Last summer, Mark Erickson and his partners at Calgary design-build firm Studio North decided to sell the Withrow House, an award-winning heritage property the team renovated in the northwest of the city.
Dissatisfied with traditional methods of listing real estate, they decided to market the house themselves. “When we sold the Withrow House, we really put out the story,” Mr. Erickson says. “We put our blood, sweat and tears into building and designing that property, [so] we had this really rich, meaningful story that we could convey to the market.”
And it worked.
After only two months in the market, the $1.6-million house sold. And although Mr. Erickson believes this was a result of the remarkable storytelling of the studio’s brand manager, Brendan Kane, it was not the only reason.
In late 2021, the detached segment in Calgary showed strong signs of recovery, and a tight market drove up sales even in the $1-million-plus price range, a niche that had been struggling since the 2014 downturn. “What we’ve seen through the pandemic is a complete turnaround,” says Ann-Marie Lurie, chief economist of the Calgary Real Estate Board. “Sales are on pace to hit a record level for $1-million plus [showing] an exceptional strong level of sales activity.”
On Jan. 4, the CREB reported that 27,686 homes were sold 2021, nearly 72-per-cent higher than 2020 and more than 44-per-cent higher than the 10-year average.
The recovery was driven in part by the low lending rates, Ms. Lurie explains, as well as price growth in the lower end of the market. Today’s reduced supply “does reflect that conditions are much tighter, even in the higher end,” she says, adding that “early in the pandemic, the tightest was definitely in the affordable sector of the market, but it’s been shifting all the way up.”
Indeed, in December, the supply of homes in the $1-million-plus segment was four months, a record low. Even before the 2014 downturn, supply would sit at around seven months for this segment, Ms. Lurie says. Moreover, according to CREB, the share of $1-million-plus homes in the Calgary market also increased from three to four per cent in 2021.
While this growth was likely driven by rising prices across the board, Ms. Lurie thinks another factor could be sellers are putting high-end properties back in the market, as seven years after the downturn, million-dollar homes are moving again – and they’re moving quickly.
This is an opportunity Studio North wants to capitalize on.
After their experience selling the Withrow House over the summer, Mr. Erickson says it was clear there was a gap in the city’s luxury real estate market. “When you’re buying something like a house, it’s a really big investment,” he says. “So in order to really convey what that house is all about, it’s important that the designer is involved.”
In his view, the narrative behind a house’s design is often missing from traditional real estate listings. It is difficult for a realtor to convey the subtle nuances of an architecturally designed home. “Typically a realtor just looks at the house, crunches the numbers, and does a pretty simple write up that is really a superficial evaluation of the house,” Mr. Erickson says.
In this context, Mr. Erickson and his Studio North partners, Matthew Kennedy, Damon Hayes Couture and Heath Williamson, identified an opportunity to expand the scope of their services and provide a supplementary marketing service to cater to an exclusive niche of the high-end market. “I think when we’re talking about luxury, we’re also talking about architecture, not just a building [and] there should be a higher level of design that comes with it,” Mr. Erickson says.
Conceived as an organization parallel to Studio North, Arch House aims to fulfill the needs of buyers who value the quality, attention to detail and higher design standards of a custom designed home with a story. “Once you get over that million dollar mark, you’re buying more than just brick and mortar,” Mr. Erickson says. “You’re buying a lifestyle. You have more expectations for the quality of design and the quality of the attention to detail.”
Architects think about natural light, views and composition of space, Mr. Erickson explains. “Those are all things that are critical … and there’s no better person to talk to that than the architect or designer behind it.”
And as this niche gains steam, Arch House could be just what Calgary needs.
According to Ms. Lurie an influx of professionals attracted to the city’s relative affordability can be expected in the coming years. “We are seeing much more job growth in professional and technical services, which tend to be a higher paid industry,” she says. “So in terms of supporting growth in some of the higher price ranges, that is a positive development.”
Currently, Arch House is marketing two high-end homes located in Calgary’s city centre. Priced at just over $1-million, the value of these properties includes much more than what buyers can find in cities such as Vancouver or Toronto in a similar price range. Built in the past five years, both houses are more than 3,000 square feet plus a laneway suite, and feature carefully crafted finishes and state-of-the-art amenities designed by local architects.
But not just any luxury home will make the cut to be marketed by Arch House. “Because we’re working with a pretty niche market, we want to make sure that the house fits our criteria and meets our standards for an architecturally designed house,” Mr. Erickson says. “It’s going to be a small handful of sales that we do every year, and it’s going to be a very curated handful of listings.”
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