Another No Brainer Investment Opportunity in Calgary from Minto
Minto’s Era condos in Calgary was an investors dream and sold out in record time. Now we are going back to Calgary for another pre-construction investment opportunity with Minto with East Hills Crossing condos. Learn all about the project and hear from Mark Verzyl – head of sales for Minto in Calgary in this episode.
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Andrew la Fleur: We are going back to Calgary. That's right, back to Calgary for another amazing investment opportunity once again with Minto. Stay tuned for details.
Announcer: Welcome to the True Condos Podcast with Andrew la Fleur, the place to get the truth on the Toronto condo market and condo investing in Toronto.
Andrew la Fleur: Hi there once again, and welcome back to the show. Andrew la Fleur here with you. Very excited to bring you some great information about our next awesome investment opportunity in Calgary with Minto. Yeah, that's right, we're going back to Calgary and we're going back with Minto. So if you've been listening to the show for a long time or if you're a client of mine for a long time, you probably already know that we had a project called Era Condos by Minto in Calgary a little less than a year ago, the very end of 2019 that one came out, and that was a huge, huge success. Many of my past clients, longtime past clients, purchased in that project. It was an amazing opportunity, and the project sold out, the entire building sold out. It was actually the number-one-selling condo building, condo project in Calgary over the last year, certainly, possibly over the last number of years.
Andrew la Fleur: So that project was a huge success, and we have another one coming your way if you missed out on Era or if you want more opportunities like Era, then this is it. This is very exciting news that I'm sharing with you here on this episode, and it's coming very, very soon. The project is called East Hills Crossing; as I said, it's by Minto, it's in Calgary, so we're going to get in-depth on today's podcast, hope you got a coffee or nice beverage, and just sit back and enjoy this podcast. We're going to go in-depth across the board, we got a great interview for you coming up with Mark Verzyl from Calgary, who runs the sales for Minto out there. He's going to be talking to us later, but before we get to that, I just want to recap what happened with Era for those of you who don't know, talk about the opportunity in general here that we have in Calgary, and why I'm so excited about it and why I personally am investing with Minto in Calgary, why my family's investing in Minto with Calgary, why my staff and their families are actually invested as well.
Andrew la Fleur: Again, as I said, along with many, many, many of my longtime clients, this is a real unique opportunity, it's very special, very excited about it, it's very rare to get a package deal like this as a condo investor. So it's great, and it's exciting and I'm glad that we're able to bring you this exclusive opportunity here once again with True Condos.
Andrew la Fleur: When we're investing, first of all, when we're investing in ... most of us here are living in the Toronto area, we're investing in other cities outside of the GTA, what are some of the criteria that we look for? Well, we want it to be pre-construction, we want it to be something that's going to be not built for a few years so we don't have to be worrying about being a landlord or anything for a number of years, we get some appreciation, hopefully, while the project is being built. That's number one.
Andrew la Fleur: Number two is it's got to be a managed and turnkey situation, where once the property is built, there's something in place there where, because we have the distance between us and where the property is, we want it to be fully turnkey and managed for us for some period of time. It's got to be from a blue chip builder, it's got to be from a top-tier builder who actually has experience and who will get the job done, we don't have to worry about projects potentially being canceled or just any problems that come with dealing with B- or C-tier builders. We want to deal with top, top-quality builders.
Andrew la Fleur: And finally, it's got to be, again, because it's away from where we know in our backyard, it's got to be a low-risk, high-reward type of a scenario, where we can confidently invest our money and know that we're going to get a nice return on our investment over time, and where the downside risk that we're exposing ourselves to is going to be very low.
Andrew la Fleur: So definitely, once again, this opportunity hits all those things out of the park. Excuse me, as did Era Condos when we sold that one out last year. What we're, again, Era Condos was the number-one-selling project in Calgary, new condo project; it was also, interestingly enough, the number-one project that I personally have ever been involved in and personally have sold, so the number-one project for True Condos of all time. I've been doing this since 2007 to 2020, worked on at least 100 different condo projects, and this was the number-one-selling project for me personally that I've been involved in as well. Certainly myself and our team here, we were the number-one-selling team in the project by far, so we had a tremendous response and we think it's going to be the same thing here with East Hills Crossing coming up.
Andrew la Fleur: So built by Minto, of course, Minto, one of our favorite builders to work with. I personally invested with them many times and sold ... hundreds of units at this point with Minto over the years to our clients, so Minto is just one of our top, top builders. They've been in business, in case you didn't know, for 60-plus years. They've built over 80,000 homes, you just can't beat that.
Andrew la Fleur: Leading the industry, and what I love about Minto in this case is they're heavily invested in Calgary as well, so Minto, not only do they develop and sell new homes and condos in Canada and in Florida and other places, they also are big-time investors in real estate themselves, they have a REIT and so on, they own a lot of, as a company, they own a lot of rental properties, including in Calgary.
Andrew la Fleur: They've invested ... don't have the number, but 100, $200 million of their own money into the Calgary rental residential market. So they're putting their money with their mouth is, they're in Calgary for the long term, they believe in the marketplace, they believe in the city, they're not just coming in and building a condo and getting out of their, just flipping some land, they're actually heavily invested personally, so to speak, as a corporation in the city itself.
Andrew la Fleur: So that's very exciting to have all those things going for us here. East Hills Crossing, it's on the east side of Calgary, it is a suburban project, unlike Era, which was a downtown city project. This is more of a suburban project, but this is Calgary, so even though you're on the east edge of the city, you're still just about 25 minutes from the downtown, 20, 25-minute drive, probably 25, 30-minute by bus, rapid transit. We talk about that in the interview with Mark. There's a rapid bus transit right across the street from this site.
