Friends enjoy a serene moment in nature, accompanied by a joyful dog and a smiling young child in a lush greenery of a forest.

Creative living: how a group of friends are redefining community and home ownership


Seek out a solution.

Nestled between the Pacific Ocean, ancient rainforests, and coastal mountain ranges, Vancouver, BC, has become a sought-after destination and one of the most desirable places to live in Canada. But the city’s competitive real estate market has made homeownership unattainable for many residents, especially first-time buyers. Rising property values and affordability challenges have caused people to relocate to smaller communities or move to other parts of the country.

For 10 friends living in Vancouver, they didn’t want to be driven to separate communities and the reality of homeownership inspired the group to get creative. “We saw our friend group getting fractured by this potential future and decided to seek out a solution to keep some of us in closer proximity and connected,” explains Kevin Baillie. That’s when the idea to purchase a property as a group came to light — what if a bunch of friends could co-own a home together?

The friends met fifteen years earlier, most through Engineers Without Borders, and have been closely connected to each other, sharing all the wonderful benefits of community: learning, loving, eating, laughing, growing and playing together. By pooling resources and combining incomes, they could increase their purchasing power and share in the responsibilities and costs of homeownership, all while maintaining their close-knit connections.

From the early stages of inspiration to realizing their dream of home ownership, the group share the process of buying a house with friends and entering into one of life’s biggest commitments together. “Financial is one way, but you’re also committing to making sure that your co-owners are being heard, valued, and respected.” Charles Calladine explain that it doesn’t have to be a daunting process, but it will undoubtedly require commitment, collaboration, and most importantly, a strong sense of community.

Possibility in all things.

In 2017, when the group caught wind of a 4-acre plot of land on the Sunshine Coast listed for sale, they saw an opportunity and went for it. It would spark the beginning of a journey that would not only transform the property into a 10-lot community with sustainable gardens, communal areas, and room for their growing families, but it would redefine what home ownership and community means to them.

In the “spirit of adventure and possibility in all things,” the group built a shared vision that encompasses the practical, emotional, and financial aspects of owning a property together.

“Our vision is for a clustered-type of development, consisting of small homes with extensive green space and shared amenities, working alongside our neighborhood, and modeling environmentally sustainable, affordable home development…[this included] a list of shared values to ground ourselves when we needed to make big decisions or tackle tough conversations.” said co-owner Kaan Williams.

Approach barriers and conflict with curiosity and open mindedness.

Even with a strong vision and a shared commitment to the idea, they found that getting the financial and legal support was not as straight-forward. One of the biggest challenges they faced was finding a financial institution that could support their vision and provide the funding to see it through. “I went to some of the big banks and their reaction was to basically laugh us out of the room,” says Colleen O’Toole, one of the community members.”

Big banks and financial institutions have set parameters for joint mortgages. There are generally two types of joint mortgages in Canada, joint tenancy and tenancy in common. For joint tenant mortgages, the most common, every co-owner equally divides the mortgage between themselves so everyone gets an equal ownership share. A joint tenant structure is what married, common-law partners or close family members typically use because, in the event of death, the co-owner receives the right of survivorship (i.e. the asset automatically transfers to the surviving party). The latter is trickier since the right of survivorship does not apply. Tenants in common requires exhaustive estate planning and can cost significantly more because of the complexity of administering these trusts.

“We [sic] considered forming a corporation and having the corp be the mortgage-holder but rates are way higher for corporations compared with personal mortgages, plus there is a lot of additional administrative burden with a corporation,” Andrew Nobles, one of the co-owners adds.

Pull together to come up with creative solutions.

They needed a lender that was willing to be as creative as they were, one that understands that social connection is a necessity, not a luxury.

Enter Vancity, their local credit union. “We’ve all had various levels of engagement with Vancity in our lives. I’ve been a Vancity member since I was 5 years old,” says group member Annelies Tjebbes. “We definitely knew Vancity was very committed to social causes…what we didn’t know was how creative and innovative Vancity would be and how dedicated they would be to see this project through!”

The only one of its kind in Canada, Vancity offers the Co-ownership Mortgage, “a type of joint mortgage that allows you to share the costs of home ownership with others while choosing the mortgage rate, term and amortization that works best for each individual person.” Created with community at its core, the mortgage was designed for “multi-generational families who want to live together, friends who dream of building their own neighbourhood, or roommates who decide to buy instead of splitting rent.” Even more, as part of this mortgage, Vancity offers professional guidance and legal support so all buyers can navigate buying a home with friends from start to finish.

Personal finances are vastly different from one person to the next; we all earn, save, invest, and spend based on our circumstances. Vancity’s co-ownership mortgage allowed each member of the group to choose from a variety of mortgage options to find the rates and terms that best suited for their lifestyle and budget.

Annelies adds: “Vancity has been a very flexible, engaged, and supportive partner in this project. It’s been incredible seeing the Vancity team pull together to come up with creative solutions along the way for how to make this unique project feasible.”

Think more collectively about homeownership.

Simple ideas can inspire profound change. Fast forward and the dream of homeownership for the group has turned into reality. “It’s been a true labour of love,” Tess Baker shares. “Not just from the 10 folks who bought in, but from our broader community who continues to support us.” 

“Co-owning this property has helped us think more collectively about homeownership, and land ownership. We are a very collaborative and connected group of individuals, and we feel very energized about how this project allows us to work together rather than feeling like we each need to fend for ourselves in the housing industry.” says Lauren van Ingen.

For an update on the group’s project and to take a sneak peek at the stunning before and after photos of the property, stay tuned for the next installment. In the meantime, you can watch the beginning of their story in Episode 1 of Building Together

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