Blog › September 2013

How to Build a Laneway House

Laneway House 1Since the City of Vancouver launched its EcoDensity laneway housing initiative in 2009, the popularity for these smaller dwellings has kept on growing. In less than five years, more than 500 compact homes have gone up in Vancouver back yards.

They're popping up in other Lower Mainland cities too, often under different names. Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Port Moody call them "garden suites." In Coquitlam they’re called "carriage houses" or "garden cottages," and Richmond categorizes them as "granny flats" (suites on top of garages) or "coach houses." They’re coach houses in Surrey and the City of North Vancouver too.

The rules also vary from city to city. For instance, in Richmond and Vancouver, you can build a laneway house even if you also have a secondary suite in your house. In other communities, it’s either/or. In Port Moody, laneway houses are usually considered an option for keeping owners from tearing down heritage buildings, but in most other cities they're seen more as a densification measure.

Though the regulations differ, the process for getting laneway houses approved and built is generally the same. Here are the steps.

  1. Find out the rules

    Go to your city hall and find out if your property qualifies for this kind of structure. Take note of the regulations, because they will have a major impact on your design. Do you have to provide off-street parking? Does the design have to match your existing house? How many people can live there? How big can it be? Can it have a basement? How much does it need to be set back from the street? From the existing house?

    One thing to consider is owner occupancy. If the city requires that the owner occupy one of the buildings, note that this can actually make your property less valuable as loan collateral, because if your lender foreclosed on the property it could not rent out both units.

  2. Get a site survey

    Once you've confirmed that you can build a laneway house, get a site survey of your property so you have accurate measurements. The Association of British Columbia Land Surveyors has an online search of its members where you can find a qualified local surveyor. The survey can also determine where the house should be located to it meets the city siting regulations. This survey will be a big help in Step 3.

  3. Talk to utilities and city services

    This new house will need to hook up to sewer and water, electricity and, possibly, gas. Find out the costs of connection fees and permits so you can plan your budget. Check with your city services, BC Hydro and Fortis. Show them the site survey so they can alert you to any concerns that may affect the design or siting of your laneway house. Laneway House 2

    If there's an older home on the lot, you might need to update the water line for the sprinkler system or twin the sewer system. It’s important to know these things beforehand.

    "We always advise customers to contact BC Hydro before they begin the design process to get a connection estimate," says Mora Scott from Media Relations and Issues Management at BC Hydro. "The amount of work required will vary for each situation so understanding the cost up front can save customers time and money."

    Later, in the design phase, applicants are required to work with BC Hydro to complete an electrical feasibility study and a physical feasibility study. To proceed with construction, applicants are then required to obtain an electrical permit from the city.

    BC Hydro costs associated with a laneway house depend on a number of factors, including height, design and allocation of the laneway house or location on the property. In most cases, BC Hydro will need to add new equipment or upgrade the existing electrical system to provide electrical service to a laneway house.  Mora Scott says that, depending on the scope of work required, costs are usually around $500, but they can go much higher for more complex cases.

    Homeowners could be prevented from building a laneway house if they don’t meet BC Hydro’s standard connection guidelines.

    "For example, clearance requirements from BC Hydro's electrical infrastructure are there to keep workers and the public safe," she says,. "Property owners or parties acting on behalf of a property owner who make an application for electrical service are responsible for ensuring that a laneway or coach house close to the property line meets minimum clearance requirements."

    The standard connection guidelines are available here. For more information about the application process, call BC Hydro’s Electric Service Coordination Centre at 1-877-520-1355.

  4. Design it

    Get a design done. You will need detailed plans in order to get permits. A company with experience designing and/or building laneway homes is a good idea because they’re familiar with the regulations and the kinds of problems that can arise with this kind of project. In fact, if you have them on side from the start, they can guide you through the entire process.

    The Greater Vancouver Home Builders' Association is a great resource for finding an experienced company. Its website offers a list of member companies that specialize in laneway homes.

    Other useful links:
    The Canadian Home Builders’ Association of the Fraser Valley
    The Architectural Institute of British Columbia (AIBC)
    The Interior Design Institute of BC
    The British Columbia Society of Landscape Architects

    Another of our favourite resources is the Houzz website, where you can search on listings by design professionals of all stripes and see reviews and photo galleries. Here are their listings of interior decorators and designers for the Lower Mainland.

