Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Firm's growth admirable among tight margins

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Brenda Brydges started 17 years ago managing one complex out of her basement and has built one of the province's top condo-management firms.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Brenda Brydges started 17 years ago managing one complex out of her basement and has built one of the province's top condo-management firms. Photo Store

As humble beginnings go, this was pretty humble.

About a year after moving back to Winnipeg from British Columbia, Brenda Brydges, a single mother with a two-year-old son, left a full-time job with one of the city's oldest and largest property management firms to start up her own condominium-management business.

She launched Brydges Property Management out of the basement of her Berry Street home with only one client -- the condo corporation for a Garden City complex that had 99 units.

"I wanted to see if I could make money for myself instead of for someone else," Brydges explained in a recent interview. "I did everything. I was the accountant, the (property) manager, the maintenance person -- the whole ball of wax. I thought that if I got five condo corporations... that would be good enough for me."

Fast-forward nearly 18 years, and Brydges Property Management is now one of the province's largest condo-management companies. It has more than 80 condo properties, with 5,000-plus units, under management.

"We have more than doubled in size (in terms of properties under management) in the last four years," Brydges said. "This time four years ago I had two property managers and today I have six."

That kind of growth is no small feat, Doug Forbes, a condominium lawyer with Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP, said.

"The condo property-management business is a tough business," Forbes said. "Margins are tight."

And while consolidation in recent years has reduced the number of condo-management companies operating in Manitoba, it's still a competitive business with a couple of other big players -- Akman Management Ltd. and Stevenson Management Services Ltd. -- which have been around for more than a century.

"(So) that is a significant accomplishment," Forbes said. "That's pretty good growth, and I'm not sure anybody could replicate it, although some are trying."

Brydges and Forbes said some of that growth can be attributed to a big increase in the number of condo buildings in the province.

Forbes said that in the early 1990s, there were about 300 condo corporations registered with the provincial Land Titles Office in Winnipeg.

"Now there's over 900," he said, with about 400 of them coming on stream in just the last five years.

Brydges cites similar numbers.

"The condo market in Manitoba, and in Winnipeg especially, has exploded over the last few years," she said. "There are now over 800 registered condo corporations in Winnipeg alone, and when I started, it was in the mid-400s. And most of that growth has been in the last five to 10 years."

Brydges attributes that growth in part to a shift in consumer attitudes toward living in a condo, particularly apartment-style condos.

"When I started, Winnipeggers had this thing about needing to feel ground under their feet," she said. "But now, they're not as concerned about buying a unit in a highrise (building). They seem to have switched from that ground-under-my-feet attitude."

She's noticed the attitude change in both older homeowners and young professionals. She said many young professionals don't want the hassles involved with owning a detached home -- things such as shovelling the walks and cutting the grass.

"They're focused on their careers. And if anything, I see that (the popularity of condos) continuing to grow," she added.

Forbes agrees, although he sees growth slowing over the long term. He also predicted, down the road, local players could be facing challenges from some big U.S. condo-management firms that have recently expanded into Canada.

At the moment, they're focusing on the bigger condo markets like Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, he said. But eventually they'll likely turn their attention to cities such as Winnipeg. "So long-term, I think that is a risk to the players here."

To grow her business and increase efficiencies, Brydges is doing some expanding of her own. In September, she "merged" her business with one of the city's smaller condo-management firms -- Robin Property Management.

That added eight more condo properties to her client list and three more employees to her staff, which has ballooned to 41 full- and part-time workers.

And now she's in preliminary talks with another local property-management firm whose owner is retiring and wants to merge his business with hers before he leaves. Brydges is hoping to conclude that deal by the middle of 2014.

She's also needs more space for her operation. So the company's 3,000-square-foot office building on Scotland Avenue is for sale, and Brydges is looking for new quarters that are at least double that size -- about 6,000 to 7,000 square feet.

She's also planning to open a branch office in rural Manitoba -- maybe in Steinbach or Niverville -- to handle her company's growing number of clients in rural centres south of the city, where new condo complexes have been springing up like flowers after a spring rain.

 

Know of newsworthy or interesting trends or developments in the local office, retail, or industrial real estate sectors? Let real estate reporter Murray McNeill know at the email address below, or at 204-697-7254.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 9, 2013 0

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