Duplex within reach
Simply put, it was time. After five years of living in a condo apartment, Sabrina Thornton decided the time had come for a lifestyle change.
There were things she was looking for in a home that the apartment couldn’t provide, condos fees were going up and she wanted a pet.
As a result, the 28-year-old single woman started looking in earnest for something different.
Her search started with tours around the Crescent Heights area where she was then living, but it didn’t take long to rule that neighbourhood out.
“There was nothing there I could afford that would give me what I wanted,” says Thornton, who has worked for the past nine years as a customer service representative for Renfrew Insurance.
Eventually, her search took her to Panorama Hills in northwest Calgary, where she found what she was looking for — a semi-detached duplex home by Creations by Shane Homes in the Gates of Panorama neighbourhood.
“I didn’t want a townhouse. I’d had enough of paying condo fees that seemed to be going up every year,” says Thornton.
When she first bought her apartment, the fees were $200.
They are now at $400. “That’s almost another mortgage payment,” she says.
The semi-detached Tranquility model she bought measures 1,469 square feet with an open-concept main floor.
It has a large, front-facing family room and a workable kitchen at the rear. Upstairs are three bedrooms, each with walk-in closets.
Truth be known, another reason Thornton purchased where she did is that her sister lives across a nearby park and had nothing but good to say about the area and the home.
Based on industry figures, demand for semi-detached housing is gaining momentum for two main reasons — lifestyle and affordability.
While other segments of the multi-family housing industry are focusing on selling existing units and not on beginning new projects, semi-detached activity is surging.
Figures from the City of Calgary’s development and building approvals department show that two-family homes accounted for 90 per cent of all multi-family permits approved in September.
For the first nine months of the year, such homes accounted for 84 per cent.
In terms of actual annual construction starts, about 17 per cent of all multi-family starts between 2000 and 2007 were duplexes, says Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.
Last year, that figure declined to 10 per cent as part of the overall decline in demand. But so far this year, semi-detached homes accounted for more than half of all permits — well ahead of townhouses and apartments.
Duplexes are popping up more often in inner-city communities and urban develop- ments, as well as in suburban settings, says Don Dessario, president of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association-Calgary Region. “No matter where they are, the appeal of duplexes is that they offer a form of independent living — with just one neighbour,” he says.
Duplex prices are all over the map. Infill development — in which existing homes in places like older, inner-city areas are demolished, with new homes built in their place — can fetch more than $1 million.
By contrast, suburban prices tend to be much lower, although there are pockets of high-end homes. “From an affordability perspective, duplexes are a good option for first-time buyers,” says Richard Cho, senior market analyst for CMHC.
Buyers are typically younger single or newly-single people, in part because of affordability, says Shane Wenzel, senior vicepresident of sales and marketing for Shane Homes. The company’s homes in Panorama Hills and Sage Hill measure from 1,350 to 1,850 square feet and are priced from the low to mid-$300,000s to $370,000, he says.
“We’re seeing market share increase and from an industry perspective, it’s a good way to be able to achieve the density requirements set out by the city,” he says.
Cedarglen Homes started constructing duplexes about five years ago in Coventry Hills and Panorama Hills.
Demand has been such that the builder has since opened another two projects in the northwest Panorama Hills area, as well as in New Brighton in the southeast.
The appeal is in the prices, says company president Scott Haggins.
“We are attracting first-time buyers be- cause the monthly mortgage payment resulting from low mortgage rates makes ownership almost equivalent to renting,” he says.
While the majority of buyers are single people, singles buying jointly, or singles who buy and rent out part of their homes, there is a smaller percentage of empty-nesters moving down in the marketplace — with some of these having children and grandchildren in the area.
Mike Plumton, general manager of Augusta Fine Homes recently unveiled a duplex neighbourhood on the west side of the city to cater to the upper end of that particular market. Called Elmont Green, it is a grouping of 20 bungalow duplex villas priced at more than $1 million.
Marking Augusta’s first foray into duplex housing, “it was produced to cater to the high end move-down buyer and is attracting a lot of interest from them,” he says.
The Sterling Group of Companies has been very active in the duplex market, having worked in Evanston, Rocky Ridge, Bridlerange, Saddlebrook, Silverado, Cougar Ridge, Okotoks and Chestermere. Sterling is soon to add Cochrane to the list. “With the single-family market being quite active in the past six months or so, the semi-detached product is riding that wave based on the fact they are viewed by the public as more in keeping with singledetached product,” says Sterling general manager Bill Bobyk.
Another reason is that they are as much as $30,000 less expensive to build than a detached home with the same square footage — again, in part, because of the common wall and narrower lot, he says.
Like the other builders, it’s first-timers and empty-nesters who are buying.
“Because of the price advantage, first-time buyers are more able to enter the market with this product and empty-nesters looking to downsize are attracted to it as well,” says Bobyk — adding that for some, the security of having a neighbour next door is a benefit.
Wenzel says the company will continue to provide duplexes as demand continues to grow. “Whether it’s lifestyle or affordability, there is an appeal attached to duplexes that is drawing the attention of more people,” he says.
Sabrina Thornton, 28, and her dog, Oskar, moved into a semi-detached duplex home.
Buyer Sabrina Thornton in her new home.