Coping With COVID-19: Homebuilders see continued demand in pandemic economy

Editor's Note

In order to keep Ottawa business leaders informed in this unprecedented health and economic crisis, OBJ publisher Michael Curran is producing a video podcast with local business leaders.

In this Coping with COVID-19 podcast episode, OBJ publisher Michael Curran speaks with leaders from Ottawa's homebuilding industry. Featured guests include Brent Strachan from Minto Communities, Neil Malhotra of Claridge Homes and Fred Carmosino of Maple Leaf Custom Homes.

This is an edited transcript of the discussion. To hear the full interview, please watch the video above.

CURRAN: Brent, give me a sense of how things at Minto have been impacted.

STRACHAN: For us, and probably a lot of builders, things took over virtually – whether that’s selling or working remotely. Construction was deemed an essential service so construction kept going, albeit at a much slower pace in Ottawa as everyone tried to adjust. What we did see on the sales side is that there is still demand in the Ottawa market for new homes and condos. People are no longer lining up like they used to, but they are registering online virtually and then waiting for a rep to call them to discuss pricing and availability. Moving forward, I think a lot of these things are going to be permanent from a virtual perspective, or at least an addition to what was normal before COVID. 

CURRAN: Neil, let’s go over to you. How has Claridge adapted from a health and safety standpoint and what impact is it having on the pace of building? 

MALHOTRA: We definitely have adapted and we are trying to go above and beyond what the Ministry of Labour is putting out. It’s just working with a new normal right now. Will those things change further? Possibly, but for right now you’re just trying to keep your engine going. It might be a little more inefficient and there may be extra costs but that’s how companies like ours are able to get through these times and keep things moving forward. 

The one thing we are continuing to hear is “Hey, is my house going to be ready next month, because I don’t have any other option?” And the one thing I can say is that there is not one case of someone not closing on a house in this situation. 

CURRAN: Fred, the sales cycle for custom homes is likely very different. Can you give me a sense of how a custom home builder like Maple Leaf is affected by this from a sales perspective? 

CARMOSINO: That’s really the toughest question to answer so far. We are building homes today that were sold over a year ago and we, like Neil said, haven’t missed a closing during this. 

We are seeing a slowdown in calls and requests for designs, but it’s not all that slow. Ottawa is a fairly insulated market compared to other cities in terms of housing and we were on fire prior to this thing happening, so we will come out of this just fine. The next 18 to 24 months will tell the real story, but I’m confident that Ottawa has a good situation.