Top 5 B.C. investment towns: Abbotsford

Abbotsford, like Surrey, has experience consistent population growth. This city of more than 134,000 (B.C.'s fifth largest city) doubled in size since 1981.

Its growth has slowed in recent years, but it still remains well above the provincial average, at 7.2% between 2001 and 2006, compared to 5.3% provincewide.

The population of the city should reach 180,000 or even 210,000 by 2031, according to the City of Abbotsford.

Market trends

While the vacancy rate did rise to 6.5% in October 2010, up from 6.1% in October 2009, the rental market should strengthen again as interest rates rise this year and fewer residents make the move to homeownership.

But investors can be assured by the fact that the declining level of purpose-built rentals will force many renters to turn to the secondary market, which includes detached homes, townhouse, apartment-condominiums and accessory suites.

Abbotsford accommodates a wide variety of these housing types, and provides reasonably priced homes with larger than average lots. In fact, Pare Realty reports that more than 50% of their business is done with homebuyers purchasing large detached homes. When considering the average home prices in the city, it's not hard to see why.

The average residential price in the Greater Vancouver area was $791,604 in February 2011, up from $662,741 in February, 2010, while the benchmark price for a detached home in the area increased $51,762 between November 2010 and February 2011 to $848,645.

The average price of a detached home in Abbotsford, by contrast, was just $446,177 in February 2011, up from $427,215 in February 2010. Still, similar to the case in Surrey, investors should not be looking to make profits from rising home values.

BCREA expects that the average residential price in the Fraser Valley district, which includes Abbotsford, will only rise 0.8% in 2011, down from 6% last year. A buy-and-hold strategy should be investors' focus. The average apartment rent in the area edged up to $716 in October 2010 from $710 in October 2009, according to CMHC. The average townhouse rent rose to $963 in 2010, up from $899 in 2009.

Economics

Located in the centre of the Fraser Valley, about 70 kilometres from the city of Vancouver, in one of the most productive agricultural areas in Canada, Abbotsford has a strong and diverse local economy.

Combined The city's close proximity to a population base of more than 2.1 million people makes it attractive to business, particularly those requiring access to the B.C. Interior, the U.S. border and Greater Vancouver. Abbotsford, like Surrey, has a large agricultural industry, but it has diversified its economic base in recent years to include manufacturing, aerospace.

Abbotsford's top employer is the Fraser Health Authority, which more than 2,550 people work for. The largest private-sector employer is Cascade Aerospace, which more than 500 people work for.

Infrastructure

The City of Abbotsford, along with the province and the feds, has invested in replacing two overpasses at Clearbrook and McCallum Road. The two projects together will cost close to $50 million and at the time of writing were slated to be done sometime in the spring of this year.

The Clearbrook project, in particular, will include more lanes over Highway 1, improved off-ramps on both sides of the highway to free up the flow of traffic. The upgrade plans for McCallum Road also include more lanes over Highway 1, and longer deceleration lanes on both sides of the highway and changes to help ease traffic backlogs.

For the rest of CRE's top 5 B.C. investment towns, pick up a copy of our May issue, on newsstands now.

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