Life as a broker in Alaska

by Libby MacDonald28 Jul 2020

Anthony Alvarez laughs at the memory of waiting for a client to show up for closing only to get a call saying they would be late due to the moose in their driveway.

Scuppered plans due to wandering moose are nothing unusual in Alaska, even in Anchorage, the state’s most populous city. That’s where C2C Mortgage’s founder makes his home.

“Everyone’s got a story of getting up in the morning and seeing a moose between them and their car,” Alvarez says. “The moose isn’t going to move and you’re not going to be able to move them. A moose is far more dangerous than a bear so you just have to realize you’re not going to get to your car at that moment. Everyone’s had to make that call to their boss and tell them you can’t get out your front door.”

The Last Frontier state’s challenges don’t end there, but Alvarez takes the state’s idiosyncrasies in stride.

“Most of Alaska has its own set of circumstances. You might have to deal with what we call Unique Alaskan Properties that would never be lent on in the lower 48,” he explains. “In some places it’s common for a house to be built on pylons, for example, or it might have a non-traditional water source – perhaps it’s not connected to a city pipe but has to use a cistern in an area where it rains a lot. That kind of set-up would not work in places like Arizona.”

Not only is it commonplace for properties to lack a water connection, often they also lack road access and are only reachable via water or air.

“Because of the way it is up here, there has to be a workaround,” he says. “A lot of houses here might be built on a lake or even on an island in the middle of the lake.” But a savvy loan officer who’s been in the area for a while knows that a property with no road access can still work.

The weather is, of course, a major factor, as are the shortened days of winter, when sunlight in Anchorage comes in at less than six hours a day. The state’s originators typically make the bulk of their money for the year in a four-and-a-half-month period between May and September.

“No-one wants to move in January when it’s pitch black and everything’s covered in snow. Everyone waits for spring and then it’s like someone shoots the gun and the race is on,” says Alvarez.

This unique cycle seems to have muted the effects of COVID-19. The virus first hit during the slowest part of the year, meaning business is “pretty hot here” according to Alvarez.

Perhaps the biggest drag on business is Alaska’s high cost of living. The state’s three main population centres all boast the dubious distinction of being on the list of the nation’s 20 most expensive cities.

According to the Cost of Living index, Anchorage is priced at a premium:  grocery bills are a third higher than they would be down south, housing-related expenses run 43% higher than the US average, and utilities are almost a quarter more than what the average American would pay. Housing costs in the isolated capital of Juneau typically run 50% higher than the national average, while groceries cost almost half as much again as in the lower 48, and utilities are roughly a third pricier than in the rest of the country. The state’s lack of both sales and income taxes are handy, but are by no means enough to cancel out the higher expenses, says Alvarez.

“It’s extremely expensive here but the wages are higher – not enough to offset the higher prices though. The price of food is usually a shocker for people new to Alaska, and property taxes are very high. If you picked up a house that you would pay $1,800 a year on in Phoenix and dropped it in Anchorage, on that same house you would pay $5,800 a year,” he says. Alvarez spent more than a decade living in Arizona.

Despite the two states many differences, Alvarez felt strangely at home in the desert.

“Arizona is Alaska in reverse,” he says. “In Alaska, the summer is great, and in the winter you have to rush from one heated building to the next. In Arizona, the winter is great. In the summer, though, you have to hurry from one source of AC to the next.”

At one point, Alvarez worked remotely and lived between the two states, making the switch at season’s end to enjoy the best that each has to offer, before eventually returning to the state that owns his heart.

“Alaska has the mountains,” he says. “If you fly you can get anywhere. And the boating, fishing, camping, hiking – I missed it.”