and he’s not about to give up his day job with HK Lane Real Estate.
While he seldom works with Canadian buyers, Menrad also acknowledges that his neighbours to the north are one of the reasons that Palm Springs and its environs are once again enjoying a robust real estate market.
“The big push for Canadian buyers was in 2009, right after the financial markets problems,” says Menrad. And it worked. “The Canadians came in and basically rescued Palm Springs.”