BIRCH BAY, Wash. -- When Mike Slipic and his wife, Katharine, started looking around for recreational property this year it didn't take long to realize anything near Vancouver was out of their budget.
Although the soaring cost of real estate in the Lower Mainland over the past few years has been well documented, the Slipics' quest for a place to kick back on weekends and vacations ended happily.
Last week, they closed the deal on a four-year-old, two-bedroom, 1,300-square-foot detached home on a 0.1-hectare lot in Birch Bay -- a small but growing Washington state beach community just a 10-minute drive from the White Rock/Blaine border crossing.
"We looked around, but the properties in Canada are just too expensive," said Slipic, 37, a manager with RBC Royal Bank, who lives in Surrey with his wife and eight-year-old daughter.
"We wanted something close, where we can spend weekends. We like the Cariboo, but it's a six- or seven-hour drive. With the [Nexus] border pass, this is 20 minutes away."
Property values in Birch Bay have risen dramatically in the last three years with no end in sight, but Slipic said the investment is more about family than financials. His new property is in the Birch Bay Village gated community at the western edge of the bay.
It contains a nine-hole golf course, swimming pool, tennis courts, a marina, four private beaches and 24/7 security.
"We look at it as an investment in our family," he said.
"It's very quiet here. And we're going to take advantage of the golf. My daughter wants to take it up."
A combination of the dramatic rise in the Canadian dollar and skyrocketing recreational property values for anything within a few hours of the Lower Mainland has fuelled a renewal of interest in the Blaine-Birch Bay area from Canadian buyers, said Windermere Real Estate agent Mike Kent.
"Once the Canadian dollar hit 90 cents [US], we started to get a lot of phone calls and visits from Canadians," he said. "We've seen a real spike in the last three months."
Slipic preferred not to say what he paid for his family's new getaway, but Kent said a similar property in Birch Bay would be priced in the $375,000 US range.
That's well below recreational-property values within a three-hour journey from Greater Vancouver, said Rudy Nielsen, president of Landcor Data Corp., a supplier of real-estate data.
Nielsen said a Gulf Islands property with an ocean view starts in the $400,000 to $450,000 range, while 0.4 hectares of waterfront on Nicola Lake near Merritt will fetch $450,000 to $500,000. Both are two- to three-hour journeys for most Lower Mainlanders.
"Prices go by the length of the journey," said Nielsen. "If it's three hours or less the price is high."
Birch Bay has been a second home to Canadians for decades, but that fell off when the loonie began its decline in the early 1990s and eventually hit 61 cents in 2002.
Kent said he estimates Birch Bay was close to 50-per-cent Canadian ownership 20 years ago.
He said that's fallen off to 10 to 15 per cent currently, but Canadian content is looking to make a comeback, based on recent trends.
A recent survey showed 1,209 properties in Birch Bay are registered to Canadians in the 6,000- to 7,500-member community.
The area has been a beehive of construction activity, with three new condominium projects under way along the Birch Bay beachfront and a major waterfront redevelopment that's planned for Blaine.
Birch Bay alone has 1,500 new building permits in place.