Yukon real estate agents tout Faro as a retirement community

Posted: Wednesday, January 24, 2001

WHITEHORSE, Yukon Territory -- Hoping to revive the death spiral in its housing market, a Yukon real estate agent is pitching the tiny community of Faro as a retirement haven for adventure-seeking seniors.

The nearly abandoned former mining town's housing market has stabilized and may even be showing signs of life thanks to a fire sale offloading of homes.

Dawn Kostelnik, a Whitehorse real estate agent, is already comparing Faro to Tumbler Ridge, the tiny B.C. community south of Dawson Creek that's practically giving away homes to yuppies from Vancouver to Toronto.

Once a thriving town of over 2,000 residents, Faro has shrunk, as it has numerous times since its birth in 1967, to under 300 souls.

Since the lead, zinc and copper Anvil Range Mine shut down in February 1998, only the desperate have clung to their property. Now, Faro, which culled its name from a popular Klondike gold rush-era card game, is poised to outsell the capital city of Whitehorse, says Kostelnik.

This month, three houses were sold there, including two in the last week, she said. In December, another two were scooped up and there are about 10 sales pending.

Last October, two other homes were sold, one for $16,200, the other for about $20,000.

The average Faro home is more than 1,900 square feet, with two bathrooms, a basement, garage and fireplace. A similar home in Whitehorse can easily run as high as $132,000.

Still, there's been ''a lot of negativity to overcome,'' says Kostelnik.

''There's a lot of, 'Who the hell would want to live in Faro?' But when you turn around and ask, 'Have you ever been there?', 95 per cent of the potential buyers say no. And the amount of people who have lived in Faro and want to return is phenomenal.''

Anne Domes, a Yukon retiree who lives half the year in Arizona, is one of those people. She recently purchased a three-bedroom home in Faro for roughly $20,000, and will travel back to the Yukon this spring.

''I look forward to moving there,'' she said in an interview from Mesa, Ariz. ''I hope lots of people move there. I was there in November, and there was a lot of snow, but I bought a house. In the summer, you've got fishing and all that stuff. It's a beautiful community. I might just stay all year long. We'll see.''

It's people like Domes -- elderly, retired and armed, of course, with enough money for a down payment -- that real estate agents are hoping to lure to the north.

''We've got more and more people retiring here,'' she claims. ''Faro is the perfect solution.'' She's also pitching the town as a future bastion of tourism and small-business opportunities.

About 250 miles northeast of Whitehorse, Faro sits among the most picturesque locations in the Yukon.

Behind the town hulks the majestic, snow-covered Anvil Mountains, while the Pelly River, brimming with salmon, flows by the community. And, even factoring in the unsightly open pit mine just outside town, the region is a nature-lover's paradise.

Sheep graze on mountainsides, and thousands of migratory cranes, swans and geese can be spotted by the few tourists who venture north on the narrow, winding Campbell Highway.

With this is mind, Kostelnik traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, this week to operate a booth at the Cordilleran Roundup, a natural resources trade show, with a Faro town councillor. She's also planning a sales trip to Inuvik, Northwest Territories, with the hope of attracting oil and gas exploration workers, and their families, stuck living in work camps and trailer-towns.

If the normally frigid Yukon winters get too tough for new homeowners, they'll be able to spend a few months outside the territory with their savings, says Kostelnik.

''We've got a Yukon community that is doing this without government support. These are nice homes. I've got a four-plex on the riverbank with a phenomenal view for $39,000 (Canadian, about $25,740 U.S). And the town is totally open to trying different zoning concepts. You want to go try something a little bit different, this is the place to do it.''

Faro's chief administrative officer, Dave Skidd, agrees. In fact, he claims a couple of Whitehorse real estate agents have also considered purchasing a home in Faro.

''Its literally tough to believe,'' he says. ''A Swiss couple was up here this week, looked at a four-plex and bang -- they put the money down and bought a house.''

The housing boom, Skidd predicts, ''is going to come. It's not the biggest, most major thing in the world, but it's a big thing for Faro to be getting out there and presenting itself. Once it starts, it'll pick up. We're really trying to keep up the momentum here.''

There's only been one real hitch so far. Faro is classified as a one-industry town by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp., says Kostelnik. And so far it has refused to finance homebuyers there.

''If we had a situation where CMHC was here and people could walk in and get a mortgage, we'd have 10 more sales, almost immediately,'' she says. ''We had a couple from Saskatchewan ready to buy two homes, but they got turned down.''

Without a CMHC loan, home buyers have to put as much as 25 per cent down. For a $20,000 house, that comes to $5,000.

''That's not a lot, really, but it is put just out of reach for some people,'' she says.

With a CMHC loan, potential homeowners have to front a smaller down payment.

''We're in the process of convincing the CMHC that since the mine shut down, it's not a mining town,'' she chuckles.


(Distributed by The Associated Press)

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