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Property Boasts 90 Homes, A Mall and A Hospital

John Greenwood and Garry Marr, The National Post, Sept 14, 2004

The town of Kitsault in Northern British Columbia boasts 90 homes, several apartment buildings, a shopping mall and even a hospital. And it can be yours for $7 million.

"I've never sold anything like this before," says Rudy Nielsen, owner of NIHO Land & Cattle Co., which is marketing the property. "All the streets are paved, there's lighting, the lawns are even maintained."

Built back in the 1970's to house workers at a nearby molybdenum mine, Kitsault sits on about 320 acres at the edge of the ocean. According to Mr. Nielsen, it boasts gorgeous mountain views, access to peerless hiking and top-class fishing.

The mine and the town were shut down in the early '80s when metal prices collapsed, after less than two years of operation.

For the last two decades, Kitsault has been empty, except for a caretaker employed by the mining company to keep everything in order, including mowing the grass.

A spokesman for Phelps Dodge Corp., Kitsault's current owner, said the company decided to put it up for sale after deciding it had no interest in ever re-opening the mine.

The sale includes 2.4 kilometres of waterfront, seven apartment buildings with a total of 202 suites, mobile home foundations, two recreation centres, a hospital and shopping centre that is still replete with coolers and buggies.

There's a pub, a pool, a post office, underground cable television, sewage treatment, running water - and along the streets, apple trees hanging low with fruit that nobody is around to pick.

Kitsault is surrounded by snow-capped mountains the vendor believes would be suitable for helicopter skiing, and there are eight glacier fed streams that support salmon within a 20-minute walk of the town centre.

The town is 800 kilometres by air from Vancouver, and about a 3 1/2 hours' drive - most of it gravel road - from the community of Terrace.

That isolation is part of the reason why the price tag may seem a bargain to potential buyers in other parts of the country.

Consider West Vancouver, generally considered the most expensive community in the country; there, $7 million gets you prime waterfront space.

"It's location, location, location," agent Harvey Kardos of Prudential Sussex Realty said of the price tag on a 6,456 square fool home he is selling with what he calls "jaw-dropping" views from Stanley Park to the Gulf Islands.

The bungalow comes with floor to ceiling windows, separate master wing with spa-like ensuite, a games room and a media theatre room with seating for 16.

"The lot alone is worth $4 million to $4.5 million," Mr. Kardos said, adding there are now a few dozen home on the Multiple Listing Service in the $7 million price range in Greater Vancouver.

In Toronto, you get even more bang for your buck, with $7.5 million entitling you to a 14,000 square foot home in the city's Bridle Path district, home to such luminaries as pop star Prince and media baron Conrad Black.

Harvey Kalles Real Estate Ltd., is selling the house, which comes with two separate apartments for staff you'll likely need to keep it clean.

The two storey home on a 1.82 acre lot may not have a view of the ocean but it does come with an indoor pool and nine full bathrooms.

Grethe Nielsen, a sales representative with Re/Max Professionals who has a $5.8 million home listed in the city's exclusive Rosedale area, said there are some bargains.

"You get 8,000 square feet and nine bathrooms to clean, six bedrooms, not to mention five fireplaces," she said about her listings. But in the pricey downtown enclave, you only get a quarter of an acre at that $5.8 million price.

She said like every other aspect of the market, interest rates are driving up prices in some of the high-end homes she sells.

"People who were once going for $2 to $3 million dollar homes are now going for $5 million now because money is so much cheaper now," Ms. Nielsen said.

Back in Kitsault, the town's only resident is having the time of his life.

"The caretaker loves it," Mr. Nielsen of NIHO Land & Cattle said. "He catches Dungeoness crab, salmon. He said it's a great life."

He figures potential buyers would likely want to develop the town as an eco-tourism destination.

"I camped up there 15 years ago. It was great - it was one of my best camping trips ever."

Mr. Nielsen set up his tent at the village's well equipped but abandoned campground, using it as a base for hiking trips into the surrounding mountains.

Kitsault isn't the first company town to go on the market. In recent years, several resource communities have tried to re-invent themselves after falling on hard times. Tumbler Ridge in southeastern British Columbia successfully attracted new home buyers from Calgary and Vancouver, transforming itself from a company mining town to a retirement and recreation community.

Gold River, on Vancouver Island's west coast did the same after the pulp mill that was the town's largest employer shut down.

"There have been a lot of these towns that have been sold off," said Mark Lester, vice-president of Colliers International Inc. in Vancouver.

"The attraction for buyers is that, compared to larger towns and cities, the housing prices in company towns trying to re-invent themselves are a bargain," Mr. Lester said.

"People do it because it's really inexpensive."

Still, this isn't the first time Kitsault has been put up for sale. According to the Vancouver Province, it was listed in $23.5 million back in 1992, and was being marketed in Canada, Europe and Japan.