Inside This Oliver Resident’s Micro-home Miracle

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Murphy bed, custom sofa and cabinetry around murphy bed ($7,000) from Wallbeds Etc. (wallbeds-etc.com, 780.468-7088)

Fit your life into a space equivalent to four parking stalls. It seems outrageous, but environmental engineer in-training Laura Creswell did just that. She’s been living gracefully—and tastefully—in 335 square feet for almost a year.

When she set out to find “the tiniest place in the city,” her realtor (and her mother) thought she was crazy. “I love the creativity that a small space provides, not to mention the obvious economic aspects of living tiny,” says Creswell. Last September, after looking at over 40 tiny properties, she walked into an “empty shoebox” of a condo in Crestview Tower in Oliver, and instantly felt at home.

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Living room cabinetry ($2,000) from IKEA (Besta Shelving Units Djupviken) • Living room chairs ($500/ea.) from Mobler Modern Furniture (13519 156 St., mobleredmonton.ca)

That was the easy part. Now everything needed a place. Thanks to her careful engineer’s eye and modern style even her 20 pairs of shoes fell perfectly into place in the micro-condo. “A lot of people call me a minimalist, which I am totally not,” says Creswell, pulling back a curtain to reveal a closet over-flowing with colour-coordinated clothes. The apartment is immaculately organized—even her stools have a wall mount.

Every inch of the $154,000 condo is precious. The gap beneath her pantry is used for hidden “junk trays” that appear at the pull of a tab. A mystery door at the bottom of her murphy bed stores the couch cushions that are displaced when the bed is lowered from the wall. Her 12th-storey window seat creates a cozy spot to curl up with an unobstructed view of the High Level Bridge. “I can make this [condo] a movie theatre for 10, a breakfast bar with a view, a dining room for six or a full master bedroom,” says Creswell, a perennial host who loves the astonishment on guests’ faces when they enter.

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Flip-up desk ($250) from Wallbeds Etc.

Her biggest struggle with living tiny isn’t the space, but the perception of it.

Friends often ask when she’s moving out, as if her home were a short-term experiment. But Creswell believes that this is the future of housing. Smaller spaces, she says, encourage tenants to explore the outside environment— to reside in their community as much as in their home. (Creswell consults on tiny living and design. Email condominidesigns@gmail.com.)

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Pop-down dining table ($250) from Wallbeds Etc.

MEDIAN SELLING PRICE FEB 2016 – APR 2016

Oliver: $275,500 (+$24,833 from Nov ’15–Jan ’16)
Difference from listing price: -$12,433
Days on market: 38 (-22 from Nov ’15–Jan ’16)

Downtown: $340,037 (+$10,121 from Nov ’15–Jan ’16)
Difference from listing price: -$7,496
Days on market: 35 (-34 from Nov ’15–Jan ’16)

Reverse Prospecting

Caitlin McElhone and Scott Jendruck needed a place big enough for two home businesses and a new baby, but they weren’t willing to sacrifice their cherished stretch of Oliver on 98 Ave. The solution? Advertise themselves as model community members. “We are very lifestyle-focused,” says Caitlin, the creative force behind CM Events planning. “Because of that determination, we were incredibly passionate and stubborn about staying here.”

Ten years ago, the young couple had fallen in love with the neighbourhood’s easy access to shops, transit and the river. They rented a two-bedroom private suite until the condo board of the adult-only building learned Caitlin was pregnant with their son Mason in early 2014. They persuaded the board to let them stay until Mason was born, but with time dwindling and her belly swelling they had to get creative or get off their favourite street.

The young couple, married in 2009, printed a stack of flyers featuring their engagement photo and a blurb highlighting their commitment to a well-maintained home, as well as their passion for living and raising a family downtown. They posted the ads on the community boards of their favourite buildings in the hopes that someone might consider parting with their home. “We scavenged the area,” she says.

This method of reverse prospecting is also how they found the condo rental they were being forced to leave. But there were far more obstacles now: The need for more square footage redirected their search from apartments to townhouses, thereby narrowing their options down to a single six-unit, multi-storey complex on 111 St. and 98 Ave., just one block away. Unsure whether any of them were rental investments, the parents-to-be were willing to also become homeowners if it meant their family could grow free of a landlord’s changing whims.

