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Hospital construction affecting vacancy rate, home sales

The suspension of construction on the Grande Prairie Regional Hospital means there are more rental properties available in the city. Chair of the Grande Prairie and Area Association of Realtors Brent North says he’s hearing the rental vacancy rate has increased slightly since workers left in September.

“A lot of those workers that were here working temporarily took up a portion of the rentals and those have come back on the market recently… Graham Construction was looking for rental accommodations for over 300 workers, so that’s a big working amount of people.”

North adds that number doesn’t include any local subcontractors. Based on conversations with property management companies, he believes the vacancy rate has risen from below one per cent to around two per cent.

When construction was underway, it was also helping with home sales. While the value of homes sold through the Multiple Listing Service across the province dropped by 2.6 per cent from August 2017 to August 2018, Grande Prairie saw an 11. 2 per cent increase, tying with Fort McMurray for the highest in the province.

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North says that’s in part due to work on the new hospital bringing people to the region, as well as the Canfor and International Paper mills and retail stores. Largely, though, it’s been Grande Prairie’s position in the Montney region for oil and gas development.

“That’s been a big driver for our economy around here as well,” says North, “because through this whole downturn companies have still been developing the Montney formation, so that’s created a lot of jobs for the area of Grande Prairie and brought a lot of people to the area.”

At the same time, housing starts were 40 per cent behind 2017’s pace in August, and last year was the second slowest for new home construction in a decade. North says that’s because people who had to move and sell their homes during the downturn did so at low prices.

“Those prices have still remained low; it is a buyer’s market out there, but the construction costs did raise and that makes it hard for the builders to build the new homes and still see the margins that they need for building those new homes.”

North maintains this is a good time to get into the real estate market or to make a move, but argues that Grande Prairie is generally a safe place to do so because of its strong economy. The city currently has around a six month supply of homes on the market, when Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation considers three months to be a balanced market.

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