While Vail Resort's recently announced $1.4-billion takeover of Whistler Blackcomb Holdings is poised to introduce Whistler to a wider audience, local realtors don't expect the deal will have a huge impact on home prices.
"I don't think there's anything to suggest that prices will go up, but we might see some increase in sales activity, subject to all kinds of things," said Pat Kelly, president of the Whistler Real Estate Company.
With Vail Resorts' marketing reach and international cachet, not to mention Whistler's affordability compared to other major U.S. ski destinations, Kelly said Whistler will certainly be an attractive draw to potential investors. But he believes there is another, more influential factor at play.
"I still think the biggest draw into the resort and into Vancouver over the last little while has been the exchange rate as far as foreign buyers go," he said. "For anyone who has their wealth in U.S. funds, it's been a big advantage to them when it comes to buying and negotiating."
But it's important to remember how the housing markets in places like Vail and Aspen differ from Whistler's, said Re/Max Sea to Sky realtor Ann Chiasson.
"As mountain standards go, our real estate is very inexpensive compared to Vail. It's ridiculous. Aspen's the same... they're selling houses for $15 million or $20 million," she said. "We're probably not going to see that kind of activity because we don't have a lot of places where we can achieve that. Firstly, they're restricted in the amount of building they can do the same as we are, so yes, our prices will go up, but not everybody aspires to owning a $15-million to $20-million house."
As of July, the average price of a single family detached home in Whistler was $1.28 million, up 23 per cent from last year. A townhome was $755,000, up 25 per cent, while the average apartment cost $353,000, a 32-per-cent jump.
Chiasson doesn't see that trend continuing, however.
"To put it simply, there is a point at which the price becomes not prohibitive, but makes you think about what you're doing," she noted. "When the price hits that point, people think and the market starts to negotiate once again. That's where we are now: A more normal market."
With all the recent attention on foreign investors' role in Vancouver's real estate sector, some have predicted that Whistler could see some spillover from the city's recently instituted 15-per-cent foreign buyers tax.
Resort realtors, however, aren't convinced.
"As far as foreigners go, it's important to remember Whistler's not the only place they can look at," Kelly said, adding that Whistler isn't an "investment-driven" market like Vancouver.
"It's been a long time since I've seen somebody plunk down $800,000, rent a property out, and never visit it again," he said.
"We're probably seeing some people that have been cashing in in Vancouver coming up and buying. But are we the huge beneficiaries of that? Not really," added Chiasson, who pointed to other popular markets for Chinese buyers, such as New York, San Francisco and Toronto. "We don't have that much product in Whistler. We can't accommodate the world, really."
Looking at Vail Resorts' past real estate strategy, according to its development company's website, one of the primary goals is "to increase the bed base at the foot of our mountain resort, enhance the resort aesthetics, significantly add new amenities," all of which "enhances and drives our potential Mountain and Lodging profitability."
In recent years, however, Vail Resorts has shifted away from developing real estate itself, instead relying on third-party developers, a strategy that will continue in Whistler, according to an emailed statement from VP of corporate communications Kelly Ladyga.
Quoted in a January 2015 story in the Vail Daily, CEO Rob Katz told a meeting of the Vail Homeowners Association (VHA) that perhaps "90 per cent" of the company's past conflicts with communities stemmed from disputes over development projects.
"Now we can sit on the same side as communities," Katz said at the time, adding that the strategy allows the resort company to work with developers to create solutions to existing parking, transit or other infrastructural challenges.
In an email to Pique, VHA director Jim Lamont said it's still early to know what the full impact of the company's acquisition will be on Whistler's housing market. He did note that a review of Vail's real estate market indicated that its prime location, Vail Village, "has seen a flattening of values since the beginning of the year (and perhaps prior to)."
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