They stuffed flyers into each mailbox and waited. After six months of persuading Bob and Diane Brayman to sell them their home, Caitlin and Scott signed the purchase documents within days of Mason’s October birth. The Braymans were already considering a post-retirement move to Kelowna and were pleased to have passed their home to people that’ll cherish it equally. “They were a lovely young couple that just loved the area,” says Bob. “It made us feel better that somebody would appreciate the area and home.”

The 2,200-sq.-ft. row-house is nearly twice the size of their previous home and a welcome improvement for the family. Best of all, nobody’s breathing down their necks about age-restricting bylaws. “We feel very privileged that Mason will grow up in a life where he gets to walk places and experience the city.”


Housing Hounding

For first-time homeowners Caitlin and Scott, securing the dream home in their ideal location was all about research, persistence and a little sweat-equity. “It’s great being downtown with your family,” says Caitlin. “It’s safe and awesome, but you have to be really stubborn and really creative to make it happen.” Here’s more of her wisdom:

Know Your Neighbours: “Get to know the people that might live in the buildings or the homes that you are interested in, especially if they’re older and have been there for a long time. They are also passionate about their property, and they want to know that it is going to someone that will take care of the home and keep its integrity.”

Don’t Give Up: “If you’d like to stay urban and central it’s absolutely possible, but it requires some extra fighting and passion. The three Grandin places that we have lived in weren’t listed on renters’ sites or MLS; they were all found by being a little bit creative and building relationships with people. That way you can find something that’s a good fit.”

Offset Your Costs: “People assume living downtown is expensive, so they immediately write it off. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons. You could pay more for a property, but less if you have one car or no car at all. You’re saving on things like gym passes because your lifestyle’s more active. We always argue that we may have paid more for our house, but our cost of living is lower than our friends’ in communities further away.”

MEDIAN SELLING PRICE NOV 2015 – JAN 2016

Oliver: $250,667
($-5,566 from Nov–Jan ’15)
• Difference from listing price: -$21,299
• Days on market: 60 (+9 from Nov–Jan ’15)

Downtown: $329,916
($+118 from Nov–Jan ’15)
• Difference from listing price: -$14,050
• Days on market: 69 (+11 from Nov–Jan ’15)

PROVIDED BY REALTORS® ASSOCIATION OF EDMONTON

He Said/ She Said


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Love and marriage had come for Sarah and Kyle Witiw, but the baby in the baby carriage? Not within the constraints of their 700-square-foot Oliver apartment. “We were climbing all over each other,” says Sarah, a 29-year-old representative with Red Cross. So they sought out a home for their inevitably growing family.

Sarah would have been happy living in any far-flung suburb like the one in which she grew up, but Kyle, a city planner and bike commuter who’s lived centrally for 11 years, insisted it be downtown. “With my planner background, I’m probably just a little too particular,” he says. Sarah, too, was particular, but about extra space—especially in the kitchen. “I’m Ukrainian, so…” she deadpans. But the first-time homebuyers’ $400,000 budget proved it difficult to find a central single-family detached home that wasn’t a fixer-upper.

After exhausting 42 houses within a few kilometres of their downtown offices, they were ready to give up. Then, in July 2014, Kyle discovered two downtown lofts spacious enough for a family of three or four. “I believe his words were, ‘Just humour me,’” recalls Sarah. “So I did, grumbling all the way there.” Suddenly the debate wasn’t whether there’d be enough space for her feasts, but which kitchen would be her new workshop.

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Beatty Lofts

THE OPTION

Beatty Lofts 10265 107 ST.
Square Footage
: 889
Condo Fees: $525 (Incl. heat and water)
Bedrooms: 1
Bath: 1
Listed Price $369,800

Upsides: Awesome lighting fixtures; Exposed Brick; Bedroom Skylight; Community Patio

Downsides: Too small for planned family; Cramped Kitchen; No Covered Parking; Parking-Lot View 

Kyle immediately fell in love with the industrial chic loft’s exposed brick and beams, while Sarah’s attention was drawn to an extravagant wrought iron chandelier in the dining area. The wrap-around windows forgave the parking-lot view, and a bedroom skylight deflected attention from the small built-in bed. But stylish as it was, the layout was inflexible for their future plans. When the bidding war got too hot, they took it as a sign to back out.

