Feature: Revelstoke’s housing boom

Revelstoke is experiencing a housing boom this year, with at least 26 new homes being built in town.

Aspen Crescent in Upper Arrow Heights is the site of a building boom.

Aspen Crescent in Upper Arrow Heights is the site of a building boom.

Until recently, Aspen Crescent, at Hay Road and Nichol Road in Upper Arrow Heights, was a mostly barren sub-division. It was developed alongside the ski hill but for a few years, only a few homes were built. Most of the land sat cleared of trees, waiting for homes.

The homes have come. The neighbourhood, which consists of Aspen Crescent, Poplar Lane and a block of Hay Road, is a hive of building activity, with large homes going up on a variety of lots.

There’s a mix of construction going on. One house was being built by local contractor Jordan Cochrane Construction. Another was being built by a father and his two sons. Yet another was a spec home being built by a certified builder.

I was there to visit Sophie Fortin and Troy Kirwan, who moved into their brand new modular home last month, but I met many other new home owners.

Aspen Crescent is the hub of Revelstoke’s new home building but the building boom is taking place around town, with 26 building permits issued for new homes so far this year, and more coming in every week; three more were being processed last week. “We could hit 30,” says Dean Strachan, the City of Revelstoke’s manager of development services.

As I reported in June, the boom in new construction is being driven by a variety of factors. The market for existing homes has dried up and prices are rising again. As well, many homes on the market need substantial renovations, making it more desirable for people to build new homes rather than buy and renovate.

According to City of Revelstoke statistics, the building permit value of new homes range from only $70,000 all the way to $3.8 million. They have a total value of more than $10 million. If you ignore the $3.8 million home, which skews the numbers, the average new build value is $272,891, while the median value is $283,000. The big home raises the average to $408,549. Those figures don’t include the cost of the lots.

“Up until this year the lion’s share of the housing was infill. People were building on single lots within the central area in this town,” said Strachan. “With Aspen Crescent opening up, with the sale of the lots, there’s been a significant upswing in larger home construction.”

A range of people are building, from young couples to families to “lifestyle retirees,” says Strachan.

“There’s a surprising number of young couples or families, which is an interesting demographic. They have the means to be able to do it,” he said. “You’re seeing quite a few people who have been renting for years and are now pulling the trigger and building, or wanting to upgrade their housing stock. The benefit to that is they’re releasing some existing homes, which are available for purchase at an existing price.”

We spoke to several new home owners and builders last week to get an idea for why people are choosing to build. Here’s what they said:

The Custom Modular Home

Sophie Fortin and Troy Kirwan recently moved back to Revelstoke. They had lived here before, when Fortin owned the Woolsey Creek and Kirwan was a helicopter pilot, however a few years ago they decided to move to Invermere to start a helicopter business there.

Everything changed when Kirwan was diagnosed with ALS, a neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling muscles.

They decided to move back to Revelstoke with their young daughter, but they also needed a home that suited Kirwan’s needs. He can move around slowly with a walker, but mostly he uses a wheelchair to get around. He needs permanent care, a role Fortin is fulfilling at this point.

It was with all that in mind that they went house hunting.

“Looking at what was in town, it was a lot of fixer-uppers, which we didn’t have the energy or the money to do, and everything needed to be fixed, so you might as well start from scratch,” said Fortin.

“We thought building new, because of his needs, was a better option.”

They purchased a lot on Aspen Crescent and looked at building from scratch, but decided against that because the process would have been a lot more demanding.

They decided to go with a custom modular home from Freeport Industries, which is based in West Kelowna. They wanted a home that was accessible for Kirwan, with everything on one floor, big doors, and wide open spaces.

“It was a simple process relative to a complete build. And the price, it was cheaper,” said Kirwan. “Everything down to the toilet paper rolls were included.”

To build their home, they met with the company and went back and forth with the designer on their needs. Everything from the paint to the light fixtures to the kitchen cabinets were included in the build, and they were able to choose based on their budget.

The process was quick. The home showed up in four pieces on July 26 and they happily moved in less than a month later. “It came on a truck and it was done in 20 days on site,” said Fortin. “It’s minimum stress.”