  5. Apply for permits

    Once you have your detailed drawings, you take them to the city for approval. Generally you will need a development permit, and once you've been approved for that you'll need a building permit. You will also need permits for the different elements of the project: electrical, plumbing, gas, site drainage, sanitary, storm and possibly permits for any damages city infrastructure during construction. Laneway House 3

    The time and cost of getting permits depends entirely on where you are. A couple of examples...

    In Vancouver, the permit process takes about six weeks, although the city recently went back to city council to reduce the length of the process for one-storey laneway homes.

    "Within the next few months, it’s likely the process can be reduced to three weeks," says Jane Pickering, City of Vancouver deputy director of planning.

    A permit for a one-storey costs $1,000 and a two-storey loft costs $1,520.

    In Richmond this housing option is still very much in its infancy, says Terry Crowe, City of Richmond Manager, Policy Planning Division.

    "We only have 80 coach houses... which are around the edges of lots," says Crowe. "Many neighbourhoods in Richmond told us they don’t want them."

    In Richmond, these small homes fall under two categories-coach houses and granny suites. The fee structure is much the same as Vancouver, with Development Permits (DP) For Coach Houses and Granny Flats costing $1,020 and Building Permits (BP) costing between $750 and $1,000, depending on the size of the home.

    However, its processing time is lengthier than Vancouver's.

    "The time to process the DP runs a minimum of four to six months, and a BP, aim for two to three weeks." says Crowe.

  6. Build it

    Build it... according to the BC Building Code, of course. You will also have to contact the BC Homeowner Protection Office regarding home warranty insurance. This is usually your builder's responsibility.

    All this will cost money. CMHC offers forgivable loans through its Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program if the home is built to accommodate the needs of seniors or  people with disabilities.

    Vancity offers a Laneway Homebuyers Bundle that includes free legal and appraisal services, plus a preferred interest rate and the potential to earn up to 2% cash back.

  7. Settle in

    You can  install family members in your new laneway house, rent it out or move in yourself and rent out your original home. In a few cities you can rent out both. What you can't do is sell it.

    "Coach houses must be accessory to a single-family home," says Christopher Wilkinson, of the City of North Vancouver Community Development Department. That attitude is the one aspect of laneway housing that’s consistent throughout the Lower Mainland. These homes are meant to provide rental housing or give families room to expand, not to be flipped for a quick profit.

Helpful guides

Vancouver: Laneway Housing How-to Guide
North Vancouver: Accessory Coach Houses
Richmond: Intensive Residential Guidelines
Pitt Meadows: A Guide to Garden Suites

Taken from

Luxury House Markets in BC - Infographic

Even if you can’t afford a luxury house yourself, it’s fun to see how the other 1 per cent lives. The annual Top Tier Trends Report from Sotheby's International Realty gives the rest of us a glimpse into the rarefied world of high-end real estate in key luxury markets across Canada.

Half of those markets are in BC: Vancouver, Victoria, Whistler, Sun Peaks and Salt Spring Island.

What are luxury buyers looking for? No surprises here. Location is ranked number 1, followed by easy access to an urban centre, top-ranked school districts, proximity to community amenities and stunning views.

In its forecast, Sotheby's International Realty Canada says Vancouver sales over $1 million were up 65 per cent over the first half of 2012, with 955 of 1,239 homes selling. It anticipates a strong fall market in Vancouver, and in Calgary, Toronto and Montreal as well. President and CEO Ross McCredie says, "In examining the performance of the high-end market, we feel confident that Canada’s largest urban centres remain in exceptional positions heading into fall, with healthy market fundamentals from coast to coast."

Admittedly, $1 million is no big deal in Vancouver real estate. That’s why the Top Tier Trends Report sets a different low-end luxury price for each market. Despite having the highest-priced real estate market in Canada, Vancouver doesn’t have the highest entry-level price for luxury houses. Montreal does: $3.5 million compared to $2.8 million in Vancouver. Montreal also has the highest percentage of foreign investors: 49 per cent compared to Vancouver's 40 per cent.

Check out these infographics to see who's buying the most expensive single-family houses in BC, where, and for how much.

Urban Markets - Vancouver Snapshot

New Listing 3088 Trimble Street, Vancouver, British Columbia

V1029061 - 3088 Trimble Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, CANADAView my new listing for sale at 3088 Trimble Street, Vancouver and currently listed at 2788000.

