As president of both Avi Urban and the Calgary chapter of the Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA), Charron Ungar is one of the more prominent personalities in the local construction industry. Started in 2000, his company Avi Urban – Homes by Avi’s multifamily division – has quickly become one of the most well regarded developers in the city earning five nominations at the upcoming SAM Awards. CREB®Now caught up with Ungar to chat about his company, his city and everything in between.
CREB®Now>> What does it mean for Avi to be awarded another Consumer Choice award as well as being named a finalist for the SAM Awards?
Ungar>> The two are quite different. Consumer Choice is great because it confirms our commitment to ‘deliver what we promise’ to our customers. The SAM awards are nice because our peers are acknowledging the hard work we have done, that feels good.
CREB®Now>> What else is on the horizon for Avi and Avi Urban?
Ungar>> We continually strive to adapt to the needs of our market, but we always approach it from our unique perspective: Design focused, customer driven and value based. Avi Urban has several new developments coming online in 2013 including an inner city apartment condo and a suburban townhome site. One more may make it to launch this year; fingers crossed.
CREB®Now>> What acc omplishment are you most proud of during your time with Avi?
Ungar>> There are many things I have been able to accomplish so far in my career, but I believe that acquiring the trust of my company as an innovator is something I am most proud of. It feels good when my team and I work endless hours to develop a product or concept, and then see it accepted well in the marketplace. It’s one thing to put something out there it’s a whole other thing to have someone thank you for doing it.
CREB®Now>> What would you say is the biggest challenge facing Calgary builders and developers?
Ungar>> Maintaining affordability and diversity in housing product. The concept of engineering winners and losers in the development puzzle can be a challenge, because if development areas are artificially restricted to fewer locations, demand for those areas increases, meaning prices go up and affordability will go down. In the inner city, those prices are already high. The idea of housing diversity is also one to watch. High prices means increasing density to justify return. This translates to potentially smaller lots for singlefamily and drastically increased numbers of multi-family product. This works fine for people that want to live in condos, but the majority of the new home market want single-family or semidetached homes. We need to ensure an adequate serviced land supply is available to meet the needs of the entire market. We also need to recognize that when we speak of available ‘housing units’, there is a significant difference between a
buyer for an apartment and one for a single-family house. Families want single-family homes and not three bedroom apartments downtown as some planning groups are advocating.
CREB®Now>> If you could change one thing about Calgary or Calgarians, what would it be? (Or say, City Hall?)
Ungar>> Nothing. I appreciate the diversity of our city. I grew up here and our city has changed considerably in many ways including our opinions on how we grow, that debate is fine by me as long as we respect one another and find a way to meet as many needs as we can. That said, Calgary’s community spirit, our commitment to volunteer and our effort to help one another in this city is still thriving, regardless of what our political views might be.
CREB®Now>> What’s the biggest change you’ve seen amongst Calgary buyers during your time in the industry?
Ungar>> Positive: we have a very sophisticated housing market in Calgary. Our builders are on the national stage when it comes to product. The recent national SAMs had Calgary leading the nation in award winners; this comes with the help of a healthy economy and buyers with resources and a desire to purchase innovative, well-built homes. Negative: More people are shut out of the market than ever before. We are lucky because of low interest rates, but what happens when they normalize back up in a few years? The effect on new home sales could be tremendous.
CREB®Now>> What trends do you think will become more evident in the industry or in the city in the next 10 years?
Ungar>> As we grow as a city I believe that we will evolve a more predictable architectural style that defines our town. There is an increasing confidence in our homegrown talent that is shining through in our housing product from single-family to multi, from suburban to established areas. We are currently heavily influenced by other markets (and) this effect is amplified as more outside builders choose to expand into Calgary; but over the coming decade we will see those diverse influences merge, on a larger scale, with the unique characteristics of our market. Just like you can tell a Vancouver building from one in Toronto, I feel we will also be able to define that difference with Calgary architecture as well.
CREB®Now>> What’s your favourite way to spend a day off in or around the city?
Ungar>> We are busy raising our two young boys and for them it’s all about 11:00 a.m. on Saturday when we can watch the penguins go for a walkabout at the Calgary Zoo. For me, it’s about hitting some culture and a good restaurant on date night. Current favourites are Cucina and Cassis Bistro, good wine, tasty food, great service.
CREB®Now>> What’s the most important feature of a good community in your opinion?
Ungar>> Our involvement in Garrison Woods was a key influencer on this point. We realized that as the community matured, one of its greatest assets was the diversity of housing product (and) that aspect was able to attract an amazingly diverse group of buyers with different tastes, culture and income statements. That combined with a highly walkable community serviced by a great amenity centre defines for me why Garrison Woods is a testament to a neighbourhood success story.
CREB®Now>> What’s your favourite room in your own home and why?
Ungar>> We designed our home as an open concept floorplan paying particular attention to the kitchen, dining area and living room. Our family is quite close and we spend considerable time in that ‘room’ every day. The fact that everyone has enough personal space while we can all be together makes it my favourite spot in the house.