Canadian retirees drawn to area homes

2013-03-24T00:00:00Z 2014-10-10T13:23:28Z Canadian retirees drawn to area homesPhil Villarreal Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 24, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Arizona's economy historically relied on five C's: copper, cattle, cotton, citrus and climate.

Local retirement communities, however, have found another C: Canadians.

Canadians make up 15 to 20 percent of homebuyers in Robson Resort communities, said Steve Soriano, the homebuilder's vice president and chief financial officer.

Robson owns SaddleBrooke, SaddleBrooke Ranch, The Preserve and Quail Creek in Southern Arizona, as well as the Casa Grande-area Robson Ranch and PebbleCreek near Phoenix. It also has properties in Texas.

In total, the company has built and sold more than 20,000 homes in active-adult communities. Assuming there are two people per house, that means there are as many as 8,000 Canadians in Robson homes.

While the company doesn't send representatives to Canada to recruit retirees, it stages occasional Canada-themed events to draw the communities closer.

Word of mouth is the most effective recruitment tool, Soriano says.

The resort holds Canadian Days events featuring Canadian coffees and food and drinks from Tim Hortons, Canada's largest fast-food chain.

"We have existing residents who are Canadian come out and participate ... . They might meet somebody from their own hometown and feel more comfortable (having moved) into a new place."

Soriano said Southern Arizona's warm climate, combined with a relatively weak dollar, draws attention from the north.

"A Canadian buyer can do a lot" with U.S. money, he said. The Canadian dollar, which historically has been much weaker than its U.S. counterpart, is currently worth about 97 percent of U.S. dollar.

"It's cyclical. It has to do with the currency exchange rate," Soriano said. "In the last few years, the Canadian dollar has been on par with the U.S. dollar. During the housing recession, United States homeowners had trouble selling second houses, but Canadians are coming from a stronger real estate market. The idea of a second home is less of an uncertainty for them."

Canadian retirees have taken to playing pickleball - a racket sport that's something like a cross between badminton and table tennis - as well as the old standbys, golf and tennis. Tucson's sun allows for plenty of opportunities to play.

Sun City Oro Valley's Robin Coulter said at least 20 of the community's 2,488 homes are owned by Canadians.

Joe Boyd, general manager of Voyager RV, 8701 S. Kolb Road, said Canadians make up about 20 percent of winter visitors who stay there. Voyager RV has 1,576 sites but is not always full because occupants come and go.

"laid-back city"

Jane Males, 64, and her husband, Jim, 65, moved to SaddleBrooke from Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2001. They enjoy walking their dog, Morgan, an English springer spaniel.

"We love Tucson. We love the community. We love the mountains and we love the parks," Jane Males said. "We really enjoy the people and our new love of horses. It's just a wonderful, laid-back city."

When the Maleses were looking for a place to retire, they started in the Phoenix area. Once they started looking around Tucson, they decided to move to SaddleBrooke for the mountain views.

They spend 5 1/2 months there each year, from November through mid-April, and the rest of the year in Vancouver.

"We have the best of both worlds," Males said. "We love Tucson, and there's nothing we don't love about our other city. It's just a wonderful world of retirement."

Males said she and her husband occasionally meet other Canadians at social gatherings. Friends visit them often, and when they're back in Vancouver they share stories of their sunshine-drenched home down south.

Males is impressed with the prices of milk and gas here, which she says are much lower than what they're used to in Canada.

warm climate appeals

Roger Waldman, a 78-year-old retired Canadair pilot, moved to SaddleBrooke with his wife, Elizabeth, 79, in 2005.

The Waldmans discovered SaddleBrooke when they were living in Washington state and house-sat for friends.

"We were enthralled with the climate," he said. "Shortly thereafter, at the peak of the market, we decided to buy a house."

Waldman, who spent much of his life in Montreal, laughs when asked if he misses the snow.

He said the warm, dry climate eases arthritis.

"It's a combination of things," he said. "Dryness has something to do with it, and we like the sunshine - we really miss it when it gets cloudy and it stays like that for a few days."

That love of the sun is tested during the summer. Many retirees, especially those from colder climates, retreat when temperatures soar. But the Waldmans stick around because travel is hard on their bodies.

Waldman said SaddleBrooke is a welcoming home for retirees from any country.

"The appeal of SaddleBrooke is there's something to do for everybody here," Waldman said. "There are all kinds of activities and entertainment. Anything that you can think of, they do it here. That doesn't necessarily just appeal to Canadians: It appeals to retired people. You don't have to be bored down here because there's lots of stuff to do."

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or pvillarreal@azstarnet.com

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