As published in the Vancouver Sun, Saturday, January 10, 2009 Section H, page 1 by Gillian Shaw
…If there’s a silver lining to the cloud, it’s that for those with money in their pockets, now is the perfect time to score a deal on a vacation. And if you have lots of money, that deal could be a new condo.
“If you’re a buyer, I can’t think of a better time,” said Pat Kelly, president of Whistler Real Estate and an almost 30-year resident of the area. “There may be some people who are more interested in looking at an offer than they were a year ago. If you’re patient and you have cash, you are in a very strong position. It might be the best buying opportunity prior to the Olympics.”
Right about now the resort could use a perfect storm - one that combines just-right temperatures with snowfall to cover bare rocks and trees in the upper reaches of the alpine. The past week has seen a dramatic improvement in the snow cover. After snow bypassed the resort during the holidays, a whopping 87 centimetres has dropped on it in recent days.
Even so, Brownlie says the unstable snow pack still has to be dealt with through extensive avalanche control that is now going on at the resort to prevent layers of snow from breaking free.
There have been bright spots, such as the opening of the $50-million-plus Peak 2 Peak gondola connecting Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. It has garnered attention and enthusiasm both on and off the mountain. A BASE jump video has drawn almost 30,000 viewers on YouTube, and the first week of operations alone saw an aerial wedding conducted on the gondola as it hovered over the mountain. Several couples took the heady step of getting engaged on the Peak 2 Peak.
Jeff Hunter and his girlfriend Amy Galiszuski travelled to Whistler all the way from Philadelphia for the grand opening of the lift, and Hunter marked the occasion by asking Galuszuski if she would marry him.
“I got the guys (running the lift) to block off the doors so there was just the two of us in one gondola,” he said. “I waited until we were in the middle. I told her how much I cared about her and I popped the question. She said yes,” he said of his proposal, made 436 metres over Fitzsimmons Creek.
Hunter isn’t worried by the stories about the Excalibur Gondola or the avalanches. The B.C.-raised skier tells all his friends to go to Whistler, which is heading into the final-year countdown to the 2010 Olympics with a lineup of World Cup competitions scheduled this winter as a prelude to the big event.
“I’ve emailed everyone I know who skis, and I’ve told them they’ve got to go and ride the Peak 2 Peak,” he said. “I’m telling them Whistler is a great place to ski.”
Brownlie also remains relentlessly upbeat, pointing to the top ratings the resort consistently gets from ski magazines, and a reputation that draws outdoors enthusiats from around the world.
“There is lots of new snow in the forecast,” he said. “Every year there is something different, and certainly this is no exception.
For the 2009 Property Assessment Roll only, BC Assessment will be providing property owners with the market value of properties as of both July 1, 2007 and July 1, 2008. The lower of these two values will become the 2009 assessed value for most properties.
On November 27, 2008, the provincial government passed the Economic Incentive and Stabilization Statutes Amendment Act (Bill 45), which provides special valuation rules for the purpose of the 2009 tax year only.
This initiative is part of the B.C. Government’s economic strategy to provide stability and predictability to British Columbians in response to the downturn in the real estate market which began mid-2008.BC Assessment will post information updates on this web page to keep the public informed.
BC Assessment will continue its normal practice of reflecting property changes which have occurred since the previous assessment. These include changes such as new construction and development, property classification or use, tax exemption status, additions or demolitions. Assessments for properties with regulated values will continue to be based on rates set for the 2008 assessment roll.
Please refer to www.bcassessment.bc.ca/2009_assessment_roll_info/index.asp for more information about how BC Assessment has produced the 2009 Assessment Roll.
Excerpt taken from the BC Assessment website and included with the 2009 Assessment Statement mailed out to homeowners at the beginning of each year.
By Andrew Mitchell. As published in Pique Newsmagazine January 7, 2009
Province’s decision to freeze property assessments reflects sales volumes, values
While it still remains to be seen what municipal property tax rates will be this year, residents will at least be guaranteed that their share of the tax burden will stay the same or go down compared to last year.
On Monday, homeowners across the province received notice from B.C. Assessment, which determines the approximate value of homes based on sales figures. Because the assessments were made in July, before the economy declined, the province passed special legislation in November that homes be assessed at the lower of July 1, 2008 or July 1, 2007 values.
According to Jason Grant, Area Assessor for Vancouver Sea to Sky Region, assessments stayed the same or dropped for roughly 93 per cent of homes in Whistler, 92 per cent of homes in Pemberton, and 97 per cent of homes in Squamish. Assessments on homes that gained value stayed flat, while homes that lost value were assessed for less.
The remaining percentage, seven per cent in Whistler, saw their assessments go up because the homes were newly built, or underwent major renovations to increase their value.
“The first and most important thing is that the assessment notices contain two values, one for July 2007 and one for July 2008, and depending which one is lower the lower one will be your 2009 assessed value,” said Grant. “We did publish what 2009 values would have been if the special legislation was not enacted, but you will always be assessed by the lower value.”
While municipal governments make the final decision on how much to tax based on budged projections, the assessments can determine your share relative to other residents. For example, if homes in one neighbourhood increase in value while other neighbourhoods see a decline then that will be reflected in taxes.
