Real estate heating up in the Sea to Sky 

Realtors credit lasting Olympic legacy for hot markets

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRADEN DUPUIS. - LASTING LEGACY Ann Chiasson of RE/MAX Sea to Sky Real Estate says markets in the corridor could be feeling the effects of hosting the Olympics five years ago.
  • Photo by Braden Dupuis.
  • LASTING LEGACY Ann Chiasson of RE/MAX Sea to Sky Real Estate says markets in the corridor could be feeling the effects of hosting the Olympics five years ago.

Five years removed from the Olympics, the real estate market in the Sea to Sky Highway is starting to feel some of the residual, echoing effects.

"People are starting to get what we have here. They're starting to understand it," said Ann Chiasson, who owns Sea to Sky Real Estate offices in Squamish and Pemberton, and has been involved with Re/Max since 2005. "It's funny how it takes a few years, but they traditionally say it takes four to five years for the Olympics to have an effect on an area."

While Whistler is still short on inventory, other communities in the corridor have been flourishing, Chiasson said.

"This whole corridor has had a huge change over the past year in terms of people really noticing them and being interested in being part of the community," she said.

And while the Whistler market is low on inventory and high in cost, consumer confidence is building here as well.

"I would call it gently rising," Chiasson said. "We're seeing a lot of continued interest from British Columbia and Lower Mainland people. They're still our strongest group of buyers," Chiasson said.

According to a just-released Re/Max's 2015 Recreational Property Report, almost 68 per cent of Canadians would rather spend a long weekend at the cottage or cabin over a big city getaway. The report also found that 21 per cent of those surveyed would consider downsizing their home to purchase a recreational property.

The cost of a chalet in Whistler rose from a median price of $1,250,000 in 2014 to $1,315,000 in 2015 — an increase of 5.2 per cent.

Drew Meredith of the Whistler Real Estate Company agreed that the Whistler market seems to be shifting into gear.

"We had lots of inventory after the Olympics, and that really kept the market kind of quiet because there was no sense of urgency," Meredith said.

Now, a combination of people taking listings off the market or selling their properties has led to a shortage.

"A shortage means urgency, shortage means prices are going up, so that's kind of where we're at now," Meredith said.

The weak Canadian dollar hasn't played a big role in enticing American investors back to the resort just yet, but it will, Meredith said.

"I'm noticing that we're seeing an uptick in American visitors, according to Tourism Whistler, and investment follows tourism," he said.

"I would say generally speaking we're back in the saddle... it seems like people are feeling more comfortable with the current economy and so they're bringing their chequebook — not their camera."

There is one interesting variable that is still not fully understood by realtors, Meredith said.

"Unlike lots of communities, we're not growing anymore. We're not building any new inventory. So what does that mean?" he said.

"There's not many other communities in the world that have turned off the real estate development in their town, so there's not a lot of examples you can go to to see what happens when you do that."

The shortage of inventory has altered the traditional cycle of home buying, Meredith said.

"Typically in the history of Whistler real estate, people buy a little condo when they're young and they slowly but surely move up the food chain as they get older and more affluent," he said. "People are constantly wanting to move into the next best thing. Well, we don't have a next best thing anymore, right? We don't have any new product that these people can buy, so the renovation business is on fire."

Aside from renovating their Whistler homes, some are looking to the nearby bedroom communities for real estate.

"What we're seeing is people that live in Whistler that can't afford it here now can look at Squamish and even in Pemberton. Both those markets are coming up," Chiasson said.

"That enhances Whistler as well, because they're closer to Whistler, and they can come up here to go skiing or come up for dinner."

In fact, tourism in the Sea to Sky has a large role to play in enticing potential homebuyers.

"This whole corridor is now tied together quite nicely with a big event structure, and that brings a lot of different people to town," Chiasson said. "And as more people are introduced to the corridor they look at it as a viable place to live."

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