When Andrew Knapp attended the University of Waterloo, he shared accommodations with other students in less-than-appealing housing.
Now, 12 years later, the Waterloo alum lives in Toronto and is a successful developer of solar energy projects. He recently returned to Waterloo to invest in a student housing project — but not a neglected townhouse or bungalow in need of major fix-ups.
He has put his money into luxury student housing — up-market condos to be built within walking distance of both the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University.
Knapp bought four units in Sage I, a condo project that sold out in just four days last January. Construction on the building, at 8 Hickory St. W, will be completed next year.
“When I went to school, I lived off-campus in a four-bedroom townhouse,” he says. “I would never have been the target market for these condos, but I know I was living with people who could afford a lot more than what we had.”
Sage I will have 58 three- and five-bedroom luxury condo units, which were sold for between $359,900 and $599,900.
Now the developer, In8 Development, is launching Sage II, to be built at 318 Spruce St. in Waterloo, which will officially go on sale Sept. 27. The 23-storey tower will have 200 conventional one- and two-bedroom units, with granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances, and in-suite laundry.
The building will include a gym, theatre room, lounge, underground parking, guest suite, retail at street level and a 7,000-square-foot, green roof patio.
In Sage II, one-bedroom units start at $189,900, one-bedroom–plus-den units start at $229,900 and two-bedroom units start at $299,990. Condo fees will be 27 cents per square foot.
In8’s president Darryl Firsten has been in the student-housing market in the Waterloo area for eight years. He says the concept behind Sage is to build higher-quality student housing than what is currently available.
“We surveyed the buyers of our first project and almost all had some connection to Waterloo and the university,” says Firsten. “Most commonly, buyers said their kids may go to school there, or they went to school there.”
Richmond Hill resident Warren Tom’s daughter went to Wilfrid Laurier. Although he paid rent to someone else during the three years she lived off campus, he now sees the potential in having an investment property rented out to students.
“In my daughter’s first year, she lived in a dorm. But the other years were a challenge, living with other people, and it just wasn’t ideal,” says Tom. “These units are within walking distance of the university and the first year of rental will be managed by the company. I purchased one of the three-bedroom units in Sage I and will buy a one-bedroom in Sage II.”
Firsten thinks the one- and two-bedroom units will also appeal to grad students, young professors or employees at the many tech firms nearby.
He saw the growth of the student market 10 years ago, when he started a flower business catering to university convocation ceremonies.
“I noticed enrollment just kept going up and universities kept growing. If I’m going to bet on a few things happening in life, it would be death, taxes and people wanting to be more educated,” he says.
Firsten adds that co-op programs offered by the two universities mean students are working every other semester, which creates a larger student population over the summer.
“People have been investing in student housing for years. I started eight years ago and love the market,” he says. “But unless you have $10 million to buy an apartment building, you’re buying an old wartime house that is falling over, doesn’t meet fire code and is hard to manage.”
Buyers can take advantage of an optional property management package, which will be free for the first year and cost half of one month’s rent after that. An early-bird incentive offers units fully furnished and rented.
“We will rent your unit for you, and we offer a furnishing package. Our interior designer has picked out a furniture package,” says Firsten.
Jennifer Brown, THE TORONTO STAR