Corridor of power

A growing urban and industrial centre in the heart of Alberta, Red Deer has remained unbowed through the economic downturn that roiled some of Alberta's oil-bound communities. The economy here booms, but it doesn't boil, thanks to diversification.

Moreover, its location between the province's two major centres makes it a pivotal municipality for companies that want to serve the two major metropolitan markets. Data from the 2006 census showed Red Deer and the surrounding region growing at twice the provincial rate, posting 22 per cent growth in population. Population now stands at approximately 90,000 residents. The growth has ensured a steady stock of new housing.

Just less than half the homes in Red Deer and the surrounding area are less than 25 years old (13,975) and most of these (94.5 per cent) are in good repair. It's a tidy Prairie city, complete with a college and connections to the rest of the world.

"It's quite attractive from that point of view for lifestyle," said Ash, who adds that affordable housing also speaks in the city's favour.

The median price for a single-family dwelling in Red Deer proper is about $325,000, according to Central Alberta Realtors Association statistics.

Homes in rural areas surrounding the city were averaging $283,500. Both are up from last year, but still affordable compared to the turbo-charged markets of Calgary and Edmonton.

"Red Deer is becoming more attractive for transportation companies, for instance, simply because the cost of housing is cheaper than it is in Calgary or Edmonton and it is ideally situated in the province."

Indeed, just a third of residents rent, according to the 2006 census, pointing to the demand for homes. This has made the city attractive to companies who want to invest in land with a view to various forms of development.

Patrick Galesloot, president-elect of the Central Alberta Realtors Association and owner-broker of Century 21 Advantage in Red Deer, said investors have been showing renewed interest in the city in recent months. All types of real estate are attracting interest, but its commercial properties and raw land that are seeing action first.

"We've had more investors, whether it's locally or out of the city area or out of province," Galesloot said.

The economic health of the community, its geographic location and long-term growth potential all pique the interest of property scouts.

"With the recovery in the oil sector we're starting to see some positive movement here now. I think long term, we've got lots to look forward to," he says. "The ones making the corporate decisions are saying, 'Hey, you know what, we're seeing good things out there in economic indicators and Red Deer is an affordable, positive place to invest in.'"

The activity is also seen on the residential side. While listings were up this past spring versus a year ago, sales were also up - topping 1,200 units in April 2010 versus 1,148 units a year earlier. With listings outpacing sales growth, however, this stands to create opportunities for investors to leverage selection to their advantage.

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