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Local agents dismiss Olympics as a major factor in real estate prices

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By Clare Ogilvie and Alison Taylor

It is unlikely that being short-listed for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games will have any significant impact on already high real estate prices in North America’s number one ski resort.

"I don’t see that a house that is listed at $8 million today will be worth $10 million tomorrow," said Anne Chiasson, owner of Sea to Sky Real Estate.

The real impact is likely to be felt in the surrounding areas, such as Pemberton and Squamish she said.

"People will soon realize they are only 25 minutes and 45 minutes away and that is nothing in the world scheme," said Chiasson.

Where the shortlisting might help is simply in keeping Whistler at the forefront of people’s minds as they look at real estate.

"I think we will have steady real estate investors because of it," said Chiasson.

"I really think that we are already on a positive track. Areas in the past that have benefited from increases in economics have been small hamlets that have put the Games on and people haven’t really been aware of where they were.

"But people come here because it is a destination resort which offers golf, skiing, water sports, mountain biking and so on so we have been on a steady track of growth.

"Adding an Olympics to our portfolio is not really as big a deal to us as it would have been for say Salt Lake City.

"What I think really we are going to see is that we won’t slump, it will help us maintain our values."

Those values have been on the rise at a rapid pace.

Last year single-family homes in neighbourhoods like Alpine Meadows increased on average 15-20 per cent. This has been a pattern over the past three years.

"Homes don’t do that sometimes over a period of 10 or 15 years," said Re/Max of Whistler owner Michael d’Artois.

"When you get that jump over a period of a year or so it’s because of the lack of supply and just increased demand."

He said that people don’t fully understand how little supply there is in Whistler.

In the 2001 bed unit inventory summary, which is still in a draft form and has yet to be signed off by council, there are only 2,350 undeveloped dwelling units left in Whistler out of a possible 16,179.

In a popular area like Alpine South there are eight undeveloped units left and in Alpine North there are 18.

"Previously we were always building new projects," said d’Artois.

"There were 600 or 700 new units coming on every year so that helped to soothe the values a little bit.

"If you don’t have any supply... (People) will pay anything just to get the product. Having said that I still think we’re very good value in terms of resorts around the world."

Squamish is currently experiencing a bit of a boom with home sales about twice what they were last year.

The Squamish rental market is strong so some are investing in property and renting it out. A $250,000 home with a suite can rent for $1,500 to $1,700 a month.

Part of the hot market is due to people cashing out of Pemberton and moving into a bigger more affordable home in Squamish.

Black Tusk Realty’s manager Lisa Bjorson said the Olympic short-listing might lead to people taking an even harder look at the area as a place to live and invest.

"But do I think we will see immediately changes in our situation?" she asked "I don’t feel it will. I don’t think being on the short list will be enough for an investor to make that big move now."

Making the short-list simply adds confidence to the market, said d’Artois.

"(The Olympics) don’t directly impact our prices and the activity that’s going on... I think all it really does is reinforce the confidence that people have in Whistler as a resort as well as B.C. and Canada. We are shortlisted to be on the Olympics and it wouldn’t go to places where the economy isn’t stable and where politically things aren’t correct," he said.

That being the case, he said if Whistler is not awarded the Games in July there would be no subsequent downturn in the real estate market here.

Said Pat Kelly of the Whistler Real Estate company: "I think it is great that we are on the short list and certainly we are supportive of the Olympic initiative.

"But I think we will just keep selling real estate because Whistler is a neat place not because we might get the Olympics."

He says there might be some truth to the idea of self-fulfilling prophecy.

"I think that markets are made by psychology and I think there are a number of people who believe that the Olympics are going to cause prices to go up and their actions are in fact impacting prices."

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