HCG's: Condo Buying Advice

It wasn’t that long ago that highrise condo living in Calgary was limited to just a dozen or so buildings.  However, since the turn of the century, condo living across the city has not only become much more commonplace, but highrise living has also become very trendy in the Beltline, East Village, Eau Claire, Downtown West and Mission communities.

Over the past 10 years, over 30 highrise condos have been built in Calgary, so perhaps it isn’t surprising three enterprising realtors decided to create the Highrise Condo Group (HCG). Julie Dempsey, Steve McKenna and Tim Huxley, all members of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada have not only created HCG, but have developed a comprehensive new website devoted to highrise condos in Calgary (highrisecalgary.com). 

Collectively, HCG has 40+ years of experience in condo sales in Calgary.  They understand the economics of condo development and sales “inside and out,” having worked with developers (to build and sell condos) as well as with buyers and sellers of new and resale condos. And, over the past 10 years, they have actually lived in several of Calgary’s new condos, and currently have personally invested in Calgary’s highrise condo market.  As they readily admit, “we’ve got lots of skin in the game.”

Lessons Learned

HCG is proud to share the lessons they have learned over the years to maximize the value for their clients, both buyers and sellers.  Things like:

#1       Always buy quality. 

They are shocked how often experienced buyers are willing to purchase condos in poor buildings or in poor locations in quality buildings.

#2       Always buy the best view. 

One of the key selling features of a condo is the view. So, if you have a view, show it off to full advantage.  If you are looking at two condos and can’t decide, choose the one with the best view. Huxley likes to say, “Buy as much height as you can afford.”

#3       Do your homework.

It is important that you know as much as you can about not only your condo, but also the building.  For example, visit the parking stall to determine how easy you can park in it, where it is located relative to the elevator or how low in the parkade is it.  A poor parking spot can be a time waster and negative for resale.  Huxley also recommends buyers verify measurements of all rooms don’t rely on marketing condo plans.

#4       Visit often before buying.

McKenna encourages his clients to visit a condo several times before buying. He suggests you visit in the daytime and night, as well as on weekends to experience how clean the building is and what happens in the neighbourhood.

#5       Get to know your neighbours.

Dempsey makes sure her clients talk to people who live in the building.  She loves to hijack residents in the condo elevator so she can drill them with questions about what it is like living in the building and the immediate neighbourhood.

#6       Get a “statement of occupancy.”

Dempsey encourages her clients to purchase a “statement of occupancy.” For about $20, it will tell you how many of the units are owner-occupied and how many are rented.  Typically condos with higher homeowner occupancies increase in value more than those with lots of investment units. 

#7       Be aware of pending developments.

It may be a parking lot today, but in a few years it might be a 20+ condo that blocks your view of downtown or the mountains or an unoccupied building today can be a nightclub tomorrow.  On the plus side, a new condo nearby can bring more retail, restaurant or café and maybe even better transit service.  It pays to know what the neighbouring landowners might have planned for future developments and what the land uses are.

#8       Are you really going to use the amenities?

Your condo fees are paying for the amenities even if you don’t use them.  An extra $100/month in condo fees for amenities you aren’t using is $1,200 you could be using for other things like paying your mortgage.

Trend Spotting

HCG has noticed today’s highrise purchasers are not only looking for great views but also outdoor space.  Even if a condo is only 500 square feet, if it has a good-sized balcony, will be more attractive, retain its value and be easier to sell. Units located at the top of the podium (the two to four storey base of many condos that often have office or town house condos) with a patio are hot, hot, hot.

Concierge services are also becoming more the norm.  While you might think having a concierge is a luxury you don’t need, it is amazing how convenient it is to have someone receive or pick up packages for you, or let in tradesman. It is especially economical in highrises where you have 200+ units to amortize the costs.  In some cases, sister condos like Luna, Stella and Nova share a concierge. 

HCG believes Calgary will see more condos like Mark on 10th where Landmark Qualex pioneered using the rooftop as shared amenity space for all residents rather than a private multi-million dollar penthouse suites.  The concept has been very well received. McKenna says, “It is like living in a luxury hotel. Residents love the space and really use it, unlike amenities in lots other condos buildings that never get used.”

Dempsey feels there is a growing starting interest in downtown’s eastern communities - East Beltline (east of 4th St SW), East Village, Inglewood and Bridgeland.

