After a fevered couple years in Whistler’s always-hot real estate market, things appear to have cooled down somewhat over the past few months—although don’t expect home prices to come down significantly anytime soon.
“It’s kind of a more normal market,” said RE/MAX Sea to Sky Real Estate co-owner Matt Chiasson. “There is still plenty of demand and plenty of sales happening, it’s just not as rushed or frenzied—but the prices are still very high. They drove up in 2021 and they’ve stayed there.”
Even to seasoned realtors, the pandemic’s effect on the local market came as something of a shock. Many anticipated a major slowdown as COVID restrictions kept people indoors and foreign demand dwindled, but that wasn’t meant to be. In what will go down as the market’s second busiest year in a decade, by the end of 2021, inventory had dwindled and prices plateaued.
“I don’t think anyone had the crystal ball that predicted a pandemic would have such a dynamic effect on buyers wanting to get out of urban or suburban areas and have secondary homes,” said Ron Mitchell, managing broker at Engel & Volkers Whistler.
According to the Whistler Listing Service, active listings have continued to climb this year, hitting 220 last month, up from 126 in January and approaching the total listings in January of last year. (In a sign of the shifting market, Mitchell said Engel & Volkers has recently added a second whiteboard to their office where they track active listings.)
Sales have cooled off, too, with 29 completed transactions last month, less than half of the sales in January and well below last year’s high of 113 sales, recorded in March 2021. Part of that is fuelled by the wider economic uncertainty that has already pushed property prices down in some of Canada’s bubbliest markets.
“We’ve seen a very strong run the last number of years and I think a lot of things are influencing people: the fact that interest rates are up; gas prices going up; globally, there are issues with the war in Ukraine,” Mitchell said. “They may not directly affect us 100 per cent but the psychology of it I think has some impact on people.”
It also means Whistler is inching back towards the buyer’s side of the market, giving them more options to choose from and a slight stabilization in cost as listers come down from their high pandemic price points.
“We’re back to a bit more normal conditions where you can actually have some time to negotiate and you might have some options,” said David Higgins, managing broker for the Whistler Real Estate Company. “You’ve got to remember, even when you’re discussing prices coming down, in Whistler, we are fundamentally not building anything else … so it’s just going to be supply and demand—and we’re not supplying anything of great measure.”
The resort’s long-standing cap on development is in many ways the true driver of Whistler’s real estate market—and it’s also a big part of the reason demand has stayed so consistently high. The right property at the right price, like, say, a one-bedroom in the Aspen complex or a renovated two-bedroom in the Benchlands, will still get snatched up in mere days, if not hours, Mitchell said.
“Anything that is a well-priced, attractive property where there is a limited amount of it is still getting good interest. Others can sit and wait. Where there’s multiple properties in a complex and buyers can re-evaluate and there’s no sense of urgency, that’s the difference.”
Domestic buyers, always a dominant force in the market, were even more prevalent through the pandemic. And although Canada’s borders have reopened, Higgins doesn’t expect a rebound in foreign buyers—a fraction of the market even before COVID—until international tourism to Whistler picks up.
“The pandemic proved people have to be able to come to Whistler to buy property, whether it’s international or local,” he said. “Until the U.S. and foreign market comes back here in full force as far as visiting, I don’t think you’re going to see a huge increase.”
A comprehensive, provincially mandated housing needs assessment completed by the Resort Municipality of Whistler this spring found that more than 90 per cent of Whistler residents can't currently afford to buy an average market property here.