‘Unprecedented’ demand driving real estate sales and prices in Canmore, Alta.

It was just minutes after a new listing for a $1.15-million home in Canmore, Alta., went online when real estate agent Jill Law’s phone started buzzing.

Three days and 31 showings later, she had received 11 offers for the property, including one from a family who wrote a personal letter to the seller and included a family photo.  

It appears to be the winning “bid” in a soaring real estate market that is seeing more multiple offers and properties selling above the asking price. 

Real estate professionals, market watchers and long-time residents say there’s a combination of factors at play, including the pandemic and low interest rates. But the sales surge and rising prices are raising concerns in the community — which still considers itself a place where families can raise their children rather than an exclusive playground for the privileged.

The average house price in Canmore is closing in on $1.1 million, according to the Alberta Real Estate Association’s benchmark price.

“Sales are up, the inventory is down,” said Dan Sparks, one of Canmore’s busiest real estate agents, who has been selling homes in the Bow Valley for 20 years.

This home on Grotto Road received 11 offers in three days. The offer that was chosen is believed to be several thousand dollars above the $1.15-million asking price. The family wrote a personal letter to the seller and included a family photo. (Google Maps)

But there are fewer homes to sell. There are approximately 100 homes on the market right now. When you factor in the number of sales, it works out to a one-month supply, down sharply from the usual five-to-six month supply at this time of year.

What does all of that mean? To put it mildly, it’s a sellers’ market.

“We’ve had exceptional sales throughout the Canmore area, but the listings and the supply haven’t kept pace,” said Ann-Marie Lurie, the chief economist with the Alberta Real Estate Association. 

“And that’s what’s causing some of the price gains that we’re seeing in that market.”

And some of those price gains have been astronomical.

A condominium hotel unit in Canmore recently sold for $50,000 over the $600,000 asking price. The seller had purchased the unit for $350,000 in 2016. (ReMax Alpine Realty)

Kelly MacMillan with ReMax Alpine Realty says she just sold a hotel condominium unit for $50,000 above the asking price.

The two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo — which has the potential to generate nightly hotel revenue — was listed for $600,000. The sellers purchased the property four years ago for $350,000.  

“There was an opportunity to cash out of the marketplace,” said MacMillan.

“They’re very happy,” she said of her clients.

Pandemic pushes demand

Sparks calls it COVID fatigue. Although he has been taking calls from people in Toronto and Montreal — and even a family in Germany — a good portion of buyers are people from Calgary and Edmonton who have been stuck at home for over a year and are looking for a change of scenery, he says.

Real estate agent Dan Sparks says buyers from Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal have purchased or are considering purchasing homes in Canmore as a result of the pandemic. He says people have the flexibility to work from home on a permanent basis and are choosing the resort town as their base. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

“They’ve been working from home for a while, and they can continue to do so. And if they can do that, then they’ll do it where they want to be,” he said.  

MacMillan agrees.

“Canmore, especially recreational markets, where people are discovering that they don’t have to be where they work. They have that work-from-home flexibility.”

Housing affordability

As the inventory dwindles, so do the opportuniites to find a traditional, single family, detached home. Sparks says last week there were just two homes listed for under $1 million — and only five were on the market for under $1.5 million.

Sparks spent several years on the board of directors of Canmore Community Housing, a town-owned corporation tasked with creating affordable housing options for people and families.

A 10-unit townhouse project is under construction and is expected to open in early 2022.

Construction has started on a 10-unit townhouse project on Lawrence Grassi Ridge in Canmore, Alta. It’s being built by Canmore Community Housing in an effort to increase the supply of affordable housing in the mountain town west of Calgary. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Already there are 150 people on the waiting list to either buy or rent a property.

“It’s basically just fingers in the dam,” said Sparks.

“Housing affordability in Canmore is always going to be a problem. We’re just going to constantly be working on that problem.”

The average condominium price in Canmore is now $500,000. 

New development, more affordable housing?

Canmore town council recently approved a series of amendments to the latest development plan for the Three Sisters Mountain Village (TSMV) on the east side of the community. 

One of the changes is a proposed requirement that the developer include 20 per cent affordable or subsidized housing — double the amount proposed by TSMV. A spokesperson for the developer says the company is still assessing the impact of the amendments and is withholding comment until the plan goes back to council on May 11. 

The proposed area structure plan for Three Sisters Mountain Village in Canmore will include a requirement that 20 per cent of future development fit the town’s affordable housing requirements. The plan will be debated again on May 11, 2021. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

The mayor says that while it will take years for those units to become available, council had to act now.

John Borrowman says young families have been leaving the community for years because they can’t afford to stay.

“We’ve been bleeding the next generation like that for years,” he said.

“If we don’t do something to ensure affordable housing is a big part of our future, the town will become … it will only be a place for the very wealthy.”

New housing options, slow uptake

The town recently said it would consider secondary suites to be built or legalized in existing neighbourhoods. Financial incentives are being offered to homeowners to add what it calls “accessory dwelling units.” 

So far, only three homeowners have applied for the $20,000 grants. 

A recently completed secondary suite inside a new $1.4-million duplex in Canmore. The town allows ‘accessory dwelling units’ in existing neighbourhoods and offers up to $20,000 in grants to help homeowners add the suites and expand the community’s affordable housing stock. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Dale Hildebrand is a local real estate agent and builder. He recently sold two duplexes that were listed for $1.2 million and $1.4 million. One of them includes a separate, one-bedroom suite. 

Hildebrand’s next project is in the early stages, but he’s hoping to redevelop several residential lots near downtown into 16-18 townhouses. Several will be purpose-built for employers to purchase for their employees.

“They can … rent them out to their employees at a subsidized rate,” said Hildebrand.

But as demand remains strong and prices climb, the market may be too hot for employers to consider employee housing.

Infill housing in some older neighbourhoods in Canmore, Alta., is increasing density. Two single family homes are being replaced by three duplexes that are expected to sell for $1.2 million to $1.4 million each. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

It’s a problem for the community, which has had trouble attracting employees.

“It’s harder for young people to find affordable accommodation,” said Michel Dufresne, the director of the Job Resource Centre for Banff and Canmore.

“It also makes it harder for small businesses to provide that housing for their employees. It’s become a bigger play when you have to buy a house for a million dollars to house five people,” he said.

“It’s very costly.” 


Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.

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