Considering what your house will need in the long run will turn your investment into a legacy.
BY SHANNON MONEO
Greater Victoria home prices will likely never plummet.
For those fortunate enough to be homeowners, turning a residence from “starter” to finisher may well become the game plan.
BC Assessment Authority has boosted the region’s property values by an average of five to 15 per cent, so buying a home will remain a very costly proposition. Staying put and making the most of an existing dwelling is increasingly gaining traction.
“In B.C., we’re losing turnover. People are looking at staying in their homes for the next 15 to 20 years,” says Graden Sol, the Victoria Real Estate Board’s 2023 chair. “There are even younger clients who say, ‘This will be my forever house.’ ”
Capitalize on space
Squeezing the most out of everlasting space is becoming a priority for homeowners, be they new parents, multi-generational families, seniors or even empty-nesters. As one registered interior designer notes, the undeniable limitation comes down to dollars.
“You can renovate anything,” says Lawrie Keogh, manager of interior design at LIDA Homes. “It just depends how much money you want to spend.”
If someone doesn’t have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on a renovation, however, the prudent choice is to select carefully from the get-go. Those looking for a forever abode would be wise to go with the single-level home, with street entry and an open floor plan.
“It’s all about the layout of the house,” Keogh says. “Accessibility is the main thing. You don’t want to feel cramped.”
With an open-concept design, rooms can be created as needed, if they don’t already exist. Yet Keogh says not to disregard multi-level homes. In two-storey houses, for example, the primary bedroom and ensuite, kitchen, living room and entrance could still be kept at street level, with a guest bedroom, office, den, small second kitchen or gym space in the basement or on the upper level. The ideal scenario would see a lower level that could be converted to a caregiver suite, if need be.
“People are designing with practical features on one level,” Keogh says.
Make room for a plus-one
Another option, now that local restrictions around garden suites are being relaxed, is to consider a property that has space enough to build a standalone structure for a caregiver. This can serve families needing in-law suites, nanny retreats or extra space for a support caregiver. RE/MAX Generation top Realtor Jason Leslie is a big fan of keeping the main-floor primary bedroom in mind for young and old alike.
“Once you have that, you don’t go back,” he says. “Everyone wants the main-floor bedroom.”
A big must-have for the forever home is a high walkability score in the neighbourhood. Being able to walk to needed services and having space to get exercise for health is important, especially for seniors, Leslie notes.
Sol, also a Realtor with Royal LePage Coast Capital, is seeing more homes being lifted to create an additional floor below. At a cost of about $80,000 to $100,000, the process is gaining traction in areas like James Bay and Fairfield, particularly with older homes. Keeping height restrictions in mind, it can be less expensive than building a small suite, where the cost is approximately $300 per square foot, Sol says.
When space is at a premium, more drastic renovations can help capitalize on square footage. Converting a garage into a living space can increase usable area in a home, as can putting on a new roof with a truss system, which can add living or storage room. Utilizing a laneway may offer space to build an office or living quarters and, if the property has a big yard, adding a new structure increases spatial opportunity. However, property owners must do their due diligence — zoning regulations, setbacks and floor area ratios should be top of mind, and some renos may require extensive permitting.
Depending on local bylaws, floor area, for example, requires that only a certain percentage of the lot (not all of it) can be covered by a structure or structures, making larger lots more appealing. In the case of a 40 per cent ratio, a 5,000-square-foot lot has a structure limit of 2,000 square feet. Though some homes will include more than one storey, height restrictions can limit this in certain regions.
Find the accessible approach
Some modifications force homeowners to balance competing priorities. Borrowing room from the kitchen is one way to approach renovating a ground-level floor into a forever space. Shrinking the kitchen may be an extra challenge in some scenarios, given counter configuration, plumbing and electrical outlets, Keogh says, but if less counter space is needed, these changes are often successful. U-shaped kitchens are the most amenable to such modifications because one side can often be easily removed.
If the ground level has only a powder room, one wall could be knocked out to boost the small bathroom to a larger version. A den, for example, could become a primary bedroom with another wall knocked out. Accessibility modifications, like walk-in tubs or stair lifts, can overcome some issues while causing others. Sol says in older homes, with narrow stairways, lifts can make it difficult for others to utilize the stairs.
Know what to look for
There are tangible features in most forever homes, especially those for aging families,
according to Keogh.
Look for levers, not handles, on doors; lots of light; wider hallways and doorways to accommodate walkers or wheelchairs; non-slip, textured flooring; if carpeted, not plush, which restricts wheeled items; curbless showers that are accessible and sloped so water drains; proper bracing/backing so that bathroom grab bars can be installed.
One item she has experience with is in-home elevators, which can be installed inside or outside of the home.
“It’s not as expensive as you think,” Keogh says. “If you don’t need it right away, plan for it and the space can be used as a storage area and switched to an elevator when you need it.”
With all of these considerations, as Sol poses, “At what age does someone decide it’s their forever home?”
In Greater Victoria’s pricey market, the forever-home clients are most often aged 40 and up, he says. Sol has encountered people who think their current place is it, but then plans shift — whether due to a divorce, job change or health problem.
Leslie recommends starting out with the intention of buying a forever home, given that finding qualified tradespeople to do renovations and then sourcing the needed materials continues to be challenging in this region.
Rather than settle on a home that won’t check boxes later on or that could be too impractical to change, Leslie has a simple motto: “It’s better to pay up front.”