Marshall Berkin

Marshall Berkin

HOMEFINDER: Suites convince some buyers, not others

Extra supply means suites in newer homes not all being used for rental income

Building legal suites into new homes has been common practice with local homebuilders in recent years, especially on the West Shore, the region’s hotbed of residential development.

But are Greater Victoria home buyers thinking differently these days when it comes to suite shopping?

Young families anxious to get into the housing market, or people looking to move up in size or move to a more desirable location continue to seek homes with rental suites constructed to building code standards.

On the West Shore, buyers of homes built with suites are more frequently purchasing them with no immediate need for renters, says Realtor Jason Leslie, estimating that number at roughly 50 per cent.

“Some people buy a home with a suite as an insurance policy, in case they need the extra income,” he says.

Where a dozen or so years ago a legal suite was a trump card for agents – there were relatively few around, but numerous illegal suites – these days Leslie frequently finds himself educating potential buyers on the advantages of a second kitchen, or using the suite as an entertainment centre.

Using rental income to help with mortgage payments remains the number one reason for choosing a home with a suite, but the way buyers are looking for such homes appears to be changing.

Marshall Berkin and his wife, Monique, are clients of Leslie’s who recently moved into their custom-built home on the edge of the Rockland neighbourhood.

They were previously living in a 1,200-square-foot condo in Fairfield near the water, where they grew to love the lifestyle the area afforded. Things became became cramped when the couple had their first child and they began looking for something larger.

They looked at homes around the Capital Region, including some “beautiful homes” in North Saanich, but ultimately decided to build, with the idea of including a rental suite for extra income.

“Older homes weren’t what we were interested in … we wanted to buy something new,” Berkin said. “But there’s not a lot of new homes in the downtown core area. It became a tradeoff: do we go to View Royal, do we look at the Western Communities? In the end we decided on Oak Bay or Fairfield.”

They could have moved into a ready-made larger, new home further out from the city centre, and not had to go through the hassle of building. But ultimately, they found a way to make it work closer to the region’s core, which better suits their work commitments and their lifestyle.

It also worked well for Monique’s mother, who moved into their suite.

For buyers who want other options for homes with legal suites, the City of Victoria has led the way in the region in opening up existing housing stock for such projects.

City planner Brian Sikstrom says since 2007, when barriers were removed to  the creation of new secondary suites – parking requirements and home age restrictions were lifted – more than 200 units have been built.

In neighbourhoods such as Fairfield and Gonzales, newer suites can fetch hefty rents, making homes in those areas more affordable.

But for those people willing to trade a commute for the opportunity to own a new or near-new home with the option of renting part of it out, communities further from Victoria’s core have plenty of supply.

Greater Victoria Market Update, month-to-date as of Feb. 26:

352 / 394 — Total number of residential properties sold / Total in Feb. 2013

923 / 1,039 — New listings / Total new listings in Feb. 2013

3,698 / 4,072 — Total active residential listings / Total for Feb. 2013


Lower your net mortgage cost – Rents can not only help you cover your monthly payments, they can help you qualify for the loan.

It can make your home more saleable – If you ensure the suite is well maintained, by working closely with your tenant, it can enhance the value of your home come moving time.

Have another set of eyes watching your home – Being on good terms with your tenant can help with security during times when you are away.

Pay your mortgage off sooner – Having a regular income stream from a suite can help shorten your amortization period.

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