By Loreth Beswetherick
The real estate community was watching to see how units in Intrawest’s new high-end Taluswood project would sell and results confirmed Whistler is being driven by a global market isolated from B.C. trends.
The townhouses were not expected to be cheap and the feeling late last year was that sales of units in The Heights at Taluswood would provide an even clearer indication of what forces will be driving the Whistler property market in the future.
Intrawest officially offered the 26 ski-in, ski-out townhouses for sale Wednesday, February 23 at an average $1 million per unit. A few hours later that day all had been snapped up for a total value of around $26 million — and there were several buyers, many of them international, still on the waitlist who were left empty handed.
The brisk sales at Taluswood then sparked a flurry of real estate activity that spilled over into in the rest of Whistler’s luxury market, with a number of real estate transactions over $1 million closing since the Taluswood launch.
"This confirms Whistler has a significant international influence and increasingly people are recognizing the value of our ski-in, ski-out real estate as being exceptionally good value on a world-wide scale," said Pat Kelly, owner and president of Whistler Real Estate, the company that handles sales for all Intrawest’s new fee simple developments in Whistler.
Intrawest’s resort development group vice president, Doug Ogilvy agrees. He said the success indicated Whistler is on a world stage being driven by a global market.
The Taluswood buyers fitted the pattern expected, said Kelly. About 60 per cent were out of the Vancouver or Whistler area and already owned vacation properties in the resort. They were familiar with the Whistler product and were opting to upgrade their vacation homes. Some already owned property elsewhere in Taluswood "We definitely saw some loyalty within the Taluswood neighbourhood," said Ogilvy.
The balance was made up of a diverse international group with buyers from Los Angeles, Venice, England, Ireland, Hong Kong, Washington state, Florida and Tokyo.
"It was a very similar profile to what we have seen in Whistler in the last year and a half," said Kelly. "The social demographic profile too was very similar to what I expected — people between 40 and 60 who are in the top one per cent of our economy who have decided Whistler is a very attractive place to be and that it is good value," he said. "And I don’t see that trend stopping."
The Heights at Taluswood, however, was not marketed in the usual Intrawest fashion with bulk mail outs and ‘preferred client’ invitations, said Ogilvy. "It was basically marketed through relationships within the Whistler real estate community. There was already a lot of interest in the project as soon as we started going through the municipal approval process. There was no direct mail and no advertising other than in the Whistler Real Estate Guide, which is published once a month."
The level of interest was so keen prospective buyers were asked for a $25,000 deposit, which was refunded for those unsuccessful in acquiring a townhouse and put towards the purchase price for those lucky enough to get a unit. "It was basically done to differentiate between people who were just talking and those who were seriously interested," said Ogilvy.
Kelly said buyers thinking of plunking down $1 million need to be handled a little differently. "When you are selling property at this level there is a much stronger need to create a relationship with the customer. We need to sit down with them and give a comfort level that what is on the plans is what they are going to get. We did do some advertising but in a very subtle manner."
Ogilvy said The Heights attracted more of what he calls long-haul purchasers, a trend he saw developing in the sale of The Bluffs at Taluswood last year. "Four years ago a townhouse buyer lived in Vancouver. Now we are seeing more of them fly to their second homes," said Ogilvy.
Kelly attributes this pattern to the success of the Vancouver International Airport and direct flights from the Eastern Seaboard. "It never used to be a direct flight and that is a big factor. I also thing its the awareness — the job Tourism Whistler has done. Two wonderful snow seasons don’t hurt any either, plus there is the value of the Canadian dollar," he said. "There is no question that, for international people who go to Vail and see a $1.6 million property and then come here and see a $1.6 million home, this is a cheap $1.6 million for them."
The Heights sales should bode well for the remainder of the Taluswood development as well as Intrawest’s high-end Peaks project. "In fact it bodes well for any project located next to a major amenity like a golf course or on the mountain," said Kelly.
Ogilvy said he expects the successful pattern will continue with sales of Intrawest’s Four Seasons strata-titled hotel planned for land near the Chateau Whistler. "The Four Seasons will also attract a certain clientele."
The Heights is the fifth project in the Taluswood neighbourhood, a master-planned community high on the side of Whistler Mountain.
Intrawest’s last launch in that area, The Bluffs, sold out in one day last September.
Construction on The Heights is slated to begin April with anticipated completion in May of 2001. Planning for the remaining two sites at Taluswood are now underway.