When Susan and Nick Taylor were looking for a home in Greater Victoria about a year ago, they were shown upwards of 30 properties.
Coming from Orangeville, Ont., about an hour northwest of Toronto, they weren’t fixated on any part of the Capital Region. Given the budget they were working with, they did have options, but neither seemed appealing, Susan recalls.
“What it seemed to boil down to was, in the price range that we were in, we were going to be in a close-knit subdivision where everyone else looked into your yard,” she says. “Or conversely, a property that needed a new roof, new furnace, new windows.”
Then their agent showed them a Colwood home they would have referred to as a “semi” in Ontario. That was short for semi-detached home, or in Victoria parlance, a half-duplex.
But with no strata fees to pay for shared maintenance, a full 2,000 square feet of living space and a sizeable yard, it fit the bill for the couple.
“I didn’t hesitate, because of what it offered over everything else we were looking at for the same price,” Susan says. “It was kind of a no-brainer, and it didn’t hurt that we were only about six houses up from the water.”
After they moved and friends back home were trying to find their new digs on MLS, the searchers had a hard time, since this full-sized home – essentially the equivalent of a townhome – was listed in the strata duplex category, along with old-style duplexes normally associated with being rental revenue properties.
The couple, now looking to move again, feared their home wouldn’t be seen by as many people who might be interested in such a setup.
Listing agent Cheryl Laidlaw with Royal LePage Coast Capital Realty calls it a “bit of glitch” in the way MLS works. She says many potential buyers aren’t searching for a half-duplex because of the duplex stigma, or they may not understand how many variants of that configuration are available.
Newer style duplexes on large city lots offer an alternative to townhomes, Laidlaw says, for those people who aren’t interested in being part of a strata corporation and all that entails.
The construction of half-duplexes is more solid, she adds, with soundproofing elements that drastically reduce the amount of noise transferring between the two units. “The benefit is, you get much more house for the price.”
While newer duplexes on single lots can be found in various places around the West Shore, duplexes in which the two owners do not function jointly as a strata complex are not exactly rare, says Wendy Moreton, an agent and president-elect of the Victoria Real Estate Board.
“Anecdotally, I’d say about half of the duplexes you come across don’t comply with the Strata Act,” she says. “The reason a duplex might have more appeal than a strata (townhouse) is that it’s less complicated. Some people like the idea of living in a strata and leaving the maintenance to someone else. In that regard, something like this would be simpler.”
Even if there is just one duplex on a property, there are still joint expenses that come up, such as house insurance – it is a combined structure – roofing, and any common landscaping areas.
Moreton says any grouping of four or less homes is not required to complete a depreciation report, as other traditional stratas must do, condos or townhomes. While potential buyers of a half-duplex would be expected to have a house inspection done as with a detached family home, the lack of strata fees isn’t necessarily the selling feature it once was, Moreton says.
“Low strata fees used to be promoted as way of attracting buyers, but it was found that those complexes were often not as well maintained,” she says. “It’s changing the way people look at stratas.”
While marketing a home like the Taylors’ may mean a little more legwork by agents, the fact such homes are available is encouraging for buyers looking for more home than what it might first appear they can afford.
Q: WHAT SHOULD I CONSIDER WHEN LOOKING AT A DUPLEX AS A REVENUE PROPERTY?
Every property has its positives and negatives and owning a duplex as a revenue property is no different.
The revenue stream of owning a duplex can be a financial plus, but keep these factors in mind. Is it already a tenanted duplex? If so the amount of rent paid by the tenant can play a huge factor in its value. Is the current tenant is a friend, a family member or someone getting great rental deal from the current owner?
Raising the rent can be an extremely slow process and getting the tenants out can be an equally challenging proposition. When you buy the duplex you may be inheriting the tenant long term.
If you plan to live in the duplex as well, think about the fact that you’ll be living next to someone who may knock on your door whenever anything goes wrong. Is that something you feel comfortable with?
For some people, that’s a part of the deal they’re prepared to accept while for others, it’s a deal breaker. Do your research.
GREATER VIC. MARKET UPDATE » MONTH as of APRIL 27/15 COURTESY VICTORIA REAL ESTATE BOARD
» 689 / 664 — NET UNCONDITIONAL SALES / TOTAL, APRIL 2014
» 1,198 / 1,521 — NEW LISTINGS / TOTAL, APRIL 2014
» 3,934 / 4,404 — ACTIVE RESIDENTIAL LISTINGS / TOTAL, APRIL 2014