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Laneway house vote today

July 28th, 2009 · 21 Comments

Vancouver council is expected to approve laneway houses today, which will give 65,000 homeowners in the city’s RS1 and RS5 (single-family) zones the right to build a 750-square-foot house at the back of their lots.

I have a story on this move, which others across the country are watching with some interest and some bemusement, in today’s Globe. Everyone here is also watching to see what the actual take-up will be. For those imagining there will automatically be 65,000 new houses, it’s unlikely. There are several conditions that eliminate certain types of lots. You need a 16-foot distance between the back of the main house and the start of the laneway house, which means gigantic monster houses or houses set far back on the lot won’t qualify.

The lot also has to be minimum 33 feet wide at this point and it has to have a lane at the back of the property (not everyone does).

Michael Geller, quoted in my story today, says he doesn’t think there will be a huge stampede at first. The most likely people to build are those who want room for family, since it isn’t a quick money maker. The houses will likely cost $150,000 to $200,000 to build so you have to be getting a lot of rent before you make your money back on that outlay. (Even if you charged $1,500 a month for the little house, that’s only $18,000 a year in rent so you wouldn’t be looking at making a profit on your investment until you’d been renting for well over 10 years.)

But Geller thinks that developers building new houses will start adding in laneway houses as a feature.

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  • david m.

    geller’s estimates are pretty far off – depending on what you want, you could build out 750 sf for under 100k – but the lot coverage restrictions are pretty severe, and they’ll have to be loosened somewhat before this gets to where it’ll make any real difference.

    as an aside, it would be interesting if the city (or some developer somewhere working in concert with the city) developed a “show” block, some that would give others a sense of what these things will look like. vancouverites aren’t known for their creativity or imagination, and a good example might be the best way to get folks aware of how they might negotiate a laneway house.

  • Joe Just Joe

    I imagine that cost M Geller passed along must be for putting a laneway house on an exising property which inflates the cost. Otherwise as David m mentioned the prices are way off. For new construction the cost of adding laneway housing would only add ~100k on top of what you’d be paying for the garage, that cost with current interest rates would add less the $600/month onto your mortgage which would be immediately recouped by the rental income. So as mentioned I don’t see many existing houses jumping onboard but I do envision the majority of new houses to take advantage of it.

  • I can see laneway houses being a big plus for developers. As boomers retire and move from the burbs back into smaller dwellings in the city, living on-lot with family would be very attractive. It’s an inventive way to gently cushion the construction market that seems poised to deflate after Olympics-related work is done.

  • Frothingham

    I have a 40′ lot. I have 20 feet from back of the house to the start of garage. Including knocking down my old garage and putting in a new Laneway house it will cost me no more than 125K. Most likely do it for 115K. (I have sons and friends to help with framing, plumbing, and electrical).

    For me this will be a no brainer! And there are all kinds of folks in my neighborhood with similar circumstances. Of course those folks who can’t work with their hands will have to pay more and it will take them longer to recoup their costs. I can recoup within five years. Within ONE if I wish to sell after I have built the “175K” Laneway House. But will be doing it for family initially. Oh joy! Vision gets my votes next election on two main issues: This and the BB bike lane! Thank-you Mayor Robertson.. Hootsman!

    PS My neighbor did this on the sly when he built his garage 7 years back. He’s there today!

  • To clarify, the $150 k to $200 k is not my estimate, but rather the general consensus of those who are more directly involved with this form of construction. This estimate is for both hard and soft costs…there are permit fees, design and engineering fees, insurance, financing costs, legal, etc. These things all add up.

    I agree it may be possible to build for less, especially if one could build with off-site prefabricated modular units. But I suspect that anyone hiring a good builder to come along and build a new unit of 500 to 750 square feet will end up spending $150k to $200k…or more! Because you’ll want to fix the existing garage, add a deck, fix the fence, etc. etc!

  • Joe Just Joe

    Woodframe contruction costs are ~$125psf and that’s if you hire somone to do the work for you. That means 750sqft (2 bd) comes out to ~$95K. I have no idea how that price could get up to $200K even if I decided to make a “luxury” laneway house. I will buy the $150K price though for exisiting homes, and I still stand by that it could be done for only an additional $100K on new construction. We will see soon enough.

  • Frothingham

    @Joe: Michael Geller comes from the administrative side and develops for clients. So his guesstimates is based on costs that are the high end. Perfectly understandable. But those of us who can get “hands-on” in the development can come in for way less than what he would factor. I know from my past experiences that I can build a top quality Laneway project and come in under 125K. No problem. And Holmes on Homes won’t find anything wrong with it to boot! So yes Joe you should be able to get it done for the price you state.

