In a real estate market as pricey as Greater Victoria’s, getting your foot in the door can be a challenge, especially for young families.
As home prices have crept higher, many potential home buyers have found themselves weighing needs and wants to choose what is most important. Do they buy a smaller, older home, in a more expensive neighbourhood closer to the region’s core, for example, or is the West Shore, where buyers generally get more home for their money but have a longer commute, more attractive?
“If they’re willing to look for something older and do some fixing up, there are areas like Glanford (in Saanich) that are popular,” says Tim Ayres, president of the Greater Victoria Real Estate Board. However, for many younger buyers with families, he says, “I still think that if they want the picket fence and yard, they’re going to have to look to the West Shore.”
Responding to market needs, more developers, builders and even existing homeowners are building options for these younger buyers, particularly those looking beyond the condo market for a property to suit a growing family.
In new construction, “there’s a lot of variety out there for families and entry-level homes,” says Casey Edge, executive director of the Victoria Home Builders Association.
Since 2007, the region has seen a decrease in new home prices, though largely due to lower labour and material costs, not land costs, Edge says. As the market and economy continue to improve, these costs will rise again.
What has stayed relatively untouched is the low interest rates that help offset the region’s high real estate prices.
The B.C. Real Estate Association expects B.C. housing starts to rise approximately two per cent in both 2014 and 2015, thanks to an expected acceleration of economic growth and employment.
Looking beyond 2015, however, strong growth in the 20- to 44-year-old demographic is expected “to put pressure on new home inventories and drive up new construction activity, particularly multiple units that cater to price-sensitive, first-time buyers,” the association says.
The Greater Victoria townhouse market, for example, is “definitely seeing a bit of an uptake in sales and building,” Ayres says.
Where condominiums catering to young families have been seen in the Vancouver area, for example, here on the south Island, builders have focused more on townhomes, small-footprint single-family homes, and in more established areas, infill projects of small multi-family projects.
While townhomes and condominiums can have a pricepoint appealing to first-time buyers, they also bring additional costs such as strata fees. The trade-off is the freedom from yardwork and maintenance that comes with a single-family home.
Falling in the middle are some of the small-lot homes with minimal, easy-care landscaping. However, in family-friendly communities such as Westhills in Langford, parks, playgrounds and recreation facilities are nearby, offering plenty of opportunities to get outside.
While a great deal of new building is keeping the West Shore real estate market hopping, other areas of the Capital Region are seeing their own opportunities for more affordable housing.
In some areas of Saanich, for example, it’s not unusual to see a single-family home on a large lot rezoned to allow a second attached home, effectively creating a duplex that doesn’t look like the standard mirror-image duplex. Though still falling under strata rules and with some shared expenses, duplexes typically don’t have strata fees and offer more of a single-family experience with a little property.
In communities that have allowed secondary suites, or unique options such as “carriage house” accommodation or garden suites, these mortgage-helpers allow younger buyers even more options.
Q: HOW DOES LANGFORD’S AFFORDABLE HOUSING PROGRAM WORK?
Established in 2004, the city’s affordable housing program requires developers of new subdivisions to build one affordable home for every 10 single-family lots subdivided. These affordable homes are then priced at 60 per cent of market value.
In return, the city offers developers free administrative support, density bonuses and streamlined development approvals as incentives. Local realtors provide services free of charge, while credit unions, mortgage brokers and insurers (including CMHC) streamline mortgage pre-approvals.
In 2007, the city expanded the policy by requiring new developments to be building code-ready for secondary suites, contributing to density and diversity. It also created visibility requirements such as wide doorways and level entrances to accommodate people with disabilities.
The program requires home buyers who apply for the subsidized housing to meet eligibility criteria and complete an application form. For more information, visit cityoflangford.ca, click on City Hall then select Affordable Housing Program.
GREATER VICTORIA MARKET UPDATE » AS OF JUNE 30/14 COURTESY VICTORIA REAL ESTATE BOARD
» 680 / 664 — NET UNCONDITIONAL SALES / TOTAL, JUNE 2013
» 1,234 / 1,240 — NEW LISTINGS / TOTAL, JUNE 2013
» 4,695 / 4,833 — ACTIVE RESIDENTIAL LISTINGS / TOTAL, JUNE 2013