FABULOUS, NEWER home in Point Grey on the corner of W. 15th & Trimble w/North & South exposure! This home has an open concept modern, contemporary custom built 3 bedrs up w/ spectacular master spa bath. Built by one of Westside's most reput able, quality builders - HOMEworx. Spacious gourmet kitchen - large quartz island, quality millwork & Sub Zero/Wolf/Miele appl. w/ attached family room, HRV, radiant heat, pantry which can easily be converted to a wok kitchen. Designer decorated, 10ft ceilings on main, gas bbq hookup, indoor/outdoor sound system water-proof speakers. Fully finished, bright walkout bsmt, media rm and wine rm. 1 bdrm plus den/nanny quarters & 2 car garage. Close to private schools WPGA/ St. George's and UBC.

See the Pixilink 360° Virtual Tour for this listing

Recently Sold Listing # 2809 501 PACIFIC ST, Vancouver, British Columbia

V1021756 - # 2809 501 PACIFIC ST, Vancouver, British Columbia, CANADAI have just recently sold this listing at # 2809 501 PACIFIC ST, Vancouver.

BC Real Estate Market: August 2013

BC Real Estate Market: August 2013

The British Columbia Real Estate Association (BCREA) reports that a total of 6,863 residential sales were recorded by the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) in BC during August, up 28.6 per cent from August 2012. Total sales dollar volume was 39.7 per cent higher than a year ago at $3.66 billion. The average MLS residential price in the province was $533,400, up 8.6 per cent from August 2012.

“After sitting on the sidelines for much of 2012, home buyers were out in force during the summer months,” said Cameron Muir, BCREA Chief Economist. “Fear of a housing market hard landing has given way to a sense of urgency to lock in a mortgage at a low interest rate.” While higher mortgage interest rates are on the horizon, BCREA forecasts the five-year posted mortgage rate to be 50 basis points higher a year from now. The impact on consumer demand is expected to be largely offset by stronger economic conditions and the associated employment growth.

MLS Residential Sales

Year-to-date, BC residential sales dollar volume was up 1.5 per cent to $26.5 billion, compared to the same period last year. Residential unit sales were down 0.6 per cent to 49,849 units, while the average MLS residential price was up 2 per cent at $532,130.

New Listing 203 - 124 W 3rd Street, North Vancouver, British Columbia

V1027893 - 203 - 124 W 3rd Street, North Vancouver, British Columbia, CANADAView my new listing for sale at 203 - 124 W 3rd Street, North Vancouver and currently listed at 349000.

Sunny, spacious, corner 1 bedrm & den - functional layout in popular Lower Lonsdale. Problem free, well-maintained & rainscreened building, freshly painted outdoor patio walls & Japanese maple garden. Townhouse-like feel with adjacent outdo or patio walls & Japanese maple garden. Townhouse-like feel with adjacent outdoor side entrance - almost 700 sq.ft, open-concept floor plan, brand new carpet & paint! Bright, southern exposure with water+city views, natural gas f/p, in-suite laundry, walk-in closet, HUGE BBQ-approved balcony, secured parking spot & storage locker. Central location. Nearby SeaBus puts downtown Vancouver 15 minutes away. Stroll to shopping, rec centre, cinema, waterfront pier, Lonsdale Quay & restaurants.

September Market Update

For the real estate market, last year's relatively sluggish summer has rebounded strongly this year. It looks like we've entered a period of relative stability, with many areas in balanced - rather than buyer or seller - market conditions. Remember though, real estate is local. It's hard to take regional stats and make inferences about a neighbourhood.

Moving forward, it looks to be a relatively busy Fall market, as interest rates have begun climbing and buyers with pre-approved mortgages look to take advantage of more favourable rates. We anticipate a solid next few months as this wave of buyers ripples through the market. Expect to see things taper off closer to Christmas.

Given this, for those of you thinking about selling, it is important to realize how vital the Art of Pricing is to the sale of your home.

All sellers want the highest price possible for their homes, but the strategies to get there are not always intuitive. In certain circumstances, pricing low can be more effective than pricing high, while in others, pricing above market value can be a winning strategy. In most cases, however, the optimum pricing strategy is to price within 10% of market value and let the market decide. After all, the 'list price' comes with a caveat: Or Best Offer.

Top Reasons for NOT Pricing High:

  1. You lose out on potential buyers who put a price cap on their property searches.
  2. Serious buyers question the motivation of a seller with an overpriced listing.
  3. You provide a strong comparable for your neighbours who are properly priced. You are effectively selling other people's well-priced homes.
  4. Buyers assume that properties which remain on the market for long periods of time have something inherently wrong with them.
  5. Other agents will be more hesitant to show your home.

