Real estate sales so far this year almost double those of 2015 

Properties under $1 million snapped up by locals and Vancouver buyers

click to enlarge PHOTO BY LYNN MITGES - going, going, gone Whistler realtor Ann Chiasson said the Gondola Village, pictured here, had a unit sell for $499,000 this year — last year the same unit would have sold for about $435,000.
  • PHOTO by lynn mitges
  • going, going, gone Whistler realtor Ann Chiasson said the Gondola Village, pictured here, had a unit sell for $499,000 this year — last year the same unit would have sold for about $435,000.

Whistler real estate is in a warming trend. There hasn't been as much market activity since around 2008 before the ensuing downturn when the resort community and everywhere else cooled, then almost froze.

On the heels of a Re/Max report that stated recreational property is gaining momentum, largely due to a low Canadian dollar and the trend to rent out properties for short-term stays, Whistler's volume of sales has eclipsed last year's.

"You can see this year that in certain months it's just skyrocketed from last year," said Ann Chiasson, broker realtor for Re/Max Sea to Sky Real Estate. And of note are the sales in shared ownership.

"What's happened is we are seeing an increase in sales in properties like the Westin, which has very good returns," said Chiasson. "All of a sudden it started selling and it goes off the market very quickly. It's a really good example because those units are showing a four-to-five-per-cent return on their investment.

"That gives someone flexibility, like someone who lives in Vancouver and travels on business and is up here three months a year, the rest of the time they can rent it out," she said.

Whistler realtor Janet Brown, of Thornhill Real Estate Group, said she's seeing increased activity from younger buyers looking for one- and two-bedroom condos.

"They want partial use and they want to manage their own property, whether it be through Airbnb (or something else). A lot of these people don't want to pay the 40-per-cent property management fees," said Brown. "They are tech savvy and they're managing the property themselves."

In February of this year there was a total of $55 million in sales, compared to $20 million last year; in March this year there was $35 million, compared to $25 million last year; and in April this year there was $52 million, compared to $23 million last year, said Chiasson.

Brown cites the example of a three-bedroom townhouse unit that was listed for $799,000 and sold for $850,000 — with six competing offers.

And although homes in the multi-million-dollar range are likely to remain on the market until the right buyer comes along, Chiasson said the burgeoning activity is from units such as one in Gondola Village, for example, that sold for $499,000 whereas last year it would have sold for $435,000.

"We have a market where people aren't crazy — they're not just buying whatever's available, they're actually looking at the market and making a sensible decision and that keeps this market a little more normal, but we haven't seen multiple offers for some time," Chiasson said. "I have a client who sold their unit in Yaletown for just under $1 million and they bought a house up here. It's just the kind of thing people have the opportunity to do right now."

The buyer breakdown goes like this: 20 per cent of sales involve Whistler locals; 48 per cent are Lower Mainland buyers; 14 per cent from the U.S. ; five per cent are from Asia; three per cent are from the rest of Canada, excluding B.C.; and two per cent from the U.K.

"Whistler is the kind of place you have your sights on and when you see the right thing, you buy it," said Chiasson.

That's exactly what Re/Max Vancouver realtor Dave Richardson did. After renting for years, he bought a three-bedroom townhouse about nine months ago and plans to retire and live full-time in Whistler in the coming years.

Richardson, who works in Vancouver's toney Point Grey neighbourhood, said a 33-by-122 building lot there sells for between $2.3 million and $2.6 million with no view. A building lot in Emerald Estates in Whistler sells for less than $1 million.

"My clients in town are selling their $3-million houses, buying a condo in the city and a recreational property in Whistler, the Okanagan or the Sunshine Coast," he said. "A lot of them are doing the same thing — they're in their 50s or 60s and they're cashing out."

Richardson said the shared ownership is drawing some buyers to Whistler.

The Re/Max report showed that even those who are five to 10 years away from retirement are snapping up properties now and renting the sites until they retire. Among the survey results:

• 94 per cent of Canadians seeking recreational property value a quiet atmosphere, followed closely by privacy, at 91 per cent. But in B.C., users prefer privacy ahead of quiet atmosphere, sandy beaches and outdoor activities.

• Alberta has the lowest percentage of people spending time at recreational property at 70 per cent. Atlantic Canada has the highest at 89 per cent. B.C. is 78 per cent.

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