Andrew la Fleur: This is a low-rise condo, so five, six stories. Prices: you might want to sit down if you're not already; prices are starting from the 100s. That's right, from the 100s. Again, anything in GTA, Toronto, if you can get something in the 500s, you're feeling pretty lucky, if you can find anything under 600,000. Units here are going to be starting in the 100s. The deposit, just like Era, this was so amazing: we have 5% deposit. That's right, just 5% deposit until completion for qualified buyers. All the units are coming with, just like Era, a two-year rental guarantee, so Minto is going to rent the units for you and manage the units as well, property management as well as rental included for two years after the project is built and complete.
Andrew la Fleur: Speaking of which, it's going to take about three years until the property is ready for occupancy, the end of 2023 is when they're scheduled for that, so again, you got a three-year build-out, you got a two-year rental guarantee, so you don't have to think about this investment for at least the next five to six years, which is very exciting for us as investors who are interested in passive income and simple, straightforward passive investing in real estate like this.
Andrew la Fleur: The area where it's located, it is part of a larger master plan from the city of Calgary, this is a new area that's being developed on the east side of the city. Again, this is suburban area, it's all being built out and developed. Of note, what exists there right now, two major things: one is the major ring highway that goes around the entire city of Calgary like a ring. That is about 500 meters from the site, so you can hop on that highway and get anywhere around the city very quickly, or you can head straight west into the downtown.
Andrew la Fleur: There's a massive retail plaza area development from RioCan right across the street, including a cineplex and a Walmart, and there's a Costco, everything you can imagine is literally right across the street there as well. Minto themselves have 28 acres, 28 acres, this site is a large site, it's a multi-phase, multiple buildings will be built on this site, so this is the first building of more to come, not just from Minto, but as I said, there's a master plan for this whole area from the city of Calgary.
Andrew la Fleur: So you're going to see this whole area built out and developed, Mark gets into more details about this when you get to the podcast part where Mark is interviewed by me. So listen to that. Again, this is a bit of a longer podcast, so take your time, you might want to break this up into chunks, perhaps, or listen to it all in one sitting. You might want to come back to this podcast and listen to it multiple times to get all these great details and info here, but yeah, wanted to go in-depth with this opportunity for you, and once again, I think the podcast is a great way to do that and take your time and go through this information.
Andrew la Fleur: Of course, make sure you get the floor plans and prices and brochure and all the files and everything from us. As well, as time of recording this podcast, they're not available yet because it hasn't launched yet, but it will be launching and that information will be available very, very soon, in the next few days, so make sure you let us know that you're interested. You can send me an email, Andrew@TrueCondos.com, you can always call me, text me, 416-371-2333, and we'll make sure that you've got the info for this opportunity as always as soon as it's available.
Andrew la Fleur: We do expect a lot of interest in this, we do expect it to sell very quickly; we don't have a lot of units to sell in the first phase, we only have 85 units in this first phase, much smaller than the Era opportunity was by comparison. So do let us know as soon as possible so that we can get you ready and on the waiting list for a unit as soon as we do hit the launch.
Andrew la Fleur: So again, comparing this East Hills Crossing opportunity with Era, the sold-out Era, which was a massive success, some similarities, some differences. Era was in the city, obviously, in sort of an established neighborhood in the core of Calgary, a short walk to the downtown, versus this is more of a suburban play, it's obviously on the eastern edge of the city as it stands right now, in a new area that's being developed, as I said. So that's one difference.
Andrew la Fleur: Prices, of course, is another huge difference, whereas most of the units in Era were sort of high-200s up to about 400,000, where most of the units were in that price range, the units in East Hills Crossing, as I said, will be starting from the 100s. There won't be any units in the 300s, everything will be in the 100s and the 200s, which is much cheaper pricing than Era was.
Andrew la Fleur: We do still have an amazing 5% deposit for qualified buyers, we do still have a two-year rental guarantee including property management for those two years, and this is still a pre-construction opportunity, no shovel has touched the ground yet, so you're getting in with a very low deposit on something that hasn't broken ground by a great builder with a rental guarantee on the backside of it.
Andrew la Fleur: By the way, of course, including we are expecting positive cash flow on these units, so again, it's really a no-brainer. It's the definitely of a no-brainer, you want to definitely jump on this one. It's just not often you get something like this in any city, let alone from a great builder like Minto in a great city like Calgary.
Andrew la Fleur: Speaking of Calgary, yeah, if you haven't heard about Era and everything before ... I mean, if you have already, you probably purchased one there already, but if you're new to Calgary and what are we talking about Calgary, I thought, Andrew, you were a Toronto condo guy, what's going on here? Well, actually, I am not so much, I'm location-agnostic, really. I work with investors all over the country now at this point. As long as the investment makes sense for us as condo investors, then that's the most important factor, and the beauty of investing in condos, especially pre-construction condos, is you can really own these properties from a distance, really anywhere in the world, as long as you have a good builder that you can trust, you've got financing in place, and you've got somebody to run and manage the asset for you on the backend.
Andrew la Fleur: All of those things are check-check-check with this opportunity, of course, here in Calgary. Talking about Calgary, the city of Calgary, what's going on in Calgary, what do you need to know about Calgary, why am I excited about Calgary and the future of Calgary, personally, and why did I invest, why am I investing with Minto here? Well, it's the fifth-most livable city in the entire world, so you take all the cities in the world, you put them in a contest of where is the most livable place? Calgary is number five on a recent ranking in the entire world.
Andrew la Fleur: If you look at just across Canada, you say, where is an affordable city to live? Calgary is the most affordable city in Canada, it's got the youngest work force in Canada, so it's a young, affordable, livable city. By the way, it's a growing city; the population of Calgary is growing. What you may think of probably first of all, a lot of people think of first of all is Calgary is, hey, Andrew, isn't Calgary ... isn't it in a recession? Isn't it the worst city in Canada, economically speaking and jobs and everything? What about that oil price crash from a few years back?