In a quickly rising market, pricing strategies tend to matter less, as underpriced listings are bid up to market value and overpriced listings simply wait until the market catches up to them. However, in flat or falling markets, pricing plays a pivotal role in how much you may ultimately sell your house for.

In a flat market, buyers have more time to analyze the market and therefore become more educated about value. Houses that are overpriced will simply sit on the market, as well-priced new listings come on to replace well-priced recently sold listings.

In a falling market, the optimal pricing strategy is actually to price BELOW market value. A simple exercise that pricing experts like to use in this situation is to visualize catching a fly ball. The ball represents the market and your glove represents your pricing strategy. If you price too high, the glove will simply swing across where the ball was. If you price at market, there's a good chance you will miss it. But if you price just below market value, there's a greater likelihood of catching the ball. After all, it's better to take a little bit less than to risk having the ball drop in for a double.

Home Price Index


Hot Vancouver Real Estate Market

Homes were selling at a brisk pace in Vancouver and Toronto last month, while the national average price continued to rise, suggesting Canada's real estate industry has returned to "average levels" after a decline that began last summer.

The Canadian Real Estate Association's report on activity for July showed resales edging up 0.2 per cent from June on a seasonally adjusted basis and up 9.4 per cent from July 2012, when tighter rules put the brakes on lenders and buyers.

Despite the recent uptick, the total of 284,865 homes that traded hands in the first seven months of 2013, is 4.6 per cent fewer than the corresponding period last year.

Read more:

Canadian housing starts fell to a four-month low in August

Canadian housing starts fell to a four-month low in August

  • Housing starts fell 6.6% to 180,300 annualized units in August 2013, thereby missing market expectations for a 190,000 reading in the month.
  • The pullback in homebuilding in August reflected decreased activity among all components. Urban multiple-unit starts (-8.4%) and urban single-unit starts (-0.9%) were both down in the month while rural starts posted a relatively sharper 13.2% decline.
  • Declines in starts were recorded in the Prairies (-23.9%), British Columbia (-19.4%), Quebec (-4.5), and Atlantic Canada (-0.7%) while a jump in multiple-unit starts drove a sizable increase in Ontario (14.1%) to provide some offset.
  • Despite the monthly gyrations, new home construction has been fairly stable thus far in 2013 with the six-month moving average of starts, which the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) defines as the trend rate, coming in at 187,200 in August versus 187,300 in July. While the persistently elevated level of building permits provides some scope for a pickup in homebuilding in the near term (permits held above 200,000 annualized units for the fourth straight month in July), we expect that this underlying stability in housing-market activity will broadly remain in place. As we move toward 2014, our expectation is that a modest deterioration in housing affordability will weigh on demand and lead to a moderation in starts.

Canadian housing starts fell 6.6% to a four-month low of 180,300 annualized units in August 2013. The decline in August followed the cumulative 3.4% decrease recorded during the previous two months and further unwound the 13.9% surge in May to a recent peak of 199,900 annualized units. The pullback in homebuilding in August, which compared to market expectations for a more modest decline to 190,000, reflected lower levels of activity in all components. Urban multiple-unit starts fell 8.4% to a four-month low of 104,700 annualized units while urban single-unit starts slipped 0.9% to 58,400 annualized units, which was the lowest level since June 2009. Rural starts fell 13.2% to 17,200, largely reversing the previous month’s 16.1% jump.

Declines in activity were reported in the Prairies (-23.9% to 35.5 annualized units), British Columbia (-19.4% to 25,000), Quebec (-4.5% to 28,200), and Atlantic Canada (-0.7% to 6,600) while a bounce in multiple-unit starts in Ontario (24.8% to an eight-month high of 47,200) drove the overall pickup in homebuilding in the province (14.1% to 67,800) to provide some offset.

Despite the monthly gyrations, new home construction has been fairly stable thus far in 2013, and the six-month moving average of starts (which the CMHC defines as the trend rate) came in at 187,200 in August compared to 187,300 in July. While the persistently elevated level of building permits provides some scope for a pickup in homebuilding in the near term (permits held above 200,000 annualized units for the fourth straight month in July), we expect that this underlying stability in housing-market activity will broadly remain in place. As we move toward 2014, our expectation is that a modest deterioration in housing affordability will weigh on demand and lead to a moderation in starts. We expect that housing starts will drift lower during the next year and finish 2014 at levels that are more consistent with household formation in Canada.

