If you had driven by the 1000 block of 13th Street prior to 2009, you might have noticed a grouping of small, single family homes nestled in amongst tall, mature trees lining the east side. An older area, populated by a large mix of houses built prior to 1960, it has seen its fair share of change and development over the last several decades. A handful of businesses currently populate the north end of 13th Street, but over the course of the last 4 years, a new type of neighborhood Renaissance has started taking place.
The high demand for affordable housing in the city, combined with a prime real estate area in need of somewhat of a makeover, created the perfect opportunity for Geoff Gregoire – part owner of Contractor’s Corner here in Brandon. With condo living on the rise right across Canada, Geoff recognized a void in the market place, and knew he and his company could begin to help fill it. “When we purchased the properties in 2009, there were older single family houses located on the properties. We knocked them over and built the condo units from scratch, which allowed us to sell off the 3 units separately and create some much needed affordable housing”, Gregoire says. With many of the condos being built around the city currently listed at starting prices of over $200,000, many of the demographic looking to buy into the condominium lifestyle is being bumped right out of the market. And often times one might find something in a more affordable price range, but discover the interior fittings and finishes aren’t up to snuff. “Our goal was to provide higher end affordable housing without cheaping out on the finishings and design”.
When you first spot the developments, you notice immediately that, although the buildings are newer in comparison to their old appearing neighbors, they seem to blend into the area quite effortlessly. Gregoire wanted the building to have a great curb appeal by adding great stone work from Quality Stone, installer friendly panels. Not too tall or ominous, their quaint and simple charm helps soften their introduction into an area occupied by many older structures. Gregoire points out that although these were their first foray into condo development, it seems they’ve been able to truly satisfy all of the individuals that bought into their units. “It was a bit of a learning curve, but the owners were very good to work with and are very happy with their homes.”
Wendy, a vibrant and self-professed “very happy” homeowner, was gracious enough to invite me over one afternoon for an in-depth tour of her place (along with some fantastic iced tea), and a very candid discussion of her experience transitioning from once owning a single family home, to now owning a condo. Recently widowed, Wendy explains her decision to sell and seek a lower maintenance lifestyle: “after my husband passed away, I stayed in our house, thinking I wouldn’t have too much trouble on my own. I had help from my son and other family members, and for a while it was manageable. But as time went on, it began to just be too much to keep up with alone. I didn’t want the hassle”. After researching and visiting a few other condos on the market, Wendy settled on Contractors Corner’s units mostly in part due to their price and location: central but relatively quiet with private parking in behind. “I went through some of the other condos available in the city at the time, and I can’t say I was all that impressed with what I saw, for the prices they were asking. Although this place wasn’t totally finished when I purchased, it already had that feeling of “home” – I had no trouble envisioning myself being quite happy here”.
With almost all of the interior finishes and materials pre-selected by Contractor’s Corner months before they were put on the market (except for the dazzling tile backsplash in the kitchen – that was something Wendy was able to have a say on), most of the headache that can come from building new had been eliminated, making the move an easy decision for Wendy. Gregoire was able to get most of the finishings from Rona in Brandon. Geared towards a slightly more modern and earthy crowd, the condo is fitted with a variety of darker cabinetry, and rich looking flooring. “A lot of the colours and finishes they used, oddly enough, are my colours”, Wendy explains, referring to the design palette she had cultivated in her previous home. “I’m drawn to earthy browns, taupes, and golds… most everything you see here is what I brought with me from the house, and it works”.
What also ‘works’ is Wendy’s eye for pulling together décor and accessories. Clearly someone with a penchant for decorating, the condo has a cozy and inviting atmosphere, right from the very moment you enter the front door. It takes a bit of a keen eye to be able to mix and match accessories and furnishings with a successful end result, something Wendy says some of her friends call upon now and then in their own homes. “They’ll stop in and ask ‘where did you get this, or where did you find that’, and I usually have all of my luck shopping locally, in locations like Kullberg’s.”
The open-concept layout of the living room, kitchen, and dining room is a common design element amongst newer condos, and something Wendy says has been such a great feature, especially when her family comes to visit. “When we get together, there are a lot of us! We are able to pull stools and chairs out into the living and dining area, and everyone still feels connected. In the old house, I couldn’t make use of the space like this.” And with the multitude of family photos and collages lining the walls in the hallway, it’s obvious just how important family really is to Wendy. Her grandmother’s old treadle sewing machine sits quietly in the spare bedroom – used cleverly as a make-shift bedside table – as do several other family pieces.
One might think that buying a new home means buying all new furniture to go with it – but that wasn’t the case with Wendy. “Some of my most cherished possessions are pieces my husband bought for me”, she says, pointing out a few unexpected wedding and anniversary gifts she’s found proper homes for, even as she’s downsized. A curio cabinet at the front entry, an eclectic travel trunk at the foot of the spare bed… even a glamorous upholstered bench in the Master bedroom are all pieces from her past she was able to incorporate. “I consider my style to be a mixture of styles”, she muses, “global, very eclectic, and maybe even a little Old World… I like traditional looking things with some history to them”.
So the shift from single family living to condo life, although a little tough at times due to the circumstances, has been relatively effortless for Wendy. And she is more than appreciative of and satisfied with everyone from Contractor’s Corner that worked on the condo. “I can’t say enough good things about them”, she comments. “They paid attention to detail, and if anything came to light after the fact, they were right here to solve it”.
What was once a natural progression for retirees and the elderly has swiftly turned into an enjoyable option for many different people in all stages of life – young and old. “Condo living, for the most part, is maintenance free – that could be one reason people are buying into the condo market. Our condos are built on slab, so the “no stairs” benefit is also a nice perk for some” Gregoire speculates.
And with plans to build 6 other developments, Contractor’s Corner won’t be slowing down any time soon. “We are just starting to build 3 more condo units on Princess Avenue East, with the same floor plans and footprint as the condos on 13th Street”. And he also hints at one of the quality finishes he plans on incorporating in the new units: “In-floor heat will be an added benefit not typically found in your average condo, while still maintaining an affordable asking price”.