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Demand heating up for recreational properties across Canada—including in Whistler

With interest rates expected to level off, buyers’ confidence is coming back

The average residential price of a market property in Whistler decreased by 13.4 per cent, to $1,623,452, between the first quarter of 2022 and 2023. Meanwhile, in Ucluelet, prices increased 12 per cent to $764,000 during the same time period.

Those were some of the statistics highlighted in RE/MAX Canada’s 2023 Cottage Trends report, which identifies patterns across the country’s recreational property markets.

But take the report’s observations with a grain of salt: Whistler’s unique real estate market is difficult to compare to any other community’s, said Stefanie Hostetter, RE/MAX Sea to Sky Real Estate CEO—even those similarly focused around recreation and popular among second homeowners.

“We have the highest-value homes and recreational properties in Canada,” she said. “Muskoka doesn’t compare. Tofino is beautiful, but it doesn’t compare.”

On a national basis, RE/MAX Canada doesn’t differentiate residential properties from tourist accommodation in quite the same way Whistler’s real estate industry does, Hostetter explained. With such a limited inventory of properties listed and low number of transactions each quarter across those “micro-niches”—ranging from Whistler’s high-end luxury market and occupancy-restricted condos to part-time ownership opportunities in Phase II properties—even one outlying luxury sale can skew average prices, she said.

In the first quarter (Q1) of 2022, Whistler recorded 236 sales, according to Hostetter. Of those, 13 were priced over $5 million, and five fell between the $10-million and $15-million mark.

“Those are big numbers for a small number of sales,” Hostetter said.

“This year, we had 136 sales [in Q1], but none of them were over $9 million. Our biggest sale was $8.6 million,” she said. “When you’re talking about double the amount of luxury sales in terms of number of sales, plus the higher value of those sales, in 2022 we had a much higher total-dollar-value sell in Q1 than in 2023. So that’s the story—it’s a pure case of what is selling, and not how much certain properties are selling for.”

For Q1 of 2023, the median sale price of Whistler properties “increased both year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter for townhouses and condos, while the market saw a slight decrease in the median price of single-family homes,” according to the Whistler Real Estate Company’s (WREC) market report.

As of Tuesday, May 2, there were 194 properties listed for sale in Whistler—“from chalets to parking stalls,” said Hostetter—and 51 in Pemberton.

That’s up from last year, when there were approximately 90 Whistler listings on May 1, 2022, said WREC realtor Dave Brown.

“That had been pretty consistent,” he said. “We were hovering somewhere around 75 to 90 listings, and as we saw the year go on in 2022, by July we got to 176 listings, and then as we went along, that trend continued with the higher number of listings, fluctuating between about 175 and 150.

“Although listing inventory went up—in some cases almost close to double—it was still at very historically low levels,” added Brown, who has posted weekly market reports for the resort to his website since 2008. That’s compared to years like 2010, when there were 800 properties listed for sale in Whistler that April, or even April 2015, when Whistler counted about 380 listings.

Even with inventory on the lower end of the spectrum—Whistler had about 250 listings in April 2020, Brown said—the resort saw a higher-than-usual volume of properties sold in the first couple years of the pandemic.

That pace slowed in 2022 as the Bank of Canada continued raising its benchmark interest rates, from 0.25 per cent in March 2022 to 4.5 per cent in January of this year.

With interest rates predicted to remain steady for the foreseeable future, realtors say buyers’ confidence is returning.

“I think a lot of people were expecting a lot more inventory to come on, and that really didn’t occur compared to historical levels,” said Brown.

For the average buyer, “We’re starting to realize that life events are still causing us to move, and that’s why we’re seeing this heating-up of the market right now,” said Hostetter.

The realtore expects “we might see a little bit of pent-up demand from the last eight months," she added, "because [buyers] have held off and were waiting to see what happened [with interest rates]. Now we kind of know.”

Brown said Whistler buyers started becoming more active in February, with activity continuing to pick up as the year has progressed. “Definitely in April we’ve seen one of our busiest weeks for property sales,” he noted.

Hostetter has also noted more buyers coming into the RE/MAX Sea to Sky office inquiring about properties in “the last couple of weeks,” she said. “We have seen well-priced properties in good condition go for multiple offers. That is coming back.”

That’s all to say Whistler remains a seller’s market.

That does fall in line with what some realtors and economists are expecting to see across the country in the coming months, according to the RE/MAX Cottage Trends report. The study predicts the national average price in recreational markets will rise about 0.9 per cent in 2023.

Still, it’s not the worst time to be a buyer in Whistler, even with interest rates higher than in recent years.

“Back in 2021 or early 2022, if you wanted to put an offer in on the property, it often involved having to do it without due diligence or enough time for subject conditions [if you wanted your offer to be successful] and maybe a multiple-offer situation,” said Brown. “Although we are seeing some multiple-offer situations, we’re seeing more the ability to have some time, potentially, for doing due diligence, like building inspections, getting your financing approved, that kind of thing.”