Condo construction, sales boom in Ottawa

Ottawa residents need only crane their necks up to see the city is in the midst of a condominium boom. But at least one city planner says while condos are booming, new rental buildings are virtually non-existant.
High-rise, low-rise and townhouse condos are being built everywhere in Ottawa 3:27

Ottawa residents need only crane their necks up to see the city is in the midst of a condominium boom but at least one city planner says while condos are booming, new rental buildings are virtually non-existent.

Ottawa condo starts 2001-2010

Year Condo starts (all dwelling types)
2010 1536
2009 939
2008 1561
2007 1156
2006 1372
2005 924
2004 1453
2003 553
2002 761
2001 412

(source: CMHC)

New condo projects are breaking ground, going up and selling out not only in centretown but also in neighbourhoods like Westboro, Little Italy and New Edinburgh.

Stanley Wilder, the city's housing policy planner, put together a map of development for a period covering 2003-08 on the city's website.

Since then, he said many of the projects in development at the time have sold out and some are expanding.

"570 Laurier West, 120 units, those are gone, sold out," said Wilder, ticking off the list. "412 Nepean, 33 units, gone, sold...445 Laurier West...105 units sold and now re-selling."

About 20 of the 30-odd developments from that older list have been built and sold out, said Wilder, and that does not include many developments that have sprouted up since, including projects by developers like Mastercraft Starwood, Domicile and Urbandale.

Ottawa's downtown core undergoing intensification

Carleton architecture professor Benjamin Gianni said the intensification in the city's core has been surprising and mostly encouraging.

"Every time I see a crane go up I think that has to be the absolute last one, then I find four more the next, ten more the next year," said Gianni.

Ottawa's self-styled condo queen, Marnie Bennett, who says she has sold more than 3,000 condo units in the past three years, says there is a shift in the market as people line up to buy.

"It's a storm," said Bennett at a cocktail soiree she hosted for some 400 clients. "Everyone is looking for that housing style it's Westboro condo development is going crazy, so you can see it spreading. People are looking to live in condos."

The Cathedral Hill condo development at Sparks and Bay is one of the new kids on the block. It only took a weekend for buyers to scoop up 70 per cent of the units on offer.

Downtown Ottawa is undergoing intensification with the influx of new condominiums being built or already standing. ((CBC))

Different motivations to scooping up new condos

First-time condo buyer Hal Pruden said he is moving in because it is close to work and offers him a low maintenance lifestyle.

"I didn't want to be shovelling snow in winter and raking leaves in the fall," said Pruden.

While people looking to move closer to downtown are moving into condos, these aren't necessarily the same people who are buying the condominium units.  

Many of the people CBC spoke with at Bennett's party said they were buying to rent out and considered the properties investments they considered safe given volatility in the stock market.

"In the last two years I've seen that the average annual increase in my [ten] properties has been about $20,000 per unit," said Bruce Dwyer.

"In two years that $200,000 in equity growth, so that's pretty significant when you are talking a couple million dollars in real estate. That's a ten per cent gain on your investment over a two-year period. Where did we get that in the mutual fund market?"

Rental buildings are going extinct

The growth in condominium development, however, has not been matched by similar rental developments. Stanley Wilder said while the number of condos went up in the last year, not a single rental building was constructed.

"It's more attractive for a condominium developer to build a condominium, sell it and walk away," said Wilder.

The significant downside to this is that condominium units can be expensive to rent.

"At the present time its difficult to find rental property that's affordable and a person would want to live in," said Wilder.