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Assessed property values in Whistler rose 20% last year

The resort still lagged behind red-hot markets in the Lower Mainland

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For the second year in a row, property assessments in Whistler saw a double-digit increase, but that paled in comparison to soaring property values in the Lower Mainland.

According to BC Assessment, local residential property values rose 20.27 per cent overall, based on the valuation date of July 1, 2016. That's compared to an 11.71-per-cent bump in 2015, and a six-per-cent increase the year prior. Business properties went up 14.62 per cent.

"It's certainly the most significant increase we've seen for most property types in the Lower Mainland, along with Whistler, in recent memory," said Jason Grant, regional assessor for BC Assessment.

It was the lower end of the market that really drove Whistler's percentage change, explained Re/Max Sea to Sky's Ann Chiasson.

"In Whistler, things that come on the market priced under $1.5 million are getting a lot of attention, but once you hit more than that, there are fewer buyers," she said.

Still, the resort's increase lagged behind red-hot markets elsewhere in B.C.

"The single-family properties that moved the most in the province both this year and last year are the ones closest in proximity to Vancouver. And by that, I'm saying that the 30- to 50-per-cent increases being reported from the Lower Mainland for single-family homes really stretch from Squamish to Chilliwack," Grant noted.

Assessed values for residential properties in Vancouver, for instance, went up 31 per cent, while North Vancouver saw a 34-per-cent hike, and Delta a 42-per-cent increase. Squamish was another big mover, with residential properties rising 35 per cent, and business properties going up 27 per cent.

"Squamish needed a correction because it had been sitting idle for so long that it hadn't had any attention paid to it," said Chiasson. One single-family home in downtown Squamish included as an example in the assessment rose a whopping 47 per cent last year, from $432,000 to $636,000.

Assessments in Pemberton also showed a dramatic jump, with residential units going up 22 per cent, and business properties 13 per cent.

Although he doesn't see valuations in the resort moving in the opposite direction anytime soon, Whistler Real Estate Co.'s Pat Kelly doesn't believe property values will continue to rise at their current pace.

"Prices in Whistler have traditionally been very sticky when it comes to moving down. So any downward movement, if it occurs, and I don't think it will, would be very, very soft," he said. "I can see us slowing in the pace of appreciation, but I would expect it still to continue to appreciate going forward."

Whistler's development cap, along with its growing international appeal, makes it a unique market when compared to the Lower Mainland. Factor that into Vancouver's longstanding reputation as one of the world's most livable cities, uncertainty around investing in the U.S. market with Donald Trump's incoming presidency, and Whistler's desire to attract more Chinese buyers, and Kelly said "there's nothing to say that demand may not drive prices higher than we expect.

"There are enough good stories about Whistler and enough energy going into bringing people to the resort, that I think we will always have a ready source of buyers.

"Values are determined by buyer confidence, and if they continue to love Whistler and think it's a great place to invest money, the fact that we have a fixed environment for real estate would mean that people will see a lot of safety in investing in Whistler."

All of that doesn't make it any easier for a first-time homebuyer to enter the market, however.

"I just don't see any scenario going forward where the first-time homebuyer making $20 an hour is going to find real estate more affordable in the future, nor do I think the private rental market is going to get any cheaper unless there's a whole different attitude around supply," said Kelly, who added that this makes the Whistler Housing Authority, which oversees the development and management of resident restricted housing, all the more essential for the community.

For those concerned with their property taxes going up after this year's assessment, Grant was quick to remind homeowners that a major increase in property value doesn't necessarily translate to higher taxes.

"These large changes are not in and of themselves indicative of how your taxes are going to change. It's more dependent on how your property performs relative to the average in the community," he said.

Homeowners can view how their property was assessed, and compare it to neighbouring properties, at www.evaluebc.bcassessment.ca. The deadline to appeal your assessment is Jan. 31.

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