By Jeff Inglis, a Realtor with Homelife Glenayre Realty Company Ltd.
What it’s like living in the Fraser Valley
The best thing about it is the country living – with rivers, lakes, and mountains at your disposal, especially the further east you go. Yet, if you’re in Langley, you’re only 40 minutes away from Downtown Vancouver.
If you enjoy hockey or sports, as I do, it’s great to be at Rogers Arena within about 45 minutes. Plus, we’re close to the American border – Seattle is about an hour and a half to two hours away, and places like Mt. Baker is even closer. You can reach them very easily, especially from Abbotsford (of course, once the border reopens and we’re out of the pandemic!)
Living in the Fraser Valley is a little bit like a breath of fresh air, especially on this side of the Fraser River. It’s a little bit less congested and provides a reprieve and slowdown from the Greater Vancouver area.
Best things to do in the Fraser Valley
The Fraser Valley is great if you love outdoors and having space. Fishing, hiking, and just getting outside are great in the Fraser Valley. The best thing here is having access to the rivers, lakes, and mountains right at your fingertips.
There are also a lot of sports, like The Vancouver Giants that play in Langley.
Most unique things about the Fraser Valley
This will depend on where you’re moving from. If you’re coming from a city like Vancouver or Coquitlam, you’ll have more space to roam. You’ll get more bang for your buck in terms of lot sizes. Currently, there are a lot of unique opportunities with the expansion of development, especially in Abbotsford and Chilliwack.
Your dollar will just go a lot further in the Fraser Valley than it will in places like Burnaby, Coquitlam, Vancouver, or New West – places on that side of the river are becoming harder and harder to afford.
Biggest challenges about living in the Fraser Valley
Many people moving further east to the Fraser Valley still work in cities like Burnaby or Coquitlam, so traffic can be an issue. Some live as far east as Mission or Aldergrove and commute to Burnaby – this can be four hours each day!
Municipalities are working hard to figure out infrastructure, but we’re still lagging in terms of highways. They’re constantly upgrading Highway 1 – it seems that every time they’re done with a new part or interchange of the freeway, it’s already time for another one. For instance, by the time the Port Mann Bridge was replaced, we already needed another Pattullo Bridge or tunnel. The biggest challenge out here is that the infrastructure, especially from a highway standpoint, simply isn’t keeping up with housing demand and population growth (this population growth is a result of the Fraser Valley’s affordable areas – we saw people cashing out from 2015 through 2017, and even now. People sell their $2 million homes in Richmond, North Vancouver, and Burnaby to live, mortgage-free, in an $800,000 house in Langley, Abbotsford or Chilliwack).
Cost of living and what you need to make to live comfortably in the Fraser Valley
It’s hard to say, but there are a lot of union and construction workers, along with nurses, in the Fraser Valley. The average salary is likely in the $80,000-90,000 for union workers, but in a dual-income household, it should hopefully be around the $125,000-150,000 range. There are many parameters, of course, such as if there are kids and one parent is home.
From a mortgage qualification perspective, you need at least a $100,000-125,000 salary to qualify for a detached house. Even in Abbotsford, a detached home is $700,000-800,000 so you need a relatively high salary to afford one.
However, the cost of living is less in the Fraser Valley. Things like gas, property taxes and strata fees cost less than in other areas in Metro Vancouver.
Main differences from international and other Canadian markets and cities
Vancouver is unlike any market in the world. But when you go out to the Fraser Valley, you have this whole new world with clean air, where you can drink from rivers. There aren’t many places in the world where you find this.
I used to list Vancouver in the top-five places for real estate, with Sydney, New York, Hong Kong, and London being comparable. However, Sydney no longer allows foreign investment, Hong Kong will likely be under communist rule pretty quickly, the US, including New York, has so much unrest right now, and London is always dark and raining. This leaves us, alone, as the top place to live in the world.
As far as Canadian cities go, we don’t get winter! Places like Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal are nice but not like Vancouver. When we’re golfing in February, they’re shovelling snow from their driveways.
What to be prepared for when considering a move to the Fraser Valley
Bring your umbrella and be prepared for rain. From a real estate standpoint, there is lots of development and construction. The Langley area, especially Willoughby, has so much new development. There’s a lot of progress and everything is ever changing. It’s booming out here.
Recommended areas of the Fraser Valley for:
Singles, young couples, or first-time buyers – It depends on where you’ve established your career. If you need to be close to a SkyTrain to get to Burnaby or the downtown area, Langley is close and convenient and remains affordable for singles or those just starting out. Today, for instance, I’m listing a one-bedroom condo in Langley for under $300,000. Surrey is another great option, but it’s busier and, as a result, prices are getting higher.
My second choice would be Abbotsford, but it’s further away at another 40 minutes down the highway.
A growing family – Most families want a detached home with a yard that’s close to schools and parks. In order of preference, I would gravitate towards Abbotsford, then Mission, then Chilliwack (since it’s about a half-hour from Abbotsford).
You can get a lot for your money in Abbotsford – a nice, detached place (though maybe not new) for $700,000 on an 8,000 square foot lot. In Chilliwack, you can get the same for even less, at $500,000-600,000. There is a lot to gain from going a little further down the highway, and the further east you go, the more space you’ll have.
Empty nesters – Some empty nesters I’ve worked with have gravitated towards Harrison Hot Springs and Cultus Lake retirement communities. There are really good prices for nice places in a retirement community or resort-style atmosphere. The selection isn’t too wide just because there isn’t as much space to build on, but you have beautiful surroundings the further out into the Fraser Valley you go. Hope is great too, but it’s another half-hour from Chilliwack. The distance might be just fine though if you don’t need to go anywhere.
Investors looking to rent out a property first and move in the future – Anywhere from Langley to Chilliwack is great. Chilliwack in particular has really good rents; many investors are inquiring about condos there. Houses are great, too. It really depends on what you can afford.
Rents are high and vacancy rates are low – I’ve seen buyers list their new home on Craigslist and within 12 hours they have 25 inquiries from all sorts of people. Whether it’s a home high up on a hill with a view, or a condo centrally located near the hospital for health care workers, rentals are in high demand and hard to find. There have not been enough properties to rent out here; it’s been an ongoing problem for three or four years.
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