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Greg van PoptaRow homes are an attractive option for savvy homeowners looking for value and avoiding a strata

As a real estate and land-development lawyer, Greg van Popta has noticed developers favouring row homes over townhomes. Row homes are essentially townhomes with more individual character (think popsicle-hued houses lined up shoulder-to-shoulder as is popular in New Brunswick), due to the lack of strata-consistency requirements dictating appearance. 

“[Row-home owners] are all kings of their castles; there’s no council for making common decisions,” explains van Popta, who is a partner with McQuarrie Hunter LLP in Surrey. “If they have to reroute something in the building, they have to talk to their neighbours and figure out how to get it done.” 

Most of the attached-housing units in the metro-Vancouver area are townhouses (with a strata corporation), but van Popta expects row homes will eventually gain some of the popularity they enjoy in Langley and Surrey. Developers like row homes, he explains, because if buyers aren’t factoring strata fees into the budget, they can typically afford a little more.

Row homes are attractive to buyers who want the autonomy of single, family dwellings without the unreachable price tag. But both developers and buyers should educate themselves on potential hurdles homeowners could face living without a strata.

Before would-be developers and row-house investors take on this potentially lucrative style of property, van Popta offers two pieces of cautionary advice. First, developers should set up one joint insurance policy for all units at the outset. In the case of an electrical short, for example, shared walls mean assigning responsibility is difficult. If each unit is insured by a different company, providers may be tempted to push blame to adjacent units rather than settling claims quickly. Row-home owners should renew this policy with the same insurer, or encourage their neighbours to switch to the same provider together. 

Second, van Popta advises developers to prevent too many “character” enhancements to individual units (at least until they’ve sold all their stock) by establishing a five-year statutory building scheme. In row-home properties, owners are perfectly entitled to paint the front door pink or use toilet bowls for planters—flair that may not be to everyone’s tastes. Similar to the guidelines municipalities lay out for developers, a building scheme stops owners from choosing non-approved colour palettes, cladding materials or fencing heights. Restrictions expire after five years (depending on the contract), and most new owners aren’t eager to renovate brand-new exteriors in the first five years anyway.

Even with the possibility of duelling insurance providers and eccentric neighbours, van Popta expects row homes to grow in popularity with buyers who like the price point of townhomes but not the hassle of annual general meetings. “Some people would sooner maintain good relations with their neighbours on either side of them than be one person in a bureaucratic strata corporation.” 

McQuarrie is a multi-practice, Surrey-based law firm that serves the needs of businesses, individuals and institutions in the Lower Mainland and throughout B.C. www.mcquarrie.com
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