CALGARY -- Some realtors in rural Alberta are reporting a surge in home buying by Albertans fleeing the big city, and they say the COVID-19 pandemic is a big part of what’s behind the boom.

“We are living in a society where people want to grow their own gardens again and they want to have chickens and they want to be a little bit more self sustainable," said Allison IsBell of Lively Realty Ltd in Nanton “We offer space. Most of our lots here are larger, you can have a garden you can do those things.”

Further south down Highway 2 in Claresholm realtor Santanna Thom said as soon as the government lifted the pandemic restrictions on the the real estate market, her phone started ringing.

“All of a sudden the floodgates opened and it was ‘go time’, so it's been pretty crazy,” said Thom “ It’s a big contrast here from real estate agents in Calgary, and we're seeing Calgary realtors come down and show properties down here as well.”

Thom said spring and early summer are always busy times for the rural real estate market, but she’s seeing more buyers, and in particular, a different kind of buyer showing up in Claresholm.

“Claresholm has always been known as a retirement community.” said Thom “What I'm seeing is a lot of families are choosing it. Now a lot of families are liking the small school atmosphere. And they're liking how safe that community is.”

She said another big change is that people are now able to move to rural communities and keep their big city jobs, thanks to the move to “working from home” driven largely by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rural Alberta

“I think that people are starting to branch out and see that they can still have their jobs in the city, but they can work from home.” said Thom “A lot of companies are going to a couple days a week, so coming here (Claresholm), and only having to travel back to the city once or twice a week is very feasible for families to do now.”

Back in Nanton, IsBell agrees, saying she had a client this past weekend moving to Nanton, and intending to telecommute to a job in Calgary.

“I showed a woman a house on the weekend and that was definitely her major concern - her ability to work from home.” said IsBell “She lives in Calgary is coming out to Nanton and she can purchase a home and now work from home.”

The Alberta Real Estate Association has heard the stories from small town home sellers, but says it’s too early to determine if the recent boomlet is anything more than a blip on the real estate radar.

“There's been a lot of discussion on COVID and how it will change a lot of things," said Anne Marie Laurie, who's an economist with the Alberta Real Estate Association. "This is one of those things that we'll be looking at. Will it have any change in terms of buying patterns? It will take some time to see if that plays out and one of the things we'll be looking at is, are these (rural) areas still growing at a faster pace following COVID? It's just a bit too early to see anything.”