When the Guinness family built the Lions Gate Bridge to connect their British Properties in West Vancouver with downtown at the height of the Great Depression, it was almost an act of desperation.
Previous developers had gone broke attempting to entice homeowners across the fast moving waters of the First Narrows, but the ferry service was never successfully up to the task.
The huge estates carved up on the sinewy streets above the Capilano River were designed by the famous architectural firm Olmsted Brothers of Boston, Massachusetts.
Fans of landscape architecture have no doubt read and re-read Witold Rybczynski’s classic, "A Clearing in the Distance," about Frederick Law Olmsted and the creation of Central Park and Mount Royal. The Capilano Golf & Country Club was designed by Stanley Thompson.
Even today, British Properties' street names evoke a certain colonial nostalgia. Craigmohr, Ballantree, Glengarry. “Southborough,” for instance, sounds like it should be lined by equestrian estates. "Bonnymuir," set beside a fell, heath or loch.
The value, as always, is in the land, and, even here, not every house is a mansion. Humble, functional bungalows built in the 1960s are often overshadowed by magnificent gardens and landscaping. A friend of mine who runs a landscaping business can attest what happens to such places when the older owners “let the places go and can no longer control the foliage.”
Some streets have spectacular views while east-facing homes above Capilano Pacific Park might not see any sunshine for days during the rainy season.
There are a few original estate homes of historical consequence, including Modernist creations by architects like Ned Pratt, Ron Thom and Arthur Erickson.
That WASP parochialism that once barred people of Jewish descent from buying homes here is fading like a Union Jack left in the sun for too long. The original purchasers who snapped up homes in the immediate postwar period into the 1970s are downsizing and cashing out. They’ve had quite a run.
All of which made setting the dollar value of a particular house and property at 625 Southborough Drive a challenge for Shelley Williams, a realtor based in North Vancouver. When Williams prepared the market evaluation in early July, there were 91 homes on the market in the British Properties, with 25 of them priced at under $2 million. Even in Canada’s richest postal code, there’s a glut of places for sale.
“We listed the property as land only. The home was built in 1954 and there had not been any updates, but the lot is large: .63 of an acre or 27,878 square feet," Williams said. He didn't stage an open house and there was no need to. The property was listed on July 24 at $1,888,000 and it sold four days later–with seven offers–for $2,810,000. Who said that bidding wars were over?
The buyer of the property is from China and has two high school-aged children attending school in West Vancouver. The seller will be moving into assisted living.
“We were all shocked,” Williams said. “Elated, but shocked.” And Williams, despite receiving some criticism that the house was priced too low to start with, said that, “In a buyer’s market, it’s difficult to price a home in order to make it attractive."
With huge inventory to choose from, it’s a challenge to interest buyers in your listing and even more challenging to get them to put pen to paper.”
Selling the family home can be a highly emotionally charged and complicated issue. Williams, who is a designated Seniors Real Estate Specialist, often works with clients for a long time before they are ready to sell. In this case, Williams had been talking to the client’s nephew for nearly five years before the property was listed.
“Often it can take people a year or two to get used to the idea of selling their house,” said Williams. “And then I work with them to get their house organized and fixed up, so that they will get the best price possible with as little stress as possible.”
With baby boomers aging and family members wanting to unlock the equity in their parents’ homes to finance their own entry into the housing market, Williams likely has a niche that will guarantee plenty of listings in the years to come.