The real estate market in Blaine and Birch Bay is about as unique as you’ll find. The old adage that the three greatest influences on real estate prices are “location, location, location” rings true from the U.S./Canada border to the bay, but for different reasons. Sure we have magnificent vistas of the Salish Sea and a backdrop of majestic coastal mountains, but if that was all it took we’d have no business vacancies and prices would be double what they are currently.
The number one factor in Blaine and Birch Bay real estate over the years has been the U.S./Canada currency exchange rate. When the loonie and greenback are at par, real estate soars along with dairy, fuel and TJ Maxx sales.
But when the Canadian dollar drops to 85 cents U.S. or lower, the real estate market shifts from Canadian buyers to Canadian
sellers. Currently our market is in limbo with a handful of Canadians who bought when the loonie was soaring now putting their property up for sale in order to cash in.
At the same time, one in four buyers in the area are still from the lower mainland. Fortunately, most homeowners, whether permanent or part time, do not treat their Blaine and Birch Bay homes as a way to play the world currency market, but as a place to enjoy and escape the trappings of big city life, if only for weekends.
Another factor in real estate sales is the price of fuel. When Canadian buyers wait out the fluctuation of the American dollar, we depend on higher prices in Bellingham to drive more local purchasers up I-5 to Blaine and Birch Bay where homes are typically 15–20 percent cheaper.
Interestingly, fuel prices (even when hitting $4 a gallon and higher) have more of a perceived impact than reality. For example, if a $300,000 home in Bellingham could be purchased in our market for $240,000 the buyer would save $60,000; that’s about 1,200 tanks of gasoline. I won’t bore you with more math, but clearly the argument that “gas is too high to commute all the way to Blaine and Birch Bay” does not compute.
Lastly our weather is much different due to the rain shadow effect than just 30 miles away in any direction. We enjoy on average only 27" of rain annually versus Bellingham’s 34."
Having visited every state in the country except New
Mexico and just about every province in Canada, I can confirm that Blaine and Birch Bay are the only communities right at the border’s edge where just across the fence we can enjoy the amenities of a large world-class cosmopolitan city while having the comfort that only a small town can provide upon our return to home.
So if we have the location, location, location theory nailed, then why are so many businesses empty and homes still widely available? Because just as we were getting our footing the recession arrived and caught many off guard like a late February snow storm, and it’s taken the entire country nearly a decade to dig out from under it.
One of the best things that happened, albeit in a very painful fashion, was the closing of the Semiahmoo Resort in December 2012. The ripple effect of lost jobs, tax revenues and overall drop in market confidence became an undeniable wakeup call. Suddenly the connection between business prosperity and public services became crystal clear, and as a result today much is being done to attract businesses, responsible development and jobs to both Blaine and Birch Bay.
Have a good look around, because we are going to see a positive transformation in our community over the next couple of years. It all starts this spring when the reinvented Semiahmoo Resort will emerge as an exciting destination for both locals and tourists. As home prices continue to rise in Bellingham, young families will be forced to come north in increasing numbers to call Blaine and Birch Bay home despite fuel prices. In addition, Canadians will always recognize that spending a little time on the quieter side of the fence has its benefits even if they can’t live here full time. Remember, they have the second least affordable home prices on the planet, second only to Hong Kong and their prices are rising once again.
Our city leadership is sending a clear message that Blaine is open for business, and is doing an outstanding job encouraging entrepreneurs both large and small to look at Blaine. Meanwhile, Birch Bay, recognizing its attractions, is busy working to enhance the shoreline and accessibility.
In the next article I will break down who actually owns our community according to property records using percentages and identifying shifting trends. One thing’s for sure, Blaine is worth betting on for more reasons than location, location, location.