The July 1, 2007 assessment rolls, which were used to determine property taxes for 2008, were up anywhere from five to 15 per cent in Whistler, the first increase in value in four relatively flat years. The same figures are not available for July 2008 because of the province’s decision to change the assessment process this year.
Pat Kelly, owner of the Whistler Real Estate Company, said the province did the right thing by freezing assessments.
“I can only speak from my personal experience, and that is my property in Pemberton was assessed the same as the year before, as the provincial government outlined,” he said. “The market situation didn’t change in that period of time between assessments, 2007 to 2008, and we’re getting the benefit of a lower assessment than we maybe would have seen in July 2008, when the market was still strong. What will be interesting is to see values when they’re taken again on July 1, 2009, given the economic challenges we’re facing.”
Kelly pointed out that assessments are based on home sales, among other things, and that “price always follows volume.” He says the volume of sales in Whistler is much lower now than the last two years and that he expects to see prices drop slightly in the next year.
“Certainly we can expect to parallel the Vancouver experience right now, and right now the Vancouver Real Estate Board is saying sales are down about 35 per cent over last year,” said Kelly. “However we’re only expecting to see some flattening in prices overall, while Vancouver is predicting a drop (in sale prices) of 15 per cent. Whistler won’t be down nearly as much.
“Did residential prices go down? There’s no indication in the statistics that value changed dramatically — maybe one or two per cent, and in some cases the value has gone up.
“In this case I’d say the provincial government has done a good job insulating property owners from the buoyant market in ’07 or ’08, which was definitely more in Vancouver than here. We didn’t see the same rapid appreciation of values that Vancouver saw, our prices stayed pretty flat, and it was a pretty sustainable market.”
But while sales volume has slowed recently, Kelly says there is some positive news, including the sale of resident-restricted housing at Cheakamus Crossing, Fitzsimmons Walk and Rainbow. And while sales volume may be down, that could change — with mortgage rates and prices coming down, Kelly said, it’s a buyer’s market.
The Resort Municipality of Whistler is currently finalizing its budget, but residents have been warned to expect another property tax increase. Property taxes increased 5.5 per cent in 2008, but that increase was mitigated by a reduction of provincial taxes to less than two per cent. Increased operating costs and the loss of revenues due to the Class 1/6 condo classification are blamed for the increase.
If people have questions about how their homes were assessed or the provincial legislation that essentially froze assessments at July 2007 values, Grant recommends that people visit www.bcassessment.ca.
As well, there are changes to the B.C. Home Owner Grant system, which can now reduce property taxes by up to $570 on homes up to $1,164,000 in value.
The province created a new Property Tax Deferment Program for homeowners facing hardship as a result of the financial crisis, and that have at least 15 per cent equity in their homes. The province will pay property taxes for qualified applicants in the 2009 and 2010 tax years, but the homeowners owe that money and interest back to the province. The taxes do not have to be paid back until the home is sold or ownership is transferred to someone other than a spouse.
Sea to Sky sales, median prices fluctuate in 2007-08
B.C. Assessment figures show that the median price of homes sold in Whistler has fluctuated in the past year, but Grant cautioned that figures have to be taken in context from quarter to quarter. Lower averages in one quarter might reflect the sale of smaller condos or resident restricted housing in one quarter rather than a loss in the value of larger homes, while the sale of a mansion might skew numbers upward. Home values are assessed annually from July to July, and are based on neighbourhood values, sale value, size, lot size, age, location and other factors.
In the past two years the median price of homes in Whistler has ranged from $1,045,000 in the fourth quarter of 2007 to $1,395,000 in the first quarter of 2008.
What is interesting to note is the number of homes sold in Whistler in 2008 is down significantly. In 2007 there were 186 homes sold in Whistler, compared to 100 homes from January to October in 2008, the last month data was available last year. There were 58 homes sold from July to September 2007, compared to 26 in the same period of 2008.
In Squamish, the median price for homes increased from $433,500 in January to March 2007 to a high of $522,500 in April to June 2008. That median dropped to $499,000, as did the number of homes sold. From July to September 2007 there were 80 homes sold, compared to just 35 during the same period in 2008.
The situation was similar in Pemberton, although Grant says its hard to attach significance to the numbers because of the relatively few homes sold. From January to March 2007, the median price of homes was $430,000, increasing to a median of $575,000 from April to June 2008. The median dropped to $535,000 from July to September, while the volume of sales ranged from six homes to 18 homes per quarter.
B.C. property values near $1 trillion
· 1,854,009 properties were valued for the 2009 assessment roll, 33,965 more than the previous year.
· The taxable value of the 2009 roll is $953 billion, an increase of $13 billion or 1.41 per cent over the previous year.
· Roughly 94 per cent of residents in B.C. will be assessed the same or less than the previous year.
· The median sale price for Vancouver and Sea to Sky region ranged from $735,000 in January to March 2007 to a high of $870,000 from April to June 2008. In July to September 2008, which includes the economic crisis, the median price was $783,000.
· Roughly 87.6 per cent of properties are classified as Class 1 residential.
· Less than two per cent of British Columbians request reviews of their assessment to one of 75 Property Assessment Review Panels appointed by the Ministry of Small Business and Revenue.
The deadline for reviews this year is Feb. 2.
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