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James Island tops list of highest assessments

Andrew Duffy, Victoria Times Colonist, January 9, 2009

It's no contest when it comes to the property with the highest assessed value in the capital region this year.

Weighing in at almost $76 million, James Island, owned by Seattle billionaire Craig McCaw, is head and shoulders above the rest of the top-10 assessed properties, four of which are in Oak Bay.

McCaw is part of a syndicate that bought the 315-hectare Gulf Island just off Sidney in Haro Strait under the name JI Properties in 1994. The group paid $19 million US for the island, which was once home to an explosives plant and small village.

McCaw has reportedly established an environmental refuge on James Island where insecticides are not allowed, power lines are underground and electric cars and golf carts are used for transportation.

According to B.C. Assessment, five other Gulf Islands are assessed at values that put them in the top-20 properties in this year's assessment roll.

Domville Island was assessed at $10.87 million, making it No. 6 on the list, Forrest Island was No. 9 at $10.35 million, Brethour Island was tenth at $10.08 million, Goudge Island came in at No. 12 at $9.59 million and Gooch Island was No. 16 at $8.4 million.

The Greater Victoria property with the highest assessment this year is Oak Bay's 3195 Humber Rd., assessed at $14.338 million.

Known as Sweet Pea, the home, which sits on 2.5 acres, had been listed for sale by Pamela and Todd Axelrod for $28.5 million. It features seven bedrooms, doors covered in gold leaf, an indoor swimming pool and spa and media room.

The rest of the top five on the list were also in Oak Bay, with 3125 Beach Dr. assessed at $12.856 million, 3160 Humber Rd. assessed at $11.397 million and 3150 Rutland Rd. assessed at $11.351 million.

"There's no real surprises there. It's basically been the same over the last five years. Those are the houses that have gone up [in assessed value] steeply over the last five years because they are waterfront and that component has gone up quite significantly," said Brian Hawkins, B.C. Assessment's assessor for Greater Victoria.

"When we were looking at 20 per cent increases for inland properties, waterfront would see increases as much as 30 to 40 per cent, and that was true across the province."

The assessed values for these high-end homes for 2009 are in most cases identical to the 2008 assessment, as the provincial government froze the figures at the 2008 level.

This year's assessment notices, which started to appear in mailboxes around B.C. earlier this week, give the province's 1.92 million homeowners two assessed values for their homes -- one for July 2007 and one for July 2008. The lower amount is the official assessment.

The goal of maintaining the assessed property values for the 2009 assessment roll at the July 1, 2007, valuation date -- the same date used for the 2008 assessment roll -- was to give property owners more certainty in response to the downturn in the real estate market and cut down on assessment appeals.

That was done in response to the fact the market deteriorated in the second half of 2008.

In Greater Victoria, 85 per cent of the area's 138,200 property owners saw an identical or lower assessed value on their homes.

However, one of the most highly assessed homes will be able to use its 2009 assessment instead of the older figure as its assessed value dropped in July 2008.

Villa Madrona at 670 Lands End Rd. was assessed at $10.387 million -- putting it eighth on the list -- down from $12.127 in 2008 and $13.725 million the year previous.

The property, which is for sale at $11.25 million, has seen its listing price cut significantly in recent years. It was $14.8 million two years ago, though real estate agent Peter Nash said price cuts are not necessarily tied to assessment figures.

"Some of these luxury homes are very specialized and that limits your market," said Nash, noting high-end homes often take a significant period of time to sell. "It's not unusual for high-end properties to be on the market for two or three years because that market is so thin."

But for the most part, the high end tends to hold its value, said Rudy Nielsen of Landcor Data Corp., a company that does real estate analysis.

After crunching the latest assessment data, Nielsen noted the number of homes valued at more than $1 million in the region remains stable.

According to Landcor, there have been increases across the board -- in townhomes, condos, single-family homes and homes on acreages -- for $1-million-plus properties.

As the assessment figures have been frozen, the most recent increases reflect additions and improvements.

There are now 121 townhomes valued at more than $1 million, the same as last year and ahead of 2007's 81. There are now 177 condos at that level, ahead of the 150 in 2008 and the 97 in 2007.

There are 3,479 single-family homes assessed at more than $1 million, ahead of the 3,455 last year and the 2,709 in 2007.

Thirty six are now valued at $5 million or more, up from 35 last year and 28 in 2007, and four are worth more than $10 million, down from the six at that level last year but the same as 2007.

There are now 978 homes on more than two acres valued at more than $1 million, ahead of 2008's 928 and 2007's 635. There are 23 homes on acreage assessed in excess of $5 million, an increase from last year's 21 and the 13 in 2007. One home on an acreage remains assessed at $10 million or more.


1.$75,785,000 James Island Gulf Islands
2.$14,338,000 3195 Humber Road Oak Bay
3.$12,856,000 3125 Beach Drive Oak Bay
4.$11,397,000 3160 Humber Road Oak Bay
5.$11,351,000 3150 Rutland Road Oak Bay
6.$10,873,000 Domville Island Gulf Islands
7.$10,781,000 9344 Ardmore Drive North Saanich
8.$10,387,000 670 Lands End Road North Saanich
9.$10,350,000 Forrest Island Gulf Islands
10.$10,088,300 Brethour Island Gulf Islands
11.$9,884,000 8408 Lawrence Road Central Saanich
12.$9,590,000 Goudge Island Gulf Islands
13.$9,272,000 3155 Beach Drive Oak Bay
14.$9,140,000 1069 Beach Drive Oak Bay
15.$8,455,000 1850 Lands End Road North Saanich
16.$8,403,000 Gooch Island Gulf Islands
17.$8,238,000 2985 Beach Drive Oak Bay
18.$8,145,000 10814 Beach Road North Saanich
19.$8,065,000 466 Scott Point Dr. Saltspring Island
20.$7,965,600 340 Moses Point Rd North Saanich

Source: B.C. Assessment Authority