Andrew la Fleur: If that's what you're thinking, first of all, yes, that is also true about Calgary from the sense that Calgary is a buyers' market, right? Calgary's market, to summarize, and again, Mark goes into more detail about this in the next portion of this episode, you want to listen to that interview, again. But quick recap is Calgary's a boom-and-bust market, unlike Toronto, which tends to just plug along slowly and surely. Calgary has these big boom years and then they have these big down years.
Andrew la Fleur: So the most recent big boom years in Calgary was around 2012, 2013, 2014 is when the the party ended. 2015, '16, '17 were down years, and prices came down considerably in those years in Calgary. 2018 was sort of the bottom of the market, probably. 2019, you started to see a little bit of signs of recovery in the market, and then at the beginning of 2020, as Mark talks about in more detail, the market was really starting to heat up and take off again. And then, of course, COVID hit, just like everywhere else, and everything's all a bit wonky and wibbly-wobbly and weird right now.
Andrew la Fleur: But the long projected-out story here that you want to know as an investor is where is Calgary going, is it likely going up, down, or nowhere, or sort of sideways over the next few years? Nobody knows for sure, of course, but based on the trajectory and the history of Calgary, certainly the city is very well-positioned, and it looks like the next five years, you're going to see some good growth in Calgary.
Andrew la Fleur: Again, why? Because it's the cheapest, most affordable city in Canada by far, it's a growing city. The market was down for so many years, and as Mark says in the interview, prices have nowhere to go but up, right? The prices are just ridiculously low, you just can't get real estate in a great city in this country for any cheaper than this. They really have nowhere to go but up in the years ahead.
Andrew la Fleur: Is it going to happen overnight, are we going to see prices double in Calgary over the next couple of years? No, we're not expecting that as investors, that's not an expectation that we have with investing in something like this. What we're expecting is that, as long as we have some modest growth over the next three, four, five, six years, then with this very small deposit in something like this of 5% and we don't have to think about it for five years, we're going to get a very solid return on our investment, we're going to do very, very well, even if we only have very modest growth.
Andrew la Fleur: If we get lucky and we see Calgary going back to its historical boom years and sort of boom cycle that it hasn't had since, again, it's been around eight years since the last big boom cycle, if we go into another boom cycle sometime in the next five years, then our returns actually could be not just good, but phenomenal on something like this.
Andrew la Fleur: So that's how I see it, that's how I'm looking at it. You're buying a condo for these prices; obviously with this low deposit, you're not going to get rich, as I say to everybody. You're not going to get rich off of buying one condo for $200,000, but you can make a very nice return on something like this, assuming even modest growth over the next five years or so in Calgary, which is a very realistic expectation to assume could happen over the next five years in Calgary.
Andrew la Fleur: If things go the way that many people think they will go, I think we'll see better-than-modest growth some time in the next five years. We will see some big jumps in the market because Calgary, again, is such a great city. It's so, so, so cheap compared to anywhere else in Canada, and it's a growing city. The city is growing. That's the number-one thing that we want to see as real estate investors, is a city that's growing and people are more and more increasingly attracted to going to a place like that.
Andrew la Fleur: Yeah, so that, I think, is a pretty good summary of where we're at with this opportunity. So again, to get the info, 416-371-2333. You can hit me up directly, text or call me at that number, or you can email Andrew@TrueCondos.com.
Andrew la Fleur: And now, let's get to the interview with Mark Verzyl, who, again, is heading up the sales for Minto. Mark's a very experienced guy in the Calgary market, he's been doing his thing there for almost 25 years now, he's been mostly involved in the new home and condo sales business, working for a number of different builders in the Calgary area, he sold almost 3,000 homes, been involved with the sales of almost 3,000 homes over the last almost 25 years. There were a number of years where he was the number-one new-build salesperson in the city of Calgary.
Andrew la Fleur: And another great thing I like about Mark and why I love talking to him about the market is he's an investor too, and he's bought and sold many investment properties in Calgary himself personally, so you're not dealing with somebody who's just talking hypotheticals when you're talking about investing in this opportunity. You're talking about somebody who's put his money where his mouth is, and he's an investor like we are as well, which is ... it just totally changes your perspective when you're actually putting your own money into it, as opposed to just talking about it theoretically. We need that side of it as well and we talked to a lot of analysts on things on the podcast, but when you're talking to an actual investor, that makes a big difference too.
Andrew la Fleur: So okay, without further delay, here is my interview with Mark Verzyl with Minto.
Announcer: Welcome to the True Condos Podcast with Andrew la Fleur, the place to get the truth on the Toronto condo market and condo investing in Toronto.
Andrew la Fleur: Mark, welcome to the show, thanks so much for doing this.
Mark Verzyl: Hey, thanks for having me, Andrew.
Andrew la Fleur: Yeah, it's been great working with you over the past year, you and the Minto Calgary team. I thought we woulds start just by helping people get to know you a little bit. I know you've had a great, exciting, varied career in real estate, and you've actually lived all around the country. Why don't you just tell us a little bit, how did you actually get started in real estate?
Mark Verzyl: Well, that's going to age me for sure. I actually grew up on the coast, originally from Ontario, I grew up on the coast and then moved back to Ontario for a while, and then we moved to Calgary in '95. We actually lived in the GTA for a couple years, where I met my wife, and we decided we wanted to come back out to the mountains. I found myself, in my younger days, pre-internet, I guess, watching the real estate channel, if you remember that, from way back when, even in high school. Always loved real estate and got into it around '97, and was heavily active with new homes and builders in that, and later licensed, of course, and just continued on with it till now.
