By Ozzie Jurock
It's that time of year again when we travel. We may be in the B.C. Interior or the Gulf Islands, lying on the beach, and we turn over and say: "Honey, why don't we buy something here?" We forget that it took four ferry rides to get there. Often we buy and never go there again because it is – well – simply too far.
Snug Cove Marina on Bowen Island; Arlen Redekop / PNG
Saltspring Island, Thinkstock
That's why we may want to look at the nearby Howe Sound Islands, where we can get to our piece of paradise in less than three hours. Bowen Island is 20 minutes by ferry from Horseshoe Bay and is home to many day commuters. Prices for high-quality waterfront lots on Bowen have dropped off quite a bit.
For instance, at King Edward Bay, an oceanfront community on Bowen Island, you can now buy a 1.1-acre lot for only $299,000 (previously priced at $449,000). Look it up at kingedwardbay.com. Gambier Island (17,000 acres with a population of 330) is only 45 minutes from downtown Vancouver (if BC Ferries co-operates) from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale. From Langdale, a passenger ferry runs 10 times a day. It is 17 times the size of Stanley Park – and 90 per cent is Crown land that cannot be developed. I have talked about the Howe Sound Islands for years. They are beautiful, with great fishing, parks and fantastic real estate. Best of all, if bought right, you will actually use your recreational property because you can get there fast.
I am a boater (my boat is called the Proper Tee) and there is nothing like the B.C. coast to feel like you are in paradise. Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands head the destination list for sun, beaches, coves and that sigh of contented happiness that seems to hang over the whole area.
For recreational property buyers there are some fine deals emerging. Vancouver's real estate market may be seeing soaring prices in some areas, but that has not been the case in most of the rest of B.C. and resort properties, particularly, have been hurt. While a lot of the waterfront homes on the large Saltspring Island are still more than $1 million, Liane Read of RE/Max (www.liread.com) has waterfront homes on Saltspring from $825,000, a 3,000-foot home on 16 acres on Mayne Island for $875,000 and also shows a property on Gossip Island (intriguing).
I am not sure whether the Ogopogo monster lives in Lake Okanagan, but I would not be surprised, seeing that Kelowna roughly translated means grizzly bear. (Some unkind people claim it is just a large beaver.) Summers here are hot and sunny. There are pristine beaches, fine golf courses and Kelowna (22nd largest city in Canada) heads up the paradise that is the "lifestyle of wine, fruit and sun" of the Okanagan Valley.
Kelowna Scenic for development story; Steve Bosch/Vancouver Sun
Lifestyle notwithstanding, however, Kelowna area MLS sales were down 12 per cent in March and prices haven't changed or are down in some areas even since the downturn in 2008. The reason: Kelowna and environs are now a domestic market with less attraction to Albertans and other out-of-province buyers. Many recreational buyers who used to choose the Okanagan are now heading for the really cheap Arizona and Las Vegas "sun homes."
However there are signs of life. The latest figures from the Kelowna area show some balance returning to the residential market. This spring may mark an ideal time to find that second home in the Okanagan, or to buy an investment property. With oil reaching $100 a barrel – and expected to stay there or go even higher for the next two years – lake-challenged, snow-bound Alberta buyers may be coming back this summer, if they can avoid the temptation of cut-rate prices in the U.S. sunbelt.
At Jurock's Real Estate Insider we have recommended Kamloops for a long time. A fine valley, five superb golf courses, the second largest ski resort in B.C. and low prices have been ideal for investors and residents alike. The real estate market is still lagging in sales, but we have seen some very fine deals. The buyers' market continues.
B.C. has a very bright future: International immigration to B.C. – where more than 90 per cent of immigrants settle in Metro Vancouver – hit 44,179 last year, the highest level since 2005 and eight per cent higher than the 20-year average, according to a Deloitte & Touche report. Add to that 30,000 interprovincial immigrants and that means that some 35,000 or so families need to rent or buy – every year!
Every piece of recreational land has a use. That swamp might be just the thing for moneyed moose or duck hunters, that wind-buffeted cliff just right for a hangglider enthusiast with a death wish. With that said, however, there are some truisms when it comes to selecting recreational property, property from which you can realize a profit, investment goals and timeline. According to those who know, the right setting is often more important than the per-acre price. A small but lovely piece on a knoll or next to a fish creek will be often worth more and show better appreciation than that really big chunk of dull property. Whenever possible, think quality, either present or latent.
So check things out. Recreational coastlines from the Sunshine Coast to Vancouver Island and lakes and mountain property values have seen a reversal in prices, offering some fine deals. So buy, but don't get carried away. Always go and walk the walk yourself. Always check your motives; ask yourself why you are buying. Nothing takes the place of your own due diligence.
Zoning: Usually only allows for single-family homes – duplexes, etc. not allowed. Ditto for in-law suites. Most rural zoning allows trailers but some do not. Check!
Boundaries: Determining boundaries of subject property is vital in the out-of-town areas. Get the surveyed plan, "subdivision plan" or "strata plan" from the Land Title Office. Otherwise, hire a surveyor. (You would hire a surveyor if you bought a boat, right? Even more important to do so on your property.)
Unsurveyed road: Highway allowances in B.C. are 66 feet wide – private property usually begins 10 or 20 feet from the shoulder of the road. You may need a permit from the Department of Highways to cross to your own road. If road-to-house or building site isn't on the legal plan as a public road (don't assume) check it out with the Ministry of Highways.
Access: You must have access. Access by "boat or plane only" devalues property. Is access all on your property? Whose property line do you have to cross? Easements? Also check for access to water – you may own it! Check. Many unfriendly landowners post "Keep Out" signs on unknown public access. Your property might have access rights of which you're unaware.
Drinking water: If not on the property, usually supplied by the community water system. While reliable, such systems can be poorly maintained, can lead to chronic waterquality problems. Municipal or regional systems are usually problem-free. Well water? Extremely important to check gallons per hour. Water may be there, but only for brushing teeth.
Septic tanks or fields: Vital. If no septic field is allowed this kills most deals and devalues most properties sharply. Also, read up on regulations, i.e., your septic tanks/fields can't be within 100 feet of source of freshwater or well on your or your neighbour's property. If the next property has a well right on the property line and your property is less than 100 feet wide you may not get a permit for a septic tank at all. Check it out. Find out the minimum setbacks from ocean/ rivers, streams (you need a minimum depth of four feet of non-impervious ground above the water table).
Published in West Coast Homes and Design, Summer 2011
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