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Proximity to Vancouver Dictates the Price of Property

Real Estate Weekly, June 22 - 28,  1999

Rudy Nielsen is the guy people call when they want to sell a town, or to unload a few hundred acres in the Cariboo in a hurry. He's also the guy wannabe weekend cowboys call when they're looking for a few acres to pasture their Landrovers.

"The sawmills and the bankruptcy guys know me as someone who will put in a low offer but who can close in seven days. Have database, will travel," he joked.

Nielsen, president of the Niho Land & Cattle Co. Ltd., started with one property in 1964. By 1966, he owned 400 properties. His is now rumored to be one of the largest private landholders in the province, although he will not give details.

"I had lots of experience doing renovations, I loved land, and I had my sons to help me. I developed my own strategy and business plan. Most people, when they look at recreational real estate, see bears, mosquitoes, and getting lost. I see what the homesteaders saw-a fine view, a spring. We would go in, fix up the cabin, clean up the brush and the road and put it on the market. We always left the development to somebody else, " said Nielsen.

Eventually, he learned to use air photos to identify properties of interest. Relying on his constantly updated database of recreational land titles and transactions, his air photos and forestry maps, he routinely buys properties sight unseen.

The value of his real estate portfolio is rivaled by the value of his database. In addition to a comprehensive bank of recreational property titles, he estimates his inventory of potential of potential buyers at 20,000.

Market research led him to conclude that 80 percent of the people in his database were looking for properties valued at $90,000 or less within a six-hour drive from Vancouver. Properties are marketed and priced according to the driving distance from the city.

Technology has made semiserviced and unserviced land more attractive. And then there are the diehard rustics or survivalists who don't want power poles, telephone or septic tanks, said Nielsen.

"A lot of people moving to smaller communities are buying propane refrigerators, hot water tanks and lights, solar panels, wind generators. The more modern biological toilets are very effective," said Nielsen.

According to Nielsen, recreational vehicle owners are the fastest-growing segment of his market. When he bought a subdivision in the town of Ferguson, near Nakusp, for an average of $5,000 a lot, the RV crowd snapped them up.

"It is almost impossible to get a reservation at a government campsite within a seven hour drive of Vancouver. Ferguson is a beautiful town in the mountains with good fishing. I financed the lots at $60 a month with 10 percent down," said Nielsen.

He describes a typical buyer: a retired, blue-collar worker with clear title to a house in the Lower Mainland worth $500,000 and total pension of $50,000 per year. He sells the house and with the proceeds buys a small community, a RV and banks the difference.

Attempts to sell BC rural recreational properties to US buyers have been unsuccessful, however: "I've done a lot of advertising but it wasn't productive. We sell many half a dozen properties to US buyers each year. Americans find the political situation in this province too far to the left. We've had questions about the burning of the American flag in Prince Rupert and about Glen Clark's plans to take back the US base in Nanoose Bay," he said.