Guest Speaker: Rob Palm
Resort Marketing & Sales Specialist with the Whistler Real Estate
- What is compelling about Whistler and why should people purchase there?
- The lifestyle in Whistler
- Whistler’s landscape for real estate investors
- Landscape for downsizers and people looking for a vacation property
- How is the vacation rental market there? Do people use AirBNB?
- The projects in Whistler that Rob likes
- Price ranges in real estate
- The demographic of people you would generally find in Whistler
- The upcoming improvements
- The areas for better buys and places with high demand
- The upcoming improvements
- The areas for better buys or places where there will be a lot demand
Davelle: Welcome to the Morrison Report. I wanted to create a podcast that would give people insights into the Toronto real estate market. You can follow me on Twitter @DavelleMorrison, and on Instagram as Davelle Morrison, and you can like my business page on Facebook. Today we have with us Rob Palm. He’s a resort marketing and sales specialist with Whistler Real Estate. Thanks for joining us Rob, welcome.
Rob: Yeah, thanks so much. It’s nice to talk to you.
Davelle: Awesome. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about your background and your career in real estate?
Rob: Absolutely. I grew up in Toronto, and went to McGill University with the vow.
Rob: Yay! The minute I graduated I was out west. My parents had moved there to Vancouver, and had rented a place in Whistler through the years, and I decided I’d take a break and become a ski instructor for a little while, and spent the first six months enjoying myself, and then spent the summer here and got hooked on the natural surroundings and loved it so much that I decided to spend another year, and then another year, and another year, and eventually decided that I couldn’t spend any more time anywhere else. So, I had to get a little bit more, I guess, organized with what I was going to do for the rest of my life. My parents were both in sales. My dad with IBM, and my mom was a real estate agent, and her mom was a real estate agent as well, and so it was a natural fit that I went into real estate, and so about 18 years ago today, and I’m pretty happy with where I’m at with it.
Rob: Great place to be.
Davelle: That’s awesome. So, you alluded to it earlier, but what do you feel is so compelling about Whistler, and why do you think people should purchase there?
Rob: Well, two things. What’s compelling to Whistler? I mean, you have to come and check it out obviously, but it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in the world, and that’s a pretty special thing to say, but I wake up every morning and still look out the window and go, “Wow! This is a really special spot.” That’s first and foremost, and then, I mean, a bunch of different things that make Whistler special for people from all over the world is it’s easy to get to. If you compare us to similar resorts all around the world, getting into Vancouver is a pretty simple flight for a lot of people, whether you’re coming from eastern Canada, or eastern United States, or you’re coming from overseas in Europe, and obviously over in Asia, and lots of other places.
It’s a really simple hub, and it’s only a two hour drive from the airport up what used to be a pretty hairy road. It has been completely redone for the Olympics back in 2010, and so it’s a pleasant drive now, and that’s a really special thing about certainly our resort, and then our market as a result of that is open to a lot of people from all over the world, which makes us really unique and special for sure. From a real estate market it’s really well catered to destination stuff. What we’ve done is really set it up for people to come long haul and be able to enjoy themselves and really forget about the world around them. From an investment point of view the grants certainly work well for a lot of people to be able to offset what they own here, which is another thing we can talk about later.
Davelle: Awesome, that sounds great. Can you tell us a little bit more about the lifestyle there, the lifestyle that people enjoy by living out in Whistler?
Rob: Oh sure. First and foremost, most people come here for the skiing, and what they realize is that skiing is great, and it’s amazing, but it’s not everything. All you have to do is spend a little bit of time here in the summer and you realize how really special it is. There’s so many more things to do than just the skiing part of it. It’s great mountain biking, hiking, swimming. It’s all at your doorstep.
The best part about where we sit right now, I could be, let’s call it, four or five minutes from my house and be in the middle of the forest and having a great walk with my dogs, or go for a cross country ski in the winter. I can go and have … One of the beautiful things that I do probably two or three days a week is I go up first thing in the morning and go for a ski and then come back into the office at 11:00 or 12:00 and get my day started, and talk about how great a day I had on the mountain. Most people get jealous and envious, and they can’t wait to get back here again.
