May 21, 2013

Trading Places

The vacation home becomes primary residenceHaving the kind of long, hot summer that most Canadians are able to take for granted is not always guaranteed in southwestern British Columbia. Yes, certain days in April and May set our magnolias and blossoms into bloom two months before anywhere else, but then the infamous “June-uary” gloom sets in with the repetitive Environment Canada forecast of “light rain, highs near 16.”

Which goes a long way to explaining why the Thompson Okanagan, Vancouver Island, and the Gulf Islands are so popular with second-home purchasers ready to pack the SUV at noon each Friday. Then, the ferries and highways become a Race to the Sun. Upon retirement, many people from throughout western Canada will move to these communities, at least semi-permanently.

Demand for recreational property, it becomes apparent from reports throughout these regions, remains driven by Alberta vacationers as much as it is by British Columbians. And if you’re a seller, it’s a challenging market, according to Kelowna realtor Mark Jennings-Bates, who is candid when he says, “What we thought were distress sale prices just three years ago are pretty much market prices, now. Several developers simply walked away from their projects.”

Many of those developments proceeded far too fast for the market to absorb, and were speculative to begin with. Now, the focus is on the end-user and demands a serious commitment to your activity. Here’s a roundup of several different categories of pastimes popular with second-home buyers.

GOLFING

Although Mark Twain once called golf “the perfect walk, ruined,” B.C. golf courses rack up tens of thousands of rounds each year. Many of these courses are home to luxurious real estate developments. In the Okanagan, for instance, stunning views of sage-scented hillsides and forested mountains combine with deep green fairways and blinding white sand bunkers.

The 15-year period between 1993 and 2008 saw a rapid expansion of golf course development, with the courses positioned as “amenities” paid for by real estate sales.

It was a situation, in retrospect, that was perhaps a case of too much, too soon. Even if you don’t golf, fairway condos represent some of the best buys in recreational real estate right now, as many of these developments faced significant financial challenges and resales are slow. Some are even in receivership and in many cases resales are priced at a significant discount to brand-new properties. Virtually the only new golf course homes are in Predator Ridge near Vernon, where Wesbild has successfully bucked the tide that has befallen several of its competitors in the area.

BEACHCOMBING

Once the sun shines and the tide goes out, there really is no better place to be than Vancouver Island. The beach scene here, though, is vastly different between the shallow, protected waters from Parksville to Comox on the east side and the rugged surf (and end-of -the-world beauty) between Ucluelet and Tofino on the wild west coast.

New resort-home construction on the east coast of the Island has come under a lot of downward price pressure in recent years (good for buyers) – but Qualicum Landing north of Parksville has not only almost sold out, it has won numerous awards for its thoughtful design, community ambience, and environmental stewardship. Sixty-two homes share 16.5 acres of waterfront, and only five homes remain, according to sales manager Willow Bloomquist.

“We have one waterfront home left at the higher end of the price range ($899,000) and a few left at $399,000, which is our lowest price. You’re only a three- or four-minute walk away from the beach, at the most,” she says. Owners are allowed to rent out their properties with no time restrictions, which is a huge benefit for investors. Though Parksville and mid-Island is a popular retirement destination, Bloomquist says that “we actually have a lot of young families, primarily from Alberta and Vancouver, who come to relax and go beachcombing, hiking, kayaking, you name it . . . even fishing over in Port Alberni.” >>

Parksville-area realtor Ian Lindsay says that the market has been slow to recover from the recession, and advises that there are certainly bargains in the resale market. Those looking for new product should consider the Oceanside Village Resort, which is located adjacent to Rathtrevor Provincial Park, home to perhaps B.C.’s best and most family-friendly swimming beach. “After successfully selling out its first phase of 70 cottages, Oceanside has sold 19 out of 70 cottages in its second stage,” Lindsay said. “There are three different sizes to choose from, and there’s even an optional furnishings package. Amenities . . . include an onsite pool and exercise gym, with plenty of hiking and biking trails nearby. You can even walk to the neighbourhood pub.”

It’s a very short walk to Rathtrevor Beach, and you’re not paying the premium that waterfront property commands. Full ownership starts at $250,000 – and you own the land that your cottage sits on. Owners can rent out their units for short periods of time, either in a rental pool or on their own. Prospective owners can choose from three floor plans with sizes ranging from 864 to 1,109 square feet.

BOATIONG/FISHING

For many vacation homeowners, summer means trailering up the boat for several months of wakeboarding, waterskiing, or tube riding fun. And for that, you really can’t beat the selection of waterfront property in the Okanagan Valley. With its greatly expanded boat harbour, promenade and parks system, the Grand Okanagan Resort in downtown Kelowna helped transform the city’s downtown core when it opened its doors in the late 1980s. In the ensuing decades, several highrises targeted towards investors and end-users have created an entirely new neighbourhood bordering the city’s North End. >>

If you don’t want to lay out a ton of cash, Jennings-Bates suggests interval or fractional ownership. “We’re beginning to see some interest in these by people who are looking for an affordable vacation alternative – say, four weeks per year for $30,000.” Away from the urban rush that is downtown Kelowna, there are still plenty of smaller lakefront developments with access to docks and even year-round boat storage. With an outdoor pool, fitness club, sandy beach and walking trails on the property, it would be tempting to call West Harbour Estates a resort – but it’s really more of a master-planned lakefront community.

Certainly there will be people from Alberta and the Lower Mainland who want to use West Harbour as a summer home, but most of the people who are here now see their West Harbour home as the place where they want to live for the rest of their lives. Most of West Harbour’s new residents are sold by the wow-factor view and the high-quality construction by Quadra Homes, a name that Fraser Valley residents may recognize from their projects in Langley and Pitt Meadows.

As for the old ferry dock, well, it’s still there and is in fact being refurbished and will be towed up the lake for use at another waterfront development. Locals hope the wharf’s removal doesn’t affect the fishing, which right now is the best on the whole lake.

Sales manager Bruce Merrifield says that “we have 60 boat slips that we’ve built already, and 22 new homes are under construction after a great selling season last summer. As a matter of fact, Westcorp (a local Kelowna company) is building a large boat dock right next to us that they are going to tow across the lake so that you can tie your boat up over near the Delta Grand. It’ll be metered parking, just like you’d get if you drove your car over.” But boat commuting sure sounds like a lot more fun.

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