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real estate boom

The summer of 1996 may be the biggest construction year ever in Whistler — more than 1,100 multi-family dwelling units are under construction — but trying to find a residence under $300,000 is becoming very difficult. Condo-hotel units, such as those offered in the Mont Blanc, One Whistler Village and Alpenglow projects under construction this summer, have created a whole new market for people who want a second home in Whistler, says Drew Meredith of the Whistler Real Estate Co. "A lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have bought in Whistler are buying in," he says. "(Condo-hotel units) provide good cash flow," because they go into a rental pool when they’re not being used. Their investment value may be seen in the fact two people bought 10 units each in One Whistler Village. Meredith says a lot of condo-hotel unit buyers are boomers from Vancouver who have the money to invest. But despite the construction boom this year, Whistler’s inventory of properties is shrinking; it’s turning into a seller’s market. And while there have been lots of condo-hotel units on the market in recent months, the last four or five months have seen the supply of homes under $300,000 dry up. "I think the Millar’s Pond lottery had a big impact," says Meredith. "There was a whole bunch of people who went out and qualified — virtually got mortgage approvals — who didn’t know they could afford a unit." There were only 85 units offered in the Millar’s Pond employee housing project but more than 700 people entered the Feb. 28 lottery for the chance to buy one of those units. Some entrants who were disqualified from the draw threatened the Whistler Valley Housing Society with legal action. Another indicator of the demand for affordable housing is seen at Eva Lake Village, another employee housing project, where prices have gone up about 25 per cent from last year. Mortgage rates, which currently stand at about 6.5 per cent, are part of the reason for the boom at the low end of the Whistler market. A growing year-round population is another reason, but Whistler’s self-imposed ceiling on development is also starting to have an effect. "More and more people believe the cap is a real thing," says Meredith. "People realize they have to get in before the door is shut." The cap only applies to market value properties, as proposals for 100 per cent employee housing projects are still being entertained by Whistler council. But the cap is likely a factor in driving up the price of older condos that were previously at the low end of the market. Single family homes are virtually impossible to find for less than $400,000. There are only about three building lots on the market in the $200,000 range and maybe 20 in the $300,000 range. Meredith suggests the biggest beneficiary of the Millar’s Pond lottery process may have been Pemberton. With units under $300,000 hard to find in Whistler many people, including some who didn’t get a unit in Millar’s Pond, turned to Pemberton. As a result projects such as the Creekside development at the entrance to Pemberton sold quickly. "Thirty-one of the 65 units were pre-sold before they were built. That just wouldn’t happen in Squamish," says Meredith. He adds the prices were higher than what comparable units in Squamish would fetch. There were 40 real estate sales in Pemberton to the end of May, up from 18 for the same period last year. The value of sales in Pemberton to the end of May was more than $5 million, compared to $2,658,000 for the same period in 1995.

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