Whistler’s benchmark housing prices in the detached and townhome categories have surpassed Vancouver’s, and the reason could be Vail Ski Resort’s Epic Pass.
“They took over Whistler Blackcomb this past year, and of the things that did was open up a market for us that we never used to have—they have the Epic Pass, which allows clients to ski at many different resorts, and it opened up the New York buyers,” said Karen Garrett, broker and co-owner of DLC Sea to Sky Mortgage Team (2017). “They never came to Whistler Blackcomb, but on the Epic Pass they can. It’s a different echelon of buyer; you’re still seeing very deep pockets but they’re just coming from other places, or they’re more wealthy clients buying into Whistler.”
According to Bloomberg News, a detached house in Whistler costs $1.67mln—4% more than it does in Vancouver—and the Whistler Housing Authority says a third of businesses were incapable of finding enough staff last year because of the exorbitant cost of living.
“There’s a lot more time on the waiting list to get into affordable housing,” said Garrett. “The Resort Municipality of Whistler and the Whistler Housing Authority are working to build more affordable housing. They have a team now working to crack down on the expensive, illegal rentals. It’s a struggle for sure.”
Unaffordability typically results in exodus. However, Garrett says people aren’t leaving Whistler because it’s unaffordable. Instead, they’re cashing out and moving to the Lower Mainland.
“People are leaving to live in cheaper places, but they’re cashing out at a hefty gain and going to live in places like Vancouver Island or other places on the Lower Mainland for cheaper,” she said. “I don’t think they’re leaving because they can’t afford to live here. They’re leaving because they can afford to live somewhere else cheaper. They’re leaving because now they realize they’re sitting on a very good nest egg and it can go so much further somewhere else.”
Michelle Ellis, a Verico Paragon Mortgage Group broker, says low supply, not non-resident buyers, is the culprit for rising housing prices in Whistler and neighbouring Squamish, where she is based.
“The majority of buyers are not foreign,” she said. “They’re locals or from other parts of B.C. and Alberta, perhaps buying second residences, but there aren’t that many non-resident buyers anymore. It’s one of the best places in the world to live.”
Still, Garrett has noticed a conspicuous difference in residents.
“I’ve met more New Yorkers here than I’ve ever met before, and I would attribute that to the Epic Pass.”