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Copper Sky and Niven Heights spell success for developer
Highstreet Ventures Inc. seizes on city's tight vacancy rate

Thandie Vela
Northern News Services
Published Tuesday, December 6, 2011

If anyone is happy about the city's low vacancy rate, it's Highstreet Ventures Inc.

NNSL photo/graphic

The Highstreet executive team, from left, includes senior advisor Don Bell, president Scott Butler, and project manager Brad Proctor. Highstreet is the developer of Copper Sky and Niven Heights townhomes and condos. - courtesy of Highstreet Ventures Inc.

The Kelowna, B.C.-based company is behind the sold-out Copper Sky condos and townhomes, Niven Heights phase one, and the second phase of the Niven Heights developments, which launched last week.

Sales of the 64 condos began last Tuesday, and by Friday, 43 units had been sold--evidence of the pent-up housing demand Highstreet executives have been seizing on since 2010.

The city's extremely low vacancy rate first came to Highstreet's attention when its sister company, Traine Construction, was contracted to rebuild a burned down Bison Estates apartment building, and could not find rental accommodations.

"Not being able to find rental accommodations for our workers led us to feel that the market needed more rental housing," Highstreet vice president Brad Proctor said.

Further investigation led to the discovery that the town needed more housing in general, he added, which led to the purchase of city land to meet that demand in early 2010.

That summer, the nine townhomes and 24 condos which made up the first phase of Highstreet's first Yellowknife development, Copper Sky, were completely pre-sold in two days.

The second phase of Copper Sky was also sold out on launch with 48 condos bought within one business week.

"If people are flooding to buy these places very quickly then obviously there is a demand," Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation regional representative Sandra Turner said. "It's not until you run a bunch of houses up for sale and nobody shows up that you realize it's dried up."

Due to the amount of people moving out of the rental market into the Copper Sky developments, Turner expects the city's vacancy rate, which was last pegged at a "very tight" 0.8 per cent, will loosen in the next survey.

The corporation will be releasing its next rental market survey later this month.

While the tight rental vacancy has been a factor in Copper Sky and Niven Heights sales, with one-bedroom condos starting at $179,900, and townhomes starting at $399,900, Niven Heights fills a void in the existing supply of affordable family housing, Proctor said.

The city's expensive rental costs also make the option of owning more attractive in Yellowknife.

"Rent is expensive and therefore there is a good opportunity for people--if they had the opportunity to do so--to stop renting and to buy a condo instead of renting one," Proctor said. "There are very few places in Canada where you can buy your condo and your mortgage and your condo fees are less than what you would be paying for rent for that same place. That's a pretty unique thing."

The difference between monthly mortgage payments and average rental rates in Yellowknife is about half that in other centres across Canada, the housing corporation says, estimating the mortgage difference for a two-bedroom apartment rental at slightly above $400 in 2010.

While both Copper Sky and Niven Heights units are all to own, about 75 per cent are owner-occupied, Proctor estimated, with about 25 per cent of buyers being investors with plans to rent the units out.

Copper Sky phase one residents have already moved in, with phase two buyers scheduled to move in next month.

Niven Heights phase one was launched in June, with 23 of 30 townhomes and 21 of 24 condos sold to date. The development remains under construction, with move-in planned for late summer 2012. Phase two is scheduled to be ready for possession by spring 2013.

While Highstreet has had a successful run in Yellowknife so far, the company has no additional developments in the works for now, Proctor said.

"We've enjoyed ourselves," he said. "It's been great for us, it's been good for the town."

Niven Heights sales are continuing through Highstreet, and Coldwell Banker Northern Bestsellers realtors Della Fraser and Rod Stirling.

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