The Spec Home

Steve Lagace seemed confused when I asked why he was building a spec home. As a licensed home builder, it’s what he does. In Revelstoke he stands out since in recent years the vast majority of new homes are owner built. Spec homes are few and far between.

“I don’t understand why I’m the first one to build a spec house,” he said.

Lagace was building next door to Fortin and Kirwan. He climbed off his ladder, where he was finishing the siding of his house. The home is about 1,800 square feet and has three bedrooms on two floors. He started building on July 5 and the exterior appeared mostly finished last week.

This is the ninth home he’s built and the second in Revelstoke; last year he built one on Hay Road.

“Where I’m from, in the east, it’s a hassle to be a contractor,” he said. “Here, all you have to do is get your licence.”

He expects to finish building at the end October, and doesn’t anticipate having any trouble selling. “I’ll build one every year if I can, if the lots are available,” he said.

Before meeting Lagace, I hadn’t heard of any spec homes being built in town since Peter Bernacki built his skinny house near the Courthouse in 2013. Dean Strachan, from the city, said there’s a few spec homes being built this year.

“I’ve heard they’re getting so much interest, they’re not going to be spec homes,” he said. “Someone’s going to buy them before they get finished.”

The Family Build

Down the street, at the corner of Aspen Crescent and Hay Road, Joel Fafard was building his new home with his brother and father.

Fafard has lived in Revelstoke off and on since Revelstoke Mountain Resort opened. He works in the oil industry and finally decided now was the time to build.

“I never looked at buying a house but I’ve had a steady job for three years now so I’ve got enough to borrow,” he said. “I never considered buying.”

The key for him was having enough storage space for all his toys. With that in mind, the home he designed has a big garage and basement.

“I wanted enough garage space to store all my (stuff), and a basement to store the other (stuff) that takes up less room,” he said.

The house has two apartments — a two bedroom suite upstairs and a three-bedroom suite on the main floor and basement.

“Those are really small rooms. Everything is pretty compact because I wanted to keep the size down and keep it somewhat affordable,” Fafard said.

While he isn’t a home builder, his father and brother are both experienced. They previously built his father’s house together.

“This one, because I thought about everything and I’m doing a lot myself and making all the choices, it takes a lot of time,” he said.

He bought the lot last August and poured the concrete on April 1. He’s hoping to move in this winter.

“Finished is not going to happen. I’m hoping it’s going to be livable in January,” he said.

The Small Home

Geoff Stewart was close to building a modular home. The 32-year-old has lived in Revelstoke since 2009 and finally decided he was settled enough to make it his permanent home.

“I’m happy with my employment status for the last few years. I’m becoming more predictable in life and really want to officially call Revelstoke home,” he said. “I think it’s a worthwhile move with the housing market, and my financial situation has allowed me to be realistic with it.”

He started looking at the housing market seriously about a year ago, but it soon became evident to him it would be more worthwhile to build something new than to buy and renovate.

“I looked at the price which I could afford and what it would get me, versus what I could get a piece of property for and build new,” he said. “I was around the $300,000 mark, give or take. For that, you get a two bedroom, one bathroom home downtown that needs $100,000 of work.”

Instead, he looked at properties for around $100,000 and looked at his options to build. What he wanted was a small, three bedroom, two bathroom home that would allow him to have roommates to cover the cost. He found a property in the Big Eddy that fit his price and was looking at a modular home before he started talking to Greg Hoffart from Tree Construction about a custom build.

“I showed him what I was looking at with manufactured homes – simple geometry, nothing fancy,” said Stewart. “I gave it to him. What can you do for the most efficient type of builds to give me what I wanted, which wasn’t much.”

They were able to come up with a design that fit Stewart’s wants and budget. “We’re going with a super simple shape, with modern efficiencies and style,” he said.

When I spoke to Stewart last week, they were still going through the permitting process. He said he was happy to go with a local builder who shared a similar lifestyle, as opposed to going with a modular home.

“It has nothing to do with the quality of the build, but to get a bit of a unique product at the end is going to leave with me with more satisfaction,” he said. “I’m going to be able to be part of the build as well, whereas I wouldn’t have had that opportunity with a pre-fab house.”