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Wall Centre False Creek hit home run

All things are not equal -- at least, where the residential sales scene at southeast False Creek is concerned. As any real-estate-watcher well knows, the signing of new-home contracts at the one-time Olympic athletes' village has not been robust, to say the least. But just across the street from the huge Millennium Water development -- granted, on West First, farther back from the False Creek seawall -- there's been something akin to a buyer stampede.

Twelve days after sales were launched in the first phase of the Wall Centre False Creek project, 282 of the 299 available homes were snapped up.

"I think that, arguably, is the picture," said marketer Tracie McTavish, nodding to the two sales boards in the project's presentation centre, each almost completely covered with red 'Sold' stickers.

"We've had such an incredible response ... This is no longer [a case of] how do we get people in the door? It's how do we control the people who come in the door?"

The first two towers in Wall Centre False Creek -- there will eventually be four -- will be comprised predominantly of relatively small, one-bedroom homes that are affordable by Vancouver standards, noted McTavish, adding that they have attracted the attention of first-time buyers and first-time investors to a large degree. And it's these factors, he said, that are among those that distinguish the project from its much-larger Millennium Water neighbour.

"They offer a different product," he said. "This is small, affordable, 500-square-foot one-bedrooms, 700-square-foot two-bedrooms. That's a different world over there. That's more end-user . . . . The moms and pops who sold their house -- they're living in that one. They may have bought one here for their kids, but they're living in that one."

Marketing mogul Bob Rennie agrees that buyer profile is a factor that distinguishes the two False Creek developments, but he said it's hardly the only one. Not to be underestimated, he said, is the fact that the Wall Centre False Creek homes have been launched as pre-sales, their occupancy more than two years away.

"We are a pre-sale city. With a pre-sale, you have 24 months to figure out your life. People love that breathing space," said Rennie, reached in London, where he was attending an art show.

"The Olympic Village is a community across the street, and the Olympic Village will attract homeowners who want to live on the water with high-end German cabinetry and Sub-Zero refrigerators. It's a completely different buyer, but it's not just price point."

Both the principals of Rennie Marketing Systems noted that the recent enthusiastic response to another, similarly affordable Wall Group project -- 2300 Kingsway -- set the tone for the launch of Wall Centre False Creek.

"When [company founder] Peter Wall and I sat down -- we had sold over 400 [homes] at 2300 Kingsway, and we knew there was a lot of pent-up demand in the market for affordability," Rennie said.

"Here, to be in southeast False Creek, across from all the amenities at the Olympic Village, and having over 150 units under $400,000 ... Peter and I kept talking about it, and we knew we would be very successful."

Still, it's clear Rennie was not prepared for the extent of that success.

"We're in this new economy, where we have to be very careful about boasting positives, " he said. "But I told Peter I would sell 250 by the middle of November. I was feeling really good. But not in a week. We were caught off guard."

Sales in the project, which will be home to a new rehearsal hall and studio for Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company and is just a stroll from Hinge Park and the new Creekside Community Recreation Centre, launched recently, but not for the first time. The homes first went to market about two years ago -- 414 homes in all four towers -- and a third sold before the economic meltdown. The developer put the project on hold, returned buyers' deposits -- and waited out the storm.

"Peter said: 'You know what, we'll give all the money back and we're going to come back with a new, revised program,'" McTavish reported. "So we just shut the doors [of the presentation centre]. We turned off the lights and left it."

By the time the lights went back on, a slightly different product had emerged.

"Peter Wall then came back and said, 'Okay, we want to make this more affordable. It's a new world and economy. We need more suites per floor, which means smaller square footage per suit,'" McTavish said. "And we went up to 562 suites between the four towers."

The developer tweaked the finishings to enhance afford-ability. The appliance package was downgraded slightly, for instance, as was the kitchen cabinetry.

"But I think these plans don't move far from what was originally intended," said McTavish. "They're more well designed and extremely efficient."

The one-bedroom Wall Centre show home has those efficiencies on display: a glassed-in, enclosed balcony is furnished as an eating area, and a small flex space is outfitted as a work station.

The project has clearly had staying power -- and nothing speaks to that more than the profile of the buyers, many of whom have stuck with the development since its inception.

"We went back to the original buyers, 140 people, and said 'Look, you showed faith two years ago. You get first chance,'" said McTavish, noting that the pricing of the homes is now about 15-to 20-per-cent less than was it was originally. "I bet you half of those who bought in the first phase came back and said 'This makes total sense. We thought it was good last time. It's even better now. It's more efficient, and the pricing is better than two years ago.'"

Rennie and McTavish believe robust sales are a reflection of the project, and of developer Peter Wall' reputation.

"He has a very accurate, clear vision of Vancouver, and I think he gets it," McTavish said. "You get your developers who have their home runs, and then they get their singles and doubles. He just keeps hitting home runs ... He's a smart man. I think he understands Vancouver as well as anybody."

"With the overwhelming response, Peter is working hard to get the third tower available in the next few weeks," reports McTavish.

Rennie says success of Wall Centre False Creek is good news for Millennium Water: "Real estate in Vancouver is not a bad place to put your money."

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