Saskatoon: an affordable oasis

Boasting one of the pre-eminent universities in Western Canada and abundant parkland as well, Saskatoon offers investors a stable community with an abundant student population in need of housing. While the city may seem lazy in the summer, it's the steady opportunities institutional workers and students provide that make the city a good bet.

Rental vacancies this spring, for example were running at 2.1 per cent - on a par with Vancouver, traditionally the country's most stable and steady rental market.

Pricing for homes in the city set the pace for rental housing, says Harry Janzen, executive officer with the Saskatoon Region Association of Realtors (SRAR). A boom in uranium exploration in the late 2000s gave average home prices a boost - 45 per cent in 2007 alone - but these have pulled back, making the city more affordable. Census figures indicate approximately one-third of households rent, but demand is picking up as home prices start to increase again with the economy's resurgence.

SRAR reports that the median sales price for a residential property in May was $285,000, well above the 12-month median sales price of $266,204.

Revival of northern Saskatchewan's resource sector is once again drawing people to Saskatoon, but there's also demand for short-term accommodation.

"There's a huge positive atmosphere in the city of Saskatoon for the future of the city as the resource sector continues to develop out," says Ash.

"Cameco [Corp.], which is the world's largest producer of uranium, Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan ... both are ideally situated for where the future world economies are going when it comes to food production and energy. And then there's diamond exploration." Janzen says a good single-family home in a good area of the city is a good investment when it comes to the demand these sectors are creating.

"There are people that are more than willing to pay the higher rent simply to be in the city in a better property," he says.

Scientists working at Canadian Light Source Inc., a research facility on the University of Saskatchewan campus, might stay for a term of just six months. They're receiving the income that allows them to afford good-quality accommodation, even if they're only in Saskatoon for a brief period.

"They're accustomed to better digs, and therefore the rental of a singlefamily home is definitely no problem at all," Janzen says.

On the other hand, some investors prefer the steady economics of renting to tenants west of Idylwyld Drive, typically considered a more working-class area of the city.

"It all boils down to preference and philosophy," Janzen says. He adds that while the city offers various incentives for redevelopment projects, many feel the city is slow to open up the parcels it holds for development.

This keeps supply of new development sites tight, and attention focused on redevelopment plays.

"The land is not cheap, so you're not going to come in from an investment perspective and think that you're going to steal some land because the market's too strong to allow for that," he says.

"But for people looking at businesses, there's definitely investment incentives from the city in some of our core

neighbourhoods that are seeing a lot of investment and change taking place."

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