Real Estate Roundup: Basement suites booming in Evergreen

Saskatoon Star Phoenix, May 12, 2016 –

When Wendy Wawryk and her husband Eugene decided to build their dream retirement home in Saskatoon’s Evergreen neighbourhood, they started by coming up with a list of requirements.

One of them was a basement suite.

“We like to travel, and it’d be nice to have somebody in the house … By the time we went to draw up the plans, we knew we wanted to do that,” Wendy Wawryk said, adding that unnecessary basement space was another factor in the decision.

Wawryk and her husband, who moved to Saskatoon from Prince Albert in 2014, found a lot on Boykowich Crescent and started work on the $750,000, 1,830-square-foot bi-level last spring. Now, the couple is preparing to move into the house — above the $1,050-per-month one-bedroom suite they installed in the basement.

Living above a tenant always involves a trade-off between privacy and income, but Wawryk said splurging on extra insulation alleviated her concerns about noise and disruption. She said the “above code” construction, private courtyard and nearby amenities should make the suite attractive, despite the city’s high vacancy rate.

“Another thing about the basement suite is, if we got somebody that we really trusted (to live in it), maybe we could give them a deal on rent if they want to do things like shovel our driveway,” she said with a laugh.

The Wawryks are not the only people in Saskatoon’s newest developments with suites in their basements.

Norm Fisher, a veteran real estate agent and owner-broker at Royal LePage Vidorra, said the trend likely began a decade ago in the Hampton Village development on the city’s west side and has been growing ever since.

“I think affordability is definitely a factor: With a good-quality secondary suite, you have the opportunity to supplement your mortgage payment,” Fisher said, adding that a nice two-bedroom suite in a new neighbourhood can easily command $1,200 per month or more, even in a period of turbulence in the rental market.

“That can be a big help when it comes to bringing the mortgage payment down, and no doubt some people are looking at it as a longer-term investment, maybe a way to retire their mortgage a little bit earlier.”

About 19 per cent of Evergreen homes sold in the last year have basement suites, compared to five per cent in Stonebridge, 17 per cent in Hampton Village and 17 per cent in Rosewood, Fisher said. Because most are custom-built rather than shoehorned into existing spaces, they tend to be popular among renters and homeowners alike, he added.

Philip Zhao is one of those homeowners. After moving from an apartment in Wildwood to a new home in Evergreen last year, Zhao and his wife Yang decided to install a one-bedroom suite. It brought the total price up to $570,000, but the decision should make the house more affordable in the long run, Zhao said.

“It’s going to get us some extra money,” he said of the $1,050-per-month one-bedroom suite in the basement of his family’s Arscott Street home.

Fisher said while it’s not clear if the trend will continue in developments like Brighton and future projects, it’s obvious that people buying houses in Saskatoon’s newest neighbourhoods are prepared to trade space and privacy for some extra cash.

“Anytime you’ve got someone else living in your house, it’s going to come with some inconveniences … But I think that these are sacrifices that people appear to be willing to make to experience the benefits.”

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