By Amy Fendley The real estate market in Whistler was not spectacular in 1998, but statistics indicate that a robust tourist market could change buying trends this year. Internationally, there is an interest in Whistler’s high-end homes. Real estate sales for 1998 were one-half that of 1997, but the Christmas period brought to Whistler international visitors who seem to have kick-started the market. In particular, the market for million-dollar homes. Larger homes in the more exclusive subdivisions such as Blueberry Hill, Sunridge Plateau, Taluswood, Pinnacle Heights and Horstman Estates were the first to go. With prices between $1.5 million and $3.4 million, these larger homes were purchased by people from Hong Kong, Britain, Singapore and the United States. A lack of snow in Colorado and the weak Canadian dollar has drawn a new crop of visitors to come to Whistler for the first time. Drew Meredith, president of the Whistler Real Estate Company, says that the current real estate market is primarily driven by visitors to the resort. "These people probably do not know that they are going to buy when they leave home, but that changes when they get here," said Meredith, who says the typical buyer is over 40 and is looking for a combination of an estate to enjoy with the extended family, and an investment in Canadian dollars. These people are not frequent visitors to the resort but would plan two or three visits a year. An example of this type of sale would be a 4,591 square foot new home at Pinnacle Heights that sold for $2,290,000. The house is at the framing stage and is being built by Intrawest. While there are more property owners in Whistler from Ontario than from the U.S., Meredith said that this is likely to change starting this year. "The double whammy of good value coupled with the inevitable rise in the Canadian dollar provides for an excellent investment vehicle for U.S. buyers," says Meredith. "However, the U.S. still has a long way to go to compete with the buyers from Asia." While there is a tendency to focus on the sale of the higher end homes, sales activity at all levels appeared to be on the rise in 1998 as a result of a 10 per cent drop in market values from 1997. The average value of lots has gone down due to sales of Spruce Grove lots. Last year the average price of lots was up due to resale’s in Green Lakes. The average cost of a lot in Whistler dropped to $307,000 in 1998 from $463,000 in 1997, although the average was brought down by the sale of the smaller lots in Spruce Grove. The average sale price of a condo rose approximately $9,000 from 1997 to 1998, and chalets jumped from an average sale price of $693,000 to $804,000.