September 10, 2012

Island modular home living with big ocean views

Modular home community is on leased land just minutes from Swartz Bay ferry terminal

Hummingbird Village

Location: Central Saanich/Sidney on Vancouver Island
Project size/ scope: A 29-unit gated development of mobile/modular homes on small lots on leased land with panoramic views of the ocean and James Island. Homes range from 1,000 — 2,500 sq. ft
Price: from $240,000 — mid $300,000s
Monthly land rental fee: ranging from $295.00 to $350.00 per month, depending on size of unit
Monthly Maintenance fee: $90
Telephone: 250-709-1259
Address: 2740 Stautw Rd.
Developer: Don Gress
General Contractor: Dreamweaver Homes Ltd.
Architect: Glen Madge
Occupancy: three months from purchase

Special to The Sun

A 2,500-square-foot home near Victoria with a panoramic ocean view for $350,000? It might seem hard to believe, but that’s approximately what Virginia Crowley and Guy Marchi paid for their new home at Hummingbird Village, a gated community about 20 minutes north of Victoria, 10 minutes from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal and Victoria International Airport, and five minutes from the local hospital.

The reason for the price? They don’t own the land, just the home. They rent the land — located on Tsawout First Nation land — for $350 per month from the aboriginal landowner. “That’s what made the house more affordable, because you don’t have to buy the land,” explained Crowley on a recent morning as a bald eagle circled near their two-storey home overlooking Saanichton Bay and James Island. “We couldn’t have afforded this house had we had to buy the land.”

“I think it’s the best deal in town,” added Marchi, who enjoys watching fledgling eagles take flight from nearby fir trees. “You can’t find a place like this for what we paid for it.” Building homes on first nation land for buyers who are not aboriginal is nothing new. In fact, the developer of Hummingbird Village has built two other projects on first nations land, an earlier one at Tsawout with 104 homes (Hawthorne Village) and one at the Songhees First Nation near Victoria with 93 units.

One feature they have in common is that the homes are designed to be mobile and can be moved if required. “So it gives the bank — if someone defaults on their mortgage — the right to come in, take the home off the site if they have to,” says Kevin Weaver, sales manager for Hummingbird Village. It also means owners can move their homes somewhere else if, for any reason, the landowner decides not to renew the lease at the end of the current 49-year term, or the band doesn’t approve a new lease. (The Tsawout First Nation passed a band council resolution approving the development and collects property taxes on the land, but doesn’t own the land; the owner is an individual band member.)

However, Weaver is optimistic that won’t happen and says buyers will likely have the option of renewing their leases for another 49 years. “This band realizes there is business to be generated here,” he says. In addition to Hummingbird Village and Hawthorne Village, the Tsawout First Nation has nine other housing developments in its jurisdiction (in fact, almost twice as many non-aboriginal people live on the reserve as aboriginal people; 1,055 and 585 respectively at last count), as well as a campground, a couple of motels, a gas station, a McDonalds and a White Spot restaurant.

In some ways, Hummingbird Village resembles a bare land strata, where each homeowner is responsible for the repair, maintenance and insurance of his or her home. And as with bare land strata, the developer at Hummingbird built the infrastructure — the road, street lights, fences and gate — and all owners contribute to their upkeep through a monthly maintenance fee, in addition to their monthly land rent.

But unlike strata, residents don’t participate in strata council meetings or vote on bylaws that will govern their day-to-day affairs, such as pet ownership, issues that can be divisive and stressful. “We don’t want the same issues that the strata are having with multi-families. That’s why we’re getting the traffic,” Weaver explains. “I mean, the traffic is a realtor’s delight, I just cannot get over the amount of traffic that we’re getting through here.” So how are rules made and disputes settled at Hummingbird Village?

According to Weaver, the rules are contained in a sub-lease, which buyers review before they purchase. The sub-lease, as well as a head lease between the aboriginal landowner and the developer, is registered through the Tsawout Reserve with the federal government’s Indian Land Registry. Any special request not covered by the rules in the sub-lease will be reviewed and decided on by Swut-Za-Lee Adult Community Ltd., the company owned jointly by the aboriginal landowner and the developer, Don Gress.

Guy Marchi isn’t concerned with the leasing arrangement. He knows the developer from a previous project and holds him in high regard. “Basically we have everything we want. Don is so accommodating, you know, he was hanging up pictures for us and hanging all sorts of stuff, he does things for us, he’s a great guy, you know. We couldn’t be happier here.” Houses for eight of the 29 lots have been sold and three more have been sold subject to certain conditions being met. The modular houses — some two storey, others one storey — are built on-site as people purchase, allowing for customization.

“We designed one just now for a lady whose husband is handicapped, in a wheelchair, so we’ve gone to 38- and 40-inch doors, and level entry so he can move around in his wheelchair,” Weaver says. For a pair of retired pharmacists from Dawson Creek, the developer installed granite countertops and higher-end appliances in the kitchen, as well as an $8,000 steam shower and bath unit that comes with lights and music for the ensuite bathroom.

Buyers may be assured of the project’s viability by the fact that BMO Financial approved developer financing, Weaver says. A spokeswoman for BMO Financial, Laurie Grant, says she can’t talk about specific clients and projects because of client confidentiality rules, but can say the process for people needing a mortgage to buy a house on leased land is similar to that of applying for a mortgage on fee simple land. “They would still need to go through the usual mortgage approval process. And a mobile home loan (or chattel mortgage) is not a conventional mortgage; however a buyer would still have to go through the same approval process whether it is a loan or a mortgage.”

Weaver says most buyers at Hummingbird Village are downsizing and taking equity out of their former homes to enjoy a smaller home with a view. “The way I look at it, is you’re paying $300 a month for a piece of land that’s probably worth around $350,000 — if you could find lots like this at all.”

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