In the mid-2000s, the housing market in Calgary was on fire.
Anthony Giuffre, together with business partner Carl Diodati, had already been rallying investors since 2003, holding information sessions at various hotels across the city. Incomes in Calgary were higher than most metro areas, while real estate prices were lower. They predicted this would lead to an increase in both housing prices and rents.
Armed with a real estate agent’s license and a passion for macro-economics, Giuffre hammered out deals, with Diodati, a chemical engineer with a penchant for sustainable development, at his side. The returns were high enough to turn their investors into repeat clients.
However, in 2005 the housing market started beating their expectations. With oil and gas driving Calgary’s real estate in fast and furious style, investors could buy a property, then sell it just a few weeks later, with capital gains.
“Our investors were doing very well,” said Anthony Giuffre. “But our model was no longer making sense. Rents weren’t keeping up with the advancement of housing prices.
“We shifted our model from buy and hold, to buy and flip. But the market was dancing too fast. So we had to shift our model again, because clearly we’d arbitraged two different sides of the market.”
The partners adapted, looking for single-purpose buildings for their investors. Giuffre and Diodati began acquiring apartment buildings in the Beltline neighborhood, for purposes of condo stratification. They set up condo boards and reserve funds, and renovated common area and exteriors, creating value for their investors, who renovated their individual units. At one point they bought and sold 70 condos in three weeks. And if every unit didn’t sell? They had a plan.
“Our fallback was renting, but we couldn’t make the rents work, because they hadn’t caught up to the purchase price of the building,” said Giuffre. “We needed to do something different.”
Buying outside of Calgary seemed like a natural evolution. However, Alberta’s biggest city wasn’t the only area seeing a rush on real estate. Any centre with strong ties to the oil and gas industry – in particular the Calgary to Fort Mac corridor, including Edmonton – was experiencing an uptick that didn’t leave room for opportunity.
Meanwhile, Giuffre and Diodati reviewed the business models of major success stories like Boardwalk Real Estate Investment Trust, Main Street Equity Corp. and Northern Property REIT. However, at that point, doing something similar in Calgary was not viable. They didn’t have the experience, the capital, the investor base or, at this point in their portfolio, the reputation.
“We had to run under the feet of the giants.”
That meant buying somewhere the more established companies would not.
Enter a modest, 24-unit building in Brooks, Alberta, a small city known for its meatpacking plant. Even though it was a two-hour drive away, Giuffre and Diodati were on site almost every day, taking on the property management themselves. Within 6 months, they had renovated it and raised rents to reflect the newly improved property.
“It turned out to be a very good asset,” said Giuffre. “We re-financed, got the capital out and started looking for our next opportunity.”
Cue the official creation of Avenue Living, co-founded by Anthony Giuffre and Carl Diodati in September, 2006. Eleven years later, the Brooks building is still part of the portfolio, with 24 of the more than 6400 multi-residential apartment units managed and maintained by Avenue Living.