Rob: That part of it is great. There is a great community behind us, not behind us, but within the fabric of Whistler. I’ve got two boys that 14 and 16, and they go to school here. It’s a great place to raise a family. Lots of fresh air, and great restaurants, and amazing amenities that you wouldn’t normally get in a town of 12,000 people. It’s that perfect world as far as I’m concerned.
Davelle: Cool, awesome. That sounds great. Do you feel that Whistler is a good place for real estate investors, and why?
Rob: Sure, I mean listen, one of the things that’s really been an important part of our real estate story through the history of Whistler, we have a lot of, I’ll call it restrictions, on our development. There’s a number of reasons why we can’t just keep growing like any other large city, and one of them is geographic because we’ve got lots of mountains around. You just can’t keep going up the hill. We’re surrounded by a provincial park. We can’t build up into the provincial park. Then as part of the development of the slopes through the years the provincial government gave the Whistler investors a certain number of bed units to develop and we’re actually at an end of those bed units. When you start talking about limited supply with increased demand pricing usually increases.
We’re now at a real standstill as far as new development. What you see is what you get for the most part. We will see some new resident housing, and that’s not dissimilar to what any other community has, except for we do it for purchase. So, people like myself or middle managers in restaurants and whatever can afford to raise their families here, so that they can grow roots and it’s better for the community side. That’s a real big, on the supply side, very important part, and also just to touch on that, we just as part of the Olympic big that we had in 2010, or I should say the Olympic games that we hosted we increased our capacity for water and sewer up to the point where we’re at now. For us to increase capacity and for in our infrastructure would be exorbitant cost, and we just don’t see new development happening any time soon. That’s another piece of the supply side.
From a demand side we’ve become a real international resort over the last, I would say 10 years, more so than ever before. We thought we were pretty special back in 2008 and 2005, but most people didn’t know Whistler internationally, and as a result of the exposure of the Olympic games the people understood what Whistler is more so than ever. We have more and more people visiting, and that created more momentum for our real estate market and really pushed us on over the last couple years. One of the things that’s a really interesting part is the currency exchange. At a 25 to 30 cent, or sorry, I would say 75 or 70 cent dollar there’s a lot of people around the world that make US dollar, and when they look at our real estate and compare it to other places around the world that have similar amenities and similar situations they want to come and visit and they also want to come and buy because it’s basically 30% off compared to a lot of the other resorts. That’s a big factor.
Finally, over the last year and a half one of the big stories is that one of our biggest competitors, Vail Resorts, just purchased [inaudible 00:08:49] last September they finalized the deal. They’re the number one resort operator in the world. They have an amazing network of people that are tied in to the Vail brand. As a result of that we were going all of a sudden see a whole lot more people. It’s a whole new group of visitors and investors that are going to come to Whistler, and as a result of that [inaudible 00:09:15] investor one of the things you want to make sure of is if you buy a property you want to be able to rent it.
Davelle: Of course.
Rob: That revenue, I think, is just going to be fantastic over the next three to four years, even five years, as people really want to come discover Whistler. That’s another big piece.
Rob: Then finally, because we’re on the west coast it seems that we’ve done so much better from a weather perspective in the wintertime. The amount of snow that we had this year is absolutely fantastic. From a weather perspective we’ve really done a good job of weather proofing ourselves and have done a number of things for the resort to make it not just about winter, even though we’ve had great winters. Summer time is becoming this amazing place. We have festivals almost every weekend. We hold the Iron Man Canada. We have Wanderlust. We have all these festivals come through week after week after week. It feels resort all the way through.
When I first moved here there were probably two weekends out of the summer were busy and the rest of the time there was nobody around, and now we have this amazing vibrant resort through the summertime too, which is great.
Davelle: Right, so it’s turned into more of a four season market. Are there a lot of [downsizers 00:10:37] out there, or are the majority of people really buying it as a vacation property?
