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Recreational Properties on the Move

Peter Mitham, Business in Vancouver, July 15,  2002

The market for B.C. recreational properties is beginning to follow the broader residential market upwards, with realtors noting more interest and higher prices across the province.

The market swung upwards last October after three slack years, said Rudy Nielsen of Landquest Realty Corp. in New Westminster.

"People weren't buying any recreational lands. The American and the German markets were kind of quiet," he said, adding that even the mainstay of his business, Lower Mainland residents, weren't buying.

But following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington last September, Nielsen said the floodgates appeared to open among potential buyers in both Canada and the U.S.

It wasn't just casual interest, Nielsen said, pointing to Landquest's sale of three islands -- all long-time listings - on Stuart Lake, not far from Prince George.

"One we sold was $150,000, and it wasn't just some fly-by-night guy. This guy was a doctor, and he was just worried about the States," he said.

The action has continued into 2002, Nielsen said, even though the warm weather that usually puts people in the cottage-hunting mood was late in coming.

"We were six weeks behind. Some of our properties, we had snow on them until about three weeks ago," he said. "Now we're getting lots of calls, lots of inquiries."

Most of the calls come from Lower Mainland residents, but Albertans, Americans and people from Ontario are also showing interest.

Nielsen said that demand for recreational properties of all sorts is picking up. Cottages and condos in places such as Whistler and Sun Peaks Resort near Kamloops are moving.

Nielsen said the recreational amenities, new shopping centres and connection to Vancouver via the Coquihalla are making the Kamloops area a hot spot for recreational properties. Even undeveloped lots are experiencing a solid market, he said.

Last year, large properties (100 to 200 acres) in the Merritt area garnered an average price of $202,800, up from average prices of $125,765 in 2001 and $155,500 in 2000.

An upturn is also taking place in the Gulf Islands market, according to Greg Rowland of Sussex Group Gulfport Realty on Pender Island.

Rowland said interest in Gulf Islands properties has risen steadily since early last year, starting at about the time the provincial election was called. Now, prices are starting to rise, too.

"The market reached a peak in the mid-'90s in the southern Gulf Islands [excluding Saltspring Island]," he said. "Then prices generally dropped about 30 per cent overall, and stayed that way until now, when they're just starting to creep up."

According to Nielsen's Landcor Data Corp., undeveloped properties on the Gulf Islands of up to 20 acres have steadily fallen in price since hitting $236,000 in 1998, but this year's sales are reversing that trend. The average price so far this year is $167,333, compared to $165,571 last year.

Rowland, who deals primarily with properties on Pender, Galiano, Mayne and Saturna islands, expects his business in 2002 to double 2001, with buyers split almost evenly between B.C. (especially the Lower Mainland and Victoria) and other locations, mostly southern Ontario and the U.S.

Property deals have surged, Rowland feels, not so much because interest rates are low but because people became sick of putting off their purchases.

By contrast, a recent recreational property report by Re/Max indicates that the housing market on Saltspring Island, the largest and most popular of the southern Gulf Islands, remains stable, with sales increasing only marginally over 2001.

Re/Max pegs the starting price of a winterized oceanview three-bedroom home on a standard-sized lot on the island at $300,000 to $350,000.