Andrew la Fleur: [crosstalk 00:25:22] So your first job in real estate was in Calgary after living in a few different places, you started ... what was that first job? What was your first ... [crosstalk 00:25:33]
Mark Verzyl: I was a custom builder. Yeah, I was a custom builder in new homes, and actually in Chestermere, which is quite close to the area we're going to talk about today.
Andrew la Fleur: [crosstalk 00:25:44] Oh, so you're coming full circle here.
Mark Verzyl: Yeah, absolutely. That was back in about '97, '98 when Chestermere was at town of about 3,000 or so.
Andrew la Fleur: And now it's approximately?
Mark Verzyl: Closer to, well, 2018 consensus, or sorry, census said it was about just over 20,000, so I imagine it's probably about 22 or so.
Andrew la Fleur: Right. So you started building homes yourself, is that what you mean? You were a custom builder? Or you were working for a custom builder?
Mark Verzyl: [crosstalk 00:26:20] No, I was working for a custom home builder who had one of their first show homes out in Chestermere.
Andrew la Fleur: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Now, of course, so tell us a little bit, what officially is your role, title, whatever right now with Minto?
Mark Verzyl: I'm actually a ReMax realtor as well, but I work as the sales manager for Minto in Calgary, and I guess adviser for them.
Andrew la Fleur: Great.
Mark Verzyl: And that's been since around the end of 2018.
Andrew la Fleur: Talk to us about Calgary, because again, you've lived in the GTA, you've lived in a lot of different places, you've traveled a lot, you come back to Calgary, obviously you've been there the most. Especially for most listeners in Ontario, GTA, some people have been to Calgary, but a lot of people haven't actually even been there. I had the chance to go there, beautiful city, loved it, Banff as well, just the whole area is just beautiful part of the country, great city.
Mark Verzyl: And the weather was awesome then, too.
Andrew la Fleur: Yeah. We had some very interesting record-breaking frigid temperatures on the trip that we were there, but still, beautiful. Curious, what do you love most about Calgary? How do you describe Calgary to people that you talk to from other places in Toronto in particular?
Mark Verzyl: So four really main cities that I've lived in: Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Ottawa, and every one of those cities has its great aspects, and of course, and its downside. We moved right from the GTA to Calgary, and I think the reason behind it, at the time I wasn't in real estate, it was something that I wanted to get involved with, but the reason behind it is we wanted to be closer to the mountains and get a chance to go skiing on the weekends, days off, and be able to go hiking, just the whole city life, but still you have the country life of being so close to Banff and the outdoors, the great outdoors, et cetera, et cetera.
Mark Verzyl: I love the weather in Toronto, believe it or not, I love that hot, humid weather, which I miss a lot. But in Calgary, it's easy to fly out into Mexico or Florida or just get away somewhere hot in the wintertime.
Andrew la Fleur: How have you seen Calgary change over the last 20, 25 years? What are the biggest changes that stand out to you?
Mark Verzyl: I would say really the growth of the city. When we did our last launch with Era and all the craziness with that, we put together a one-and-a-half or two-minute movie, or commercial, let's say, on Calgary. When it was done and I sat back and watched it, I had forgotten what a great city that Calgary is. So when we moved here in '95, I'm going to guess and say population was maybe around 850,000, and you're looking at 1.3 million. We've seen the cycles over the years, like probably three cycles of boom and then slower times and boom and slower times, but the growth has just been absolutely phenomenal.
Mark Verzyl: It still remains, it's an international city, and we had talked about this quite a bit, rated number one in all of North America and number five in the entire world. But it's still got a little bit of that small-town attitude, and it's just a lot of fun to live here without the craziness of the big city. Something I love about Toronto, I love the vibe downtown, I love the ... it's almost got sort of a New York appeal to it now, city-that-never-sleeps kind of thing.
Mark Verzyl: Calgary's not quite that, but it is still a very vibrant city, there's still lots of stuff happening, great nightlife. You don't have to sit in traffic for four hours to try to get, to go for a hike or get to some place that you want to be in the mountains or whatnot, it's all really close by.
Andrew la Fleur: Or even just to cross town, because sometimes [crosstalk 00:30:56] ... sometimes it does take that long in Toronto just to get across town. You alluded to the market, you've seen different cycles. Calgary, obviously, that's one way Calgary is different than Toronto market, it is more of a boom-and-bust type of a market, a cyclical type of a market where you see big highs and big lows and everything in between.
Andrew la Fleur: You've been in the market, as you said, personally to see a few of them. So yeah, what are your thoughts on the market right now? Obviously, it's a weird year, it's COVID 2020, pandemic 2020 and everything, it's kind of a weird year to talk about the market. All the normal things that we're used to are not necessarily true at the moment, but where do you see-
Mark Verzyl: Throw the rule books out, right?
Andrew la Fleur: Yeah, throw the playbooks out, the rule books, whatever. Where do you see the market right now? What are your observations on the market?
Mark Verzyl: A bit of craziness. As you know, there's no way of candy-coating it, I mean, Calgary went through one of the toughest busts since the 1980s. 2014 and '13 were boom years, and line-ups down the block to buy houses and to buy apartments and that, and then 2015 you saw ... we didn't see a drop-off, but it really slowed down, and then 2016, 2017. I felt like the bottom was really 2018. When you say the bottom, I'm thinking the end of the decline and sort of bottoming out of the number of sales and that.
Mark Verzyl: 2019, you can tell there was just a real different vibe, different mindset from the buyers and people that we were talking to. 2018 people, the stress test had come in to its full potential, and there was just way too many things that happened all at once. I think people just wanted to sit back and see what was going to happen.
Mark Verzyl: So of course if you're a buyer and you're not in the market yet, you want to see the bottom. You don't want to jump in if everything looks like it's just moot. I think that's what happened in 2018. 2019, I believe people got sick of waiting around, and we started to see the numbers increasing right away in January and February.
