A Bell Jet Ranger helicopter circles a 20-acre estate in Langley, allowing a high-angle view of a private lake and 10,000-square-foot French chateau-style mansion, complete with saltwater pool and tennis courts. The chopper lands on a manicured lawn yards away from a bronze, Roman-style water fountain of the sort displayed on the grounds of Versailles.
Danny Evans, a realtor with 36 years’ experience, pops out of the helicopter and greets a crowd of realtors sipping glasses of champagne. The crowd mingles at the chateau’s massive door, hewn from Lebanese cedar and imported from a 16th-century castle.
Evans is excited specifically about the buyers interested in this 2006-built, $5.8-million home, and generally about new revenue streams coming into the Fraser Valley market.
One stream seems to be Vancouver-area executives cashing out and looking for country homes after an unprecedented injection of offshore capital has boosted the city’s home prices.
The bigger stream is offshore investors, mostly from China, who already own properties in Vancouver and are now looking for acreages outside the city.
According to Evans, both types of buyers are increasingly using helicopters to commute to and from Vancouver.
“We’re seeing a lot of Chinese flocking out to this area now and they want to get back and forth to Vancouver, so they’re very intrigued by the helicopter concept,” Evans said.
Evans said that, in 36 years, he’s never seen a hotter, more “unbelievable” market. He’s reminded of 1980-81, the last time Metro Vancouver home-price graphs curved straight up. In 1981, when interest rates soared, the market crashed. Evans says the current market will plateau, but won’t fall.
“With this new wave of buyers, you say $6 million and they don’t sneeze,” Evans said. “They are fairly guarded. We ask, ‘Can you afford a property that is $5.8 million? They say, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, we have other property.’ ”
Evans said most of the investors he’s met are wealthy businesspeople from Mainland China, but there are also immigrants from China who now farm in B.C.
“One group pulled up in six stretch Escalades, and they had their own Chinese interpreter,” Evans said. “We’ve also seen a group from Russia and one from Iran. Some of them, you don’t really ask what their background is.”
The Langley estate is owned by developer Kent Sillars, president of Vesta Properties. Sillars is a client of Sky Helicopters, a firm that started a membership program for executives in January.
Company manager George Lacny said businesspeople choosing to sell Vancouver homes and commute from larger estates in the Fraser Valley or Vancouver Island “are the perfect candidates for our heli-service membership.”
“This is definitely a growing area of business for us,” Lacny said.
Flying from Vancouver to Langley with Danny Evans, Sky Helicopters pilot Bryce Westlund explains that wealthy offshore investors and their realtors are a growing client base.
Sky Helicopters has now flown about 70 realtors or clients of Concord Pacific — the Vancouver-area developer founded in the 1980s by Hong Kong multibillionaire Li Ka-Shing — on tours of the Fraser Valley.
“Usually we take six (Concord Pacific realtors) at a time, flying two of our smaller helicopters in formation,” Westlund said. “In one trip we covered about seven of their developments. They like getting the lay of the land.”
Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver agrees with Danny Evans that B.C.’s market has never been hotter and that offshore cash is the driver.
In contrast to Evans and many B.C. realtors, though, Weaver sees the offshore investment boom as a negative force in a “literally crazy” speculative market.
“It’s like you’re chasing Bre-X stock, and there can only be one equilibrium result,” Weaver, a mathematics PhD, said.
“It’s going to be a crash.”
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