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Don't rush into buying a vacation property
This article appeared in The Vancouver Sun on July 19, 2003
It is July. You are either in the interior or in the Gulf Islands. You are lying on the beach and feeling just peachy - you turn over and say: "Honey, why don't we buy something here?" Whenever you hear yourself say that, stuff an oyster or a very large hamburger in your mouth and think. Think! You are on holidays. You have forgotten that it took you 4 ferry rides to get there. Or that you are in the second week in your holiday and some 14 hours away.
Often we buy, and NEVER go there again, because it is simply too far, hasn't got the proper access and the promised well water, well, isn't well.
So, as you slap on that suntan lotion wondering why you are such a multi-tasker in 'real life' and are dreaming about that quieter lifestyle, remember you are on holiday ... likely befuddled with good feelings and not in a position of good self-defense against your own emotions.
Now, every piece of recreational land has a use. That swamp might be just the thing for monied moose or duck hunters, that wind-buffeted cliff just right for a hang-glider 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 simply happy times. 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. Whenever possible, think quality, either present or latent.
Of course, there are a number of reasons why people buy vacation properties. One reason is to go there on their vacations (well duh). It is pretty nice to have a place where you can steal away from the clang and clatter of the city to the quiet of the countryside.
Another reason for buying vacation property is to pack up, leave the city and move there. Perhaps you are able to cut loose because you just retired or because modern communications allows you to work in the boonies. Demographics and technological advances are prompting more and more people to consider this type of lifestyle change.
A third reason for buying vacation property is as an investment. Of course some vacation properties offer good investment potential as well, others don't. But BC's demographic and technological trends suggest that, in general, vacation properties represent great investment prospects for the medium and longer term.
While we should be clear in our objectives - buy the digs for capital gain or personal use - sometimes it is possible to combine the investment motive with one of the other two reasons for buying a vacation property. If you accomplish this rare feat (and it is rare) that can really be a win-win situation.
Areas to watch (for making money) include all of the North, Central and South Okanagan, South Kootenays, the Sunshine Coast, and any interesting little town within a 2-7 hour driving distance from the Lower Mainland. On Vancouver Island, don't always go north from Nanaimo - there are great little towns south such as Chemainus and very reasonably priced waterfront properties on the south shore of the Island.
But no matter where you buy ... watch out for these:
ZONING - usually only allows for single family homes. Duplex etc. not allowed. Ditto for in-law suites. Most rural zoning allow trailers but some do not, guest cottages may only be allowed. 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 Land Title Office. Otherwise, hire a surveyor. Well, you would hire a surveyor if you bought a boat, right? Much more so on your property.
UNSURVEYED ROADS - In some areas, public roads haven't been formally dedicated. The Highways Act specifies that whenever public funds are spent on roads crossing private property, these serviced areas become property of the Ministry of Highways! "Section 4" roads have no set width. Highway allowances in B.C. are 66 feet wide - private property usually begins ten or twenty feet from the shoulder of the road. You may need a permit department of highways to cross to your own road. If road to house or building site isn't on legal plan as a public road - don't assume - check it out with the Highways Ministry.
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 property, usually supplied by community water system. While reliable, such systems can be poorly maintained, can lead to chronic water-quality 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. No septic field allowed kills most deals, 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 - no permit - maybe. Check it out! Find out: Minimum setbacks from ocean/rivers, streams (you need minimum depth of four feet of non-impervious ground above the water table).
In general, with the explosion in development many small communities have become increasingly upset with fast growth. There is also the AMNE syndrome (after me no one else) where people move into an area and then don't want you to come.
So check things out. Recreational coastlines from the Sunshine Coast to Vancouver Island and lakes and mountain property values are soaring. So buy, but don't get carried away. Always go and walk the walk yourself. Quite often, we place into our newsletter what we think is a deal. We didn't see it, we ask subscribers to check. Sometimes a subscriber comes back and says, 'boy was that ever a fantastic deal ... thanks a lot'. Sometimes, 'hey it was a piece of swamp ... thanks a lot'. Either way, check your motives; ask yourself why you are buying. Nothing takes the place of your own due diligence.E-mail this story to a friend
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