Mark Verzyl: [inaudible 00:33:27], the first six months weren't booming by any means, but you can definitely see an acceleration in the growth, in the real estate market. And then towards the end of 2019, which is last year, of course, it just kept accelerating. Of course, we had a boom with our own project, November-December, and then January, February, March, as we were predicting, the market took off and it was the best start we had seen, really, in five or six years. The numbers were just climbing, and then, of course, COVID hit and put a damper on things for about a month.
Mark Verzyl: So your question was, where do we see the market at? So there's probably two or three different ways we can go here on the economics and real estate, but just talking about real estate, March really quieted down, it still was a really good month, and then April was quite dead. That was the height of the lockdown, nobody really knew what the future held and what's going to happen. So it was super, super quiet.
Mark Verzyl: Then all of a sudden in May, it took off again and has been climbing ever since then, September, I just looked at the numbers yesterday, and September looked like we had about a 20% increase over sales, same time year over year for that month last year.
Andrew la Fleur: Wow.
Mark Verzyl: Yeah, which is really good numbers. And then of course, you have to take into account the number of listings that are on the market, which is down. The number of listings that are actively coming on the market are also down. It's still a little bit spotty, but we're seeing scenarios where listings go on, they get sold before they hit the market, just from a sign, or five or six or ... one of my realtor friends had 10 offers on a house just a couple of weeks ago, just as an example.
Mark Verzyl: That's not happening everywhere, it's not happening on every property, but we are seeing it more than I've seen in probably six years.
Andrew la Fleur: Interesting, yeah. So it sounds like a similar pattern to Toronto, really, where the first couple months before COVID were, the market was on fire, it was a strong market, COVID hit, everything just went haywire for a couple months there, and now the taps kind of got turned back on and things are heating up again. There's a lot of weirdness and highs and lows within the different segments of the market, but overall, I think the feeling here in Toronto and, I don't know, does it feel like this there, it feels like the recovery has happened a lot quicker than most people thought.
Andrew la Fleur: Overall, looking at the overall market, things are ... in April, everyone thought, oh, this is the end, the sky is falling. And now here we are in September, we're like, actually, pretty good overall, hasn't really ... we're not back to where we were in February, but it's overall pretty good.
Mark Verzyl: Yeah, it's been strange, hasn't it? If you had asked me in the middle of April where I was thinking this year was probably going to be one of the best real estate years that I had ever seen, and of course I'm old and have been around for a long time now, I would've thought that the rest of the year would've plugged along at a very gradual pace, and I'm not talking about Toronto, I'm really talking about the market here in Calgary. It really surprised me when May took off like it did, and it just hasn't showed really any signs of pulling back.
Mark Verzyl: There can be a number of reasons ... economists get it right 50% of the time, right? Just being in the industry for so long, my guess is just, there's just so much pent-up demand from Calgary from hitting rock bottom and just having several slow years that with the combination of pent-up demand and low interest rates, high migration that we had last year, I think it was just about to rip loose anyway.
Andrew la Fleur: Interesting. So projecting ahead, Mark, nobody has a crystal ball, and like you said, even the best economists out there are right barely half the time, if that. Where do you see, again, think about the investors, think about investing in Calgary right now with this opportunity that we're talking about. Where do you see the market going in, say, five years from now? You've looked at the last five years and the horrible down times, like you said, of 2016, 2017, 2018.
Andrew la Fleur: Where do you see the market going forward, like five years from now? What's your personal take on it?
Mark Verzyl: If you look at Calgary as ... there's not that many major cities in Canada compared to the U.S. We have Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton. If you look at the prices of the GTA and Vancouver, people probably don't know that Calgary was actually slightly more expensive than Toronto was in 2008, right at the height of the market before the market crash in that September of 2008.
Mark Verzyl: And then Toronto kind of continued to just go on an upward trend, probably mainly due to, well, just the absolute size of the city. It's a mega-city now, and on top of that, in Calgary we saw 2009 was a good market, things kind of paused for the end of 2008, and then 2009 was really kind of a boom year. And then the whole market crash in the U.S. really didn't take a foothold until about 2010 in Calgary.
Mark Verzyl: So 2010, I would say, was probably about the same as 2018 at the very, very low points of the market, and 2011, I can even time it to, I remember the day, I think it was March 10th or 12th where I was working for a major builder out of Toronto, by the way, at the time, and literally, the line-ups at the door stopped that day when we were doing a launch. So there's a few people there, and then they just kind of dropped right off.
Mark Verzyl: 2011 was a quiet year, and then we really saw the increase had happened, 2012, you could see it start to gradually get better in '13 and '14. We're moving again, and then of course you know between 2014 and now what's happened here.
Andrew la Fleur: So yeah, projecting forward, where do you see Calgary going in the next five years?
Mark Verzyl: So next five years, a lot of people think that oil and gas is over, and there's a little bit of a history lesson in there. It's not necessarily the fact that oil prices have dropped, it's actually the price differential between what they get for Brent crude and for Alberta oil, which is there's a big hap and it's because our major customer is the U.S., and we only ship it down to the U.S. They'd love to see it not go anywhere else because they can continue to buy it at a lower price.
Mark Verzyl: So with the new twinning of, and this isn't the new pipeline, but the approval of the trans-mountain twinning to the West Coast is a huge thing, since it's going to bring up the number of barrels a day up by five or 600,000 barrels, which is huge. Right now, they're shipping it by rail, which is incredibly dangerous. So it's good to see that's happening, Keystone Pipeline, the Alberta's putting a billion dollars into that to get it.
Mark Verzyl: And then we had the LNG gas pipeline go into Kitimat. It can just continue on with oil and gas, so those are all good things that are happening, it's all going to help the economy. But more importantly is I think they're starting to think past oil and gas now, the provincial government. In the '80s, oil and gas was more than 40% of the GDP of Alberta, and today it's about, just a couple years ago, it was 27%. It's becoming a more diversified economy. Last year, there was over 30,000 jobs created in Calgary and a migration of 20,000, so those 30,000 jobs mostly were full-time.
