August 29, 2008 Features & Images » Feature Story

The housing onion 

Peeling back the layers of Squamish’s residential real estate boom

click to enlarge District of Squamish planning director Cameron Chalmers. Photo by Dave Buzzard
  • District of Squamish planning director Cameron Chalmers. Photo by Dave Buzzard

Boom and Bustle

There’s a difference between house and home. The former is just a structure, a construct of wood and concrete, insulation and siding, shingles, nails and glue, something picked over by inspectors and showcased by realtors. It’s an early stop on the often expensive, always exciting and potentially defining continuum of personal success that typically fulfills itself through property ownership.

A home, meanwhile, is still a house, still has those fundamental characteristics. But it’s a house in full. Embellished by décor, charged with life and aglow with the resulting experience, a well managed and responsibly purchased home is a reflection of its inhabitants, a vehicle for their commune and sanctum for their happiness.

Jill and Dave Daniels are making their way down that spectrum. They’ve been in their home at the foot of Garibaldi Highlands for a year, but have owned it on paper for only a couple weeks. Together, with their 17-year-old son and their dog Kona, they made their way to Squamish from Ontario, renting at first and then wading into an explosive housing market, striking up a personal bond with their realtor and zeroing in on their $300,000 piece of the family dream. They’re not sure if they’ll stay, what with David’s career path lush with transfer opportunities, but, just the same, they make up a portion of Squamish’s shifting demographics, a good chunk of which are owed to the housing boom of the past several years.

As with much of British Columbia, the boom in Squamish has been heady and hectic. Were there a choir soundtracking the whole thing, its chorus would be the pounding cacophony of pneumatic tools and heavy machinery, backbeats drummed out by the incessant pacing of buyers, sellers and the brokers that move between them.

In 1998, the town’s residential tax base was worth $9,237,526. That number is now $15,376,234. In 2001, there were 3,688 single family detached homes in Squamish. Now, there are 3,935, and they house over half the town’s population. Strata stock grew from 909 to 1,679 during the same timeframe.

According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, there were 54 housing starts in the year 2000; in 2007, there were 240. Between 2000 and June 2008, there have been 1,289 housing completions. Single family dwellings are driving much of the new construction, with 95 of 117 residential building permits in 2007 issued for that type of housing. All that building was a symptom of intense demand, and prices surged in tandem, rising from an average of $307,260 in July 2003, peaking at $567,896 in January 2008 and falling to $467,590 in July, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver and Realty Link Online.

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