This post was written using a transcript from Tony's February 2024 podcast. It’s been edited for clarity.
TONY: High housing prices on the Sunshine Coast are inspiring some homeowners to relocate to the more affordable Alberta. I'll talk with Calgary Realtor Felix Chan, and find out why you might want to move to Calgary.
Best part of living in Calgary
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TONY: Felix Chan started in real estate in 2009 and is a Realtor with Real Broker in Calgary, Alberta. He's also a longtime mortgage broker with Swivel Mortgage, which gives him an incredible insight in all parts of the home buying journey. Felix, if someone's thinking about relocating to Alberta, what would you say are the best things about living in Calgary?
FELIX: Well, Calgary has gone through a massive transformation over the years. I mean, today we have about 1.4 million people, so it's not exactly a small town. But some interesting facts about Calgary is that in 2022, it was ranked the third most livable city in the world, and this was based on stability, healthcare, culture, education, and infrastructure. In 2023, we did slip to number seven, but we're still on the list. And another thing that's interesting is we have the second-largest number of corporate head offices in the country, only behind Toronto. And a really cool project that I'm pretty excited to watch get built is the hyperloop transportation system. Have you heard of that before, Tony?
TONY: No, I haven't. What is it?
FELIX: It's a $688 million high-speed project. This is a high-speed transportation system from Calgary to Edmonton, and eventually they want to expand this out to Banff and Canmore, which is one of the most popular places here in Alberta. So it's pretty exciting.
Why is Alberta more affordable than BC?
TONY: Being on that most livable city list, I'm sure a big part of that is affordability, and that's always been a challenge here in BC. Why do you think that in general Alberta is more affordable than BC?
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FELIX: Well, first of all, unlike other provinces, Alberta doesn’t have a land transfer tax. So that alone saves buyers thousands of dollars when they're purchasing property here. We have no PST, only GST, which is 5%, and we have higher wages compared to any other province in Canada. So when you add all of those things up, including the lower priced homes that we have, it makes Alberta pretty attractive, which is why we're seeing so much net migration to our province.
How bad is Calgary's weather?
TONY: Like a lot of people, I fell in love with Calgary during Stampede. The last time I was there, I was told that was the sunniest city in Canada. And coming from BC, you really do miss that sun. But while I was there, I also heard from a cab driver about Tornado Alley and a whole bunch of hail. Everyone I met in Calgary during Stampede said, "This is beautiful, it's the sunniest city." But realistically, how is the weather? Is it a big impact on your lifestyle?
FELIX: In the summer it's great. And it's not humid here, unlike like the Okanagan or some of BC’s coastal areas. It's dry heat in Calgary, so it's pretty comfortable and it wouldn't get too hot most of the time unless we go through a heat wave.
TONY: What are we talking about? 30 degrees is kind of hot, 35 or...?
FELIX: Yeah, it doesn't usually get hotter than 34, 35, and that's during a heat wave, but typically it doesn't really get hotter than 30.
TONY: What about bugs? Do you have a lot of bugs like mosquitoes, flies, that kind of thing?
FELIX: We have a fair share, but not to the point that you can't go outside.
TONY: So you can have an outside barbecue in the backyard and you're not getting eaten alive?
FELIX: Exactly. Winter's a little bit different. That would probably be the biggest adjustments for Sunshine Coasters considering a move to Calgary. We have two types of snow here. We have wet snow, and then we have dry snow. The wet snow is going to be a problem because during the day it falls as kind of rain, and then overnight it drops to below zero, and then it freezes. And the streets, it is just black ice on the road.
FELIX: Yes. So I would recommend getting winter tires. I know that's a rule in BC if you're driving on the highways, you do need them here. It does make a massive difference and you just have to bundle up. Being an active guy, I heard a great quote, which was, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad preparation," in terms of clothing and just making sure you're warm. And in the wintertime, in our cold snaps, like last year we had two weeks of a cold snap. It got down to minus 30, minus 33, but most of the time it's in the teens, the negative teens. So the first winter may be a little bit of an adjustment period, but after that you kind of get used to it.
Calgary continues to transform
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TONY: Is there any other ways that you want to mention that the city is transforming?