Mark Verzyl: The funny thing is is the [inaudible 00:42:49] real estate price, and it's kind of not reflecting yet, but there was more jobs last year in Calgary than there was in 2014 at the height of our boom. Calgary also had the highest ... or you can say Alberta had the highest, not necessarily employment, but the highest wages and disposable income in the entire country.
Mark Verzyl: So again, with that, it seemed to take off this year, January-February-March, you can see why it was trending upwards and the numbers were starting to happen, because really, it's so fricking cheap here, it's unbelievable. I bought a house here in '95 for 122 grand, brand-new, and the same house is probably 400 today, which is an absolute joke in Toronto. That's getting you a treeport, probably, in your backyard, or maybe a shed. You can still come out here and trade your bachelor suite or your one-bedroom apartment in for a house. If you're working by Zoom, why wouldn't you move out this way?
Mark Verzyl: So over the next few years, speaking positively about the economics and what the provincial government did, there was two problems at the recession. Number one, we went into a recession because of oil and gas, but number two, the provincial government had a change, and we won't get into politics, but they ramped up income taxes and corporate taxes by a phenomenal amount, and we became sort of middle-of-the-road in terms of tax advantage.
Mark Verzyl: The Alberta advantage was lost, and then again we had a change of guard in April of 2019, and within a few months, Bill Three was literally, revised the corporate tax rate to 80% over the next few years. Then when COVID hit, they decided they were going to ramp that up, and it became effectively immediately. So now we have the lowest corporate tax rate in Canada, and actually, if I'm not ... I believe in 2014 I read that we were the lowest combined tax out of 60 states and provinces in North America, so that Alberta advantage is coming back, combined with super, super low real estate in comparison to Toronto, the GTA and Vancouver, even Ottawa now and Montreal.
Mark Verzyl: Montreal used to be a very cheap place to buy property, but that's not the case anymore. [crosstalk 00:45:32] So where's the next international city in Canada that you can move to and buy cheap property and be an hour and a half to go for a hike, come back and have a glass of wine on your deck with your neighbors? You just don't see that anywhere.
Mark Verzyl: So over the next five years, they've also implemented $10.7 billion in infrastructure, which is the biggest implementation of infrastructure in the history of Alberta, the city's next provincial ... Calgary is moving forward with the entertainment district, so the old Saddledome is going to be a thing of the past, they're building a new rink and a whole entertainment district around it, which is in the neighborhood of a couple of billion dollars at least.
Mark Verzyl: And on top of that, the new green line C train south they're implementing, it's another billion-dollar project, and they've put together an agency, provincial agency to start pushing tech to come to Calgary. So here's a number that's scary, and the commercial vacancy downtown, this is not residential by any means, this is just commercial vacancy which was built for oil and gas in 2013 and 2014, is around 25%. So amazing deals for corporations now to come to Calgary and get really, really cheap lease rates and very low corporate taxes combined with the sell to Albertans to do technology, they're really pushing tech education. Lowest ... not lowest, but the youngest employment age in all of Canada, that's a perfect storm for things to really, really ramp up here.
Mark Verzyl: On top of that, one other point I was going to make in terms of rentals: for 20 years, no rentals were built here. There was absolutely virtually nothing, and now we have all these major players coming to Calgary, Cadillac Fairview, for an example, building big towers in that for rentals. COVID or no COVID, they're getting eaten up, and every building that opens, they keep getting a little bit higher rent and a little bit higher rent for those. We're told that this is all going to get soaked up.
Andrew la Fleur: That's great, that's some awesome facts there you hit with us, Mark, great to hear that stuff. Obviously you're definitely bullish on the future of Calgary, and I think for me, the biggest thing it comes down to, you kind of hit on to sum it up, is it's one of the most livable cities in the world, not according to me or you, but according to economists and organizations that rank the world's cities, it's always right up there as the most livable cities in the world, while at the same time it's probably the cheapest city on any of those lists. Certainly it's the cheapest major city, as you said, in Canada, to live.
Andrew la Fleur: It's by far one of the cheapest cities in the world to live, so you have this combination of great, livable city with extremely cheap real estate prices, low corporate taxes, amazing opportunities for office space for large corporations, and it's a growing city, the population's growing, that's the most important thing is the city population. It continues to grow, and that's what we want to see as real estate investors.
Andrew la Fleur: Let's shift gears now to East Hills Crossing, the big show that we want to talk about here, obviously-
Mark Verzyl: Where's that?
Andrew la Fleur: Yeah, so talk to us about this next exciting project from Minto, this opportunity that is right in front of us now. Era, of course, was a home-run smash success earlier, less than a year ago, and the project sold out, which was incredible. So talk to us, we have a similar package, obviously, coming here with East Hills Crossing. Talk to us about the project and the location: what are the highlights for you about this project and location that people need to know about? [crosstalk 00:49:48]
Mark Verzyl: So again, done a lot of study on that area and what's coming, we talked about this early, maybe about six weeks ago, what's up and coming in that area. So originally when they told me that they had purchased a piece of property that was on the east side, I was like, oh, okay. I didn't really look into it for a few weeks, and then I took a drive by and realized exactly where the location was, and then looked into, of course, the area structure plan and what's happening just outside the city there, and what an incredible opportunity.
Mark Verzyl: This isn't me blowing smoke up your butt. It honestly is just a really, really great location, so just to give you a little bit of a rundown, to the west of that ... Stoney Trail is the new perimeter highway that circles the city, so the east side, north and south, have all been complete for probably five or six years. Don't quote me on that number. And then now they're just completing the west side right now, it's actually under construction, so there's not much left of it to finish off.
