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Homefinder: Do’s and don’ts for secondary suites

Builder offers advice for constructing a basement suite

They go hand in hand, the growth of secondary suites and the out-of-control cost of Greater Victoria real estate.

Victoria Real Estate Board’s sales data for March show Greater Victoria home sales are up by 52.7 per cent compared to March 2015. And yet that’s with a smaller inventory of homes, down by nearly a third (30.5 per cent) compared to the same time last year.

This significantly affects the affordability of homes in Victoria, making secondary suites more necessary than ever as mortgage helpers.

“I’ve never seen such a huge demand for secondary suites in both new and older homes,” said Ron Bickford.

The president of Rob-Ron Construction has been building and renovating homes in Greater Victoria for nearly 40 years.

The trend for homeowners entering the market needing a “mortgage helper,” or secondary suite has been widely reported, and Bickford’s seen it first hand. Secondary suites are an important part of housing affordability solutions, a huge concern in Victoria right now, Bickford added.

“The demand for secondary suites in brand new homes has vastly increased, as have queries to create secondary suites in newly purchased homes.”

Bickford is in the planning stages of building two dream homes in Saanich, and both require the inclusion of secondary suites.

Bickford wants to remind residents who are considering the creation of a new suite in their home to avoid common pitfalls.

“People tend to underestimate the cost of creating a basement suite or they don’t have the expertise we do to avoid certain problems that could lead to water damage and more expense, for example, later on,” Bickford said.

Bickford offers the following advice to homebuyers looking at buying a home and renovating it to include a secondary suite.

Come up with a budget for the home purchase and renovation to include a suite. Creating a basement suite usually costs more than most people think. Usually a variety of trades are needed, including plumbers, electricians, carpenters and drywallers.

Review municipal bylaws before purchasing a home. Saanich bylaws allow legalized suites by permit in most of the district. For a map and detailed information, visit Enforcement of suites is complaint driven.

Review plumbing considerations. If there is no plumbing on the level you are planning to build a suite, ensure the invert height of the sewer service on the street is the right elevation. If it isn’t, you may need to install a pump, and you’ll need to allocate space for housing the pump, not to mention budgeting for the work.

Check perimeter pipes to avoid water ingress. Ensure the perimeter pipe is in good shape and is below the height of the slab. A lot of homes in Greater Victoria are built on rock, so water will flow between rock and concrete. Make sure you inspect the basement for any signs of water ingress.

Consider who you want to rent to and how much you need to earn. In general, the neighbourhood and number of bedrooms will dictate the rental income, but also consider whether you’re looking to rent to students, a family or a professional couple. For example, for students, you should be close to a college or university campus and can afford to have smaller bedrooms, but a professional couple will require a bigger main bedroom and often seek proximity to downtown.