June 13, 2012

Real-estate Deal in Squamish Convinces Surrey couple to buy

Prices for remaining homes in the community have just been sharply reduced

Aqua at Coastal Village
Project location: Squamish
Project size/scope: 4.5 acre five-phase community of two six-storey steel/concrete buildings consisting of two bedroom and den (1,042 — 1,071 sq. ft) and three-bedroom and den (1,336 — 1,442 sq. ft); 52 townhomes (1,414 — 1,638 sq. ft,), lap pool and fitness facility (under construction), two 1,500-square-foot common rooms
Prices: $245,000 — $319,000
Monthly strata fees: $230 — $305 per month
Contact: Jill Carter/Darren McCartney, REMAX Sea to Sky Real Estate Ltd.
Telephone: 604-815-1737/604-892-4875
Email: liane@myseatosky.com
Developers: The Bowra Group Inc.
Architect: Toews and Warner, North Vancouver
Builder: Mierau Construction
Presentation suite: 1204 Main St., noon — 4 p.m., Wed — Mon
Occupancy: Immediate

By Michael Bernard

They say the supreme test of your belief in a product is if you’d sell it to your mother. So when real estate agent Jill Carter sold her mother a penthouse in downtown Squamish, it showed the strong faith she has in the value of Aqua at Coastal Village. “Trust me, my mother is not someone you want to cross,” said Carter, an Aqua sales manager.

As it is, her 70-year-old mother Margot Boland was thrilled with the suite with three bedrooms, a den and storage room. For $380,000, the former Torontonian got a 1,336-square-foot unit on the top floor of a six-storey concrete and steel tower on the edge of parkland. Her penthouse has sweeping views of the snow-capped Coastal Range Mountains and a man-made tidal estuary teeming with wildlife. “Most of what I need is here,” says Boland. “If I need to do more shopping, Park Royal [shopping centre] in West Vancouver is only 40 minutes away.”

She and the other buyers who purchased tower suites and 35 adjacent two-storey townhomes were the winners in a real estate windfall. When the units began selling late last year, many of them were discounted 40 per cent below the initial 2008 price. The deals got better this month. The Bank of Montreal and receivership developer Bowra Group Inc. have cut last fall’s prices for the remaining 22 units by up to another $50,000 to $70,000 each. Two bedroom and den units now list starting at $245,000, while three bedroom and den units are priced between $309,000 and $319,000.

So far, the buyers have been a mix: two-thirds are between 25 and 45 years old, many with young families, while the remainder are empty nesters, mainly from Metro Vancouver. It’s exactly what the project architects had in mind when they set about to create “a village in the town of Squamish.” “We looked at the town and saw that it is strung out along the highway and that there wasn’t a real any sense of community in the downtown,” North Vancouver architect Sig Toews said. In raising the site elevation to comply with flood-plain requirements, Toews’ firm had a choice and an opportunity: build garages and parking at ground level or put all the parking for the village under the site.

“So we asked what creates a sense of community? Take out the cars.” With cars banished to below grade, Toews and his team were free to focus on “building a better village,” designing townhouses with yards and ground-floor apartments with garden space and patios. The project, however, ran into financial difficulties and the 2008 downturn pushed the original developer into receivership. When the construction was completed last fall, the rush was on. About 75 per cent of the units sold within a few months.

Helping to fuel sales was people’s growing realization that the $600-million government upgrade for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games had tamed the white-knuckle drive that was the Sea to Sky Highway. A centre median and additional passing lanes along much of the Vancouver-Whistler highway made the drive safer and sliced 15 minutes off travel time from Squamish to Vancouver. That has spawned plans for new residential development along the Howe Sound corridor from Porteau Cove to Squamish, including 4,000 units at Britannia Beach.

Commute time was a factor for Eric Bazett, 30, and his partner Amanda, who had been looking to buy after living in a South Surrey basement suite with their two sons. They had dismissed Squamish as too far a commute, but driving the highway came as a pleasant surprise, as did Aqua’s amenities. “I couldn’t believe that we could have an ocean and mountain-view for that price,” said Bazett, who paid $350,000 for a 1,042-square foot two-bedroom-and-den suite. “My wife walked in — I was still taking my shoes off — took a look at the views and said, ‘Yup, we’re buying this one.’ ”

Bazett says his 50-minute commute to downtown Vancouver is the same as it was from South Surrey, but less stressful and more scenic. The couple also liked the safety of a car-less environment and play area for their boys and the 10-minute walk to the major-chain grocery store, community centre and schools. The family is looking forward this summer to exploring the nearby hiking trails in the self-proclaimed “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada.”

Bazett also got the benefit of numerous upgrades by Bowra Group: Inlaid hardwood flooring, energy efficient KitchenAid appliances, granite countertops and breakfast bar. Bathrooms have a large glass-enclosed shower in one and a tub and shower surround in the other. Extra large windows with venetian blinds provide panoramic views of the famous Stawamus Chief peak and the nearby Howe Sound seashore. The complex has also attracted investor interest in the building, which has no rent restrictions. Units with two bedrooms and a den rent for between $1,200 and $1,300 a month.

Aqua is part of a larger vision that Squamish has for a residential and commercial development of its seashore, once dominated by the Woodfibre pulp mill, which closed in 2006. The waterfront project will be the “crown jewel” of the community, says an enthusiastic Mayor Rob Kirkham. There are also plans to complete Aqua’s last two phases, which call for an additional 82 condos and 16 townhomes on the remaining 1.9 acres.

Meanwhile, the community of 17,000, which just-released Canada Census figures show to be one of B.C.’s faster growing and younger median age communities, is already is home to five schools, including two universities, among other amenities. “There is a never-ending list of reasons why people are moving to Squamish,” says Kirkham. “It’s not just a suburb of Vancouver; it has its own character.”

Special to The Sun


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