Rob: You know what? Interestingly enough most of our market comes from the lower mainland of British Columbia, except last year, and pretty typically over the last, I’ll call it ten years, 70% of our buyers come from Vancouver. Most people think that we’re such an international resort, and we are from a visitor perspective, but from an ownership perspective generally speaking we’re regional. Those 30% that come in and buy, they’re from all over the world. We have a really strong contingent of people that come from Ontario that own property here. What we’re seeing more so than ever before is families like my parents who wanted to … They lived in Ontario for most of their lives and they decided they want to make a change and they’re moving across the country, and rather than getting a big place in Vancouver which is fairly expensive-
Davelle: Of course, yeah.
Rob: Comparatively, it makes more sense for them to have a place in Whistler. They have some grown kids with some grandkids on the way, or grandkids. We’re calling our Whistler properties like that that they’ll come in and buy almost like family catchers. People come and they want to congregate in Whistler as their home base and then everybody fingers off to where they live, whether they’re overseas or not, but it’s a great place to come together. That’s part of it. We do have a lot of downsizers. What we’re finding is even people from Vancouver are selling their larger homes and getting a small [inaudible 00:12:13] in Vancouver, and then they’re buying a good sized property up here to spend more time and spend their vacation and their retirement time up here.
That part of it is a big change for us. I think it has a lot to do with the way that the highway has changed. It’s an easy drive. I will drive down and back on a daily, not a daily basis, probably ever two weeks I’ll be down and back from Vancouver easily in a day. Whereas years past it was, jeez, you might not make it back or it was a long drive. It’s not worth it. Now it’s so much easier to do it, and more and more families are realizing that we can bring up our kids here in Whistler and they can have a great life. We can have a great life. If I need to go down to the city to do some work I can go down for two or three days at a time, or come there and back. We have people in the community which is amazing.
Davelle: Wow, jeez, that’s amazing. That’s great. How is the vacation rental market out there? Are people using Airbnb to rent out their chalets? How does the rental market work there?
Rob: Listen, there’s any number of ways you can do it. There are professional managers where you can hand over the keys to your place and they’ll take care of everything for you. You write down for the linens and the cleaning and everything, and then you book your time and make sure that your in your own house when you want to be, and when you show up everything looks pristine and perfect. Some people love that part simply because there’s no pressure. There’s no worries. Then there’s definitely … Airbnb has come into Whistler over the last, I guess, two or three years, but prior to that there were lots of different vacation ownership websites. One of the big ones that we have in town here which is originally based in Whistler is called Allura Direct, which not a lot of people know about.
Davelle: It’s called, you said, Allura Direct?
Rob: Yeah. Allura Direct. It’s a great website. Basically they’ve really spent a lot of time focusing their marketing on Whistler. Then they also do a number of other resorts. I don’t know if it’s all the way through Canada or just in BC. Great website presence and then also a fantastic back end for owners to be able to really rent their properties and manage their properties. It’s almost like painting by numbers. It’s all templated and set up. You know what I mean? Now is the time for you to send this letter in this template, or this email, and make sure you pick up your deposit.
It’s all automated, which is fantastic, and that spits out all sorts of revenue statements. It’s really, really well done. That’s definitely a good option. I have people as far away as Florida that own properties here that run their rental properties, vacation rental properties on Allure or Airbnb from afar. We’ve got great professionals that will come in. We’ve got cleaners, and handymen, and people [inaudible 00:15:11] if they have any issues or someone needs to get an extra towel or whatever we have concierge people that will come in. It’s amazing what we can do.
Davelle: That’s awesome.
Rob: With technology.
Davelle: Yeah, that sounds amazing.
Rob: Yeah, and the nice part about doing something like that is that a lot of people … Listen, buying investment property, you have a number of investment properties. You don’t get to use them. When you buy a property in Whistler you have the opportunity to be able to use it and generate revenue at the same time, which really is a perfect situation for a lot of people that aren’t going to use it every weekend.
Davelle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Rob: I don’t think it’s going to make you rich by any means on the rents, but what it does is it offsets your investment over time which might be a longer horizon, and as a result you get to use your property for, I don’t know, what most people … We’ve done studies here and there and the average vacation rental property in Whistler will be used anywhere from 24 to 30 days a year by the owner and then the rest of the time it’s occupied by guests or renters in the resort, which is fantastic.
Davelle: That’s amazing. Are there any particular projects in Whistler that you like for people to live in either for vacation or real estate invest in or downsize?
