The townhouse finds big new appeal
Let’s hear it for the townhouse. For those buyers who are looking for something a bit more roomy than the standard shoebox-sized Vancouver condo but who find themselves priced out of the single-family-house market, the townhouse is often the happy middle ground. It offers more indoor and outdoor space plus your very own front door, but without the price tag of a detached house on a lot.
New developments seem to be popping up everywhere. For instance, stroll through the East Van neighbourhood of Cedar Cottage and you’ll notice townhome and row-house projects like the Works, Stories, and Brix beginning to dominate the streetscapes.
Things are happening in other parts of town, as well. Michael van Blokland lives in a 1,450-square-foot place on Yaletown’s Beach Crescent with his wife, Stephanie Bilodeau, and their three-and-a-half-year-old daughter. This is the couple’s third townhouse since moving to Vancouver from Montreal in the early 1990s, and in a telephone interview, van Blokland says that what got them into the market was the desire to live in a decent neighbourhood without ending up in the proverbial poorhouse. Van Blokland, who works downtown, says he also had no desire to commute in from the suburbs every weekday. He says he loves living in Yaletown because of the close proximity of parks, seawall, and shopping. “I just thought with a townhouse, that was as close as I’d get to a house while having all these conveniences and living right downtown,” van Blokland says.
Fairview Green, at West 7th Avenue and Spruce Street, is a new project that takes the townhouse concept and goes big with it—as in sizable square footage.
Interviewed at his West 8th Avenue office, RE/MAX’s Ken Leong tells the Straight that he has seen the townhouse market explode in Fairview over the past decade. “When townhouses came into the West Side, it was probably only 10 years ago. Mosaic Homes—they’re a big builder now—did a project at 15th and Laurel, which is very unique because most of the multifamily stuff that we had was apartments or duplexes and triplexes, but not row townhouses. And they’ve become more popular now, because you get the benefits of a single-family house: front yard, back yard, and sometimes attached parking. So you see a lot of those townhouse projects around now.”
One of the newer developments is taking the townhouse concept and going big with it. Fairview Green, which is under construction at West 7th Avenue and Spruce Street where a long-derelict warehouse/office building once stood, is a collection of nine homes whose square footage ranges from 1,733 to 2,389—a good deal larger than the standard Vancouver townhouse size of 1,000 to 1,400 square feet. It’s not just their scale that’s appealing, though. Tricked out with high-end appliances such as Sub Zero fridges and Wolfe gas cooktops, with their rooftop decks and outdoor kitchens (not to mention the private elevators that three of the homes boast), these are not your typical row homes by any stretch of the imagination. It perhaps goes without saying that the prices—which range from $1.3 million to $1.875 million—are unlikely to attract the average-earning family looking for its first home.
“The price point kind of lends itself to a certain income bracket,” Leong admits. “An average price of apparently $2.3 million for a family house on the West Side is far beyond the reach of regular people. So even at $1.4 million, I would think that some people would have a difficult time purchasing it. So it is a segmented target. But I think in Vancouver, on the West Side, larger townhouses are something that haven’t been done a lot of, and we are trying that out.”
Leong says that if Fairview Green is a success, we can expect to see more of the same pop up in the pricier sections of the city, where they’re likely to draw a clientele of wealthy retirees. “There are a handful of other large-scale plans in townhouse development throughout the West Side, mainly at UBC,” he says. “And there’s one project that’s going to be noteworthy at 16th and Granville in Shaughnessy. Big townhouses. I think they are actually the true alternative for empty-nesters because they want the garden space, and they want their levels—maybe not as many as their house, so in some cases a two- or three-level townhouse can be a nice replacement for their family house. The economics will always come into play, but as the prices for single-family homes go up, I think that the larger townhouse is actually a very viable solution to our prices.”
Another future hot spot might be the Cambie Street corridor, which was recently rezoned for higher-density developments. Wherever they might pop up, though, don’t expect the townhouse market to dry up anytime soon.
“We only have so much land here,” Leong says. “People wonder, why have prices for houses on the West Side gone up this way? Because there are only so many single-family lots. So what we have to do is provide people with alternatives to that, which are apartments or multifamily products.”