FELIX: The first thing is just like any other city, we are trying to build a more dense city. Even though we’re very urban, you do need a car to get around Calgary. But what the city is doing is they're blanket rezoning parts of the Calgary. And so what's happening is previously in the inner city – most Calgarians call the city centre “inner city” – owners were allowed one structure on a standard 50 by 120 lot. But now, the city is allowing people to build up to eight units on one lot.
FELIX: On the corner lots and inside streets, you can build four townhomes either side by side or two in the front and two in the back, and you can build an additional four more legal basement suites here. So it's going to bring a lot more housing and density of course, to the city, but also it provides more housing options and investments funds as well too. A lot of investors are selling their properties out in Ontario and allocating funds here to invest just because of these unique opportunities. And Calgary, I think, is on the forefront of being able to create these high density investor friendly investments.
TONY: It seems that you definitely are on the cutting edge of that, and it seems anyway, to be less red tape to get approval for that kind of thing, which has been a challenge in BC and resulted in fewer options as far as housing and affordability goes.
Outdoor activities in and around Calgary
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TONY: Switching gears a little bit, what are the opportunities for outdoor activities? Here on the Sunshine Coast, we enjoy a lot of hiking and boating and that kind of stuff. What's going on in and around Calgary when it comes to outdoor activities?
FELIX: Not many people know this, but Calgary is very activity focused. We actually have two of the world's largest YMCAs right here in Calgary. They built the world's largest one in the northwest of Calgary in Rocky Ridge, and then they built a new one and a bigger one just a few years later just down in the Southeast. But of course for people that love the outdoors, they do move to Calgary because we have the Rocky Mountains. They're about 45 minutes to an hour away. You could go biking or fat biking in Bragg Creek, which is a little town, about 45 minutes away. Fat biking is when people take their bikes out in wintertime and ride their bikes in the snow or ice or whatever it is. The tires are super, super thick, so that's why they call it fat biking.
FELIX: You could go cross-country skiing. A big popular one is Confederation Park, which is actually a city-owned golf course in the summertime and maintained cross-country skiing tracks in the wintertime, that you can use for free. You can go to Canmore Nordic Centre, which is about 45 minutes away. They have a Nordic centre there with tracks that you could go to for the day.
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FELIX: In the summertime, there's Barrier Lake, which is 45 minutes away. You can go paddleboarding. You can float down the Bow River, right in Calgary. But when we're looking at being in the Rocky Mountains, there’s hiking and snowboarding about an hour to maybe an hour and a half drive to Lake Louise. But in the summertime, you have to be careful and make sure you bring bear spray because recently we've had quite a few grizzly sightings and grizzly attacks. So you just have to be very aware of safety and the environment and the dangers that come by. And as long as you're looking out after yourself with the proper equipment, you should be okay and be able to enjoy the great outdoors.
TONY: I guess just read the signs and be bear aware and you'll be all right. Don't go to try and pet the wildlife or anything like that.
FELIX: Yeah, especially the grizzly bears.
TONY: (joking) But black bears? No problem!
Relocating from a small town
TONY: The Sunshine Coast is a relatively small town about 45 minutes away from Vancouver. If someone is relocating from the Sunshine Coast, is there a specific neighbourhood that you'd recommend in Calgary?
FELIX: Not within Calgary. But if you wanted a small town vibe, you’d be looking at nearby Cochrane, which is just west of Calgary, or Airdrie, which is north of Calgary. Airdrie has about 65,000 people. Just curious, how many people are on the Sunshine Coast?
TONY: We're filming is Gibsons, which is about 5,000 people year round. The next closest town is Sechelt, that's around 10,000. And the whole lower Sunshine Coast, which is a landlocked peninsula, is about 27,000. In summer that'll balloon out, probably double for a few months.
FELIX: Okay, if you’re coming from around Gibsons, Cochrane would probably be a better fit. It is older, it's not as developed. In fact, Garmin has its head office in Cochrane. Garmin said most of our people are outdoors people, mountain people, and they want to be where their customers are and where they're using most of their products. So it's pretty cool to see a big company like that come in and stay, not in Calgary itself, but really nearby. So Cochrane would probably be the best. Or you could go down south. There's Okotoks, but it is a further drive. But there are communities just outside of Calgary if you're truly looking for that small town vibe.
$500,000 price point in Calgary
TONY: Let's look at a couple of different real estate price points. If someone was looking to buy in Calgary for around $500,000 – a number that doesn’t buy much of anything in Vancouver or even on the Sunshine Coast – what can you buy in Calgary?