Rob: When you say project I’m assuming you’re meaning like complexes, correct?
Davelle: Yeah, exactly.
Rob: Are you thinking … Yeah, okay, cool, just making sure. Because we call projects in Whistler the new builds that are coming on. What we end up with is there’s not a lot. There’s actually a couple coming up the pipe in the next probably 12 to 14 months that would be a great fit for a lot of people, but we can talk about that later.
Rob: The complexes, listen, I always ask people, and it’s a bit of a problem solving thing, “How do you see yourself using the property? What’s important to you?” Most people want to buy a vacation home. You want to know how they … Rent is the most important thing, okay, well you know what, based on that you want to be close to the hill or you want to be close to the village, because you want to have a couple amenities that are very important [inaudible 00:17:18] ski town. Having a hot tub after a ski is quintessential, right?
Rob: If you have a hot tub in the complex or hot tub that is on the deck or whatever, then that’s an important piece of the puzzle. Our zoning is such that you have to make sure that you have the proper zoning in order to be able to rent your property on a short term basis, and that was set up right from the get go to make sure that [inaudible 00:17:44] people living residentially in Whistler weren’t stuck living next to people that were here having a good time for the week and staying up later and making a bunch of noise. We congregate everybody and it actually works really well. Now, there are people that will do some short term rentals in residential zones, and most of the time it’s fine, but it’s a risk that people take. I always tell people it depends on what type of person you are, but you make sure you have the right zoning for how you’re going to use the property.
You asked me what projects, listen, some of my favorites if you’re just rental, rental, rental is important, I would say that Glaciers Reach, anything around the Village North area which is a little bit out of the village but still walking distance. Things like Sun Path on North Lands Boulevard are really, really good for rental, and then they’re just not too noisy at night. So when you come and use it yourself it’s out of the mix of it all. Then anything up on the Blackcomb Benchlands is fantastic [inaudible 00:18:46] Slope Side, Aspens, Painted Cliff, are all really, really good properties to be able to just walk out your door and go for a ski, and then if you like a little bit more quieter stuff go onto Creek Side, which is the original base of Whistler. That’s what a ski purist would say. Stay out of the village and just go and jump in a complex down there. There’s some stuff down there too.
Davelle: Awesome, that sounds great. Are there licensing fees for some of the short term rentals? You were talking about how it has to be zoned for using a short term rental, but are there licensing fees or permits that people need to do short term rentals there?
Rob: No, not on them. Because you have the zoning you’re allowed to rent your property nightly. What we do have is something called a tourism Whistler fee, and for every property that has the ability to do nightly rental you pay a fee per year based on the number of pillows that you have on your property. A one bedroom townhouse would have two pillows in the bedroom and two pillows in the living room on a pullout couch type thing.
So, you would pay somewhere around … There’s an active fee and then what they call a non-active fee, which is basically if you have the ability to rent but you decide you’re not going to rent it nightly. Then you only pay the inactive fee, which is negligible. It’s about $250 a year, and then if you’re renting it full time it’s about $1000 a year. What that does is it allows Tourism Whistler to go out and market the resort worldwide and bring people to the town and the resort to be able to rent a room to you and whoever else. It’s a great way for us to have all that we have and it’s an extra fee that’s added on top of, not like a tax but similar to a tax.
Davelle: Right, interesting. It’s funny because I think there’s so many different cities and towns that are grappling with the short term rental and how to take advantage of it and how to regulate it. I think that’s really interesting for sure.
Rob: It’s an interesting thing for us too because Airbnb has come in and some of their regulations are a little different than ours. We are grappling with it. Right now our visitation right now is fantastic. It’s probably as good as it’s ever been and we’re having record numbers of visitors. So everybody is happy and it’s okay if you rent your place even though you don’t have zoning. What will happen eventually is you have a neighbor that finally is tired of hearing parties all night or there’s ins and outs and somebody is going to start complaining, and then they’re going to shut down the properties that are doing it in [inaudible 00:21:29]. You will get that eventually, but for right now everybody is happy. It’s all right.
Davelle: Cool, that sounds great. What kind of price ranges would you see for properties in Whistler? You range from what to what?
