Wonder of the West

Vancouver draws professionals with work-life balance and the combination of outdoor and city living, with cost of housing the main drawback

Vancouver has natural beauty, boundless outdoor recreational activities, a rich ethnic mix in the population, quality restaurants, a steadily improving transit system, a temperate climate – and the country’s highest housing costs | Frannz Morzo Photography/Tourism Vancouver 

Recruiters trying to lure workers to the Vancouver area have a lot to offer: the natural beauty of the region, boundless outdoor recreational activities, a rich ethnic mix in the population, quality restaurants, a steadily improving transit system, beaches, mountains and, with the exception of last winter, a temperate climate.

The elephant in the room, if you can afford a room, is the swollen cost of housing.

A Workopolis study of 13 major Canadian cities ranked Vancouver the most expensive city in the country to buy or rent accommodations. Last October, the average detached home in Vancouver cost $1.47 million, edging Toronto’s $1.2 million and dwarfing the other 11 cities, all of which had average prices of $500,000 or less. Rentals weren’t quite as lopsided, though Vancouver, with a tight rental market, was still the priciest, with the average one-bedroom apartment in the city centre running $1,447 a month.

Alana Savage Briggs, a senior recruiter with Vancouver-based McNeill Nakamoto Recruitment Group, says that the cost of housing and cost of living here are the major stumbling blocks for those wanting to move.

“People in Calgary often used to owning a three-bedroom home with a bonus room, basement and two-car garage just 30 minutes from the city … are only able to afford a two-bedroom apartment 30 minutes from downtown,” says Savage Briggs. “The math just doesn’t add up for a lot of families.”

Housing has not been a deterrent for Jeremy Wood, vice-president of product marketing for Hootsuite’s Vancouver office. Wood comes here with his wife and four children from the San Francisco Bay Area, whose housing costs far exceed those of Vancouver. Prior to that, he lived in Sydney, Australia, where the cost of living is also higher.

In its current ranking of the cost of living in cities around the world, Expatistan ranks San Francisco seventh-highest with a price index of 238, Sydney 16th (215) and Vancouver 59th (172), one point lower than Toronto. Expatistan uses Prague, Czech Republic, as an average city at 100, so Vancouver has a cost of living 72 per cent higher than Prague’s.

A native of Toronto, Wood took the Vancouver position last January, commuting back and forth between San Francisco for the first six months and then settling here with his family in August. They rent a place on the eastern edge of Kitsilano.

Spending four days a week here in the early months gave Wood an opportunity to learn about the city’s neighbourhoods, rental opportunities and culture. For a family with four kids, one with special needs, schools were a huge consideration. The Vancouver area has two Eaton Arrowsmith schools, a top-ranked institution for those with learning difficulties.

“That was a driving force for us, [our son’s] ability to get into a school that met his needs,” says Wood, who is happy with the public schools his other kids attend.

And because Wood is a Canadian citizen, there were no complications with work visas.

According to BC Stats, 2,632 people migrated to British Columbia from other provinces and countries in the fourth quarter of 2016, the largest migration in five years. The biggest influx was from other provinces, with a net gain (newcomers minus those leaving) of 3,292. International migration was minus 660.

Wood came here for a specific job, so he hasn’t explored other work activities. He knows that Vancouver has a growing tech scene with a healthy startup culture and is a destination for large, international companies, like Hootsuite, to open offices here. Most tech companies know their employees want a life outside of the office.

“Vancouver gives one of the best work-life balance opportunities, whether you choose to seize that balance or not,” says Wood.

Savage Briggs concurs.

“People moving to Vancouver are usually looking for a better balance of outdoors with city life, as well as the more relaxed work style compared with other big cities,” she says.

Ell Gnostic, a native of Iran and CEO of North Vancouver-based Wellknown Formulas, a distributor of pharmaceuticals and natural health products, moved to Vancouver from Dubai in 2008. Besides having to learn English and build a professional network, he found his biggest challenge was dealing with Canadian banks, which he says would not grant loans – never a problem in Dubai.

“[Canadian] banks do not co-operate and share risk,” says Gnostic.

Certainly coastal British Columbia has a reputation for grey days and rain, particularly in November and late winter, but Wood takes heart in the locals’ attitude.

“One of my colleagues here said, ‘No one has ever rusted from the rain,’” says Wood. “People just get the right clothing and the right boots and do things anyway.”

As one who made a successful move, what advice can Wood offer others thinking of relocating?

“Do your due diligence,” he says. “Look into what matters to you, and tick the boxes.” ç