June 25, 2013

A country home without the headaches

Thirty-six-unit island development builds smaller footprint houses

Park Place at Cowichan Bay

Location: Cowichan Bay, Vancouver Island
Project size/ scope: A 36-home residential small-lot strata development of mixed easy-care one- and two-level homes ranging from 1,100 —1,800 sq. ft
Price: From $339,900 to mid-$400,000s
Monthly Strata fees: $25.25 per month
Contact: Kim Johannsen
Telephone: 250-748-8080
Address: 4369 Kingscote Rd., Cowichan Bay
Websites: www.parkplacecowichanbay.com and www.kimjohannsen.com
Developers: Four Way Properties Ltd.
General Contractor: Cadillac Homes Ltd.
Occupancy: 10 homes left; varying stages of construction

Special to The Sun

You’re thinking about a little place in the country. But when you start looking, you realize that a little place usually comes with a big price tag, and often more land than you want or need. “Affordability in rural areas becomes challenging,” says Kim Johannsen, a realtor with RE/MAX of Duncan on Vancouver Island and a part owner of a new residential development near Cowichan Bay. That’s because living in the country typically means having a septic field for sewage waste and a well to provide drinking water.

“And then you need a larger lot. For a well and a septic field, you need to have at least 2.5 acres,” Johannsen explains. “So now you’re talking about 2.5 acres with a house on it and the price just keeps going up.” For some of his clients, the recent answer has been a single-family home in a small subdivision in the country that doesn’t need to comply with the usual sewage and water rules because it’s connected to both a municipal sewer and municipal drinking water supply.

“That’s been the catalyst, not just for this development, but others like it,” he says. “Within our geographic area, there are very few areas that have any kind of sewer infrastructure. And wherever there’s sewer infrastructure, that’s where you’ll find development.” So instead of sitting on at least 2.5 acres each, homes in the 36-unit development called Park Place at Cowichan Bay occupy lots that are about 55 by 100 feet. The homes take up about one-third of the lots.

“We believe in small footprints, so we’re building smaller square footage on reasonably sized lots. That appeals to first-time buyers and people who are downsizing,” explains Dave Slang, partner with Cadillac Homes, the general contractor and part owner of Park Place. The homes range from 1,100 to 1,800 square feet and are a mix of one-storey ranchers with two bedrooms and two baths to two-storey homes with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Each home comes with a garage at the front and a sun deck or porch at the back. Prices range from $339,900 to mid-$400,000s.

For that price, Slang says, buyers get a well-designed, well-built home that’s ready to be lived in. “Every house we sell is landscaped, comes with in-ground sprinklers, a full appliance package including full-sized washer and dryer — all stainless steel — window coverings, blinds and bug screens. So basically, if you buy a house, you don’t need to spend another penny, you just move right in.” Slang says you can see the quality of the Cadillac Homes the minute you walk inside one. “The finishings, the fit, everything works. Everything, you know, even the paint is immaculate and the drywall is perfect.”

Cadillac Homes is a local company based in nearby Cobble Hill and has built something like 15 neighbourhoods on southern Vancouver Island. “We’ve built over 1,000 houses and truly never had a warranty complaint get past us, past me,” Slang says. Asked what that means, he says: “It means that if our purchaser has a warranty issue, we’re going to deal with it and satisfy them, rather than them go through the warranty provider.”

According to Slang, builders often wash their hands of buyers after homes are built by turning any complaints over to the warranty providers. “If they bought with us, that wouldn’t happen.” Originally, Slang and Johannsen had hoped to build some multi-family suites on the 11-acre parcel of land as well as the single-family homes, but local residents opposed the higher density. As well, a natural watercourse on the back seven acres requires protection as a riparian area, so nothing could be built there. Instead, that half of the property is being turned over to the Cowichan Valley Regional District as parkland and will eventually have walking trails through it.

The small homes on small lots have attracted buyers from as far away as Ontario and Alberta, although many buyers are from the island and most of those are people who’ve lived in the area for years. “I’m talking to people right now and they live on a couple acres and they just can’t manage it anymore,” Johannsen explains. “They want to live in the same community or the same general area, but they don’t want to live on a condo in town and here’s an alternative for them.”

Having the small, food-focused village of Cowichan Bay just a 15-minute walk down the road is part of the subdivision’s appeal, according to Slang. “It’s a fabulous and funky place. It’s just got really nice restaurants … we’re really incredibly lucky to have it here.” The village of Cowichan Bay was once considered the salmon capital of the world and — after Wimbledon — boasts the oldest grass tennis courts in the world. But of recent note, it has become known as North America’s first Cittaslow community, a designation that originated in Italy, inspired by the slow-food movement.

The website for Cittaslow International says “the emphasis for Cittaslow communities is on putting the quality of life for their residents first, celebrating their rich history and heritage, and preserving the elements that make the communities so unique.” A modern subdivision inserted into the rural and waterfront ambience of Cowichan Bay might seem like an odd fit, but sales suggest otherwise. Of the 36 lots and homes on the market, 26 have already sold. As Slang confidently puts it, “we do know what works. It’s a million little things, you know, from cherry tree-lined streets to similar architecture, to high-quality finishings, to providing absolutely everything in a turnkey form so people don’t need to be nickel and dimed to death.”

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