Rob: Again, it’s such a compartmentalized market. If we’re talking there’s the single family and then there’s the resident, then there’s the residential single family, then there’s the short term single family, and then this can get into townhouses and condos, but generally speaking a one bedroom in Whistler with a good location with decent rentals is going to start you at somewhere around $400,000, and go up as high as $600,000-650,000 depending on where you are and what the property looks like. From a price per square foot basis it’s probably somewhere between $750 for the least expensive up to about $1100 a square foot. It depends on which complex you’re in and all that, and you can probably extrapolate that through to two and three bedrooms. A two bedroom unit in a decent rental place right now is going to start at approximately $800,000, maybe you might get it for just under $800,000, and then they go up as high as a million, to $2 million, $3 million depending on where you are and what kind of amenities there are.
Then single family homes, listen, not as many short term rental opportunities there, but what we do have is a lot of people that do … They’ll do long term rental and then through the time when they’re not using it. Again, a lot of people in Ontario, and then I have, I want to say, five or six clients that have cottages. What happened was is they have these amazing cottages in cottage country in Muskoka, and what they’ve done is they’ve kept the cottage and they’ve sold the house in Toronto and they bought a place here and they come out here for skiing for four months of the year, and then they close up and they rent their property through the other eight months and then they live at the cottage. For them it’s not your short term rental as much as it is a long term rental, but it’s a seasonal rental. There’s all sorts of people that will be happy to rent their places in Whistler.
That’s another piece of the puzzle if we can get into that. Our long term rental is absolutely … It’s amazing right now. There’s just a huge shortage of opportunities for people to rent here. So that’s another great investment from a Whistler perspective right now.
Davelle: Awesome. Are there certain areas there that you see are better buys or worse buys or places that you think if someone is looking for a vacation property there that they should really consider certain areas?
Rob: Yeah, I mean, I think that a lot of people get so focused on the village and so focused on the slopes that they forget that Whistler is not huge or anything, not like Toronto, but it’s a lot bigger than just the village and the hills. Your money generally goes a little bit further as you spread it out a little bit. I love Blueberry Hill is a great opportunity to get a little bit more for your money and still do nightly rentals, and generally the properties are a little bit larger so they move better. Creek side is definitely an opportunity to be able to get all those things, and some of the complexes are a little bit older. Adding value in Whistler is a really basic thing to do. We have all sorts of great contractors and handymen to help you out with that and designers and stuff.
One of the best things I tell people that are buying from just an investment point of view is don’t forget the opportunity to be able to add value very simply because when you come to a resort there’s not a lot of people that would want to … They’ve got just a turnkey. If you can cater to that I think you end up making yourself a little bit of extra money on the end.
Davelle: Yeah, that definitely makes a lot of sense. I think the same thing holds true for investing in Toronto as well. As long as you can add value to your property that’s certainly a really good idea. Are there any changes or improvements coming down the road in the Whistler area?
Rob: Well, one of the big things is the whole Vail thing. Whistler Blackcomb has been … They’re on a long term lease basically on the mountain and they had a 60 year lease that started in 1968, and it was at an end, or close to it. Sorry, it’s 50 years. My bad. So, we’re at an end pretty close to now. What was happening is that we were in negotiations for a re-tender of the area and it took forever for the provincial government and Whistler Blackcomb and the First Nations to come to an agreement. It’s actually brand new news over the last week. They finally signed the agreement. That’s really solidified everything for Whistler Blackcomb which is huge. Then Vail just announced a huge reinvestment. We’ve called it Renaissance Whistler, which, it’s okay. I don’t love the name.
Davelle: I hate that name. It’s terrible.
Rob: Yeah, I know, I know. It’s a marketing name. You have to roll with it. It’s going to be a $345 million reinvestment of both amenities on and off the mountain. They’re redoing the base area and Blackcomb, and they’re going to be doing a whole weather proofing of the resort. They’re bringing in a huge indoor water park and training facility for athletes to be able to train in the summer and the winter.
Rob: There’s going to be a mountain roller coaster, and then all sorts of brand new stuff, a new lift, and all sorts of stuff around the mountains. That’s a major investment by a large resort operation that really feels that Whistler is going to just keep chugging away. To hear a company do that, and listen, it’s going to improve the in resort and on mountain experiences for the people here for years to come. That’s a major major boost coming soon. That’s coming over the next five years.
