Phones are still ringing at Tourism Whistler's booking office, offering some hope to a waning Whistler real estate market.
"Our real estate activity does flow from our tourism activity," Patrick Kelly, an agent at the Whistler Real Estate Co., said in an interview, "particularly where the international -- American and European -- market is concerned."
"If they don't come [to visit], we don't sell to them."
Tourism Whistler reported its second-busiest booking day ever on Nov. 15, according to spokesman Jeff McDonald, an indication the resort may not experience the worst of projected declines in visits.
Kelly hopes some of the visitors will be buyers with money looking for real estate bargains in Whistler, where sales are way down from 2007 levels, and prices have edged lower.
Whistler saw 463 property sales up to November, 104 of them detached homes, according to data from Landcor Data Corp. That compares with 708 sales, 167 of them detached homes, in all of 2007.
The average price of a detached home in 2008 so far, according to Landcor, was almost $1.3 million, compared with $1.37 million in 2007.
"We certainly mirror what's going on in Vancouver and across Canada, for that matter," Kelly said.
"Sales volumes has dropped significantly from earlier in the year, and also year over year, to levels probably more consistent with what we saw three or four years ago."
As for prices, Kelly noted that the decline could have more to do with activity shifting from top-tier, multi-million-dollar chalets to mid-tier properties: family-oriented chalets under $2 million or townhouses.
Whistler did see a record $17.5 million paid for a home when an estate property at 6715 Crabapple Drive changed hands earlier this year.
However, of the top-10 transactions this year, according to data from Landcor, eight were homes that sold for less than $4 million. In 2007, Landcor's top-10 list started at $4.4 million.
Buyers are "looking for value, and when they see what they want, they're happy to pay," Kelly added.
The psychology of the market is such that it takes longer to sell, with buyers enjoying a "significant advantage when it comes to making offers."
John McGregor, an agent at Re/Max Sea to Sky Whistler, added that sellers do have to get aggressive about pricing their properties to draw offers in what is now a buyers' market.
Whistler is very much a second-home community for a lot of owners, McGregor said, agreeing there may be some cases of second-home owners who have suffered losses to their net worth that will force them to bail out of their Whistler abodes.
"This would be a difficult time for [those individuals]," he added. "I don't think it's epidemic, but there certainly are situations like that for sure. Those are the people who have to get their prices aggressively lower to attract a buyer."
However, McGregor said owners who do not need to sell are not listing their properties, although some may be shifting expectations for the properties they do own.
A couple of McGregor's clients have moved properties out of short-term vacation-rental pools to sign longer-term leases of six months to a year, and that's about the time frame when light starts to appear at the end of the tunnel.
At Tourism Whistler, McDonald said operators at the resort are bracing for a slower 2008-09 season compared with the 2007-08 season. Forecasts are for five to 12 per cent fewer visitors than the previous year.
However, they have been marketing aggressively and offering deep discounts to attract early bookings and mitigate those expected visitor reductions, and indications are that some of those efforts are paying off.
He said the United Kingdom tour operators are reporting that their winter sales to all Canadian resorts are down, but they are down the least for Whistler.
McDonald said officials believe that is because of growing awareness of Whistler's status as co-host of the 2010 Olympics.
Whistler Blackcomb's new peak-to-peak gondola, which will transport skiers from the top of one mountain to the other and opens Dec. 12, is another amenity the resort hopes will be an advantage in attracting visitors this season.
McGregor said that over recent years, the Whistler real estate market peaked in 2003-04, then dropped considerably in 2005 before picking up again in 2006.
As for the longer term, he said new developments such as the upgrade of the Sea to Sky highway will stand the resort in good stead.
For now though, McGregor said that if sellers "have a valid reason to sell, it's a solid market, but most definitely a buyers' market."
TOP 10 SALES FOR 2008
6715 Crabapple Drive $17.5 million
4669 Blackcomb Way $6.7 million
6669 Crabapple Drive $3.93 million
4922 Horstman Lane $3.88 million
9101 Summer Lane $3.61 million
3441 Heron Place $3.6 million
5750 Alta Lake Road $3.38 million
1534 Spring Creek Dr. $2.8 million
4299 Blackcomb Way $2.8 million
4700 Glacier Drive $2.75 million
TOP 10 SALES FOR 2007
6717 Crabapple Drive $10 million
82-4617 Blackcomb Way $6.8 million
81- 4617 Blackcomb Wa $6.5 million
7425 Treetop Lane $6.3 million
71-4617 Blackcomb Way $5.8 million
3586 Falcon Crescent $5.6 million
3851 Sunridge Court $5.3 million
3805 Sunridge Place $5.25 million
5468 Stonebridge Place $4.5 million
4937 Horstman Lane $4.4 million
PAST THE PEAK
Average prices for detached homes in Whistler:
Year Average Price
Source: Landcor Data Corp.