Driving through the limestone-lined downtown of St. Marys, award-winning homebuilder Larry Otten is reciting the virtues of homes in this small town.
“It’s a great location,” Otten says. There’s a strong local economy and employment from the industrial base, incredible community services and facilities for sports, seniors, schools and recreation, low property taxes, a picturesque downtown, the river, the quarry – it’s just a great spot to live.” As a Stratford area builder of custom houses, Otten took all of these factors into consideration when he decided to “try something different in the St. Mary’s market” and took on his first condominium project, Wyndham Row – 12 attached bungalows-with-lofts backing onto a stretch of Upper Thames Conservation Authority land on the town’s south side. The units are located at 144 Southvale Road.
Otten grew up in the Stratford are and has been in business for 16 years. With two awards form the Stratford and Area Homebuilders Association one for Most Outstanding Home Overall in 2004 and the other for Most Outstanding Renovation over $75,000 in 2003, and featured homes in the annual Parade of Homes event, Larry Otten Contracting has a 16-year reputation for creativity and close consultation with home buyers. Those values led Otten to both his new building design and the condominium format.
By designing the units himself, Otten was able to create three sets of four homes that look and feel more like houses than the residential blocks that the term “condo” sometimes conjures. And rather than step-and-repeat townhouses in domino formation on an in-fill lot, the units flow like detached homes with open views over the protected green space.
In addition to the locale, Otten was designing for his customers’ lifestyles.
“In terms of the physical structure, I geared for people’s lifestyles with features like heavy soundproofing, automatic garage door, four-piece bath, the view, and so on, so the interior is more of a detached home experience. The exterior uses maintenance-free materials as a time saver.”
“The condo aspect is new for me, but I went this way because it’s a way my customers can have the exterior taken care of – grass, snow and the roofs – and it protects the owner’s long-term investment through the corporate regulations for cash reserves, legal and accounting, safeguards, insurance and maintaining curb appearances,” he says. “There’s flexibility in terms of the owners’ individual units, but exterior consistency for the Wyndham Row members. With a bit of strategic design and a simple corporate structure, we could set the condo fees low – about $139 a month.”
Thinking in terms of demographics in the St. Marys market, Otten sees three types of people taking interest in this type of project: seniors who want a bungalow layout and minimal exterior maintenance; active people who appreciate being just 15 minutes from Stratford but don’t want lawn- and snow-care obligations; and families looking for an intermediate step toward their detached dream home.
By his reckoning, the economies of the attached units enabled him to price them $35,000 to $40,000 less than comparable detached houses. The 1,200-square-foot bungalow design is priced at $181,900 and the 1,700-square-foot-bungalow-with-lofts is $204,900.