Soaring real estate prices are an obsession for people living in Vancouver.
Mortgaged homeowners worry how they’ll make their payments if interest rates go up. Younger people wonder how they’ll ever scrap up the down payment for even a shoebox-sized condo in one of the city’s many glass towers, never mind an average modest family home that gives not much change from a million dollars.
So the idea of buying an entire island off the B.C. coast for the price of condo or even less within an easy boat trip to Vancouver or Victoria might be very enticing.
It sounds romantic. Leave the hustle of the big city behind and telecommute, working to the sound of waves lapping on your private beach while you contemplate the maritime vista from your home overlooking the shore.
But before you go see your bank manager, it’s worth considering a few things.
“First of all it takes the type of person who is ready, willing and able to embrace what a remote or unserviced property is all about,” Ed Hanja, the Campbell River, B.C., real estate agent who has the listing, told Yahoo Canada News.
As the listing description says, Round Island is only minutes away from Ladysmith on Vancouver Island but first you’ve got to have a boat. And a place to dock it. Did we mention there’s no house? Or water, or power?
Once you tot up the cost of building a residence, providing utilities and setting up moorage in a sheltered location that won’t be battered by the B.C. coast’s nasty winter storms, setting up permanent housekeeping on your private island begins to look expensive even within sight of civilization.
“You have to provide your own power, your own waste management systems, your own water. So all your infrastructure is typically independent,” Handja said.
Few B.C. coastal islands change hands most years
If was simple, everyone would be doing it. But Handja said only a relative handful of the couple hundred coastal islands in private hands (the rest are owned by the Crown and/or forestry companies) may go on the market in a given year.
“On average the turnover is absolutely minimal because of the availability is minimal and rare,” said Handja. “We probably have about 16 islands for sale right now on the coast.”
A few like North Trail Island, listed by Handja at roughly $2.3 million, are connected to the water supply of nearby communities (in this case Sechelt on the mainland Sunshine Coast) or have an underwater cable connecting them to the B.C. Hydro grid. Getting that approved can take years, said Handja, and cost hundreds of thousands to install.
Handja deals a lot in raw land with boat or float-plane access only. Which means all building materials must come in by water and issues such as sewage, water and power need to be dealt with.
“It can be as basic as a composting toilet, rainwater collection and a little tiny portable Honda generator, to systems that are state of the art sophisticated, integrated with solar, wind and water turbine generators with storage capacity and banks of batteries and you can spend a hundred grand,” he said.
Then there’s the matter of getting groceries.
“Some people have to travel a whole day to get to a place like Campbell River,” he said.
And if you have a medical emergency, a 911 response will arrive by air or boat. Know any first aid?
“I have guys who phone me up and say they’re looking for remote property and I tell them I live in Campbell River with 32,000 people and they go, oh my god, not that remote,” said Handja.
But Handja noted relatively few island owners are permanent residents.
“Typically I would say they are certainly not for full-time living,” he said, adding some are content to build a tent platform and simply to show up by boat periodically with camping gear.
Islands a solid investment but not a gold mine
Buying an island is a fairly solid investment, though you’re not likely to make a Vancouver-style killing.
Handja said most buyers are wealthy enough not to be worried about market fluctuations.
“The fact that there are very few private islands period throughout the coast, I feel lends some additional security to this type of investment,” he said.
“Think about how many people there are in the world and how few islands there are. On top of all this, there is typically only a handful or two ever for sale at any given time.
There are ways of getting the same idyllic coastal experience without roughing it so much, such as buying property on one of the larger inhabited islands.
“I love the Discovery Islands, Quadra and Cortes for example,” said Handja. “Ferry, power, some amenities on the islands.”
Prices climb accordingly, with properties starting around $500,000 on up to $4 million.
“You can by decent waterfront starting at $600,000 to $1.1 million,” said Handja, adding likely that would include some kind of cabin.
“If you sold your three-bedroom condo on 4th Ave. [in Vancouver] for 700 grand or so, you could go to Cortes and buy a 2.5-acre property I have with a house that’s about 2,500 square feet that’s relatively new, 500 feet of ocean front, have your own dock and your own moorage. That’s where most people will go.”