Houses to fit city living

Townhouses straddle the gap between family homes and condos. 

While townhouses have always been a third category of residential real estate, their scarcity has meant few opportunities for buyers to compare them to condos.

The main difference between a single-family detached house and a townhouse are the shared walls between units. The attached units are necessary because, as the name implies, most townhouses are found closer to town, where land values are typically higher than in the suburbs.


But what they give up in property size, they make up by being close to amenities.


"We chose our townhouse because of its proximity to downtown and the Cook Street Village," says Larry Sims, a real estate agent with Royal LePage Coast Capital - Oak Bay. "We had always talked about downsizing and this [property] is just a half-hour walk to downtown."


He and his wife, Sharen Warde, who is also a real estate agent, found out about the townhouse by chance while looking for a property for a client. "We went to get brochures and ended up buying one."


Townhouses are scarce because most developers can build more condos on a given piece of property, maximizing their profitability. In the case of Sims' development, the developer went for a "less is more" philosophy.


"When we looked at the property, we immediately saw that a low-rise, twostorey project would be ideal," says Mike Miller, president of Abstract Developments. "It had a more human scale from the street."


The low-rise scale also benefited the project's neighbours, since elimination of an extra storey meant their properties would receive more sunlight. "The design was sensitive to their concerns," said Miller.


"When the site was rezoned, we received overwhelming support from the community."


The property, named Terra Verde (Green Earth), has also won praise from the building community. It recently won a SAM award from the Canadian Home Builders Association and was a finalist in last year's CHBA Vancouver Island CARE Awards. The project is similar to Terra Rose, another townhouse project by Miller, which received a Gold Georgie Award for Best Townhouse Development in 2006.


The project is classified as executive West Coast Contemporary. The 16 units are each approximately 1,555 square feet, with three bedrooms and three baths.


Sims and Warde's townhouse features an open-concept living area on the main floor with two patios. The front patio is entertainment-sized and the rear is large enough for a bistro set and a small garden with space to grow herbs.


The master, second bedroom and laundry are on the upper floor, while a third bedroom or den is below. A skylight in the stairwell provides ideal lighting for paintings, creating an unexpected mini-gallery of the couple's art collection. Glass panels instead of balusters on the stairs allow occupants in the dining room a clear line of sight into the living room.


According to Sims, the only feature that might concern a potential buyer when they decide to sell would be the two flights of stairs. The property has a secured underground double garage, which is unusual. While desirable, it requires occupants to make a trek up and down to get to their vehicles.


But there are few properties offering parking for two vehicles downtown.


"There are plenty of condos in town, but none with parking for more than one vehicle," says Tony Joe, a real estate agent with Re/Max Camosun. "If that is an important factor for somebody considering downsizing with two vehicles, there are few options."


He estimates townhouses account for only 20 per cent of his business. One of the reasons may be because of cost.


A townhouse is more expensive to build because land is more expensive to procure downtown. An executive townhouse, with its higher-end features, even more so. For $800,000 - about the selling price of Warde and Sims' townhouse - a buyer can get a much larger house on the West Shore.


Joe says that $800,00 is at "the high end of the price range." But the former president of the Victoria Real Estate Board adds, "That's not to say it is overpriced. If this property was a single-family house in the same area, I estimate it would sell for about $1.2 million."


Due to the success of Terra Verde, Miller is planning another project in the area.


"Townhouses fill the need of the downsizer," says Miller. "They may be smaller than what they have been used to, but people seem to react positively to doing more with less - as long as it is in the heart of downtown."


Article provided by : The Victoria Times Colonist
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