Davelle: Absolutely, that sounds amazing. What would you say the demographic is of the people in Whistler?
Rob: Great question. As far as … Listen, I do a lot of work on just trying to figure out who to appeal to [inaudible 00:28:06] real estate. We spend a lot of time on that. Generally people purchasing in Whistler are different than the people visiting Whistler. Purchasing, I would say, and ownership here is somewhere between 40 and 65, and getting a little older. There’s definitely more retirees in Whistler than there ever has been. Demographically I would say that it’s definitely a younger population. Probably the average age in Whistler is somewhere between 45 and 55, and probably getting, again it depends on who you talk to, but it stays pretty solid depending on what year you’re going through I think, but there’s a lot of young people in town.
It’s this really great mix of ages all the way through. The thing that brings everybody together is a love of the surroundings and the mountain culture. You could have people that are 75 that have been skiing 60 days of the year hanging out with 25 year olds that are doing the same thing. That’s the cool part about what brings us all together and binds us all, which is really, really special in Whistler.
Davelle: Cool, awesome. Is there anything else you think our listeners should know about about Whistler and real estate?
Rob: The only other thing I would say is because we’re, and this is maybe a plug for agents in the area, but because there’s so many different nuances in Whistler … It’s a small market. There’s only 16-17,000 properties on the residential tax roll. There’s not a lot to work on, but because there’s so many different zoning’s and there’s so many different influences that affect the real estate here, definitely work with somebody that knows the area well, and that’s a plug for not just me but our agents in town here.
Davelle: Of course.
Rob: Simply because we get people from Vancouver, agents from Vancouver, that will try to come up and unfortunately it doesn’t work out as well as it could. That would be one thing I would say. Then the other piece of it is come and enjoy it. Come and try us out for a couple vacations and see what you think, and then I think you’ll get hooked like I did for sure.
Davelle: Absolutely. I think that’s really good advice about having an agent that’s specific in that particular area because the same thing goes for Toronto. Someone might ask me to sell in Mississauga and I’ll say, “You know what? Let me find you a Mississauga agent.” Really, I know Toronto really, really well, but I think, yeah, you should really always go with someone who specializes in that particular area for sure.
Rob: I totally agree, totally agree. We’re so different from Vancouver or Squamish, or even Pemberton which is not too far away. Pemberton is a whole other can of worms that we can get into at some point. Definitely work with somebody who … Listen, make the connection. If you’ve got friends that you know that have a place in Whistler it’s always good to work with somebody that’s got a first degree or second degree connection. That’s a special thing for sure.
Davelle: Absolutely, and Rob, how can our listeners get in touch with you if they’ve got more questions about Whistler and real estate?
Rob: Absolutely. I’ve got lots of ways. I think that’s the hardest part about today being an agent compared to when I first started 18 years ago. I had a phone and an email address, and now I’ve got a great website, which is RobPalm.com.
Rob: Then I’ve got an email address which is Rob@WREC.com, which is an acronym for Whistler Real Estate Company. Then call me on my cell, 604-905-8833 is my cell.
Rob: Then finally if you want to check out some stuff on Facebook just look up Rob Palm Whistler Real Estate and you’ll find me I guess there, and there’s lots of information resort wise, and also real estate wise. I would say, let me follow up and say listen, you know it’s not just about the real estate when you’re in real estate in Whistler. One of the things that we become is an insider for people, and listen, if you have any questions just about the resort feel free to call me. I’m happy to give lots of advice on where to stay and how to have fun in Whistler. I’m not just real estate.
Rob: Don’t be afraid.
Davelle: Cool, that sounds great. Thanks so much for joining us today Rob. It’s been great chatting with you.
Rob: Yeah, good catching up and I look forward to chatting with you sometime soon.
Davelle: Okay, sounds good. Talk to you later. Bye Rob.
Davelle: Thanks again for joining us for some Toronto real estate market insights. You can visit my website at MorrisonSellsRealEstate.com, or visit MorrisonTalksRealEstate.com for more episodes of the podcast. Thanks for listening.