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Morris Lofts


THE BUY

Morris Lofts 10154 103 ST
Square Footage:  1,340
Condo Fees:
$400 (Incl. heat and water)
Bedrooms: 1
Bath:
1
Listed Price:
$430,000

Upsides: Spacious; Massive Kitchen; Bedroom Barn Doors; Stone’s Throw From Jobs and 104th Street; Flexible Design

Downsides: 
Outdated Bathroom; Hidden Brick; No Visitor Parking or Patio

There was 1910 brick somewhere behind the beige walls, but Kyle quickly accepted they’d never get to it. The bathroom also needed work. Instead he and Sarah fixated on barn bedroom doors, matching new appliances and eight-minute walks to their offices. And then there’s space: an island bigger than their last kitchen and a living room that can easily be framed off for a baby room. After they brought the seller’s price closer to their budget, Sarah was convinced. “After living here,” she now says, “I can’t imagine living any further.”

Median Selling Price Aug – Oct 2015
Oliver: $235,000 (-$20,000 from Aug-Oct 2014)
– difference from listing price: +100
– days on market: 42 (+2 from Aug-Oct 2014)

Downtown: $327,000 (+19,500 from Aug-Oct 2014)
– difference from listing price: -3,449
– days on market: 36 (-5 from Aug-Oct 2014)

Provided by Realtors© Association of Edmonton

Rent! (in Central Edmonton)

Edmonton has some of the highest homeownership rates in Canada, so a lack of attention to its rental market has bred some misconceptions. One of them being that finding an apartment is harder and more expensive in the core, when the opposite is true if compared to Edmonton’s outlying areas. That’s good news for Oliver and Downtown dwellers, who are overwhelmingly young, living alone and renting. That said, if you’re looking for a place for under $1,000 a month, those days are pretty much over.

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 Homeowners: Average Selling Price, May-July 2015

DOWNTOWN: $341,209
+$42,322 from May–July 2014
DIFFERENCE FROM LISTED PRICE:
-$10,056
DAYS ON MARKET: 54
+12 from May–July 2014

OLIVER: $276,308
-$12,121 from May–July 2014
DIFFERENCE FROM LISTED PRICE: -$7,884
DAYS ON MARKET: 49 +2 from May–July 2014

Growing Wiser

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Lex Grootelaar felt ready for a new chapter. While working as a yard supervisor and hot re-fueller (fuelling planes and helicopters that fight wild fires) for an aviation fuel supplier in southeast Edmonton, he rented a basement suite near Whyte Avenue.

He’d always viewed the area as a cultural hub and used to go out often, but, he says, “the bar scene was getting old. It can also be sketchy at night.” Seeking a new challenge and an opportunity to meet new people, he decided to go back to school. He enrolled in full-time general evening classes at MacEwan University to earn a Bachelor of Commerce degree. He also started looking for a place nearby.

The first-time buyer wanted something that would work as a rental property in about five years. He chose Oliver because it’s close to downtown without being right in the core, and he can walk to the river valley and farmers’ markets. He viewed several walkups south of 104 Ave. with realtor Alexandra Krutzfeldt until he found a renovated place for a great price.

Of his new life, Lex says, “It gives me an amazing sense of pride that I’m slowly carving out my place in the world—after too many years spinning in circles.”
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espania

THE OPTION: Espania
10335 117 ST

The top-floor suite was Lex’s largest option. Plus the building allowed residents to barbecue on the balcony. But while the spacious living room and the absence of upstairs neighbours appealed to him, and he loved the laminate wood floor, the renos didn’t look professionally finished. The original closet doors especially needed lots of work. He also worried about traffic noise because the building is next to 104 Ave. with nothing in between as a sound barrier.


SQUARE FOOTAGE: 1,033
FLOOR: 4
BEDROOMS: 2
BATHS: 1
LISTED PRICE: $194,900
Upsides: Spacious, New oven range, close to Oliver Square stores and Oliver Pool
Downsides: Reno quality was worrying; second bedroom too small to rent to future tenants; balcony faces parking lot, alley and dumpster

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THE BUY: Inner Town Manor
10320 113 ST.

Lex wanted to do minimal renovations, so this updated suite was the most appealing—and had the lowest list price. It was hard to turn down the bright, open kitchen with plentiful cabinetry and new dishwasher, and a bathroom large enough for a modern vanity. Plus he could furnish the master bedroom with his desk, which freed up the second room for his sister to rent. Although the common areas of the building are dated, Lex says the decision to buy his new condo was relatively easy. “It just was so much nicer for the price than everything else. It really was a no-brainer.”


