Snow vultures descending on Phoenix for real estate bargains

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

9 comments

phoenix photo.jpg
A flock of Canadian geese visit one of the many private lakes found in Phoenix, AZ

Over the long weekend my family and I made our way down to Phoenix, Arizona with the goal of purchasing a property down there. Never has the time been better for future snow birds (or snow vultures as Canadians are now being referred to in Arizona) to look at purchasing a place down in the sun. Interest rates are low, property prices continue to plummet and the Canadian dollar is still well north of 90 cents. If our offer is accepted, in a few weeks we’ll be the proud new owners of a lovely two bedroom lakeside condo currently facing foreclosure. The list price for the property is similar to what a kitchen renovation would cost you in Vancouver. Hard to believe.

Despite the fact I’ve previously traveled throughout the American southwest, this was actually my first time visiting Phoenix. Other than knowing it was stinking hot in the summer and the largest US city in terms of geography, I knew little else. We departed aboard Alaska Airlines from a cool and rainy Seattle and arrived on the hottest day of the year so far in Arizona. It was a bit of culture shock as the thermometer hit the 100+ Fahrenheit shortly after we touched down. It took a little getting used to, but all that heat was rather nice for my rain weary bones.

After renting a Prius hybrid to get us around, we headed out of the airport and toward our hotel located in the northern part of the city. It didn’t take long to realize that Phoenix has to be one of the “best” examples of urban sprawl known to man. Unlike Vancouver, rarely do you see any buildings above two stories, with most of the housing stock consisting solely of single family homes. Think of all the single family housing stock in East Vancouver and multiply it by a factor of about 20. There are also massive freeways that cut through every major city in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Thinking about walking anywhere? Think again. Most of the city is only accessible by vehicle. Granted there are shopping squares at every major intersection, but unless you live right next to them you pretty much need to drive to get there. On a warm sunny morning, we checked out Google Earth to see if there were any parks nearby we could walk to. As luck would have it, the aerial satellite showed what appeared to be a nice man-made lake less than 4 blocks away from us...so off we went on foot to explore.

Walking there was rather eerie. The extra wide streets were bare of pedestrian traffic. In fact, on the way to the lake, we were the only pedestrians anywhere in sight. That’s likely because the streets are oriented to the car and leave little doubt in your mind that pedestrians are an afterthought. When it takes you about 34 seconds to cross the intersection, you know it was built to facilitate vehicular traffic.foreclosure sign phoenix

When we finally arrived at the lake we were surprised by what we found. There was a big metal gate blocking off the entrance and it had a sign that read “Private Lake. Members Only. No Trespassing”. Ironically we saw a flock of Canadian geese leisurely eating grass just on the other side of the fence. It led my wife to quip “there are some Canadians more welcome here than others.”

Every “planned” neighbourhood in Phoenix has gated communities. Some are more gated than others, but high concrete and metal fences rule the day. They provide local homeowners with a false sense of security and can hardly be described as warm and inviting. Yet they are a very prominent feature on the Phoenician landscape.

After four sun-drenched days, we headed back to rainy Seattle then drove back to Vancouver to end our mini-holiday and hunt for real estate. Phoenix may not be perfect, but it does offer sun, sand and oh so perfect little communities that make it appealing for a so-called "snow vulture" like myself. If nothing else, having a place in Phoenix should provide many good story ideas for future posts.

- Post by Daniel (yes...I will continue to post when my schedule permits. Thanks to everyone for all your kind words over the last few days. It is much appreciated.)

9 Comments


Reading your article, I was expecting the story arc to get ot where you realized Phoenix was an unlivable nightmare, completely unsustainable, and shockingly uninviting, and decided to take your real estate speculation somewhere nice. What were you thinking?

If you want year-round sun and heat, and don't mind gates, concrete, and inability to walk anywhere, why bother with a Condo? The Southwest is full of full-service prisons where they throw in the food and clothing!

Funny! I had a good laugh with that comment. Well said. But I'm still buying in Arizona.

So why did you buy? I too expected a different story arc. What was good enough to overcome the negatives?

I've been going to phoenix for the last 20 years. In 2.5 hours, I'm in heaven with the sun on my back. Can't beat Phoenix for the short shot of sunshine and away from snow and rain.

Having grown up in Tempe, I have mixed feelings about the Phoenix area. However, I maintain no fondness for the urban environment - Phoenix is the best example of a city being built where none should exist. The sun though, is very authentic and aprpeciated. I do miss that.

Don't forget to sell high.

Seriously, Daniel......your post made me scream WTF at my laptop.

First you write:
"It was a bit of culture shock as the thermometer hit the 100+ Fahrenheit shortly after we touched down."


Then you say this:
"Walking there was rather eerie. The extra wide streets were bare of pedestrian traffic. In fact, on the way to the lake, we were the only pedestrians anywhere in sight. That’s likely because the streets are oriented to the car and leave little doubt in your mind that pedestrians are an afterthought. When it takes you about 34 seconds to cross the intersection, you know it was built to facilitate vehicular traffic."

Apparently since you haven't been there previously, the fact that when it hits 115 in June, may be just one factor in understanding why you don't see the locals walking around the streets there.

So I ask you, why build pedestrian friendly infrastructure when it likely wouldn't be used?

Also, knowing that you're somewhat of an urban planning bluff, you go on to write this jewel:
"Unlike Vancouver, rarely do you see any buildings above two stories, with most of the housing stock consisting solely of single family homes."

There are a few reasons for this which, if you spent some time to research, you may have taken a different approach to your post.

Your ideological positions on density are clouding some logical thinking when it comes to this desert city don't you think? But of course if you enjoy trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, keep on truckin'.

I'm glad that you have the money to purchase a vacation home for yourself and the family, but since you used one deciding factor on making your purchase - price - perhaps you could do a bit more research before slamming their different approach to urban planning.

Hope you checked into the fact you can only use the property for 6 mos. of the year and if you rent, look out for tax problems both in the u.s. and canada. make sure you also obtained good legal and estate planning advice so your estate doesn't get hammered should you have to sell later in life. We've found a real nice condo.in palm desert. golf course view (on the 12th tee box), fantastic patio and updated interior. $50.00 per night. We'll take this over buying in the U.S. anytime. We also like the freedom to move around and not stuck with one place only to go to.

Glen Hall you sound a little sensitive do you maybe owe more then what your home loan is there?

Timbal,

Not at all. I don't own there but I love visiting and staying in a friend's very nice Scottsdale mansion.

It just drives me bonkers when this all encompassing belief in eco-density is thought and proposed to be the be-all and end-all of all cities everywhere on earth.

Personally I love going in June when the heat is unbearable for most and above 110 degrees. But for anyone to complain about the lack of pedestrian corridors in a place where few people walk the streets due to said heat, is simply foolishness.

And this post had it in spades.

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