The term “sustainable living” is being enhanced by a new home feature that used to be earmarked as an extravagance.
The addition of elevators to Central Okangan homes, whether installing the finished product or creating the space for an elevator shaft in an older home, is beginning to have an impact on the local real estate market.
And realtors are beginning to take notice, as the baby boomer generation ages into retirement, many are wanting to remain in their homes long after their mobility becomes limited.
Nazi Khajavi, a local estate agent, said the market trend is clearly placing greater prominence on elevator installations as a desired feature for new homes.
“I think people who live in walk-ups and are in a wheelchair or have trouble with stairs, elevators can help accommodate them so they can continue to live in a two-storey home,” Khajavi said.
In this market, she says the traditional rancher option that retired folks might have migrated to in the past to eliminate the stairs issue isn’t the trend house buyers are necessarily looking for today.
“They like the two-storey house primarily because of the views that second floor offers. So if you have an elevator, that opens up access for people who otherwise would be limited to the main floor. Having an elevator opens up the house to those who are mobility challenged. And the other aspect is just the convenience of moving up and down in the house or if you are having to move items around that otherwise would be hauled up or down the stairs,“ she said.
With a price range that tends to start at about $28,000, Khajavi says right now house prices for people wanting elevators tends to start at about $750,000 and up.
But if the demand continues to increase, she sees that changing, noting that if you are not elderly or in a wheelchair, it’s not a feature you would think of including in your house.
But with aging baby boomers, she says they’re not looking to buy a house as a transition to a seniors’ residence or even a smaller rancher—they want to stay in their Okanagan retirement home for as long as their health will allow them to.
“One of my clients told me, about nine years ago now, that he wanted to put an elevator in his house and I laughed at him. Ten years ago, I thought it was an expense that he wouldn’t get back when he sold the house,” she recalled.
“But now I look at it, I think it’s a fantastic addition to improve the marketability of your house if done properly.
“The problem is if you try to add an elevator after the house is built without having allowed any space for the elevator shaft, it can look awkward. Even if the elevator is installed at a later time, if the space is there you can convert the shaft on the main floor into a closet until such time as you want to install an elevator.
“It’s a nice feature to have in a house for those retirement home buyers.”
Lance Davidson, president of Hybrid Elevator in Kelowna, sees a growing appeal for elevator installations in homes because it opens up buying possibilities for retirees.
“For a two-storey home, you double your market from just below 50-year-olds to above that age as well for potential buyers. Having a house that is elevator-installation-ready is what we call a form of sustainable living,” Davidson said.
“People want to live in their homes for as long as they can, and not be forced into living in a basement suite or caregiving situation because they’ve become mobility-challenged.”
Davidson said elevator installation is continuing to become easier with technology, as well as more affordable. “For a high-priced home, it’s not the big ticket feature item that it might have been in the past,” he maintained.
Davidson points out that baby boomers are one of Canada’s largest population groups, owning 75 per cent of the country’s financial assets and controlling more than 50 per cent of the discretionary spending in North America.
That also happens to be the market that Hybrid and an increasing number of townhome and single-family residence builders are targeting.
Davidson’s journey to becoming head of an elevator manufacturing company started with his wife, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. A forest product broker by profession, Davidson initially looked into elevators to address mobility issues that his wife faced.
Beyond elevators, the next most popular mobility enhancing product in the marketplace was electric stairclimbers built on stairways. But those products present several issues, he says, from having to get in and out of the chair, and having to do so at the top of the stairwell, which can pose a hazard if a person is shaky on their feet.
Davidson’s family has a history in the elevator business back East, and he began talking with them about designing an environmentally friendly elevator that addressed issues of convenience, mobility and sustainable living for retirement-aged people.
While the price may be considered steep for some at $28,000 and up, Davidson notes it needs to be considered against the cost of moving to a new location—realtor fees, moving expenses, etc.—and leaving a home and a neighbourhood you would prefer to stay in. Also, an elevator installed to meet a person’s mobility needs is non-taxable.
Three years ago, Davidson started Hybrid Elevators in a downtown industrial building, seeing an opportunity to capitalize on the growing popularity of elevator installations in homes.
“There was a company around before us here for about eight years, and they produced about five custom-built elevators a year. We now do about five elevators a month, and will double that over the next year,” Davidson said.
As a result, the company relocated to a larger plant in north Kelowna’s industrial district, with a combination of elevator production and a kitchen cabinetry woodworking shop. Satellite sales offices are planned for Chilliwack and Vancouver Island, with Kelowna remaining the central assembly plant.
“We can assemble the parts of an elevator in about an hour and a half, and it takes about two to three days for the installation. All we need is the space, a light source and a 110 volt plug-in,” Davidson said.
Besides using a green technology battery-powered option to the traditional hydraulic lift system which is subject to seal leaks, a sometimes lingering bad odour and mechanical breakdowns, Davidson also sought the advice of Kelowna wheelchair rugby players, a team his company sponsors, on what they would want to see for elevator access.
“The three-by-five elevator space is the traditional seller, but it doesn’t allow someone in a wheelchair to turn round inside the elevator. So we came up with a four-by-four size design that offered more mobility and accessibility,” he said.
As well, the City of Kelowna has signed off on Hybrid’s quality and safety documentation procedures. “We stand behind our product and provide follow-up service and maintenance when required.”
Besides homes, Davidson says townhome builders are paying attention to the benefits of elevator installation because of the stairway issue, some designs having two sometimes three flights with a rooftop terrace.
“We just see elevator installations in homes appealing to an increasingly broader buying demographic as the baby boomers age,” Davidson said.
“It’s an efficient use of building space, allowing a home to be built higher without sacrificing mobility access throughout the house.”