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Americans Leaving the B.C. Housing Market

Derek Penner, Vancouver Sun, November 19, 2007

The flip in the Canada-U.S. currency advantage is encouraging some American owners of B.C. real estate to take an exchange-rate gain by selling their properties, realtors are beginning to notice.

"We are seeing some activity that is the result of people assessing the exchange-rate situation and deciding to [sell] now rather than later," said Patrick Kelly, president of Whistler Real Estate.

Kelly said the activity amounts to only a handful of listings. But for some owners in Whistler - where property values have stagnated over the past few years - the recent gains for the dollar gives them a return on a property investment that hasn't performed as well as they'd hoped.

"I don't think it's a mass exodus. But for some people, they are seeing this as a better time to do it," Kelly said.

Real estate investment consultant Ozzie Jurock, publisher of the Jurock Real Estate Insider newsletter, added that Coal Harbour realtors are also starting to see a few American owners who realize "they can repatriate their dollars" at a significant advantage and are listing condos.

"This is totally anecdotal," Jurock said. "They bought when the [Canadian] dollar was about 30-per-cent lower," he added, "now at the same time, the value of their property is 40-per-cent higher."

However, on the opposite side, Jurock said it is much less attractive for new American buyers coming into B.C., now that they have less buying power.

Numbers drawn from the B.C. Land Registry by Landcor Data Corp. seem to back up the anecdotal observations about American activity in B.C.'s real-estate markets. Landcor counted 13,792 B.C. properties registered to American-domiciled owners at Oct. 31, compared with 13,975 properties owned by Americans in the registry at the end of 2006.

The net decline is just a blip, but Landcor's numbers show that Americans sold property faster than they bought over the first 10 months of the year, and buying activity in 2007 has cooled compared with 2006.

Landcor counted 750 purchases by Americans registered in the land registry by the end of October, compared with 1,039 over the first 10 months of 2006. Matched against the net change in ownership, B.C. saw 933 more sales by Americans than purchases.

"So definitely, [Americans] are selling," Landcor president Rudy Nielsen said in an interview.

However, Nielsen added that the Americans who are buying are still confident about investing in B.C. real estate. Nielsen also operates the recreational real-estate firm NIHO Land and Cattle Co., which hasn't seen an abatement in American interest. Nielsen is conscious of the exchange rate though, and said he offered to lock in a guaranteed exchange rates for American purchasers when the Canadian dollar reached par.

Kelly added that the exchange rate doesn't faze a lot of potential Whistler buyers, because they tend to be wealthier and better able to deal with the volatile currency swings.

"I think [Americans] are proceeding a little bit more cautiously," Kelly said, "but that has more to do with their own marketplace and what might be happening in their own economy."

Economic uncertainty in the U.S. spurred by the housing recession and tightening credit markets has perhaps knocked the American who would spend $500,000, Kelly said.

Americans playing in the $1-million-plus market are still interested in Whistler, but proceeding with a bit more care, he added.

"They definitely have to have something before the Olympics, whether it's rental or purchase," Kelly said. "Americans are big Olympic boosters, they always have been, and they want to be part of [the 2010 Games]."