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In the Press

Don't lose sight of reality when dreaming of green pastures

Ozzie Jurock

Calgary Herald
Saturday, August 26, 2006

There’s another side to the old saying “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” You’ve got to make sure that what’s green is really the grass and not you.

The senior executive of today reads in his local paper that his company is “lean and mean,” and he knows why. He just laid off 10 people — and he’s wondering whether he is next.

Each of the people he laid off did something, and now he is doing all their work, too. He starts earlier and stays later, and at night he doodles and thinks, what if?

What if I pack up my kids, grab a satellite dish and my laptop and move out of town? What if I sell the house in the city and really do it? Or, less dramatically, what if I buy a recreational property and have a place to hide for the weekend? He is not alone. People throughout North America are on the move.

Population growth in smaller towns is exploding. Californians move to Oregon and Arizona, New Yorkers joke about the rain but move to Washington.

The ski resorts and lakes are teeming with former city slickers clutching cash and the hope for the elusive “better quality of life.”

In Ontario, it’s the cottage on the lake, in British Columbia and Alberta, the cabin in the mountains. The roads into this Promised Land are a hot, sweaty affair — Friday afternoons (out) and Sunday nights (back). It’s a part of the price we pay for our preoccupation with getting away.

What is new is now families actually uproot and move out of town, and bring their jobs with them. Some commute to the city, some live in both places, and most try to turn their know-how into a new enterprise. The rate of population growth in desirable B.C. locations like Kelowna, the Sunshine Coast, Courtenay and Whistler far outstrips the national average. Many city folks went, saw and bought.

But, amid this idyllic vision, a note of caution needs to be sounded. As in with all investments, if you’re considering putting money into outof- town property you should start by asking yourself some questions. What type of person are you? Maybe you dream of “roughing it,” but could you, really? You dream about living on an island, but would your children take to it?

Trends are fine, and it’s important to keep track of them, but there are things to watch out for — particularly where the “herd” mentality is involved.

Nowhere do you find the herd instinct harder at work than in the real estate investment world. When times are good somewhere, everyone wants to buy in that locale.

Investors rush in like the bulls in the streets of Pamplona. When times turn bad, suddenly they become more like the people who run in front of those bulls.

In both cases there’s no shortage of competition — and a pretty good chance of getting gored.

It is as important as always, if not more so, to do your due diligence when the property is out of town. This is because you will be on unfamiliar ground in terms of the people, and perhaps the institutions and regulations, you’ll be dealing with.

Also, when you go into a new territory you are competing with area residents who have the advantage of local knowledge.

That can work against you — and, strangely, sometimes it works in your favour. Occasionally there are investment treasures right under the noses of the locals, and they just don’t see them.

Someone can come in from out of town with a fresh perspective and snap up something great that is going unrecognized locally. But you must always ask yourself: “Why am I so smart and so lucky that this plum of an investment opportunity is just waiting to drop into my lap?”

The answer might very well be that you are indeed smart and lucky — or maybe the locals know something you don’t.

You need to check and double check to make sure that your basic premises are valid. Only after you’ve done so is it time to act.

Just about every piece of land has a potential recreational use. That swamp might be just the thing for monied duck-hunters, and that windbuffeted cliff perfect for a hang-gliding enthusiast.

With that said, however, there are some truisms when it comes to choosing recreational property. The first hurdle: Selecting the right land for your pocketbook, investment goals and timeline.

Experts will tell you the right setting is often more important than the per-acre price.

A small but lovely piece on a knoll or next to a fishy creek will often be worth more and show better appreciation than that really big chunk of dull land.

Whenever possible, think quality, either present or potential.

In summary:

  • The herd instinct is always at work in the real estate investment world.
  • Due diligence is more important when you’re on unfamiliar ground.
  • When you go into a new area you are competing with the people who live there, who have the advantage of local knowledge.
  • The farther away from the city you go, the cheaper the land.

 


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