As LNG promise fades, property assessments decline in B.C.‘s north

CBC News | Andrew Kurjata | January 3 2018

While much of B.C. continues to see growth in assessed property values, communities in the province's northeast and northwest saw residential real estate numbers fall in a trend realtors have connected to the failure of a promised LNG boom to materialize in the region.

B.C. Assessment released its new valuations for every property in the province on Jan. 2, based on property information and market values as of July 1, 2017.

Of the 19 municipalities that saw a decline in residential property values, seven were in the northwest region and seven were in the northeast Peace River region. 

The biggest decline in the province was in Kitimat, in northwest B.C., where the average assessed value of residential properties declined by 17.9 per cent.

Market correction

Northern B.C. Real Estate Board president John Evans said the decrease in northwest B.C. was likely a market correction after promises of an LNG boom drove prices up in 2014, when Kitimat led the province in assessed value growth. 

"A couple of years ago, the difficulty in Kitimat was even finding something to rent, regardless of price," Evans said.

Since then, Evans said, many new residential properties have been built in northwest B.C. communities, allowing prices to come down. He also said that should a major LNG project materialize he expects prices to take off again.

Until then, he predicted stability in the region.

"Whenever you have a large project that's announced that takes its time to come to fruition, the market is going to stall," he explained.

'Praying for a miracle' in Fort Nelson

A similar message was delivered by Wynnette Lowes, a Northern B.C. Real Estate Board director and realtor in Fort St. John.

"For the first time in many years, it's a good time for the buyer," Lowes said, attributing the overall decline in real estate values to the decline in the oil and gas industry.

"It's definitely switched over to a buyer's markets. Over the years we've had a number of people leave the area to find work... so of course, our [housing] inventory has gone up substantially."

Lowes said she wasn't unduly concerned about these developments because home values in Fort St. John are still higher than other parts of northern B.C. and she's seen an uptick in interest in recent months.

Further north, though, realtor Cathleen Soucie said she had major worries about housing prices in Fort Nelson, in the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality.

Real estate values in that community have continued to drop following a steep decline in 2016-17, when the assessed value of the average single family dwelling dropped by almost 50 per cent.

​"It's not looking very good for Fort Nelson right now, definitely not," she said, noting that many sales in the community were bank foreclosures and some families were choosing to leave their homes empty without putting them on the market.

"We're praying for a miracle here," she said. 

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