What Draws People to Nanaimo

I’m in the process of reviewing, editing and updating my main website. What I have up on my homepage is something that I have revised a few times over the years and I think it is worth re-posting here. Each one of the reasons I list below has the potential to be expanded into a series of posts in its own right (which I have also done overthe years on this blog) but this is an introduction to Nanaimo for those who are not so familiar with it or who don’t usually look at it from a real estate perspective.

So, here are the top reasons why people are looking to buy in Nanaimo (in no particular order):

  • Investment (for renting and/or reselling in the future)
  • It’s the right size of a town in the right location.
  • It’s totally beautiful here
  • Easy access to Vancouver
  • It’s much more affordable than Victoria or Vancouver
  • Job opportunities/Transfers
  • Retirement
  • Love of the outdoors and the ocean
  • Social Climate

Of course, an individual buyer will tend to consider more than one of these factors in various combinations and orders of priority. There are also other factors one oculd mention but this is the larger overview.

Let’s look at these one by one.


Investment Simply put, some people  are interested in supplementing their income by buying a place and reselling it in a few years once property value has gone up. This is often supplemented by renting out a portion of or the entirety of the property out in the meantime to reduce the mortgage and other costs. Sometimes people will live in such a home with tenants in a suite downstairs or even have them as room mates. We have been blessed in recent years with low vacancy rates and a market that weathered the recent credit crunch much better than most of B.C., which did better than most of Canada which did better than most of the world.

Despite the relative safety of real estate as an a form of investment, 94% of buyers in 2010 bought property as their principle residence while 4% are bought specifically for investment. These stats, like those below vary only slightly from year to year.

It is worth noting though that many people are buying homes which have a suite that they are renting out as a “mortgage helper”. In the past couple of years, new homes are built with such suites more and more as they make a larger investent in a home much more easy to afford.

Right size town, right location Nanaimo is central to most of the population on the east side,  the most populated side, of The Island. (That’s Vancouver Island to you non locals.) This is no doubt why people from all over The Island north of Victoria do an awful lot of their shopping here, as it’s the second largest urban centre on the Island.

At 80,000 people in Nanaimo proper, it’s big enough to offer more than just the basics but small enough to not have a lot of the social ills associated with large urban centers.

For example, you can drive from pretty much anywhere to pretty much anywhere else in Nanaimo in about 20 minutes or less. There are enough people from different walks of life and different parts of the world to give you a sense of community no matter what you’re into or where you’re from. It’s big enough so that you can always be meeting new people every day, but small enough so that you will  run into friends while out in public once every week or so.

It’s totally beautiful here This one is pretty obvious. Or rather, it should be. Those of us who’ve lived here our whole lives may not have noticed. I for one didn’t notice until I worked in the tourism information office and had a few hundred people telling me how nice it is here everyday. Then it really hit home once I started travelling a lot.

Some countries have a lot of history and old culture to enrich their lives, this tends to come at the cost of having a lot of population, and by definition comes at the cost of a lot of land having been used for human uses for centuries or millennia  rather than more pristine natural uses. Canada is a country that doesn’t have thousands of years of architecture and cultural history. Instead, as a young country, we have a plethora of natural places. And in my (well travelled) opinion, there are few places as beautiful as Vancouver Island in Canada despite its massive size.  Our biggest competition in my eyes comes from North Ontario and The Rockies. They are however both an awful lot colder than here and the former has… well let’s say it has a lot of bugs and leave it at that.

Easy access to Vancouver Most people living on The Island take the ferries to Vancouver, which takes about 2.5 hours or so including boarding and driving time in addition to riding the ferry itself. These being the kind you can take a car on, take the bus or ride as a foot passenger.

You can also fly from inside the city of Nanaimo to downtown Vancouver or Vancouver International Airport by float plane in about 20 minutes. We also have a small airport south of town from which you can fly to Vancouver’s airport. Such easy access to Vancouver International Airport makes easy travel from here to anywhere you might want to go.

More affordable than Vancouver or Victoria The latest statistics available as I write this show that the average sale price of a house in Nanaimo is a little less than 60 percent of prices in Victoria, and less than half of prices in Vancouver.

I have had a number of clients over the years who have sold a modest home in the Vancouver area and used the equity to buy a home here. Because it is so much less expensive, they end up getting a much nicer home for less per month.

Job Opportunities/Transfers Some people are moving here because they’ve been transferred here or have been given a really good job opportunity. They often work at Vancouver Island University, Shaw’s rather large service centre, or Nanaimo regional  Hospital which serves people from Nanaimo as well as much of the Island  for example. There are of course many other smaller facilities and businesses that people are involved in.

Retirement The Island has long been a popular place for Canadians to retire.  Coastal B.C.’s mild winters bring little snow and lets it remain green year round which offers an alternative to the cold Canadian winters east of here that Canada is known for. The surge of retiring baby-boomers is just beginning and their demand for quiet, convenient, comfortable and charming places to live is just beginning as well.

Love of the outdoors and ocean There is so much to do here for people who like to get out into the great outdoors. We of course have a wide array of sports to offer like hockey, rugby, football, golf, track sports, basketball, motocross, skate parks and much more. However, these are just the beginning. The location of Nanaimo, central on an island where the ocean meets the thickly forested mountains, opens opportunities to take up sailing, fishing (saltwater and freshwater), boating and water sports of all kinds,  hiking, mountaineering, rock climbing, kayaking, canoeing, skiing and more. If that’s not exciting enough for you, there’s also skydiving, bungee jumping, mountain biking and so much more that it’s too much to mention here. This is truly a world class location for outdoor experiences.

It’s not just about activites though.

This also reveals itself in the types of homes people are buying and what is available for people to buy.  In 2010, 47% of all homes sold in Nanaimo had an ocean view, and 7% were ocean waterfront.
On the freshwater side, there were 3.1% with a lake view, 2.7% were waterfront on a creek or river and 2% were waterfront on a lake. 36% had a mountain view.

Social Climate Canadians are known for being sincere and caring and  people from The Island is certainly no exception. Many people are drawn here from other countries by the comparatively stable/safe social climate, and other Canadians are often drawn here because off the more relaxing pace of life. Another factor is the variety of cultures that we have in one place, there seems to be a community for anyone from anywhere to be a part despite the towns modest size. A true cultural mosaic.

I’ve so often heard people who’ve moved to Nanaimo from off The Island describe it as a beautiful secret or even as a “hidden green jewel” or as “like living in a park”. But the secret seems to be getting out.  Even people who’ve lived just across the water from it, in Vancouver, for years are giving it a second look.

But don’t take MY word for it. Spend some time reading about Nanaimo online, have a look at us on google maps, especially the street view function and get an idea.  There is lots more about this in both writing and other media on my blog in the Nanaimo Profile and Events section.

Ryan Coffey