Bare land condos like those at Villas at Watermark often appeal to buyers who want to spend their free time doing things other than yard work, said Ian Macdonald, director of sales and marketing for Macdonald Development Corp., which is behind Watermark at Bearspaw. Photo courtesy Macdonald Development Corp.

Development standard finds its way back into the Calgary region

When is a detached home still a condo? When it’s a bare land condo, an under-utilized development standard that is once again sprouting up in the Calgary region.

Developers in new areas such as Watermark in Bearspaw and Shawnee Park are designating some or all of their respective developments as bare land condos as part of a more collective approach to building and maintaining communities.

Bare land condos have previously popped up in other area communities such as Tanglewood Estates, The Lake at Heritage Pointe, Okotoks Air Ranch, Elmont Green and Lott Creek Grove.

“The term ‘bare land’ can be a bit of a misnomer,” said Debra A. Bunston, senior industry advisor with the Alberta Real Estate Association, which represents 10 regional real estate boards and more than 10,000 real estate professionals in the province.

“They typically include homes and landscaping or other structures. They can be residential condos, RV pads, or any other type of recreational or commercial condo.”

In a conventional condo, the homeowner owns what’s within the four walls, floor and ceiling. Bare land condo boundaries, meanwhile, are marked at the edges of the plot of land, not by the walls, floor or ceiling of the living space.

“In that way, a bare land unit resembles a single-family building lot – (the) house, deck, lawns, walkways and landscaping are all inside the unit boundaries,” said Bunston, noting everything beyond – such as facilities, greenspaces and roadways – is within the purview of the condo corporation.

Bare land condos often appeal to the mature buyer who wants to spend their free time doing things other than yard work, said Ian Macdonald, director of sales and marketing for Macdonald Development Corp., which is behind Watermark at Bearspaw that features the bare land-condo-based Villas at Watermark development west of Calgary.

“They want home ownership to be easier, allowing them the freedom to travel and be free of time-consuming and sometimes-backbreaking maintenance,” he said.

Bare land condo residents, much like their apartment-style condo cohorts, pay monthly condo fees. The fee at Villas at Watermark, for example, covers homeowners’ association dues, property management fees, access to common amenities such as an owners’ lounge and fitness facility, driveway and front-walk snow removal, irrigation, exterior window washing and maintenance.

“In addition, a portion of the fees are set aside in a capital reserve fund for future repairs and replacements that may occur over time,” said Macdonald.

In 2012, a provincial court ruling prohibited bare land condo corporations from collecting money or using reserve funds from owners for managed property repair and maintenance expenses.

That ruling was overturned in 2013 through an amendment to the Condominium Property Act.

Shawnee Park in southwest Calgary will also offer a mix of fee-simple and bare land condominium configurations as part of its 500 single-family development, which is currently under development.

Cardel Homes vice-president of sales and marketing Andrew Davidson, whose company will be building in the community, said bare land condos allow homeowners to have “a more significant voice in the look and feel of the common areas of their community.

“It’s very similar to living in a condo building, but it looks like a traditional neighbourhood and you’re in a single-family home,” he said. “The reality is now your neighbours and you have a say in what goes on each other’s property.”

Davidson also cited the potential cost advantage, where homeowners are not collectively responsible for infrastructure improvements, such as replacing a common roof.

Ultimately, bare land-condo ownership has the potential to bring communities closer together, he said.

“The benefit it is really obligates everyone to try to work together and try to make a great-looking community,” said Davidson.