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Whistler property assessments rise again, Pemberton, Squamish assessments soar

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If you thought Whistler’s record-setting real estate market was dropping off, think again.

The provincial property assessments are out and the numbers show that real estate prices in Whistler increased again last year. But for the first time ever the markets to the north and south of Whistler have far outstripped price increases in the resort.

Whistler has seen comparatively modest increases from July 2002 to July 2003, which is the assessment time frame. The assessment increases are more in line with what’s happening in urban areas throughout the province.

The big price increases this year are in Pemberton and Squamish, places that are now riding Whistler’s coattails in real estate success.

"Whistler isn’t the price leader even in the valley," said Area Assessor David Highfield with the B.C. Assessment Authority.

"Pemberton and Squamish have picked up the torch."

Property assessments have recently been mailed to all property owners in the corridor. Whistler owners will find that most properties have increased in assessed value but not as much as they did last year.

For example, a single family home in Alpine Meadows that was assessed at $890,000 in July 2002, sold for $1.16 million in April 2003. That’s a 13 per cent increase. This contrasts drastically with last year’s average increases in Alpine, which reached up to 60 per cent.

Similar price assessments applied to single family homes in Creekside, where a home that was assessed at $900,000 in July 2002, sold for $1.1 million in April 2003. That’s a 12 per cent increase.

"That’s not atypical for what was going on in Whistler," said Highfield.

He was hesitant to give an overall percentage increase for Whistler properties because each home, condo and commercial building can vary in value.

"I would prefer not to talk about an overall percentage because it’s so misleading," said Highfield.

"It just doesn’t apply to different property types and different houses."

Condominiums and townhouses in Whistler also increased in assessed value. The example provided by the Assessment Authority shows a Whistler condo increasing by 11 per cent.

Commercial properties saw a bigger price increase compared to any other real estate, with some properties jumping as much as 20 to 30 per cent.

Highfield said the best way to convey the change in real estate is to look at the assessment roll, which is the total real estate value in the community, including new projects and commercial real estate.

Whistler’s assessment roll has increased from $8.7 billion in 2002 to $9.88 billion in 2003, which is close to 13.5 per cent. Last year’s assessment roll increased by close to 34 per cent.

Though Whistler’s price increases are down on the whole by more than half from the previous year, the market is still active and aggressive, said Highfield.

"When you’re still seeing 12 and 15 per cent increases that’s still pretty significant," he said.

"I think it would be incorrect for us to talk about a slow market. You have to have a very active market to drive prices up 10, 11, 15 per cent."

Though the numbers are an accurate reflection of what happened in Whistler from July 2002 to July 2003, they do not reflect what’s happening currently according to Pat Kelly, president of Whistler Real Estate.

"It doesn’t reflect what’s happened since February 2003 to date," said Kelly.

"If anything (the assessments) probably accurately described the peak in the market, particularly in the first quarter of 2003 when there was a couple of very expensive projects sold and it really yanked values up.

"Since that time the market has stabilized and if anything consolidated."

Kelly went on to explain that in Whistler, real estate agents are seeing a two-tiered market develop to some extent.

There’s the market with properties over $2 million that is not very active and hasn’t been since the spring of 2002, he said. And then there’s the market under that figure, that has remained fairly active.

On the whole however there have been fewer sales in the market over the past year.

"Basically in Whistler, real estate volume (or the total number of sales) is down about 35 per cent for the 2003 year from 2002," said Mike Wintemute, general manager of Windemere Sea to Sky Real Estate.

"But prices are not down and this is where people get confused.

"Sellers are getting the prices they’re asking. What they’re not getting is that if the last (property) sold for $600,000, they’re not getting $625,000 for the next sale.

"So we’re kind of seeing a levelling off of prices."

Wintemute added that this levelling off of prices, particularly in the over $2 million range, is starting to turn around now because buyers have seen the prices remain relatively flat for the past two years.

"You can say the market has slowed but there’s nothing wrong with the market," he said.

"The market is steady as she goes."

The markets to the north and south however are mimicking the Whistler real estate pattern of the past few years, with large spikes in assessed value compared to previous years.

In Pemberton a house that sold for $292,000 in March 2002 resold for $365,000 in April 2003 for a 25 per cent increase. All houses on this year’s assessment roll in Pemberton are worth more than they were the year before.

Likewise in Squamish a single family home in Garibaldi Highlands sold for $210,000 in April 2002 and resold for $322,000 in April 2003. That’s an increase of 53 per cent.

Highfield admits this example is on the higher end of the spectrum but again, all houses on the Squamish assessment roll are worth more than they were the year before.

With assessments jumping again, it follows then that property taxes could be on the rise again too.

Mayor Hugh O’Reilly said the resort has tentative confirmation from the province that resident property owners will get some school tax relief again this year.

Last year resident homeowners with homes assessed at under $2 million were eligible for the Homeowners Grant, which is usually only applied on properties valued at less than $525,000. The provincial government also lowered the school tax rate for year-round resident homeowners, which translated into a $160 grant per tax bill.

"It definitely helps with some of the affordability issues from a resident’s point of view in Whistler but there’s still a larger global issue of fairness and equity that hasn’t been addressed yet," said O’Reilly.

"We’ll continue to bang on that door."

In the meantime Highfield encourages any owner who does not think their property was fairly assessed to contact the B.C. Assessment Authority.

Lists of assessments by address are available at municipal hall, local libraries and government agent’s offices, as well as the B.C. Assessment Web site at www.bcassessment.bc.ca .

If after talking to B.C. Assessment property owners still have a concern about their assessment, they can request an independent review from the Property Assessment Review Panel.

The deadline to request an independent review is on Monday, Feb. 2.

If property owners have not received their 2004 assessment notice by Thursday, Jan. 15, contact the local assessment office immediately.