How Alberta Wildfires Impact Buying a Home

Many potential homebuyers find it difficult to get home insurance due to the recent spread of wildfires across the province.

By Brett Surbey | 4 minute read

Oct 13

Fires in the Wild Rose province have affected everyone, homebuyers included.

In recent months, Alberta has been on fire. Wildfires raged across the province, most notably in the northern parts of the province such as Slave Lake, High Level and Fort McMurray. Between the poor air conditions from heavy smoke and thousands having had to leave their homes, many Albertans have been hit hard from the fires this year. One group of Albertans that have felt the heat over the last few months is homebuyers.

“Though fires would be expected to slow down housing transactions across the province, data seems to contradict this: housing transactions have increased almost 20% in the last year.”

Record Wildfires, Major Difficulties 

According to data from the Government of Alberta, there have been over 1,000 fires across the province in 2023, resulting in a staggering 2.2 million hectares burned. Though major city centres like Calgary or Edmonton did not see much damage, many homeowners sadly lost their homes or were evacuated for weeks on end. 


Given the spread of wildfires across the province, many potential homebuyers found themselves in difficult positions – especially when it came to insurance. Many insurance companies temporarily stopped writing new insurance policies for homes in affected areas, creating major difficulties for buyers. 


Taj Johnson, a REALTOR® with Alberta-based Grassroots Realty Group, found that some of his clients in wildfire zones had trouble getting insured. “Insurance companies always have this radius where, if a fire was within a 50 kilometer radius of your new dwelling, they typically would not issue a new policy,” Johnson told Wahi. He even found that some insurance companies would send an appraiser if a new home was in an affected area, to ensure it was still standing before issuing the policy. 


Practices like these resulted in one of his clients conditionally purchasing a home in April but not possessing it until nearly four months later. 


Further Complications for Homebuyers 

Because of these insurance difficulties, legal complications were also at the forefront. Gareth Pugh, a partner at KMSC Law LLP in Grand Prairie, Alta, whose practice is focused on real estate, told Wahi his clients dealt with extremely stressful situations due to the fires. 


“One of my clients was purchasing a rural property that had fires approaching the street across from it. He called more than a dozen insurance companies trying to obtain fire insurance — with no luck.”


Thankfully, Pugh indicates, situations like these had empathetic sellers extending closing dates, despite not being required to. In fact, Pugh noted, sellers could have come after buyers for damages due to breached contracts. No fire insurance meant the conditions for the buyer’s financing would not be met and the seller could be left without payment. 


“Fortunately, I didn’t hear of any situations like that happening. But, regardless, that’s a tremendous amount of stress to deal with,” he said. 


Johnson also found similar good will among sellers in the same predicament, with some of them amending their contracts to bump possession dates so purchasers could secure insurance and not be offside. “I did have a lot of sellers who were under contract around the time, and then what they would do is just add a clause into the contract to say if the buyer can’t secure insurance before possession day, we would just amend the possession day,” he explained.


Alberta Housing Market Still Strong

On a more positive note, data from personal finance site WOWA.ca indicates that average home prices in Alberta have increased 4%, with areas like Medicine Hat sitting at a nearly 9% increase. More to the point, though fires would be expected to slow down housing transactions across the province, data seems to contradict this: housing transactions have increased almost 20% in the last year. 

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On the ground level, local professionals are noticing similar trends as Pugh noted his Grande Prairie firm isn’t slowing down just yet. “We’re seeing that the housing market is strong from our perspective, and though I can’t speak to the exact stats for our area provincially or locally, I know that as a firm we haven’t experienced a slowdown.”


Though the fires caused devastating events for homeowners and purchasers across the Wild Rose province, it seems, at its face, that Albertans know how to navigate situations like these and keep moving forward.

Brett Surbey

Wahi Writer

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