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March 3, 2009: "Realtors Billy D & Kathi G Lewis were presented with the International Diamond Award at a presentation held by Coldwell Banker..."
"Canadians seek Coachella Valley deals
Strong dollar boosts buying power"

Gerald Vander Pyl
For the Calgary Herald

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The headlines say it all: "Canadians with cash boost home sales in the desert. Local housing market ripe for loonie. Canadian buyers finding factors in their favor in the Coachella Valley."

Newspapers in southern California's Coachella Valley and communities such as Palm Desert, Palm Springs, and Indian Wells are reporting on a growing trend: Canadian buyers headed south to purchase recreation property in the sunny desert valley.

Billy D. Lewis of Coldwell Banker in Indian Wells has also noticed plenty of Canadians looking for real estate in the area, drawn by the strength of the Canadian dollar and the large supply of available real estate.

"It's buyers' market in a lot of ways," says Lewis. "We have an abundance of product, sitting here and waiting, (and) your exchange rate power has put you up to the point where you're buying very cost effectively."

The value of properties in the Coachella Valley have slipped from their highs of a few years ago, but are down less than 10 per cent in most cases, so people shouldn't expect to find distress sales and homes at 50 per cent off, he says.

But with the rise in real estate prices in many areas of Canada, Lewis says the valley offers some good value for people looking for a second home or vacation property.

Most Canadians are looking at either condominium units in gated communities, or homes in 55-plus retirement developments that are like communities unto themselves, he says.

Prices for condominiums vary, depending on the level of amenities for owners, says Lewis .

You can find a basic one-bedroom condo with car port parking starting from about $125,000, or a similar sized unit in a complex with a garage in a golf course community starting at $200,000 to $250,000 US, he says.

Association fees, similar to Canadian condo fees, also vary widely depending on a building's amenities.

Lewis says fees can be as little as $75 US per month, or upwards of $500 to $600 in higher end developments with all the features.

In the popular 55-plus developments, one-bedroom homes start from around $200,000 with a two-bedroom priced from the high $200,000s.

Typical association fees would be about $200 US per month.

Many of the 55-plus developments are like a country club without the fees, and can have fitness centres, swimming pools, ballrooms and other elaborate facilities for residents, says Lewis.

Some have upwards of 5,000 homes and include stores, restaurants and even a post office, so residents have all the amenities they need close by.

Lewis says traditional single-family homes in the Coachella Valley are also drawing the interest of Canadian buyers, who choose a location according to their particular hobbies or interests.

For example, the city of Indio hosts a major horse show each year, and some Albertans who have attended the show for years have now purchased a home with stable or other horse facilities to use during visits, he says.

Prices for a basic residential home can start from $250,000 US for a two-bedroom, two-bath of about 1,300 square feet in a gated community, and run into the millions of dollars for a custom-built estate home of 6,000-plus square feet.

Even with the recent slowdown the longterm outlook for the Coachella real estate market remains positive, says Lewis.

Compared with some other desert areas where recreation property is popular, the valley has several things working in its favour, he says.

First, the area is not facing a water shortage, unlike some other desert communities, due to its location on a major underground aquifer that is a more reliable source than surface water.

Lewis says the area is also growing in popularity as a retirement community with the large number of baby boomers who are looking at a warm-weather place to live, which helps to stabilize the market.

Combined with the favourable exchange rate, any Canadians looking for property as a longterm investment will find the Coachella Valley worth a look, he says.

"They will able to park the loonie in a very safe location, because no matter where it goes, up or down, longterm the real estate market in this valley is going to be stable and growing for the next 25 years," says Lewis.

© The Calgary Herald 2008

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