Real Estate

Cottage Industry: Okanagan, “the million-dollar market”

Surging prices, bidding wars, blind offers—the search for seasonal real estate has become a battlefield. Tales from 10 of Canada’s hottest vacation towns.
Andrea Yu
A-frame house in Vernon, on May 18, 2022.

In the July issue of Maclean’s, and each week here online, recent buyers divulge what they had to do to acquire the cottages of their dreams: pool family money, send relatives for viewings, hop on the first flight to Atlantic Canada post-bubble, or buy sight unseen, sometimes from thousands of kilometres away.

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Average recreational property price (2021): $1,302,750

The Market: Thanks to its sunny climate, ferry-free access and plethora of golf courses, British Columbia’s expansive Okanagan Valley is a tourist’s (and retiree’s) dream. A recent wave of tech firms setting up shop in Kelowna has also attracted a slew of young professionals, and with them comes a desire to snap up the valley’s coveted vacation real estate. Between these two cohorts, competition for cottages and cabins is tight. In 2021, prices for waterfront properties in the central valley averaged $2.3 million; further north, they raked in upwards of $1.3 million each. Buyers are now hard-pressed to find lakeside inventory listed below the million-dollar mark—but every so often, they get lucky.

The Buyers: Ted Swan, a 37-year-old garlic farmer and lighting entrepreneur, and his wife, Laurel, a 37-year-old human resources adviser.

Laurel: My paternal grandparents, Jean and Heimo, emigrated from Finland to Vancouver in 1924. Every year, they’d ski at SilverStar Mountain Resort, which is 30 minutes northeast of Vernon. I went there with my parents and my younger sister, Lisa, as a kid. 

Ted and I now live in Vernon with our four-year-old daughter, James. We used to visit SilverStar almost every weekend, and in the winter, we’d rent an old A-frame cabin on the grounds. At the start of the pandemic, Ted and I thought about buying a vacation property. I knew that Lisa and her husband, Eric, who live in Toronto, were interested in buying a cottage in Ontario as an investment. I asked if they’d be interested in buying a cabin at SilverStar with us instead. They loved the idea.

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We wanted a place with at least two bedrooms and planned to spend between $500,000 and $850,000. In February, a 1960s A-frame went up for sale, which was rare. The same family had owned it for 32 years. It had three bedrooms, a porch, an open-concept kitchen with wood-panelled walls and a fireplace, all for $669,000. It was also right at the foot of a chairlift, so it was a ski-in, ski-out property. We viewed the cabin at 10 a.m. on the day it was listed and FaceTimed with Lisa and Eric while there. It already felt like home. 

We noticed business cards from four other real estate agents on the table, which meant four other showings had happened just that morning. On the offer collection date a week later, we bid $750,000. There were seven other offers, and I was surprised there weren’t more.

READ: A homeowner’s worst nightmare 

One buyer included a condition that he would pay $5,000 above the top bid, but the owners turned him down because he wanted to make the cabin a full-time rental. We planned to put it on Airbnb, but we wanted to use it, too. They chose our offer. I think our family connection to the resort helped us win.

We took possession in March, and Eric and Lisa flew in to help us with renovations. We posted the cabin on Airbnb soon after, naming it “Heimo Haus,” after our grandfather. Reservations were slow at first, but once we had a few reviews, the cabin booked up for the remainder of the ski season, which ended on April 1. We’re planning to add outdoor storage for bikes and skis, and to install a second upstairs bathroom and a hot tub in the near future. Ted, James and I spent about nine days there this spring, just skiing, skating, sledding, enjoying dinners in town and playing board games by the fireplace. We always leave SilverStar with full hearts.

This article appears in print in the July 2022 issue of Maclean’s magazine. Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here, or buy the issue online here