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James House reveals shift in downtown Ottawa condo market

Broker Derek Nzeribe says owner occupiers buying majority of units at nine-storey development

The nine-storey James House condominium development rises above Bank St. in downtown Ottawa. (Courtesy Haus Collection Realty Limited)

A mid-rise condominium project in downtown Ottawa has attracted a different mix of buyers than would've been expected prior to the pandemic, according to the broker marketing the nine-storey, 127-unit James House.

The site is being developed by Toronto-based Urban Capital and Ottawa's Taggart Group, and is one of the few significant condo projects in Ottawa since the COVID-19 pandemic. It is located at the corner of Bank St. and James St..

Unlike other downtown Ottawa projects that have traditionally drawn in larger numbers of investors, James House has attracted interest mainly from young professionals, according to Derek Nzeribe, the director of sales for the project and the president of Ottawa's Haus Collection Realty Limited.

“This is one of the first projects that launched in Ottawa since the onset of the pandemic,” he told RENX Homes in an interview. “I think the pandemic shifted the way a lot of people were thinking about real estate and what their needs were.”

After having the project under pre-development for several years, Urban Capital sought to time James House to avoid competing with its other Ottawa projects, a strategy which worked out “perfectly,” Nzeribe said.

James House, amenities and the neighbourhood

Though James House is not its biggest project, it holds a special place in Urban Capital’s project profile in Ottawa, Nzeribe explained.

James House is the most recent of a series of developments Urban Capital and Taggart collaborated on over the years in the area. Unlike Central 1, Central 2 and Hideaway just one block south, James House is a one-phase project.

Urban Capital's other completed Ottawa projects include Mondrian and East Market. Taggart also collaborated on both of those developments, as well as the three phases at Central.

The unit mix at James House includes junior one bedroom, one bedroom, two bedrooms and two bedrooms plus den. The smallest units measure 537 square feet, with the largest at just over 1,200 square feet. Prices start from the low $500,000s to just over $1.5 million.

There are over 45 unique floor plans at James House, according to Nzeribe, which played into the decision to hold back some units during the pre-sale process.

“It’s a matter of holding back units that are very similar and bringing them out in a more staged approach,” he said. “That way it allows any of our prospective purchasers to come in and see units that really apply to what they’re looking for.”

Amenities will include a fitness centre, an outdoor garden, a pet wash facility, an outdoor saltwater pool and a BBQ area. To give residents access to items they might occasionally need around their condos, such as a 12-foot ladder, a product library will be in place so residents can borrow the objects.

There will be retail space on the main floor, and the neighbourhood around James House is well-established with high-density residential buildings, and a wide range of existing services, shopping options, restaurants and cafes, Nzeribe added. The condo offers front-door connectivity to public transit, and is a short bus ride from Ottawa's light rail system.

James House is currently in the final phases of construction, with occupancy expected by the end of 2024. Almost 90 per cent of the units have been sold.

A surprising set of buyers

The interest from young professionals and downsizers, rather than mainly investors, caught Nzeribe and the developers by surprise.

Nzeribe said the young buyers intend to make James House their home. Most of them are already living in downtown Ottawa, or are residing in a house and want to move into a condo.

As one of the few projects to open in Ottawa since the pandemic, Nzeribe said the buyer mix reflects the changing perceptions around the value of real estate.

Many federal government employees have adopted hybrid work models and did not need to return to the office daily. Some buyers were looking to retire and downsize, but the pandemic might have accelerated those plans due to an advantageous market. Other buyers realized they had more purchasing power, and could afford to acquire a condo.

Even the investor-buyers have been different, Nzeribe said. They tend to be future residents who want to rent their units now, but intend to move in later as they prepare to downsize.

James House is also fulfilling an important role by bringing more housing to the market, he continued. Ottawa’s lack of housing inventory is affecting affordability, and James House nearing completion will put a “small dent in a much larger issue”.

Urban Capital does not have any other projects in Ottawa at this time, but Nzeribe said it is open to future developments in the city.

Haus Collection plans to launch more condo projects during 2024, Nzeribe said, and the company sees Ottawa as “extremely healthy for the condo market.”

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