Co-ownership helped these people buy homes in real-estate hotspot

Co-ownership helped these people buy homes in real-estate hotspot

Walking around Heidi Woodley’s home feels like a fairy tale.

Her bright blue cottage sits on a hill next to seven other colourful houses. They’re surrounded by tall cedars, lush gardens, winding pathways and a gnome sculpture named Finn. 

“Some days I pinch myself,” says Woodley, 53, a single mother of two. “It’s very magical.”

Her dream of owning the charming two-bedroom cottage in the Horseshoe Bay area of West Vancouver — one of Canada’s most expensive municipalities, where the price of a detached house generally starts around $2 million — came true with the help of a dozen strangers and the concept of co-ownership. 

When the property with the eight cottages came on the market in 2021, the $3.8 million price tag was way beyond Woodley’s means. But thanks to several people who are now her neighbours, along with investors aiming to help people get into B.C.’s housing market, they were able to meet the price. 

WATCH | How co-ownership helped realize dreams of homeownership: 

Co-ownership helped these people buy homes in real-estate hotspot

How a group of strangers found homes together in one of Canada’s priciest municipalities

Splitting mortgages via co-ownership is one way some British Columbians are achieving dreams of home ownership as real estate prices reach record highs.

Splitting a mortgage through co-ownership is one way British Columbians are trying to become homeowners in a housing market that has some of the highest property prices and rents in Canada.

Co-ownership can take many forms. Generally, it allows a group of people on the land title and includes one mortgage, with each co-owner responsible for their proportionate share. 

In 2023, six per cent of Canadians said they co-own their home with someone other than a spouse or significant other. Seventy six per cent of those said their decision was motivated by affordability challenges, according to a Royal LePage survey. 

“There’s no possible way I’d be able to buy anything, I’d be renting and it’d probably not be the best rental, said Matt Fidler, 42, one of Woodley’s co-owners and neighbours. 

A man and woman stand in front of a row of colourful cottages.
Co-owner Matt Fidler stands outside the property with CBC News reporter Baneet Braich on March 28. The cottages sit on a hillside in West Vancouver, one of Canada’s priciest municipalities. (Maggie MacPherson/ CBC News)

The neighbours share amenities like laundry and a tool shed, and share repair work on the cottages, which were built more than a century ago. Communication is done via a WhatsApp group chat and occasionally over a bottle of wine.

Navigating co-ownership

Due to the size of the group, Woodley and her neighbours formed a company called HSB Cottages Ltd., with each of them becoming shareholders in the half-acre property.

Each resident pays a monthly fee based on square footage that covers mortgage payments, insurance, utilities and taxes.

It meant that each resident didn’t face the pressure to get a hefty mortgage. They were able to buy shares with whatever financial capacity they had, explained Noam Dolgin, a Realtor and founder of Collaborative Home Ownership B.C., who helped facilitate the purchase of the cottages. 

A woman walks her cat.
A resident of the co-owned property walks her cat on the half-acre site. Every household pays a monthly fee based on square footage that covers mortgage payments, insurance, utilities and taxes. (Maggie MacPherson/ CBC News)

Non-traditional methods of home ownership aren’t always easy, Dolgin cautions.

He says it can be difficult to get financing for a larger property; with everyone liable for the mortgage, it can be difficult to find reliable co-owners; and it’s important to plan legal agreements for exit strategies addressing death, divorce, or if co-owners want to sell their share.

“You want to make sure you have a strong social vision, a strong financial vision and, most importantly, a strong legal vision,” says Dolgin.

But that’s not all to say it’s impossible, he says. 

Making the ‘impossible’ possible

Purchasing the cottages took a lot of hope, patience and planning, along with some good fortune, said Woodley, sitting in her living room facing a vista of snow-dusted forests.

In 2020, she rented the blue cottage for about three months and loved it so much she wanted to buy it.

Jim Bardal, her landlord at the time, had owned the property for nearly 30 years and said he’d only sell the group of eight cottages together. About two months later, the property was listed on the market for $3.8 million — a sum that felt impossible for Woodley. 

For months, she watched developers scope out the property. The thought of leaving was “heartbreaking,” she says. 

A woman sits on a swing overlooking a village.
Heidi Woodley sits on a swing chair built at the top of the hill of the co-owned property. She says co-ownership has given her an affordable way to build equity while raising her children in West Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/ CBC News)

But things took a turn when she met Dolgin after he came to see the property and its potential. He recommended co-ownership. 

Fidler was one of first to approach Woodley about the arrangement, and in the months ahead they met others interested in co-ownership, as well as potential investors, and sorted out financial and legal documents with lawyers.

Eventually, they had enough potential co-owners — but the next barrier was financing. Banks turned them down immediately because HSB Cottages was a new company asking for too much money, Woodley said.

Bardal supported their efforts enough to keep pushing back the closing date. 

“We just kept believing there was a solution,” said Woodley.

And soon there was. 

Investor wants to ‘make an impact’ 

Alan Carpenter heard of the group’s financing struggles from Dolgin, a business acquaintance, and felt the need to help. 

“When people come [together] in community, we can create solutions that can find different ways of doing things,” said Carpenter, a retired builder who has been living in a co-housing development in Langley, B.C., for almost 30 years.  

Carpenter, 75, says his family and friends lent the group about $2.5 million to close the sale. They don’t live on the property but feel building equity in one of Canada’s most expensive municipalities is worth the investment. 

A man wearing red stands in his home.
Alan Carpenter at his residence at the WindSong Cohousing Community in Langley, B.C., on March 29. Along with family and friends, he invested money to help Woodley and her neighbours achieve homeownership. (Baneet Braich/CBC News )

Carpenter says the investors would ultimately take the return on their investment and help another, similar project.

“I want to make an impact,” he said. 

While not every co-ownership situation can rely on such an investment, Woodley and Fidler say it shows how innovative solutions to expensive housing can be possible — and that they can be life changing.

“It was a low-barrier, affordable homeownership none of us would be able to do on our own,” said Fidler of the co-ownership arrangement.

“I’m very happy, said Woodley, “I wish it could be possible for anyone.” 

A man and a woman sit on a steps between cottages.
Co-owner Matt Fidley says neighbours often help each other out with maintenance and renovations. He hopes more people can benefit from co-ownership arrangements. (Maggie MacPherson/ CBC News)