Squamish real estate market is hot 

After years of a flat market, Squamish is seeing an increase in sales

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JENNIFER THUNCHER - hot summer Karen Wettig, from Surrey, looks over the real estate available in Squamish. This summer has been hot for housing sales in Squamish, especially with buyers from the Lower Mainland.
  • photo by jennifer thuncher
  • hot summer Karen Wettig, from Surrey, looks over the real estate available in Squamish. This summer has been hot for housing sales in Squamish, especially with buyers from the Lower Mainland.

It is a busy time to be a real estate agent in Squamish.

According to several Squamish realtors, this has been the busiest summer they have had since before the 2008 recession hit, both in terms of sales numbers and in interest from potential buyers.

Single-detached family houses in the district in particular have been as popular as campsites at the base of the Stawamus Chief in August.

Comparing last year's figures to this shows what a difference a year can make.

Sales figures are tricky to nail down because it depends on who you ask and what you include, but according to the Multiple Listings figures used by Lisa Bjornson, manager of Royal LePage, Black Tusk Realty in Squamish, in June and July this year sales were up 105 per cent over last year.

(The lowest percentage increase for this period reported to Pique by local realtors was 50 per cent.)

According to Bjornson, in June and July of this year, 117 units sold compared to 57 in June and July last year. Of the 117 sold this summer, 61 were single-detached homes.

"We definitely have seen a significant increase in market activity," said Bjornson.

She said sales in Squamish have actually been steadily increasing for the last six months, and interest really started to ramp up in April.

The overall six-month numbers tell more of the story — 203 units were sold in the first six months of 2013 while 313 were sold January to July, 2014.

Of those, there were 101 single-family detached sales in 2013 versus 166 in the first six months of 2014. That is over a 60-per-cent increase.

Whistler is seeing an uptick in activity as well, but it doesn't compare to the movement in Squamish.

"For me personally, it was basically June 23 the light switch flipped on and the phones started ringing," said Matt Chiasson, realtor with RE/MAX Sea to Sky Real Estate in Whistler

Chiasson said Whistler has been busier in general with all the festivals and events and when there are more people in town, the realtors are busier, too.

Stats (MLS) for June show there were 66 sales total in Whistler while the same month last year saw 42 sales in Whistler. In July there were 56 sales up from 48 the year before.

"We had five years of declining prices from 2008 to 2013. After the global recession, our sales took a big hit, but our prices stayed up. So, our prices have slowly come down each year and our sales have slowly increased," Chiasson said.

The median price for a single-detached home in Whistler in July of this summer was still a hefty $1,160,000, double the average price for the same in Squamish, but prices have gone down making the Whistler's housing market a better value than it has been since the early 2000s.

Whistler Realtor Peter Dagg, with Tantalus Mountain Realty & Management, points out that the Phase 2 hotel condo prices are really down in Whistler.

"At the Holiday Inn you can by a studio [for 56 days of the year] for $40,000. Originally, in 2002, they sold for $160,000," Dagg said.

Dagg said most customers, close to 80 per cent, are from Vancouver. They know Whistler and they know what they want.

More than 80 per cent of residential sales in Whistler are second homeowners, he said.

So, Whistler's market is warming up thanks to more traffic in the village and somewhat lower prices, but what is making Squamish's market so hot?

One factor is the amount of attention Squamish has been getting of late.

According to Bjornson, the Sea to Sky Gondola and the Squamish Valley Music Festival have made Squamish a place to go and stay for a while, rather than a place to stop on the way to Whistler.

She said when people come to the area for an event, they see the lifestyle plusses Squamish has to offer.

It also helps that the only area in the Lower Mainland that has median home prices lower than Squamish is Maple Ridge, so for Vancouverites Squamish is a viable option, even if they commute.

The median sale price from January to July 2013 for a single-family detached home was $490,000 and for the same period in 2014 the price was about $536.000.

The median price for townhouses went down year over year, from about $367,500 in the first six months of 2013 to $357,861 in the first six months of 2014. The median price of apartments stayed stable at about $215,000.

Squamish has a zero vacancy rate in the rental market, which also encourages previous renters to consider buying.

"We are definitely converting some first-time home buyers who want the stability and the security of not being bumped around and that has a tendency to filter up through the market," Bjornson said.

Similarly, rental prices have gone up, which encourages investors to buy up properties they can safely predict will make money.

The current low interest rates available have also helped spur the market.

Bjornson said the number of buyers from the Lower Mainland, who are escaping high prices, has almost doubled in the last year and a half. About 18 months ago, roughly 16 per cent of Squamish buyers were from the Vancouver area. This summer, that figure has been closer to 29 per cent.

She is also seeing a small contingent of buyers from Whistler look to Squamish, whereas in recent years there were very few.

There is no typical buyer, but if she had to profile the housing consumer this summer, Bjornson said most are young parents or youngish professional couples looking for lifestyle and affordability.

In terms of advice for buyers, Jill Carter, realtor for RE/MAX Sea to Sky Real Estate Squamish, said her best advice is to have their ducks in a row before arriving in Squamish. "It is not last year. I think what is happening is buyers who were here last year are thinking they have some time," she said. Now buyers don't have their pick of houses or time to dither. The inventory in Squamish has been reduced considerably. Carter said there are about 22 units on the market with an asking price in the "sweet spot" of between $450,000 and $600,000. For townhouses between the $300,000 to $450,000 range, there are 45 units available.

In terms of sellers, Carter said it is a good time to sell, but sellers still have to have reasonable expectations.

"You still can't get overly greedy, but at the same time you are in a bit of a sellers' market," she said.

"The things that are moving are the things that are priced properly and are still seemingly good value, it is not like we are in a crazed market," she said, adding that there are some competitive multiple-offer situations happening, but it is not like people are able to get whatever they want for their home, beyond reason.

Carter said she doesn't see a huge surge in pricing over the next two years, adding: "[The market] is going to keep doing what it is doing."



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