New real estate office changes gears due to pandemic


For Chris Hughes and The Firm Real Estate Services, the border closure could not have come at a worse time. Hughes, a real estate agent, had been selling Point Roberts real estate to Canadians for about six years and was working on expanding in Blaine.

Hughes teamed up with prominent Canadian real estate agent Fraser Elliott and under the name The Firm Real Estate, opened an office at 838 Peace Portal Drive, in Blaine, this January.

While selling a piece of northwest Washington to Canadians wasn’t the sole reason for the company to open a local office, that was a big part of its plan. So the border closure on March 21, two months after the office opened, was frightening, Hughes said.

“It was a big deal,” he said. “We have zero Canadian buyers. They can’t even come and look right now.”

Rather than dwell on his change of fortune, Hughes and his team looked elsewhere for buyers. The company had an agreement to market the Pacific Point Condominiums, a group of 18 waterfront condos on the water on Semiahmoo Spit that start at $1 million. Formerly, the Vancouver area would have been an obvious place to advertise those condos.

It turns out luxury real estate in Whatcom County isn’t just appealing to Canadians – The Firm found interested buyers stateside fast.

“Literally right away,” Hughes said. “Californians are all over Semiahmoo right now. But what surprised us the most was the Bellevue and Seattle interest we get.”

Prospective buyers range from Californian retirees to ultra-wealthy families with young kids shopping for a second home. Despite Covid-19, the company has already sold three of those condos and the building isn’t even finished.

The Firm Real Estate’s team includes Hughes’ son, Michael Hughes, administrator Cesilie Gile, and company president Fraser Elliott. Elliott is well known in Canada; before starting his own team, his RE/MAX team was the company’s top-selling team in Canada in 2017.

When Hughes, who serves as team manager at the Blaine office, met Elliot, the two hit it off. Elliott was looking to start selling U.S. real estate to Canadians, and Hughes was already doing that in Point Roberts.

“We started, over time, going, ‘Maybe there’s a way we can help each other out,’” Hughes said.

Hughes grew up in West Vancouver before moving to California in 1990 and Bellingham five years later. He knew from his work on Point Roberts that Canadians were interested in second homes in the U.S. Canadians own 80 percent of homes in Point Roberts, Hughes said, and he thought those same buyers would be interested in Blaine.

“If 80 percent of Canadians were buying up Point Roberts, it’s not going to take long for them to figure out that Blaine is right there and Semiahmoo is right there,” he said.

While the border has shut down The Firm’s plans, Hughes expects Canadians to once again be interested in U.S. real estate when the border opens. And in the meantime, finding U.S. buyers has made The Firm a stronger business, he said.

“We want to be a nice, easy conduit to the Canadian market, as well as go after the U.S. market,” he said. “This is a strategic location and if it works, we will open an office in Bellingham and then continue down the I-5 corridor.”

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