David Onyett-Jeffries, Economist, RBC Economics

To view the economic data calendars with trend charts, go to: (Canada) (US)

Greater Vancouver Real Estate Market: August 2013

August was a steady month for the Greater Vancouver housing market. Sandra Wyant, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, noted that ”We've seen a healthy amount of demand in the marketplace this summer compared to the number of homes listed for sale. The market today is much stronger than we saw last year and is consistent with our long-term averages for this time of year.”

Sales and Listings

After an unexpected sales surge in July, the Greater Vancouver housing market settled down a bit in August, as it usually does at the height of summer. Sales continued to hover around the 10-year average. In July they beat the average by 1 per cent, but they dropped to 4.6 per cent under in August.



Throughout Greater Vancouver, 2514 homes sold on the MLS last month. The  statistic you'll see quoted gleefully is the year-over-year increase: sales were up 52.5% from August 2012. Well, that was one of the slowest years since the lull of the late 90s, so its not worth getting excited about. Whats more impressive is that sales were up 3.1% from August 2011, a more representative year.

Meanwhile, sales, new listings and active listings all declined from July. Sales experienced a (typical) drop of 14.7% per cent from 2,946 in July. New listings declined to 4,186, which was 13.8% fewer than the July total. New listings have been dropping steadily since April. Active listings were also down month over month. At the end of August there were 16,027 homes for sale in the Greater Vancouver region.

What's Up, What's Down – At a Glance


August 2013 / July 2013

 August 2013 / August 2012

Overall Sales



- Detached



- Townhome



- Apartment



New Listings



Current Listings



That puts the sales-to-active-listings ratio at 15.7 per cent, which is considered a market with a healthy balance between supply and demand. It's been consistently over 15 per cent since March of this year. In July it was 17 per cent.

There are 6.3 months of inventory, which means it would take 6.3 months to sell every property now available at the current rate of sales activity. That number also indicates a balance of supply and demand.

Benchmark Price (MLS Home Price Index)

“People entering the market should not confuse stronger sales activity with rising prices,” says Sandra Wyant. ”Home prices have been quite stable and consistent for much of this year.”

Benchmark prices (based on the price of a typical home for its neighbourhood) were within one per cent of where they were in July in almost every area of Greater Vancouver. Overall, prices have increased by 2.3 per cent since the beginning of 2013, but they lag August 2012 prices by 1.3 per cent.

Greater Vancouver MLS Benchmark Prices % Change


August 2013

July 2013

August 2012













Financial Post article titled “Why Real Estate Doomsayers Continue to Be Wrong” quotes real estate experts from bear to bull, all remarking on the surprising stability of Canadian markets. Many of them note that buyers and sellers are ignoring dire predictions in the media and just going ahead and doing business.

A healthy Canadian economy and signs of renewal in the US economy contribute to that optimism. But there's a downside to the good economic news.

Five-year mortgage rates have risen from under 3 per cent closer to 4 per cent since June. This is not because of any change in the Bank of Canada interest rates. Exactly three years ago it set its trendsetting overnight interest rate at 1 per cent, and once again the bank let it ride.

The current mortgage rate hikes are a  response to bond yields and strong economic indicators. They are the work of the banks and other lenders, and they respond to news on those fronts.

Considering that Greater Vancouver housing is the most expensive in Canada, continued low rates are a vital concern for anyone who'll need a new or renewed mortgage in the next few months. The extra percentage point could drive some house hunters toward less-expensive areas or housing types, and it could cause some to back away altogether.

But despite that one issue, the Greater Vancouver real estate market is acting remarkably stable.

See detailed Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver stats for August

Recently Sold Listing 4162 MUSQUEAM DR, Vancouver, British Columbia

V1022879 - 4162 MUSQUEAM DR, Vancouver, British Columbia, CANADAI have just recently sold this listing at 4162 MUSQUEAM DR, Vancouver.

Recently Sold Listing 11714 74TH AV, Delta, British Columbia

F1312827 - 11714 74TH AV, Delta, British Columbia, CANADAI have just recently sold this listing at 11714 74TH AV, Delta.

Recently Sold Listing 3250 W 37th Ave, Vancouver, British Columbia

V1024332 - 3250 W 37th Ave, Vancouver, British Columbia, CANADAI have just recently sold this listing at 3250 W 37th Ave, Vancouver.