Owning a traditional single-family house is still the gold standard for most would-be homeowners, especially those with young families. But with a median price of about $500,000, those houses in Victoria are out of the reach of many buyers.
So when a developer advertises new homes starting at $369,900, people start to take notice.
“We priced it to appeal to the greatest number of buyers,” says Blair Robertson, co-owner of Totangi Properties, the developer of Woodland Creek, a planned community in Sooke. “The idea is to offer the highest quality at a relatively affordable price.”
The Craftsman-style houses sit on 4,000-square-foot lots. The houses in the current phase of the project, which started nine years ago, are modest in size. They range from a single-storey, 1,380-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath rancher with an office or den to a two-storey, 1,947-sq-ft., three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom home with a great room and office/den. There are 10 contemporary house plans to choose from, all named after different species of trees, such as Arbutus, Elm or Juniper.
The most unusual feature is that the current group of homes are all equipped with geothermal systems. This is a big attraction because geothermal operating costs are about a quarter to a third of the cost of electric baseboard heat. Because the system does not require exhaust venting, the number of penetrations in the building envelope is minimized, resulting in greater weather tightness.
“People can save an average of $1,100 per year in their heating bills,” Robertson said.
“The systems represent an additional $20,000 investment per home,” Robertson continued. “By equipping the homes with the more energy-efficient units, we help reduce another hurdle to home ownership.”
The systems work in conjunction with ground-source heat pumps. The pumps move heat to and from the earth by circulating a fluid through a vertical ground loop. During the winter, a geothermal system collects this low-grade thermal energy from the earth and concentrates it inside the house or building to provide space heating. In the summer, the process is reversed and the heat pump moves heat from the building and stores it back in the ground.
The geothermal-equipped houses have an EnerGuide rating of 80 or more (on a scale of zero to 100, with a higher number better) — a house built to regular building code standards can be as low as 65.
Homeowners can save more than just on their energy costs. Some lenders offer special cash-back financing incentives for people buying homes with an EnerGuide rating of over 77.
Robertson says that because of the filtration system, the air quality is much better than a house using just baseboard heaters.
All the homes are built to Built Green standards, which means houses built with a reduced environmental impact and lower energy and water costs over the life of the house. All the appliances are energy-efficient Energy Star rated.
Unlike some projects, the low price doesn’t get buyers bare-bones shells that require their new owners to finish and upgrade. These units all feature designer interior finishing schemes with coffered and vaulted ceilings in select homes.
The individual homes are equipped with master ensuites and walk-in closets, complete with cabinetry.
Buyers have the opportunity to choose between regular or premium fittings in their new homes. Upgrades include geothermal heaters for hot water, a greater choice of interior finishing schemes, more crown mouldings, engineered hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, granite raised bar, glass cabinet doors, designer glass tile, heated tile floors, window screens and a natural gas regulator on the patio.
The developer also carefully considered the mix between narrow and wide lots.
“The way we designed it creates more setbacks, giving the properties a sense of space so that people don’t feel like they are living on top of their neighbours.”
Even their peers have taken notice. Last year the project won Best New Subdivision honours at the local CARE (Construction Achievement and Renovation Excellence) Awards. One of the house plans, the Birch, took silver as the best single family speculation home under 2,000 square feet, while its larger brother, know as the Fir, also brought home silver in at the same awards in the category of best single- family speculation home under 2,500 square feet.
The project has so far attracted a cross-section of buyers, from young families to retired people who appreciate floor plans that locate the master bedroom on the main floor. This arrangement means elderly occupants don’t need to climb stairs every day, making aging in place easier.
The subdivision is centrally located in Sooke. It is a 10-minute walk to the central shopping area (in local parlance, “up Sooke”) or to Sooke harbour.