Whistler, Canada, has long been considered one of the best ski resorts in North America, if not
best. But in the past few years, the area's luxury real estate market has picked up steam as the region has attracted more attention.
"It's evolved from a very small local ski area into a worldwide reputation now," says Robert Ledingham, president of Ledingham Design Consultants, one of Canada's largest interior designers.
Part of the interest of late has been due to the Winter Olympics coming to Vancouver in 2010. Whistler's two massive mountains, 56 miles north of Vancouver, will play host to the skiing events at the games. And that is creating a buzz for the area's luxury real estate.
"It's putting us more on the world map. Every time you see an athlete from Canada in public right now, they're talking about 2010," says Ann Chiasson, president of Sea to Sky Premier Properties, a luxury-home broker in Whistler.
"I've had calls from New York and Miami and areas where they hadn't looked at Whistler before. They're saying 'Oh they're having the Olympics, it must be a good place to go,'" Chiasson says.
Of course, those in the know have long praised Whistler for its wonderful skiing, beautiful golf courses and mountain biking.
has continually ranked the area among the best ski resorts in North America.
The weather, however, can be a problem. Last year, Whistler had snow troubles, as the region was instead showered with rain. Nearby Vancouver is kind of like the Seattle of Canada. "It's marvelous as long as we have snow," Ledingham says about the skiing. This winter, 15 feet of snow fell in January, setting a 25-year record.
Plateau of Luxury
Unlike Vail, Colo. -- often viewed as one of Whistler's major competitors for the title of best North American ski resort -- Whistler is not overdriven by luxury shops and rich people, yet. Case in point: Whistler Village has not begun selling Fendi bags, Ledingham says.
Even the luxury real estate market looks cheaper on a relative basis. The highest-priced houses in Whistler have been selling in the $3.5 million to $9 million range, whereas in Vail, home sales have been averaging $5 million. The highest sale to date in Whistler came last May, when a European businessman paid $9.7 million for a home.
Real estate buyers have been coming not only from Canada and the U.S. but also Australia, England and Germany. And the area's location on the West Coast makes it a home for Pacific Rim money, particularly from Hong Kong and Australia.
Currently, there are several "extra special" properties on the market that are testing the upper limits of pricing. One is a 7500-square-foot "villa" carved into Whistler mountain in the development known as Sunridge Plateau, a series of ski-in, ski-out luxury parcels built by Vancouver-based Taina Group. The property -- dubbed "The Villa on Sunridge Plateau" -- is being offered at $14.9 million. The five-bedroom house features an entertainment level with an indoor swimming pool, waterfall, spa area and pool table. The exterior is built of hand-stripped logs and cedar siding.
Dominic Soave, co-founder of the Taina Group, had the home built for himself and has lived in it for the past year, but now he needs to move. "I have a family that's in another location," Soave says. "I want to join them." He says his home is the largest one built so far in the development. All but 10 of the 35 lots in the project have been built upon so far.
But will these premium prices be attainable? Tim Regan, owner of Vision Pacific, the leading builder of high-end homes in Whistler, thinks so. Regan says the record $9.7 million house, which he sold and built, probably could have commanded a higher price. But his pricing at the time was partly due to several slow years of sales after Sept. 11, 2001. "Last year was an excellent year. It was our biggest year ever," Regan says. Last year, there were a total of 18 high-end homes sold in Whistler in the $2.6 million to $9.7 million range, according to Sea to Sky Premier Properties.
Regan is also currently testing the pricing limits of the market, with a five-bedroom mansion located on five acres in his Grove project for $13 million.
Part of the reason he's so confident about the market is the interest from buyers outside the U.S. As the Canadian dollar continues to appreciate, it's becoming more expensive for American to buy homes there. The Canadian dollar is up almost 50% against the U.S. dollar in the past three years. Anyone who bought a home in Whistler three years ago has made some good money as the asset appreciated and the Canadian dollar strengthened.
"We're looking like a stable, good place to invest," Regan says.