Gary Beyer, president of The Providence Group, outside the company's V & V (Victory&Venture) project in Bridgeland, which offers units as small as 470 square feet. Photo by Michelle Hofer/For CREB®Now

Micro going macro

Smaller condos gaining popularity in Calgary

Don’t call it a trend. Yet.

Whether you label them micro, shoebox or nano condos, housing units under 500 square feet in size have tested here and proven popular with younger, inner-city buyers — and with savvy investors renting to that same demographic.

But while other cities such as Toronto and Vancouver have already offered condos as compact as 200 square feet, Calgary’s smaller living units tend to sit at more than twice that size – and they are included in developments with larger unit offerings.

Brad Lamb, president of Lamb Development Corp., was the first to announce plans for condos less than 500 square feet (his smallest was 449 square feet) in Calgary at his 230-unit 6th and Tenth project, now under construction in the Beltline.

When he entered the Calgary market in 2012, Lamb was already selling 280-square-foot condos in his home base of Toronto.

“In Vancouver, the reason condos are so small is because there is no land available and housing is so expensive,” he said. “The only way you can make condos affordable is to make them really small.

“In Toronto, it works in the downtown because 80 per cent of them are rental buildings drawing creative, young people who sacrifice interior space for exterior fun.”

His company’s condos in Calgary, meanwhile, used space better, had higher ceilings and were $50,000 to $60,000 lower in price.

Calgary’s condo evolution is about 10 years behind Vancouver and Toronto, where micro condos are a large part of the downtown market, said Fred Serrafero, FRAM Slokker vice-president for development and construction.

Yet he expects more smaller units are coming to the city.

“Young people spend less time within the four walls of home,” said Serrafero, whose company’s First and Verve projects both have seven or eight studio units of 415 and 420 square feet respectively in buildings with about 195 units each in East Village.

“The size of a space is less important as long as you have amenities in the condo project and in the neighbourhood.”

That is particularly apparent in a site such as East Village, adjacent to the nightlife, restaurants, community services (including the new central public library) and employment centres in downtown.

Hon Developments’ The Guardian had 28 condos of about 440 square feet in each of its two Victoria Park towers.
Ernest Hon, director of sales and marketing for the project, said they sold out in the North tower (at a price of $149,000 in 2012 when launched) and half have sold in the South (just launched this year at $219,900).

Hon noted a fair number of micro condo buyers have been investors because of the attractive downtown location.

With Calgary’s abundance of land, Hon says he is not sure the city will see the extent of micro condos found in international centres such as Singapore or Hong Kong.

“But it is a growing inner city Calgary market,” he said. “The trade-off for square footage is the more vibrant neighbourhood and its amenities.”

Naysayers used to say Calgary would never be a condo city, yet it has evolved to offer a reobust condo-oriented environment, with a balance of affordability and lifestyle, noted The Providence Group president Gary Beyer, who has been in the residential housing industry for 20 years.

“Buyers don’t want to throw all their money into their homes and then have no quality of life. They want it all,” said Beyer, whose company first tested smaller condo units in its Einstein project in Marda Loop, followed by 470- and 480-square-foot units in its latest V & V (Victory&Venture) project in Bridgeland

While Calgary is not yet part of a serious micro condo trend, “we are moving more quickly in that direction,” said Beyer, who expects an all-micro development in Calgary’s future.

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