Photo by Toshi Kawano
By Katherine Fawcett
Lisa Ames is fairly sure she won’t sell a thing during the better part of next February. She doubts she’ll show a home, write up any contracts, close any deals, or field more than a few vague inquiries during the month. But the effervescent 40-year-old agent doesn’t care.
She’s been selling houses, condos, farms and acreages in the Pemberton Valley for the past eight years and plans to put it all on hold to be part of the 2010 Winter Olympics, being hosted 23 km down the road in Whistler. Ames has signed up for a volunteer position during the Games (her exact role has yet to be assigned). Her family is billeting a room in their home to an athlete’s family or a visiting volunteer, and she’ll be helping organize locals to celebrate and enjoy the Olympics. And, she’ll be cheering for Canadian athletes as loudly as she can.
“I want to experience the Games,” says Ames. “It’s going to be so exciting. I want to be a part of it.” Even though she doesn’t have tickets to any events yet, she and her family are looking forward to immersing themselves in the Olympic spirit. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
As the thousands of athletes, fans, media, volunteers and support workers converge and the world’s spotlight shines on Whistler, many wonder what impact – if any – will be felt in neighbouring Pemberton, with its nearly 5,000 residents (if you include the surrounding areas).
The connection between the two towns is tight: much of Whistler’s work-force lives in Pemberton. Those who don’t work in Whistler, play there. Whistler/Blackcomb Ski Resort is known worldwide for its great snow conditions and incredible terrain. Because there is no swimming pool, ice arena or movie theatre in Pemberton, many families make the half-hour drive to Whistler regularly for recreation.
However, Pemberton offers something that Whistler does not: affordable housing and a tight-knit community feeling. It’s a town with a strong agricultural heritage that attracts many young families unable to afford Whistler’s million-dollar starter homes. It may not have Whistler’s night life, shopping opportunities or, come February, worldwide attention, but Pemberton feels like home to people like Ames.
She and her husband Pat moved to “Pembie” in 1995 after living in Whistler for nine years. She joined Whistler Real Estate’s Pemberton office in 2002, the year Statistics Canada called Pemberton “the fastest-growing community in British Columbia”.
“I came into a busy market,” says Ames. “It was a good time to start.” Although she knew there was more money to be made selling homes in Whistler, she felt a strong connection to Pemberton. She fell in love with the community and knew it was the right place to raise her two daughters.
Gradually, Ames developed a reputation as a local expert. The Pemberton real estate market is unique and can be complicated. There are many aspects to selling rural real estate and knowledge of the Agricultural Land Act, Dyking District and local rules and regulations are important to facilitate a smooth transaction. Ames also became more and more involved in the community, and has been instrumental in Pemberton’s growth. She is a Chamber of Commerce director, president of The Rotary Club, a town councillor, a former day care board member and last year’s Citizen of the Year. When asked what her hobby is – how she spends her free time – Ames laughs. “Free time? I don’t have any free time,” she says. “My hobby is doing things for town. It’s what I enjoy doing. I love being a part of Pemberton. I don’t consider it work.”
She’s completely sincere. Ames is a woman of action and energy who is known for her ability to get things done. After the Indonesian tsunami in 2005, she spearheaded a bottle drive that raised over $10,000 in a single day. Recently, she worked with the Rotary Club to have a derelict tract of land beside the Pemberton ambulance station transformed into a beautifully landscaped green space. Last summer, she raised money and gathered local volunteer tradespeople to erect a 14-foot Inukshuk beside the Visitors’ Info Centre to provide a welcoming icon, a focal point, and a place for people to stop and have their photos taken with the mountain backdrop.
Ames is confident that Pemberton will make it through the current economic turmoil with few scars. While house prices have fallen 20 to 30 per cent on average throughout B.C. during the past year and 10 to 20 per cent in Whistler, Pemberton prices have not taken such a hit, falling on average only three to 10 per cent. Ames says this is because “many of our buyers are buying for personal use. It’s not second or third homes or recreational property. Here, we’re seeing a lot of the first-time buyers taking advantage of the low interest rates.”
She says that exposure from the Olympics will bolster the local real estate market even more, but she’s hesitant to make specific predictions.
“People always ask me the ‘Olympic question.’ I tell them ‘I do not have a crystal ball.’” However, her company researched similar communities near Salt Lake City when the Games were held there. They found that “although nothing really happens during the games in terms of real estate transactions, there is huge media exposure. We will see our boom maybe six months or so after. (The Olympics) give the exposure that creates the interest that brings the buyers.”
To help increase that exposure and interest, Ames is currently working with the Pemberton Chamber of Commerce Spirit Committee to ensure locals are engaged and involved next February. The committee is planning to show Olympic events on a giant screen at the community centre, plus perhaps hold barn dances and other events to attract people to town and to give locals a way to plug in to the energy of the Games.
Whether it’s an international tourist on a side-trip during their Olympic visit or a house-hunter looking for a small, friendly town, Ames works hard to make them feel welcome.
“I always tell people ‘You’ll love it here’,” says Ames with a smile. “I’ve never had that one backfire on me.”
Photo by Toshi Kawano