When asked if there is any interest from developers to build three-bedroom. Family-oriented condo units, the HCG group members shook their heads saying, “there is still no market in Calgary for families wanting to live in highrises given the cost is over $500 per square foot which means a 1,500 square foot condo would start at over $750,000. You can get a lot of house for $750,000 in today’s market.”

Limo Fun

Highrise Condo Group’s website is definitely worth checking out and those who are interested can not only sign up for free condo market reports, but their FREE limo tours, which typically take you to five different inner-city projects by various builders. 

I’m in - sounds like and interesting and informative way to spend a Saturday morning.

Note: This blog was commissioned by Condo Living Magazine for their November 2016 edition. 

Battisella: Pioneers & Innovators

The Lido Café’s neon sign stood as an icon along 10th Street NW in Kensington Village for over 70 years beckoning diners in.  That changed in 2014 when the café was demolished to make way for an eight-storey new condo.  Thankfully, it was Battisella Developments who was designing the new condo as they have strong commitment to quality design that reflects and fosters a strong sense of place and time. 

In this case, the new condo would be called Lido and the Lido Café sign would be restored and hung prominently on the side of the building as a lasting tribute to the café. True to their word, the sign now hangs proudly on the soon-to-be finished condo.

What I didn’t realize is that “lido” is Italian for beach, shore or sand, and is used in Europe to mean a “place of relaxation”. How good is that as name for an urban condo?  Who doesn’t want to live in a place of relaxation?

Battisella has a long history of strategically choosing intriguing names for their condos.  For awhile, all of the names were colours – Chartreuce, Orange Lofts, Chocolate and finally Colours.

For Lido, Battisella could have just replicated Pixel, Lido’s sister condo immediately to the east that opened in 2014, perhaps changing the balcony colour from yellow to green, orange or red.

But no. Lido has its own design, featuring a much lighter off-white façade reminiscent of what you might see along Miami’s South Beach (or some other hot resort destination), nicely fitting with the lido theme of beach, shore and sand.  With the Bow River only a hop, skip and jump away with its lovely turquoise water and pebble edge it is often thought of Calgary’s equivalent of a lake or ocean beach.   

Subtle and clever.

Lido condo in the foreground will have retail on the main floor a 21-suite O Hotel on the second floor and condos above.  It currently has a pop-up library occupying a main floor space that won't be need for retail until 2017.  There is also public parking in the underground parkade as a result of a partnership with the Calgary Parking Authority.  

Urban Pioneers

I have always been impressed with Battisella’s commitment to contemporary designs. Each condo has a different design sensibility; no cookie cutter condos for them.  I love their use of colour - sometime bold and sometimes subtle - as well as their commitment to animate the sidewalk with street retail when appropriate and possible. 

Founded in 1980, Battistella Developments, led by the late urban living pioneers Jacqueline and John Battistella, has always been on the vanguard of urban development. The company started out by building Calgary's first narrow lot infills, slowly evolving into building small condos in Inglewood and the Beltline long before urban living became trendy.  They were the first to develop condos in East Village (Orange Lofts), well before the rest of the industry recognized its potential.

Backstory: Councillor Druh Farrell moved into Orange Lofts (paying market rent) when they were first built, while her Hillhurst home was undergoing a mega-makeover.  The experience was a huge eye opener for her as she got to experience firsthand the undesirable activities (groups of 30 people smoking crack, regular break-ins and blood on the street) that made it hard for many to believe East Village could become the trendy urban village it is today. The experience was fundamental in helping Farrell to understand the problems and potential of East Village and her subsequent commitment to champion the community’s renaissance. as well as Clean to the Core and downtown beat cops for the entire City Centre. Kudos to her for getting her hands dirty - so to speak. 

However, perhaps the Battisella family’s biggest and most lasting contribution is their commitment to served on many City boards and commissions. . I have served on some of those Boards and Commissions with them and know firsthand their deep passion to foster vibrant urban communities in Calgary.  

Battisella condos are noted for their quirky artsy entrances and lobbies. 

Battisella condos are noted for their quirky artsy entrances and lobbies. 

Last Word

Our city is a better place as a result of the vision and pride the Battisella family has for Calgary.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the November 2016 edition of Condo Living Magazine

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