Paul Liberatore

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As Vancouver housing prices surge, weekenders make the leap to Whistler


It’s no secret: Vancouver’s real estate market has taken off in the past year, with the prices of homes higher than ever. And with it comes the need for many Vancouverites to look elsewhere for places to raise their families or retire.

Not surprisingly, Whistler is becoming more than a mere tourist destination; it’s becoming the place where mountain enthusiasts want to live, many housing experts say.

“With the Vancouver market surging, many buyers are coming to Whistler,” said Marshall Viner, a real estate agent with Sutton West Coast Realty in Whistler. “With the highway now so convenient, it’s very easy.”

In fact, roughly 60 per cent of Viner’s clients are coming from Vancouver and business is booming — a point echoed by Patrick Kelly, co-owner of Whistler Real Estate Company.

“We’ve just finished the best quarter we’ve had in 10 years,” he said. “The last 15 months have been as good as I’ve seen since the early 2000s.”

Kelly believes much of the credit to Whistler’s increased popularity is a result of the resort’s recent rise of year-round programming, and the support from Mother Nature delivering the ideal weather each season.

“People see that every weekend they come here, they can do something,” he said. “Whistler has been on its game in terms of programming and weather, and it’s right in the sweet spot that makes it really attractive.”

Kenny and Michelle Gemmill are one couple who made the leap to move from Vancouver to Whistler. For the past two years they drove up to Whistler on the weekends and for school holidays.

They recently sold their home in Vancouver and decided to move to their vacation home in Whistler for one year.

“We always had it on our bucket list to move to Whistler for a year, and so we decided to do it,” said Michelle.

Kenny works as a Vancouver firefighter, and is the contractor for the TV show Love It Or List It Vancouver. He now commutes three to four days a week, but doesn’t mind driving the 100 plus kilometres.

“It’s probably similar in time to people who commute in rush hour to the suburbs,” he said. “But I’m never stuck in traffic and the drive is beautiful. I can also do a lot of construction business on phone calls during my drive, so once I get home, I don’t have to do those calls.”

The Gemmills have been Whistlerites since September and are already thinking of staying longer than a year.

“We gave it a year as an original plan, because my career is in the city, and the kids and us have great friends there…but now, we love it here,” said Kenny.

“The community feel is amazing,” said Michelle. “It’s what everyone in the city is craving, and trying to buy through private clubs and living in certain areas, but you can’t buy that. You have to participate. And that happens more here.”

The Gemmills are reflective of a new trend of workers who have the luxury of a flexible schedule, allowing them to work from home and commute only a few days a week.

They are considering purchasing another home in Whistler to live in because their vacation home is tight for full time living.

But with Whistler’s real estate market being so hot, they may not have many choices.

“We’re running out of inventory to sell,” said Viner, whose Vancouver clients are buying in Whistler because they believe it is only a matter of time before Whistler’s prices catch up to the Vancouver market.

With the average price of a family home in Whistler at $1.6 million those days may not be far into the future.

“You can’t build something as attractive as Whistler and expect people to not want to be a part of it,” said Kelly. “That’s what brought all of us here 35 years ago.”

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