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Flurry of activity leads to historic low in Whistler's real-estate inventory

Last year saw 22-per-cent increase in real-estate sales activity
HOT PROPERTY A 22-per-cent increase in real-estate transactions last year bumped up property values and left Whistler with little in the way of inventory for sale.

Last year proved to be a busy one for Whistler's real estate market, leading to a historic low in the number of properties for sale.

According to its annual market review based on data from the Whistler Listing Service, the Whistler Real Estate Co. reported a 22-per-cent increase in the number of transactions compared to 2015, which itself saw a 14-per-cent bump. The average transaction price rose 12.6 per cent in 2016 to $901,765, continuing last year's trend when property values returned to pre-recession levels.

Buyer interest peaked in the first half of the year due to a favourable exchange rate, low interest rates, a strong regional economy and a record-number of visitors to the resort, explained Whistler Real Estate Co. president Pat Kelly.

"In a general sense, real estate was really the flavour of the day for people on the West Coast. Vancouver was very busy and there are a lot of factors that have led up to that, and Whistler was a beneficiary to some extent," he said.

The lower end of the scale continues to see the most activity locally, with nearly 70 per cent of all real-estate transactions in Whistler last year falling under the $1-million mark. Condominiums and townhouses drove the bulk of the demand, making up 65 per cent of the market and amounting to almost 400 reported transactions in 2016. Condo prices rose 11.7 per cent overall last year, while the average townhouse price went up 24 per cent to $947,000. Single-family homes were also popular, with the average price jumping 32 per cent to $2.25 million.

The luxury sector, made up of properties over $2 million, remained strong with 83 reported transactions making up 28 per cent of last year's total market value. The average price in this segment rose 13 per cent to $3.52 million.

With such strong demand combined with Whistler's longstanding development cap, Kelly said the resort is experiencing a lack of inventory it has never seen that will likely continue to drive up prices before the market eventually levels off.

"I think the activity level is going to slow only because we don't have a lot of supply, and buyers need to have something to buy," he said.

Kelly believes resort officials should look at the question of whether Whistler needs to expand its housing supply "objectively and unemotionally."

"If there's an opportunity that's of benefit to the community and provides more housing of any type, that's going to make the market more diverse and more interesting," he noted. Three different resident-restricted housing projects making up 250 bed units are currently slated for Cheakamus Crossing. "There are customers for everything in Whistler, there's no lack of buyers. It's a function of whether they want to pay the prices."

Outside of Whistler, Kelly pointed to a number of external factors that could also impact the resort, such as new incoming tax and lending rules, political uncertainty around the upcoming provincial election as well as Donald Trump's presidency, and the flattening of the Vancouver market.

"There's some expectation that the frothiness of the Vancouver market is going to be tempered," he said. "Sixty-five to 70 per cent of our buyers come from the Lower Mainland, and if they're not feeling as good about real estate as an investment, they'll be less eager to move forward on a purchase in Whistler."