Waterfront lots selling fast in BC

Monday, September 27th, 2004

Coastal and island hideaways are selling for top prices as soon as they hit the market, realtors say

Brian Morton


Waterfront property is becoming a scarce commodity in B.C., driving prices up for those seeking their own piece of what is quickly turning into Canada‘s Gold Coast.

Prudential Sussex realtor Grant Marshall, who deals in the Sunshine Coast, says: “There’s far more demand than supply, and for every listing we bring on, there’s probably 20 people who jump on it.

“Our sales would go up 100 per cent if we had more product.”

Rick Gustavson of Re/Max Gustavson, who specializes in water-access-only properties in Howe Sound and the Sunshine Coast, said buyers flocked to a recent offering of a development on Howe Sound’s Gambier Island.

“We had 34 lots go on sale on Saturday [Sept. 18] and 29 of them were sold in six hours,” said Gustavson. “There’s a huge demand and a minimum supply.”

Both he and Marshall say they’ve seen waterfront prices rise by about 30 per cent in their areas in the last 11/2 to 21/2 years.

“What’s happened is that in the last three years there’s been a huge awakening by purchasers that it [Gambier] is accessible. It is about 25 minutes from downtown Vancouver to Lions Bay, and then a 15-minute boat ride to the island.”

Gustavson was referring to the two-phase Brigade Bay project on the east side of Gambier Island, a 283-hectare development that he says is the largest offering of waterfront acreage on Gambier since 1998.

The average size of each property is 1.6 hectares and all have their own drilled wells and septic fields. All properties also have use of a common dock, but there is no independent power source. A private boat or water taxi are the only ways to get to the island. As well, construction costs are about 30 per cent higher than in the Lower Mainland, Gustavson said.

Despite those limitations, the lots were priced from $150,000 to $329,000, an increase of approximately 30 per cent over the previous 18 months, he said.

Gustavson, who sells properties on Gambier, Keats, Anvil and Bowyer islands in Howe Sound, and Nelson and Hardy islands on the Sunshine Coast, said that buyers — primarily from the Lower Mainland, with smaller numbers from Alberta and the U.S. — are interested in the serenity that a water-access-only property provides.

“They want a cottage to escape to in a positive environment, but very close to Vancouver. There’s an unprecedented amount of interest in this type of [property]. It’s the last frontier. To get in by a boat to a property with no power, they’re very adventurous people. Waterfront is the one thing in common that is in huge demand. And it doesn’t seem to abate.”

One of those buyers is Vancouver lawyer and Yaletown resident Joe McArthur, who bought a 2.8-hectare lot at Brigade Bay on which he and his wife plan to build a cottage for a weekend retreat.

“Access was the biggest thing,” said McArthur in an interview. “We wanted a place we could go to on the weekend that didn’t require a four-hour drive. And being water access only ensures that the island is somewhat quieter.”

Marshall of Prudential Sussex said prices for waterfront properties are rising in the Gulf Islands and lake-front properties in Interior locations such as the Okanagan and the Kootenays.

And it’s not just Lower Mainland buyers, he said. “I’ve sold quite a bit of property to people from London, England, and some from the U.S.

Realtor Michelle Taylor, who lives on Bowen Island, said it’s the same thing on Bowen, where prices have risen between 30 and 40 per cent over the past two years. “We’ve had very few waterfront sales, because there’s very little on the market. But the few that have sold have seen dramatic increases [in prices] in the past few years.”

She said the cheapest waterfront lot now available is $459,000.

“The lot next to it, which included a small 1,400-square-foot cottage sold, for $740,000.”

But she said several listings over $1 million have been sitting on the market since spring. “They’re priced too high. If they were in the $900,000 range, they’d all sell.”

She also said that Bowen waterfront is different than places like Gambier Island, because owners generally live on Bowen full-time.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

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