“We’ve just come off an incredible five years; in 2000, prices started to rise and it came to that crescendo in 2011,” says Al Stannard, an agent based in Whitehorse. “We exist in a real economic bubble here, so when gold and mineral prices were high, we were fetching incredible returns.”
Markets are cyclical in nature, but in more isolated areas of the country, like the Yukon, housing follows a more severe pattern. Stannard says it could be another 10 years before the region sees the same level of growth that it experienced in the early 2000s.
And then there’s the blistering cold, which agents and buyers alike need to consider. But the region’s climate isn’t just a comfort issue; it also affects the market.
“Nobody wants to move in minus-40 weather, so come December [and] January, people stop looking,” Stannard says. “We don’t have a lot of action, from November to January. Listings start coming in February [and] March, then people start looking in April. So the winter is a great deterrent to purchasing.”
However, Alice Thompson, an agent in Dawson City, says many buyers are informed and look forward to the weather.
“Most people come here because of that,” she says. “They love the north, they love the climate and the wildlife and the nature and the scenery. A lot have been in the north before, they really like it. We don’t get a lot of naïve people coming here.”
Cost, though, does limit the buyer pool in the Yukon. Stannard says many buyers are drawn to the north, expecting cheaper properties, but the reality is far from that myth.
“There is a huge cost on materials, so that translates to rather high home costs,” he says. “People are used to coming from down south and they come up for the five-year plan, but they don’t realize that big pay rates include big home prices.”
Agents in the north also need to educate newcomers to the territory about the difficulties they’ll face securing property insurance and a mortgage.
“Fewer institutions will lend here, so I have a list of lenders who will work with people and who have had success,” Thompson says. “The other disadvantage, it’s hard to get insurance here. We need a local insurance agency because a lot of [insurance] agents won’t insure houses if they can’t see them and the agents don’t want to drive up here. So for some sales, most of my work is getting the insurance information.”
In Dawson City, which is located about 530 kilometres northwest of Whitehorse, Thompson says TD Bank and CIBC secure most mortgages. Thompson also works with some independent mortgage brokers who are able to pull together financing for clients moving to the territory.
Still, there are significant benefits to living and working in the Yukon. Thompson says many tradespeople can really clean up in the territories, since there’s a real need for certain skills. There’s also a robust agriculture market, due to the region’s extended daylight hours – “the farmers markets have the most incredible produce here,” Thompson says.
There is also a local RCMP outfit and a Canadian Forces base, as well as a strong mining population that also provides a steady source of employment.
As agents expand beyond their comfort zones in an effort to farm regions with fewer sales reps, industry players are increasingly looking to Canada’s north, but selling in the Yukon has its own unique set of challenges.