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Regional buyers driving recovery of resort's real estate market

Transactions on pace to make 2013 most active year since pre-recession in Whistler

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With consumer confidence rising since the global economic downturn of several years ago, regional buyers are driving the uptick in Whistler's recovering real estate market.

With 548 transactions recorded through the Whistler Listing System so far this year, 2013 is on pace to see the highest level of real estate sales activity in the resort since 2007. There were 530 transactions listed in all of 2008, the first year of the financial crisis. The total dollar value of property purchases in the resort in 2008 was around $420 million, and 10 months into this year that total has reached $390 million, according to the Whistler Listing System.

"The trend would indicate that we should finish somewhere around $440 million or $450 million, making it the best year since 2008," Whistler Real Estate Co. president Pat Kelly said. "We kind of bottomed out sometime late in 2010, and it's been a very steady improvement since. Certainly we expect growth to continue moderately going into the New Year in the marketplace, both in terms of activity and in terms of value."

With a weaker U.S. dollar, American buyers are not as active in the resort marketplace as before, Kelly said, leaving real estate agents' focus on the regional consumer.

"Our success or failure is through how we resonate or identify with the Lower Mainland, and perhaps Seattle," he said. "Whereas the destination tourist is a really important part of the tourist market, the percentage of international buyers coming to Whistler only represents about 15 per cent of the real estate market."

Re/Max Sea to Sky agent Matt Chiasson also noted the surge in regional buyers looking to purchase in Whistler.

"With the loss of our foreign buyers, the Lower Mainland has really upticked. They were always 60 to 70 per cent of our market, now they're 80 to 90 per cent," he said.

Changes to the economic landscape have also resulted in shifting consumer demands, with buyers looking for better value on long-term property investments.

"The market now is very lifestyle-oriented and very much about buying for the future as compared to what it was in the 2000s when there was a lot of investment and speculation buying," Kelly said. "People plan on being part of the community for a longer period of time, so the quality's got to be there, the workmanship, and the confidence. They're going to own the home for a while, so they want to make sure it's the right decision, whereas four or five years ago people were buying stuff based on a floor plan."

While home prices in Whistler are slowly on the rise — the average sale price of a chalet listed in the resort has increased by nearly eight per cent since 2008 — and with the economic downturn still a recent memory, the typical consumer is proceeding with caution before investing in resort property.

"There's a lot of buyers taking their time, looking at multiple properties and taking a lot longer to make a decision than they used to because they think there's less pressure on them," Chiasson said, who estimated the average sale price for a Re/Max home in Whistler was between $600,000 and $615,000 last year, with 2013's average closer to $700,000. He attributed this increase to a larger proportion of home purchases this year, compared to 2012, which saw a significant number of mid-range condominiums sold by Re/Max.

Whistler Real Estate is seeing rising consumer interest in home purchases as well, with more single-family homes sold in the first 10 months of 2013 then all of 2012, according to Kelly, who said Whistler's growing attractiveness as a year-round destination is a contributing factor.

"I think the reinvention of Whistler has allowed us to stay relevant with people looking for a recreational property purchase," he said.

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