Mark Verzyl: We're just to the east, so we're probably 500 meters or 400 meters from the highway. Just far enough away to be nice, that we don't have to the highway noise, and close enough that it's one minute to get onto the highway and you've got complete access to the airport, industrial park, to Banff. One point five hours from Era downtown to get to Banff, it's only an hour 40 minutes by Stoney Trail, and then the Trans-Canada to get to Banff.
Mark Verzyl: So on the west side of Stoney Trail, those areas are much older, so no new homes have been built in there for, I'm guessing, 35 or 40 years, with the exception of a couple of local apartment buildings that were 99% occupied, rented constantly with a waiting list. So this new property is 28 acres, it's comprised of 350-ish town homes and condos, so our first offering is going to be a condo apartment of 87 units in that building one.
Mark Verzyl: Right across the road is RioCan, we have 600,000 square feet of retail. Let me tell you how many times retail's built first and then residential in Calgary: never. It never happens. So it's already there, you can literally walk across the road to Super-Walmart, you can walk across the road to cineplex, then of course they have Michaels and the other retail shops that follow, and restaurants. And just a block from that is Costco, if you can believe that.
Mark Verzyl: And again, it's all on the other side of 17, 17th is also known as International Avenue, and the ... just to talk a little bit about that area, we're the first ones in, so this little chunk, if you look at the map, it kind of juts out like this, and I'm not sure exactly how many acres it is in there, but it's going to be a population of 61,000 and create about 14,000 jobs just in that little area. So again, the retail's there; we're the first ones in. It's hard to express how important that is from an investment standpoint, especially when nothing's been built there for 40 years, right?
Mark Verzyl: And then you have a massive highway perimeter that connects you to Edmonton to the west, Trans-Canada highway to the south, really, really easy to get around. The area structure plan is ... and this is not my words, this is Calgary's words: the flagship mixed-use location, and again, as a result of its access to major transportation routes, comprised of 14 neighborhoods in four different communities.
Mark Verzyl: The plan is mainly residential with a little bit of, again, mixed-use of retail and amenities, like activity areas. Okay? Now if you look on the map and you go east, Chestermere used to be, and again, this is a little lake community that was really just cottages, at one time, on the lake, what people thought was way outside of Calgary. So in between Calgary and the town of Chestermere, which is now a city, is basically the county of Rocky View.
Mark Verzyl: Calgary annexed their portion called Belvedere, which we're in, and then Chestermere annexed the rest of it and there's no more county in between. So the area structure plans for both of those areas are bordering on each other, and they already have all the communities all laid out. This is just the beginning, so in the Chestermere portion, there's two areas that have just opened up, Chelsea and Dawson's Landing, selling like hotcakes. I was in there the other day just checking it out, and they're like literally, they have almost nothing left, they're waiting for another phase to come on. And that's all just from the last few months since COVID lockdown.
Andrew la Fleur: Awesome. So just to summarize all that great info, basically you're telling us that this is the very early stage of a major master-planned part of the city, not just Minto has a large parcel of land here with many buildings and town homes planned, as you mentioned and this is ground-level, day one of that Minto plan, but the Minto property is just one piece of a much bigger plan with respect to the city of Calgary and the whole area. You mentioned the highway, the ring highway, which is soon to complete around the entire city, you're two seconds from that, so basically you hop on that, you can get anywhere in Calgary with ease.
Andrew la Fleur: One thing you didn't mention, I know is another key thing is the transit connection as well. Even though you're in a suburban location here, obviously, on the edge of the city for now, soon it will be surrounded with developments, but the transit connection, I know you told me that you can hop on the bus, again, right outside your door, you can hop on an express bus and it takes you right downtown Calgary in, I think you said 25, 30 minutes kind of thing. Is that right?
Mark Verzyl: Yeah, they call it the purple line. They have several locations that they've started to do a BRT, which is bus rapid transit, so again, 17th is the avenue that we're just off of, right across from the RioCan retail, and the BRT bus stop existing is just right across, is just right on the same side of the road or, depending on which way you're going, just on the other side of the road, so maybe a one- or two-minute walk.
Mark Verzyl: But the beauty is in between that, 17th is going to be divided and they're going to put a whole transit exchange in there for the BRT. If you can imagine big class enclosures and whatnot and several buses, and that transportation, that is going to start right on that location. I'm talking two-minute walk.
Mark Verzyl: It has its own lane and its own route, its own bridge to get to downtown, and it's about a 20- to 25-minute ride. Again, I'm glad you mentioned that. That's a huge part of the mix of this awesome location.
Andrew la Fleur: So talk to us a little bit about the buildings themselves, this first phase, the first building of a multi-building condo project that we're offering here now first. What are you most excited about, and what makes this building stand out here as a new condo offering, as a new residential offering, in the greater area? You alluded to some other new home communities which are selling like hotcakes around the area at the moment; what makes East Hills Crossing stand out? What are you excited about it?
Mark Verzyl: So couple things, of course, and probably more than a couple. Just down the roadway I talked about Chelsea and Dawson's being closer into Chestermere area. We're actually in Calgary, and again, nothing had been built there for years and years, so the only option if you didn't want to go north or south and you're living in an older home in Pembroke or Abbeydale, would be to go east to Chestermere. So now we're seeing, our initial studies are showing, to our surprise, there's a lot of people that wanted to move, actually, from the downtown core in the areas that we expected, like just west of East Hills.
Mark Verzyl: But also from Chestermere, a large number, huge number, so that was actually quite surprising. If you can imagine these areas that I was just talking about, they're mainly housing and single-family homes that they're building and selling right now, so we're just going to be a little bit of a different demographic with that condo and town home.
