Paul Matysek, CEO of Gold X Mining, was taken by the lush, forested scenery of Whistler, B.C. and its active recreational lifestyle in both summer and winter. This stood in stark contrast to life in West Vancouver during the pandemic, where he owns his primary residence.

“It’s deader than doorknobs,” Matysek said of the scene in West Vancouver, adding Whistler and its resorts were full of life. “I would say to people: no one goes to the resort to break up with their girlfriend. They go to have fun.”

That’s why last year, Matsyek saw the perfect opportunity to purchase a slice of Whistler living near the ski resort village, describing it as a decision to upgrade.

“It was more of an investment and, actually, a lifestyle decision on that front.”

Many Canadians have caught the same bug: Canada’s luxury real estate market enjoyed a banner year in 2020 amid a global travel shutdown. According to a report by RE/MAX, a record 1,062 Toronto homes valued over $3 million sold over 2020, up 55.7 per cent from 2019. Luxury real estate firm Engel & Völkers has also tracked the numbers, reporting a record $36 million of luxury pre-construction condos sold in the Mont Tremblant region with transactions closing virtually over Google Meet.

“A lot of people are going to have multiple homes now. It's not just the uber-wealthy that have their country home, and their city home, and their vacation home.” said Anthony Hitt, CEO of Engel & Völkers Americas. “I think it's going to become more of a mainstream idea where people maybe will have smaller luxury properties in the city and larger luxury properties in the cottage country.”

However, Hitt said the luxury market could see another segment of buyers after many pulled up stakes altogether in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal to move their primary residence to the country, buyers who could soon be flocking back to the city once the metropolitan homesickness sets in.

“I think we are seeing a bit of a pendulum swing,” Hitt said. “I think some of the people who have gotten out there and said, ‘Wait a minute. Maybe this is not where I want to be forever. Maybe I'm going to want all the culture, the lifestyle that the city brings.’”

These are the trends fuelling higher luxury home prices across the country. The firm’s market report forecasts the values of homes priced above $1 million will rise by 7 per cent in 2021.

The trend is expected to be further buoyed by a second wind once the pandemic subsides and international buyers return to Canada. The federal government is targeting as many as 400,000 newcomers per year over the next two years, which has led the firm to believe demand will be further fuelled by international clients.

The combination of domestic demand in the first half of 2021 and a return of foreign buyers in the second half leaves Hitt optimistic for steady growth in the luxury segment for the year ahead.

“I see the ‘COVID shuffle’, as I call it, continuing probably for at least the first half of the year…” Hitt said, adding that the shuffle is beginning to settle. “That’s when, as the government suggests, 1.2 million immigrants are going to come flooding in right behind that. And I think that pushes us through the next half of the year.”

Beyond 2021, Hitt questioned whether or not the velocity of transactions and interest in this segment could be sustained, saying he’s waiting for the “other shoe to drop” after the impact of the pandemic fades.

“I think in 2022, we might resume some level of normalcy,” Hitt said. “If there is such a thing.”