Builders, developers pursue new ways to attract prospects to their sales centres

Saturday, February 28th, 2009


Walking the talk at the Anderson Walk new-home project, Chris Tsakumis reports Epta Properties is changing with the times, big and small. An Internet blog will chronicle construction to boost customer confidence. Smaller homes and back-to-basic finishes also created better-for-these-times prices. ‘Our expectations had to change on what we could sell the product for,’ he says. ‘Price point is what everything is coming down to and we decided to build what was practical.’ Photograph by: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun


Project: 51 single-family homes (28 in first release)

Location: 14645 Winter Crescent, south Surrey

Size Range: 2,500 sq. ft. – 2,800 sq. ft.

Price Range: $590,000 -$640,000

Developer: Epta Properties

Interior Designer: TD Swansburg Design Studio

Exterior Designer: Tynan Design

Sales Release: April 5

Occupancy: Homes are built after they are sold

Web: or

Telephone: 604-270-1890

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The “reality check” of today’s retreating new-home prices and sales is forcing local developers and builders to seek innovative responses, ranging from offering buyer incentives to exiting the build-to-sell market.

On Tuesday, for example, and over breakfast, a rental-property broker will introduce members of the local development fraternity and their builders to a subject history suggests they would prefer not to examine.

”Ready for Rental” is the name of the seminar, organized by the Urban Development Institute. The presenter is David (”We’ve just sold our fourth building this year”) Goodman.

Local developers and builders, in this decade, mostly assemble property for eventual new-home additions to the property and, then, to sell a finished product, home by home and not building by building, and only rarely to assume a landlord function.

The blow to new-home-buyer confidence delivered by the international recession, however, is forcing a review of that business model.

Industry leaders like Ward McAllister (Ledingham McAllister) thinks buyer interest hasn’t so much as crashed as frozen up.

“It’s like everything’s been held in suspended animation,” he was quoted as saying. McAllister said he was at a recent gathering of Lower Mainland developers and posed the question how many were starting new condo projects for 2009? The answer was zero.

So how is the industry responding?

They are starting to think outside the box to deal with their properties and old stock.

More and more are considering building rental apartments or enquire with B.C. Housing into whether some of their sites can be used for future social housing projects.

Epta Properties is one such developer finding innovative ways to deal with the slowdown. A single-family housing project in south Surrey, called Anderson Walk, is being downsizing from larger, more expensive homes to smaller, more affordable ones.

As well Epta’s proposal to build a 17-storey luxury condo project on Johnson Road, in White Rock, is being scrapped. Instead, the developer is at city hall requesting a zoning change in order to build a seniors independent living complex.

“It (the seniors complex) just makes more sense,” says Epta vice-president Chris Tsakumis.

“Seniors are saying to us finally someone is coming to build something for us in the core.”

But the project that has already received the green light is Anderson Walk — where homes that would have been larger and selling in the $700,000 to $720,000 price range are now smaller with a starting price of $590,000. (Upgrades to granite countertops, hardwood floors instead of engineered laminate and closet organizers would, of course, increase the base price. Stainless steel appliances are included.)

“It is a reality check.,” says Tsakumis. “You have to be realistic on what you think you can sell. Our expectations had to change on what we could sell the product for. Price point is what everything is coming down to and we decided to build what was practical.

“Each developer is different. Some still have expectations beyond what they should expect. We’re realizing it’s better to build product that fits the market.”

That means the first release at Anderson Walk, in south Surrey, will be marketed towards one of the few buyers out there — the first-time buyer. And unlike the boom years when buyers were lined up outside the door and a developer couldn’t build fast enough the company is constructing the homes as they are sold.

This also works to the consumer’s favour as well, says Tsakumis, who notes: “In a slowing market this gives people the opportunity to sell their homes first.”

In total 51 three-storey homes will be built at Anderson Walk but in the first phase only 28 are being released, with sales starting April 5. The second phase homes will be larger, around 3, 800 sq. ft., and will be directly adjacent to Anderson Creek, which runs parallel to the project, located just off Highway 99 on the west side.

Tsakumis feels, despite the economic downturn, the west side of Highway 99 will fare better than new builds happening elsewhere in south Surrey, such as the newly created neighbourhood of Morgan Creek.

“The west side is more established and older whereas the newer area is not so well-entrenched. Eventually it will do well but there is so much development there it’s created some confusion,” he says.

The only other project nearby Anderson Walk is Parklane’s South Porte, but with a bigger product on the market at a higher price he doesn’t see that as competition for Epta Properties.

The first 28 buyers at Anderson Walk will also get some incentives the company was able to negotiate with Best Buy and Shaw. All will receive $3,500 in home electronics free as well as the set-up and three months free Shaw TV, HGTV and high speed internet with no obligations should they choose not to continue the service after the three months.

As well, all of the first homebuyers will receive a free design consultation with with Teresa Ryback, of TD Swansburg Design Studio.

Another new approach Epta Properties is trying with Anderson Walk is creating a regular video blog on the website showing the progression of construction. It’s all about being as “transparent and open” as possible so consumers can feel confident with the product they are getting, says Tsakumis.

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