Du­plex within reach

Calgary Herald New Condos - - Front Page - MARTY HOPE

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.

Colleen De Neve, Cal­gary Her­ald

Sabrina Thorn­ton, 28, and her dog, Oskar, moved into a semi-de­tached du­plex home.

Colleen De Neve, Cal­gary Her­ald

Buyer Sabrina Thorn­ton in her new home.

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