FELIX: The benchmark in Calgary for the average detached home is $700,000. So detached homes are typically outside of that range, but under $500,000 in Calgary would get you a townhome or condo. Townhomes, you're probably looking at 1,200 square feet or so. And the last time I looked at it, you can get something pretty nice for around $440,000.
TONY: Totally affordable. Wow.
FELIX: That would be a mix of older, but also newer in the suburbs. As for Calgary condos, you can get something right downtown, a two bed, two bath, newer condo building. If any of your viewers are ever interested in knowing or seeing what some of these condos look like, I do have some video tours that I've done on my YouTube, so they're more than welcome to check it out.
$900,000 price point in Calgary
TONY: Say buyers have a bit more of a budget and really want to get into that detached home market. What are they buying for say, $900,000? Are they in a nice neighbourhood? How many bedrooms and bathrooms are they looking at?
FELIX: If your budget is up to a million, you're in a really good position. You have lots of options anywhere from inner city all the way to the suburbs. In the inner city you would be able to get an infill duplex. So in Calgary, when I was talking about how builders are just knocking down old homes and they're building these 8-plexes, they're also building either single-family detached or most often duplex infills. You can get a very nice infill duplex for about $900,000. And for $900K in the suburbs, you can get something that's pretty much brand new or within the last three to four years.
FELIX: Some of them may have a separate entrance and developed basement, some of them legal. And there is a big difference in value between an illegal basement suite versus a legal basement suite. You're looking at anywhere from $20K to $40,000 difference. And so if people want to add value to their basements and legalize it, there's a really good opportunity to do that because a city wants more of that. So it's a great mortgage helper. In fact, one of the listings I have coming up, they're getting $2,500 a month in their basement just from Airbnb.
FELIX: And this is a 2018 build, 2,100 square feet, and it's in the suburbs, so relatively new. And you can find those types of properties. So if your demographic is older and they want that mortgage helper, they can do that.
Basement suite regulations in Calgary
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TONY: There's no problem with a legal basement suite being Airbnb if the owners live in the other part of the house? Are there any restrictions because of Airbnbs?
FELIX: Well, there are two things I want to mention. The first is most basement suites in Calgary are illegal. The city recognizes this and acknowledges it, which is why starting two to three years ago, they're really pushing the entire city to legalize their basement suites by waiving permit fees and development fees and all that kind of stuff. It started out as a test project and it's been so successful now that they've extended the program and they're encouraging everyone to convert their illegal basement suites to legal. To answer the second part of your question about Airbnb restrictions, the last time I checked, you had to get a license with the city for short-term rentals. Short-term, meaning anything that's rented less than 30 days.
FELIX: And it's about a hundred bucks, and that covers you for four doors. So you do have to get that-
TONY: Wow. Very reasonable then.
FELIX: Yeah. I mean, the income you receive from that should be more than a hundred dollars, right?
TONY: You'd hope.
FELIX: I think the license is just so the city can keep track of the ratio between say, short-term rentals and owner-occupied homes. And I think they're doing a pretty good job about that. The fee structure could change by the time this video comes out though. The city is always evolving in their permitting and they are trying to get rid of the red tape to make it easier for not only city counsel, but for homeowners trying to legalize their basement suites.
Contact Realtor Felix Chan in Calgary
TONY: Well, you've done a wonderful job selling Alberta and selling Calgary specifically, so I'm sure there's going to be some people looking to move there. How do they get in touch with you?
FELIX: There's a few ways. We do have a contact us section in our YouTube channel in every one of our videos. Our YouTube channel is LiveInnerCity Real Estate, or you could just type in Felix Chan in YouTube and you'll find me all over YouTube. And also on Instagram, on social. Instagram, we have LiveInnerCity and my account is @felixchan.me.
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If you’re not already working with an agent, call me when you’re ready to buy or sell and I’ll guide you through the busy and competitive real estate market on BC’s BEAUTIFUL Sunshine Coast.
Tony Browton - TeamTrueBlue.ca
Personal Real Estate Corporation
RE/MAX City Realty (Gibsons)
Email: Click here to email Tony
Personal Real Estate Corporation
RE/MAX City Realty (Gibsons)
Email: Click here to email Tony
⚠️ DISCLAIMER: This blogpost is not intended to cause or induce breach of any existing agency agreement.