  • Does anyone have an idea what these will rent for? 750sqft detached, I’m thinking roughly $1200/month. Not good news for the competition!

    VSB should offer Landlording 101 as one of its night courses. I’d think there would be enough demand for it.

  • Aside from the obvious benefits, one that doesn’t get much attention but has been briefly noted, is how this type of housing has the potential to strengthen families. Different generations living close to each other, kids being able to “move out” to the laneway house until they can afford their own place, older parents being able to move in when they want to (or need to) downsize. It’s not a new concept – just something that has been more or less forgotten since suburbia.

  • Not running for mayor

    Good point Colin, it could even reduce the need for daycares if the parents/inlaws live close by as well.
    Another bonus is ithey could be used to house relatives or friends coming in from out of town as opposed to making them stay in hotels as is common in North America.

  • Kirk

    Inaddition to lane way houses, would the City instead allow home builders the option to build a bigger house instead (and put in more basement suites)? This would be cheaper to build, use less materials, cost less to heat, etc. And, it would still give the same increase in density.

    I don’t really see why they wouldn’t allow this. How can they say, “We don’t want monster homes. Instead, you should split it up into two separate buildings, even though this is worse for the environment and costs more.”

  • Kirk, the city has recently amended the RS zoning by-laws to allow builders to create better basement suites…but just one per home. The proposed changes are quite thoughtful, and should result in more suites in newer homes.

    I also agree with the comments that laneway housing can help strengthen family living. In UK, Australia and New Zealand, they are generally called ‘granny flats’ since grandparents are often the intended occupants. In Seattle, they are referred to as ‘mother-in-law’ suites. Another way to strengthen a family?

  • Kirk

    Wouldn’t bigger homes with more basement suites be a better solution? It would meet the same density goals, yet it’d be more affordable. Plus, it would likely be less intrusive and still allow for onsite parking. I guess I’m just wondering why this also wasn’t proposed.

  • Joe Just Joe

    It wasn’t proposed because the public would not be supportive of a new batch of monster homes. Two smaller homes are more pleasing to a neighborhood then one large house.
    If we took your argument to the extreme we could say why not build a highrise that houses 100 units instead of 100 houses surely it would use less energy and be cheaper to do and you’d be right. People wouldn’t want it though.
    This is a way to get more people into an area without changing the look and feel of the area and I beleive it’ll show positive results.

  • Frothingham

    I fully support basements suites, and i never understood the draconian ill thought out by-law where developers had to FILL IN the basement area to keep SQ FT under a certian amount. DUH! if that is the objective reduce the envelope and don’t penalize or reduce what was PAID for.

    And good points made by Geller and others re: Family Benefits to be gained from the Laneway Housing. That’s the way in most of Europa.

    (hope Geller runs for Council again)

  • Frothingham

    How did the Vote turn-out?

  • Frances Bula

    Oops, sorry — of course it was approved unanimously and the parking space debate was settled at only one parking spot required.

  • chimbros

    There will not many can build a laneway house, as there are many vancouver lots are just under 33′. say 32.8 feet (most of them were came from 2 49′ lot and converted into 3 32.8′ lot).

  • Frothingham

    great news … we now can delve into the planning and design stage.

  • So, for the record, it’s now October and I’m told that not one laneway house has been approved by the city. This is due in part to issues with BC Hydro who have concerns about potential load demand and have indicated that hook-up costs could therefore range from a couple of thousand dollars to $20,000 in some cases.

    On top of this, I am told by an experienced builder currently pricing units that the CITY COSTS including application and permit fees, sewer and water hook-ups, inspections, etc. will likely add approximately $20,000 to $22,000 to costs. So to all the contributors to this post, whether you get your brother to build, or a registered builder, you could be facing up to $40,000 in costs above and beyond the cost of the construction…and this is before we add in designer fees, insurance, etc.

    So David M, do you still think I’m pretty far off?

  • After completing the first laneway house in Vancouver, on the corner of Mcgill and Slocan, all of the numbers are in. A well built, energy efficient, nicely outfitted and designed laneway house will cost 210-245k (depending on size). Nearly 25% of the cost is for permits, fees and servicing.
    The Mcgill project is 710 sqft on a 33′ lot and is renting for 1.7k/month.

    So Michael, pretty close!