SQUARE FOOTAGE: 881
FLOOR: 2
BEDROOMS: 2
BATHROOMS: 1
LISTED PRICE: $187,500
Upsides: Good lighting, balcony, double kitchen sink, walk-in master closet, laundry on each floor
Downsides: Uncovered parking, no elevator, bbq not allowed on the balcony

AVERAGE SELLING PRICE FEBRUARY – APRIL 2015:

Oliver: $287,551
(+$2,330 from Feb-Apr 2014)
• Difference from listing price: -$9,409
• Days on market: 48 (+1 from Feb-Apr 2014)

Downtown: $369,037
(+65,415 from Feb–Apr 2014)
• Difference from listing price: -$12,863
• Days on market: 45 (-20 from Feb-Apr 2014)

Provided by REALTORS® Association of Edmonton

High Life

When the Pearl’s buyers took ownership in February, they became residents of Edmonton’s tallest residential tower. But not for long. As many as 15 towers are planned, proposed or already in production. Here’s how a few of them stack up.

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AVERAGE SELLING PRICE OF HOMES, NOV. 14 JAN. 15

OLIVER: $310,104 (+$26,122 from previous Nov–Jan)
Difference from listing price: -$11,346
Days on market: 48 (-13 from previous Nov–Jan)

DOWNTOWN: $361,205 (+$63,869 from previous Nov–Jan)
Difference from listing price: -$11,893
Days on market: 53 (-26 from previous Nov–Jan)

Provided by the REALTORS® Association of Edmonton

True Detectives

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While the amateur sleuth in Janice MacDonald’s mystery series cracks cases from a tiny Edmonton apartment, the author crafted the bestsellers from a quarter-lot house in Sweetgrass.

But after she and husband Randy Williams, an Alberta policy manager, became empty nesters last year they started doing their own detective work on down-sizing. “We were dreaming of being able to go on trips and paying off our bills,” says MacDonald, “but in the meantime we were putting a new roof on the house and looking at the damn fence.”

Friends and realtors Len Switzer and Rianne Edwards of Spruce Grove Real Estate recommended a transition house, but, says MacDonald, “the bandaid needed to be ripped off.” After viewing about 15 homes—and Williams put his bureaucratic background to work on the contenders’ estoppels—they narrowed it down to two similarly priced and sized condos.

They followed the clues to their new home and, surprisingly, paid a little more for a little less living space. Predictably, packing five bedrooms, three sheds and 29 bookcases into a condo was formidable (pro-tip: Affordable Storage on 104 St.).

But since moving in February, says Williams, “We’ve now travelled more this year than any year together.” Another case closed.

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Top of the Valley
12141 Jasper Ave.

Top of the Valley’s 15th storey condo tempted the couple with a spectacular river valley view, a sauna and jacuzzi, nearby galleries and restaurants. But Oliver’s urbane character and surrounding shops were a red herring. They’d still be 22 blocks from their offices, and Williams especially was determined to walk to work. Plus the balcony was too narrow, thereby limiting MacDonald’s busy green thumbs.


Square footage: 1,127
Floor: 15
Bedrooms: 2
Bath: 1.5
Listed price: $288,000
Upsides: Extra space, nearby river valley stairs, concrete walls, underground parking, panoramic view
Downsides: Low insulation windows, amenities that could become costly (pool, sauna, elevator)


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McKay Manor
10403 98 Ave.

The uphill walk to work from McKay Manor wouldn’t be an easy one, but at least it was only five minutes. The in-suite washer and dryer, second shower and exercise room also hit a sweet spot. The area (though not the wood frame walls) was quieter, too, and home to a diverse mix of ages and families—more of what the middle-aged couple wanted. And what the first floor suite lacked in a view it made up with nearly five metres of deck-space, enough to satisfy MacDonald’s green thumbs all summer long.


Square footage: 1,050
Floor: 1
Bedrooms: 2
Bathrooms: 2
Listed price: $296,000
Upsides: Heated parkade with car wash, galley kitchen, massive deck,in-suite laundry, exercise room
Downsides: Visitor parking view, uphill walk, noisy woodframe walls

Average Selling Price of Homes In October 2014:

Oliver: $278,299
Difference from listing price: -$10,443
Days on market: 46 (-17 from Oct. ‘13)

Downtown: $347,437
Difference from listing price: -$7,416
Days on market: 45 (-8 from Oct. ‘13)

Provided by REALTORS® Association of Edmonton