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Telus's Vancouver condos fly off the market

Telus's $750-million 22-storey building includes office and residential space in a formerly ragged block of downtown Vancouver.

Henriquez Partners Architects/Telus Corp./Westbank Holdings/Henriquez Partners Architects/Telus Corp./Westbank Holdings

Telus has sold out the first condo development it has ever built, before a planned formal launch in mid-April, making it the second large Vancouver project to sell out almost instantly in the past month.

"We were tremendously surprised by the interest. It's been really gratifying for us," said Andrea Goertz, senior vice-president for strategic initiatives at the telecommunications company. "I think it speaks to the building's technology features, sustainability features and public plaza."

But industry experts say that doesn't necessarily mean that condo or general real-estate boom times are back.

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Instead, they say, it is projects that are close to transit that are winning out.

"Transportation is the new green," said Tracie McTavish, president of Rennie Marketing, which sold the PCI Marine Gateway project's 415 units in a public launch mid-March.

That's why projects like Marine Gateway, a tower that will be part of an office and entertainment complex at the foot of Cambie next to a Canada Line station, and Telus Garden, with 428 units in a 53-storey tower a block from Vancouver's key downtown intersection, are being gobbled up at a rate not matched elsewhere in the region.

"Some of the more outlying developments aren't seeing that kind of interest," said Don Forsgren, president of the Urban Development Institute, which represents large builders in the region. "The single-family suburban house market is pretty flat."

Also flat are sales in Surrey and the northeast Tri-Cities area and lower-rise wood-frame buildings, said development consultant Bob Ransford.

"It's all geographic who's doing well."

Recent figures from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver compiled by various real-estate analysts indicate higher numbers for unsold inventory than past years at the same time.

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Local sellers all say that it's not foreign investors driving the market for the successful projects, but local investors and people planning to live in the condos themselves.

Ms. Goertz said Telus offered its employees priority in sales at Telus Gardens and 150 of them bought, even though the price discount was a modest one per cent.

The project's developers, Telus and Westbank Projects, also didn't allow anyone to buy more than two units.

Mr. Forsgren, whose company Intracorp sold out a tower instantly at Metrotown in May of last year, said the company has to track buyers closely because of requirements from FINTRAC, the agency that monitors money laundering and criminal organizations.

The personal information that had to be submitted for those units showed there were only four offshore buyers.

He said he expects Intracorp's newest tower, Silver, to get about 50 to 60 per cent investors among the 3,000 buyers lined up for it. That's similar to what Mr. McTavish said was the ratio for Marine Gateway.

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But those investors tend to be local investors, people who are buying something for their children to move into some day and renting it in the meantime, or people who are looking for an investment that's more stable than the stock market appears to be right now.

Affordability doesn't seem to be necessarily at the top of the list for buyers, either. Mr. McTavish said that half of the 40 high-end units in Canada House West, at the former Olympic village in Vancouver, have already sold in the first two and a half weeks at "very attractive rates" of more than $1,000 a square foot.

That may push the city of Vancouver, which took over the project from the private developer in late 2010, into putting the other 20 units in Canada House East onto the market.

Telus has also been successful in nailing down a first tenant for the office component of the Telus Gardens project. The law firm of Bull, Housser and Tupper has committed as a tenant. That means 70 per cent of the office space, which will include Telus's head office, is now leased.

Ms. Goertz said the company is negotiating with several other interested tenants and will be releasing details about those leases shortly.

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