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A builder sheds light on what it takes to build condos in Ottawa


condos in Ottawa

Condo under construction near Westboro in 2010.

I wanted to get some insight into the process by which a condominium development evolves, so I met with Terry Walker, founder of ZW Project Management Inc.

Walker has impressive credentials as ZW Project Management has 30 years of experience in the construction and project management businesses, having managed more than $5 billion worth of hospital, airport and university projects. It is also one of Ottawa’s largest builders and has worked on such condo projects as Charlesfort’s Hudson Park comprising two towers — one that is 17 floors and another 19 floors — both with open rooftop terraces, The Continental, Westboro’s 16 floor condo and Mackay House, New Edinburgh’s 27 unit, 64,000 square foot development.

While many large developers in Ottawa build their own condos, others may partner with commercial builders like John Bassi of Bassi Construction Ltd. or ZW Project Management.

ZW tells me that outside builders and project managers work closely with the developer at all stages of construction, beginning day one of the planning process. The initial budget and timelines for the building are provided to the developer by the chosen builder, or sometimes in conjunction with the developer, including material specifications and costs. The builder, in turn, works to specifications required by the developer and the two partners when it comes to the quality of the project.

Meetings, meetings and more meetings get the process down to precise timelines. Time management and detailed organization skills are essential.

Walker was extremely helpful in clarifying the marriage between the development and construction processes. Because ZW is a local company, it has “grown to be adaptable to whatever current needs in the construction industry are.” For instance, during the high-tech boom, ZW built buildings for the Kanata Research Park Group; now its portfolio includes seven Ottawa area condominium projects.

In response to my questions about how the construction business has changed over the years, Walker explained that while construction costs continue to increase by approximately two-to-four per cent annually.

A disproportionate increase in the cost of land is a major concern for developers. Partly in response to this, some smaller condos are being built with wood frames to manage costs. These tend to be away from the downtown core in neighbourhoods such as Alta Vista, Centrepointe and Qualicum.

Walker also pointed out that the Ontario Building Code is strict about construction standards, and Tarion regulations standardize quality control, compelling builders to produce quality buildings. Good news for the consumer, regardless of her or his price range!

Other cost considerations for builders include the fact that building during winter months is more expensive as crews and in-progress construction elements must be sheltered from the elements.

I found it interesting that accommodating for Ottawa being in an earthquake zone is an important part of the construction process. Builders have to dig deep enough to accommodate mandated parking facilities, and, as the downtown core is largely rock, excavation is expensive and difficult. The good news is the deeper the excavation, the safer the building will be in an earthquake.

I asked Walker for advice for condo buyers and he came up with the following suggestions.

The first is to make sure you pick a building being created by a developer with a great reputation.

The second is to investigate how many units in the building have been purchased by people intending to live there rather than renting the unit out.

Another excellent suggestion is to try not to move into the building until construction has been absolutely finished. Many purchasers move in earlier and, as we have stated before in this column, it is best to wait until the crews are gone and the building is finished. It is no fun living in a construction zone. Developers may encourage this as it is to their financial benefit. If you can, resist the temptation wait it out. You will be happier and the crews will be happier and the project will get finished faster.

A final word of advice from someone who knows the condo scene inside out: When buying your pre-construction condo, keep in mind that design and development – including obtaining site plan approval – can take a minimum of six months and up to a year. Use your condo sense and compare your timeline to that of your developer – after studying the quality of his previous developments.

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