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Vander Zalm selling quiet retreat to top bidder

Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun,  December 6. 2005

Former premier Bill Vander Zalm owns a lakefront acreage near 100 Mile House that boasts peace and quiet, water views, forest shade and riding trails. Thursday, he'll hand it over to the highest bidder.

Vander Zalm, in an interview, said he took over the 34-hectare parcel on Tatton Lake, north of 100 Mile House, in the late 1970s as partial payment for a business deal, but hasn't had many opportunities to make use of it, having only visited it a few times in the decades since.

Now the former premier believes it is a good time to sell, and a good chance to test the real-estate auctioneering services of Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers.

"I'm a bit of an auctioneer myself," Vander Zalm noted, having loaned his voice to numerous charity auctions in the past.

"I see myself, at these fundraisers, getting $1,000 for something that's worth maybe $100, so I'm enthused as an auctioneer."

Ritchie Bros. auctions off a considerable amount of farm land in Saskatchewan and Alberta on an annual basis, but just this year opened up a real estate division in B.C., said Clay Tippett, the company's marketing manager.

Kieran Holm, sales development manager for Ritchie Bros. Real Estate Services Ltd., said interest in the Vander Zalm property has come from as near as B.C. and as far away as Dubai, so it is difficult to judge who might be in the bidding, or how much it will go for. Recreational real estate prices can be difficult to set because there are few comparable sales.

The land will be sold in Ritchie Bros. typical "unreserved" style, which means the auctioneer sets no minimum "reserve" price that has to be met and it will go to the highest bidder on the day.

Holm said the tactic works for buyers because they don't have to endure a lengthy process of making an offer, waiting for a response and then making counteroffers on other bids. In an auction, they do their due diligence "and bid to their dreams."

Sellers, he added, get the certainty of knowing when and where their property will be sold, if they don't know the exact price.

Holm said Ritchie Bros.' traditional market for heavy equipment includes a lot of people who work in the woods and would naturally be attracted to property like Vander Zalm's, but he added that this sale has drawn a lot of inquiries from potential customers who have never dealt with them before.

Rudy Nielsen, president of Niho Land & Cattle Co., which specializes in selling recreational real estate, said he has seen attempts to auction land in the past, but hasn't seen it work very well.

Nielsen said Ritchie Bros. did score a success in auctioning off its own commercial property in Prince George by selling it well above the asking price, but recreational property is harder to price.

"It's like a view in West Vancouver," Nielsen said. "One person thinks its worth $100,000, another thinks it's worth $800,000. Recreational is a very imperfect market."

He added that the recreational is also a very hot market right now with a great deal of interest being shown by buyers in Alberta, Ontario, Washington state, California and as far afield as Miami.

Nielsen said one of his firms recently took a subdivision of five-acre, ocean-front lots on the Queen Charlotte Islands, which he expected would take months to sell, and sold it out within two weeks at prices of $200,000 to $250,000 each. "This is my 40th year in the recreational land business, and I've never seen it like this," Nielsen said. "It's a very hot market."