Mark Verzyl: What I'm excited about is the location, obviously, and also being a Minto build, they've really gone above and beyond on the structure. It's like, when they rolled that one out I was like, wow, this place looks amazing. And again, not blowing smoke up your butt: the reaction that you had as well as a couple of the other guys when we saw it, I was like, wow, man, I wish we built stuff like this in the suburbs of Toronto. We knew that we had nailed it right there. Since that exterior came out, they've changed a little bit and it looks even better.
Mark Verzyl: On top of that, the funny thing about the suburbs in Calgary is that, unlike the downtown core where you have a little bit amenities in the building, in the suburbs they don't necessarily do that. So we wanted to add a little pizzazz to it, so we put a rooftop patio in. This one's a little bit taller than your typical low-rise, typical low-rise in Calgary suburbs is three or four stories; this one's five, and five and a half. So the sixth story, which we call the half story, is on the top with the patio, and there's only actually nine units on that one, so it's kind of your own little enclave up top there.
Mark Verzyl: The views to the west are fantastic mountain views, so if someone's in a unit that faces north or east or south and their view isn't as attractive, and what I mean by not as attractive, you're not looking into the side of a building. Kind of the beauty of not being downtown. But you have a great mountain view, really, really expansive views, you can see a big chunk of the city, which is really nice. But again, the exteriors just really exudes that sort of luxury appeal, and we just didn't want to be typical, typical suburban look, we wanted to be more an urban appeal in the suburbs. And I think we definitely nailed that.
Andrew la Fleur: Yeah, I think that's a great way to describe it, really has that urban feel. That was my reaction, as you said, when I first saw the rendering was, wow, this project looks amazing, given that it's a suburban location, given the price point being so low, you certainly wouldn't expect the building to look as good as it does. Again, Minto is good at what they do, what can we say. They really build quality buildings and they're not afraid to take extra steps a lot of builders would say, eh, you know what, guys, let's just cut this, cut that, make it look not quite as good, but we'll increase our profit margins kind of thing.
Andrew la Fleur: Minto really cares, obviously they make money and they're a profitable builder, of course, but they really care, I think, about building a quality building that is going to stand out, it's going to be unique and offer something other things don't. Like you said, there's been nothing built in the area; you do have new home product in the area, but the price point of these is just so much further below what anything else out there is. I think the prices speak for themselves, whether you're ... obviously for us in Toronto, we can't believe the prices, but even in Calgary, these are very affordable prices compared to any other new home product in the area.
Mark Verzyl: Yeah, and I'm glad you brought that up. People ask about, well, what's going to happen with the economy going forward? You hear things like market crash or whatever. Well, if the market was going to crash here, it would've done it, it would've happened already. Well, it already did. The markets have gone down 25 or 30%. I had a friend who is a broker for mortgages, and she was like, yeah, my downtown condo, I bought it in 2013 and it's down about 30%. That was about a year ago or so, and I'm like, yeah, you know what, it's got absolutely nowhere to go but up.
Mark Verzyl: I think everyone forgot that we went through that few years where the prices dropped, and we're just being absolutely eclipsed by Toronto and Vancouver. The biggest thing is really, going forward, builders cannot build it for less, it's only going up. So today, the cost of lumber is, what, two, two and a half times what it was six months ago, and those kinds of trends are not going to change. We have new code changes that are happening, the numbers are only going up. If the resale market sort of was flat and the prices weren't going up, the builders would stop building and it would all balance out eventually, and then start building again.
Mark Verzyl: Everything happens sort of naturally, it's like an ecosystem. There's no way they're going down, it's just not going to happen.
Andrew la Fleur: Yeah, and again, anybody who's listening, hopefully by now you've already looked at the floor plans and prices, and when you see those prices starting in the 100s, yes, that's right, the 100s, don't check your watch, this is not 1995, Marty McFly. These prices are real. Yeah, I think it makes a lot of sense to anybody looking at ... yeah, you really can't build any cheaper than that in this country, especially a quality building like this.
Andrew la Fleur: Definitely an exciting project, I'm sure we're going to see another home run here and hopefully just one more of many to come in Calgary. Mark, is there anything else that I forgot to ask you about yourself or the project that you wish I had, or anything else we want to touch on before we wrap up?
Mark Verzyl: You know what, I don't think so. A couple things to note: we stopped the project, the design, in March, and then re-thought about it with COVID, and then sort of tweaked our designs a little bit to think of the future and working from home and that. And then we also kept in mind that this first building we wanted to offer to investors, so what do rental look like and where can you maximize your dollars for that rent? So therefore, just things like offering little den spaces and work spaces, but also not having any two-bedroom with only one bath, because you get considerably more rent when you have two bedroom and two bath. There's a larger demographic looking for that, rather than the latter.
Mark Verzyl: And again, the location, we did some test runs with actual renters and clients and investors in that, and where are people working? Well, just north of the airport, there's a new 1,200-acre industrial park, and that's basically the transportation hub of western Canada. Industrial is like rock in Calgary, we forget about that. South of us, about a six-minute drive, is another industrial park, Light Industrial, and a lot of people from these areas that are renting in that are working in those two areas.
Mark Verzyl: Close by, brand-new ... again, nothing was built for 20 years in Calgary, and now we have all these, now with the brand-new apartment building, it looks a lot more attractive than living in your 20- or 25-year-old building, especially if you have a rooftop patio and a nice view.
Andrew la Fleur: Absolutely, Mark. Great, thank you so much for your time, it's been awesome chatting with you. Yeah, look forward to working with you again on this one.
Mark Verzyl: You bet, thanks for having me on, Andrew. Enjoy the rest of your day, and yeah, definitely looking forward to working with you guys on this one. I'm sure it's going to be a smashing success, but we'll talk to you soon.
Andrew la Fleur: Great, thanks, Mark.
Mark Verzyl: Okay, you bet. Have a great day.
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