Thursday 21 February 2013

People in glass houses should buy small furniture

"A glass beacon rises above the city, shimmering windows lighting up the night. A sleek, distinctive shape redefines the skyline."

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights? No. Glasshouse Skylofts.

Glasshouse is part of Longboat's Centrepoint development in downtown Winnipeg. It's a pretty exciting development for a few reasons:

1) It's revitalizing a small part of Portage Avenue
2) It's adding to Winnipeg's skyline. That's always nice to see.
3) It's bringing office jobs downtown, with the relocation of the sizable Stantec offices from the 'burbs to the corner of Portage and Hargrave.
4) It's adding residential dwelings to downtown, something that everybody (except the Friends of Upper Fort Garry, but let's not go there) agree is of paramount importance.

Site of future Glasshouse condos

It is this last point that I'm rambling about today. While I'm optimistic about new residential units being built, I wonder about the appeal of units like these that are small in size, but not so small in price. the loft-style units range in size from 409 to 783 square feet, and in price from $170,000 to $310,000. Add another $42,000 for parking and $3,500 for a storage locker and a $1500 "floor premium", and you're paying upwards of $357,000 for a condo under 800 square feet. I guess that's good option if you're not a fan of 1500 square foot bungalows in River Heights.

In some larger cities it takes forever to get downtown and parking is crazy-expensive when you get there. It makes more sense for young and single office workers to establish themselves downtown. This drives demand for mid-to-high priced loft condos. I'm just not sure that demand exists in Winnipeg yet.

The crazy thing is, some of the modest square footages in the Glasshouse condos even exaggerate the useful space. The floor plans will not be released until the the preview event in a couple of weeks, but waiting is for suckers so let's check them out now...

a1: 409 sq.ft. $170,000

I think this is one of the better designs, to be honest with you. The whole space is useful, and you have a separate bedroom with nice big windows looking out on the city. I could live like this ... if I had less stuff.

Compare this to the next size up...

a2: 469 sq.ft. $180,000

This bachelor pad has a wide open bedroom and a ton of wasted space for a condo this size. The whole entrance corridor is not good for much of anything, except perhaps a bench or a bookshelf. If you upgrade with the extra privacy wall for the bedroom, you end up with a 40' corridor just to get from the door to the dining room! That's 160 sq ft of precious space being underutilized. In reality this living space is closer to 300 sq.ft. You do get a balcony though.

(Also for comparison, check out these apartments that were originally designed as shipping container housing. H/T: West End Dumplings)

Moving on ...

a3: 515 sq.ft. $195,000
a4: 551 sq.ft. $205,000

The smaller and cheaper a3 has a little more living space. It gives up the entrance lobby for a slightly deeper living/dining room. Otherwise, very similar except a4 faces south and a3 faces north, so maybe your choice depends on whether you want to look at poor people or rich people when relaxing on your balcony.

There isn't really anything remarkable about the mid range condo units, so let's skip ahead to the high end. This is what 300 Grand gets you:

c2: 758 sq.ft. $295,000

c3: 783 sq.ft. $310,000

With these sweet Portage Avenue lofts, you get an ensuit bathroom and two bedrooms. Both have exposed steel columns that you have to work around when you're furnishing your pad. You could call those an annoyance, but I call it character.

Once again, I prefer the smaller and cheaper unit, for the simple fact that there is more practical living space. The $310k unit has a large vestibule, but the living/dining space is 58 sq ft smaller than the less expensive unit. The less expensive unit also has a wall in the living room where you can park a TV or bookshelf. In the $310k unit you have no choice but to block windows with your giant flat screen TV because there is virtually no wall space.

None of these are good condos for people who cook. Even the top end unit has a kitchenette that you might find in a Ramada hotel suite in Toledo. If you have a microwave and a coffee maker, you're pretty much out of counter space.

I think there is going to be some sticker shock when people see these places. For comparison, the Sky Waterfront condos started at a relatively spacious 809 sq.ft. for as little as $235,000, and I would rather live on the waterfront than on Portage Avenue, but maybe that's just me.

There are a few perks, including a small gym and an outdoor roof-top patio for the use of the residents. Maybe some people will be dazzled by the "industrial chic" design of concrete construction, big windows, and exposed duct work. I don't know ...

Has the compact downtown condo market heated up so much that people will be willing to dump $300,000 on a 640 sq.ft condo with a parking space? Is this what it takes to make a condo project profitable in downtown Winnipeg without big government subsidies? If so, I am pessimistic about achieving that critical mass of downtown residents that we need to create a vibrant sustainable community that we all want. I hope the market is there, but I don't know that it is.


modular office furniture delhi said...
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unclebob said...

