November 2013 – Since we left for Cayman in 2008, we have been cognizant of the implications of a long term gypsy life. Although you experience new things routinely, you also tend to lose contact with people who have been the continuity in your life. We had previously moved a few times in our early marriage but were almost 20 years in our Sherwood Park home and from 2000 had spent many weekends at our vacation property at Lake Wabamun where I developed my sailing passion, started 53 North Sailing and made many friends. We knew we would miss that continuity soon after we arrived in Cayman, notwithstanding the great experiences and new friends we made in Cayman.
So, over the last few years we have spent many hours over a glass of wine discussing where we might settle on our return. There were lots of options to choose from but short of declaring ourselves permanent expats and moving to Panama (which we explored for two weeks scoping out how retirement there might feel), Bolivia, Ecuador or some other country with light tax burdens and constrained lifestyles, we knew we would ultimately be back in Canada where we spent most of our lives, where our family resides and where, with a slightly biased perspective, we believe a combination of factors make it one of the best places in the world to live. In many ways we consider ourselves very fortunate to be able to start with a clean slate after shedding our worldly possessions in 2008 and pulling up all roots to please the Canadian taxman :)
Being retired, job prospects weren’t a consideration. Nor were social affiliations and membership commitments which had faded during our five year absence. The most important considerations were glaringly climate (warm with limited mosquitos) and recreational opportunities (golf, cycling, sailing, hiking). Shortly behind that was accessibility for our sons Brian and Devon as well as family and friends who are mostly located in western Canada. Canada offers very few micro-climates where summer is not abruptly punctuated on both ends with SNOW. Southwestern Ontario, where I grew up, certainly offers four seasons, and were it not for our family connections in Western Canada, may have been a strong candidate. But in the end the Okanagan Valley presented the best balance of weather, recreation and proximity to our sons.
To jump ahead, after a somewhat extensive but compressed search of the real estate market in Kelowna, we selected one area and made a purchase. Kelowna is really the heart of the Okanagan Valley with an international airport, a first class hospital now being developed into one of UBC’s teaching hospitals, abundant recreation and virtually every possible service and box store conceivable. It’s also close to the coast and an easy jaunt to the US.
Kelowna, knowing its climate advantage and expecting a well healed baby boom retirement migration, has prepared itself for the economic opportunity that real estate bubbles and other asset inflation expectations are made of. Unfortunately for real estate agents here and others who drank the koolaid, things didn’t quite work out and the highly inflated real estate prices of 2007 became merely a source of remorse and disappointment as retirement savings evaporated into crystalized credit default swaps, the southwestern US real estate market lured Alberta oil money away from the Okanagan, and many boomers decided to just keep the McMansion since their kids had “failed to launch” and were still occupying the basement.
Kelowna still offers so much. Many first class golf courses (two in our subdivision including a Jack Nicklaus offering) and lots of development (international airport, hospitals, gyms, downhill skiing, great hiking and cycling, shopping) in expectation of the retirement migration, it all vies to serve us as their limited clientelle. And…..then there’s a huge seasonal fruit industry and ever growing wine industry. What more could a retiree ask for?
So, here we are, once again with a base of operations in a beautiful setting and a growing list of homeowner projects to keep me busy and looking forward to having guests to share it with.