Eric and Cathy Normore may look like just another happy couple soaking up some Arizona sun, but they're also potentially Pinal County's real estate saviors.
The Normores are from Alberta, Canada, and it's Canadians who are propping up the Pinal housing market. Investors and first-time buyers might get all the attention, but experts and brokers say Canadians are the ones doing much of the buying these days.
"You can sit in your backyard. It's quiet. And you can listen to the sounds and look at the stars and lights," Eric Normore said. "It's beautiful like that. That's what we like."
The Normores bought their home at Meritage Homes' The Lakes at Rancho El Dorado last November for $234,000. The master-planned community is more dirt than homes now, but the Normores don't seem to mind. They expect their neighborhood to fill in. Plus, there were plenty of other Canadians nearby.
It's hard to gauge just how many Canadians have bought homes in Pinal, but anecdotal signs suggest a lot of them have. Canadians are everywhere. They're in the grocery stores, on the roads, teeing up for golf - often sporting shirts advertising their homeland. One development in unincorporated Queen Creek even flies a Canadian flag.
"Canadians seem to be the buyers," said Ryan M. Aubrey, owner of ByTig Realty, a residential brokerage in the city of Maricopa. Aubrey didn't have hard numbers, but he said Canadians were far more active in Maricopa than investors or first-time buyers.
Jay Q. Butler, a real estate professor at Arizona State University, said the big downturn has just made more pronounced something that has been going on for decades.
"Canadians have been actively involved in our real estate market for a long time, and this has been providing great opportunities," he said.
Butler noted that Canadian retirees don't have to deal with all the problems that full-time Pinal residents have to cope with. They're not working, so long commutes don't matter. They're not living there year-round, so a lack of services isn't a big deal.
That's pretty much how the Normores view life in Pinal. They plan to use their home as a semi-retirement oasis. So they enjoy the best of both worlds: They are close to the big city, but they still get a quiet, more rural vibe.
"We visited Scottsdale. We visited Chandler. We visited Tempe," Eric Normore said. "We did a lot of cities, but we ended up coming back here. It was much quieter, secluded. That's what we wanted."
Contact reporter Josh Brodesky at firstname.lastname@example.org