Who would pay? Reminds me of the rational behind casinos - a tax on foolishness.
For people with more cash or more credit than they really need, the world will always find ways to assist them to dispose of it.

tofurkey said...

If only I knew where to purchase modular office furniture for my new downtown Winnipeg condo.

I think developers will have a hard time selling micro condos in Winnipeg. I think that market grew out of necessity in big cities like Vancouver and Toronto, where normal housing was out of reach, and people began to accept that to have affordable living downtown meant a tiny condo.

Winnipeg still has too many other options at reasonable prices that are near downtown - see Osborne Village, Wellington Crescent for much larger condos at similar prices - as well as the single family home prices you alluded to.

Anonymous said...

Plenty of suckers

Anonymous said...

You did not mention where on Portage Avenue.

cherenkov said...

Bob: I wouldn't compare it to casinos. No body is being taken advantage of here... this is just a company testing the limits of the market.

Tofurkey: I concur. Interesting project you have going with your blog, btw.

Anon2: Between Hargrave and Carlton on the north side. I added a photo that might help.

Anonymous said...

"But not for two major developers who’ve now given up trying to sell their already-built condos in downtown Winnipeg. The Penthouse on Princess and the H2O development have become 152 rental units, after sales fell off a cliff. In fact, only 15 units were purchased, reflecting a condo reality also impacting Toronto, where prices have already tumbled over 8% in the past year."

If they can't sell those condos, I'm not sure these are much more attractive. I work downtown and wouldn't mind living downtown as well, but its much cheaper to rent a condo than buy it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your article. I was originally excited to hear about this residential downtown development but the floorplans and pricing are just not optimal for a Winnipeg market. By that, I mean to say I agree with the assertion that the small size of these units would likely be more popular in a larger city with actual demand for high density downtown living. But in Winnipeg, we're not even close to being at that stage yet, so suites must be a bit larger to command those prices.

You can't charge 529 Wellington prices for Sals food.

What shocked me, aside from your astute comment about someone who might like to cook and is out of counter space if they own a mic oven and a coffee maker, is you can't even fit in a small home office in most of these units. I was expecting more.

Is Stantec the architect on this? I ask because I am mostly remembering their architecture from the examples of the WRHA building (bunker?) on Main Street and the lovely collection of basement teleposts that were installed on their behalf as a warming hut installation on the Assiniboine River this year.

Anonymous said...

Good Article.

Very honest.

Fact are facts and well will see if any people shell out that kind on money for a shoebox.

cherenkov said...

Anon: thanks for the link. Garth Turner ... I know that name ...

Anon: I'm not sure of Stantec's involvement with the condos. This part came up after the office/hotel part was conceived so it might be someone different.

Anon: Thanks.

tofurkey said...

I believe Stantec Architects did do the design for this.

Floor plans at dcondo on Assiniboine Avenue downtown are much much nicer. No prices yet though. Smallest unit there is 700 sq ft.

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Olivia said...

So happy to be catching up with all of your exploits!

hotel furniture said...

I will keep in mind these points, keep it up....

Anonymous said...

I visited the floor plan in City place/Eaton place today...I asked the sales woman if they were gong to solicit the government regarding the safety issues of downtown considering some of the suites will cost up to 500 grand [ I can't visit downtown and not witness several fights or being grabbed and asked for $ and I'm 6'4"]... She flat out told me she hasn't had one person tell her they feel unsafe downtown on Portage???? [I guess that's why 40% of major stores have moved out of the malls, a lot of stores are vacant and security guards walk around wearing bullet proof vests?] I asked if she'd meet up on Portage at midnight.... she declined.... I think the only people who would buy these close/hotel rooms will be for rental income or corporations???

Lief said...

I work downtown till midnight about 26 weeks out of the year for 5 years and have never seen or had a problem. People just have to get comfortable with the less fortunate. It's part of life. Quit being so sheltered.

Lief said...

Just multiply your combined annual income by 3 or 4 and that's what you can afford. These prices are not out of reach for most young professional couples who work in the area. These small spaces are a good way to efficiently cut down on your Stuff and get creative on space. What I don't get is why does it cost 40k for parking, oh well, I guess just pay Impark $100/month to park by Town 8 or goodbye car.

Anonymous said...

Nearly 100 of 195 condo's pre sold. It's safe to say skepticism canceled. Well written sarcasm, rather entertained.

cherenkov said...

The response has been pretty good, it appears. The condos were also redesigned since I originally posted that. New designs are more interesting and more efficient in their use of space IMO.

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