The Kelowna Real Estate Market is hotter than Matt in his Victorian bathing costume on Gyro Beach, so how can you get involved and where is the city and the market heading? Mission Group’s CEO Jonathan Friesen joins Matt & Adam this week to discuss why Kelowna is one of the most exciting real estate markets in the country. Where are the best areas to invest? How will the city transform in the near future? And why are we so excited about Aqua Waterfront Village? Here’s a hint: Luxury design, short-term rentals and boat concierge! Yes, boat concierge. Jon Friesen is one of the most thoughtful developers and industry leaders we’ve ever had on our show. Get ready to learn a lot and come back next week for part two with Kelowna’s Long Range Planning Manager, James Moore. Giddy UP!
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Please tell us about yourself.
My father was a Christian missionary to Japan in the early 50’s and raised his family there. He is a German mennonite farm boy from Saskatchewan who married my mother, who is Japanese. I was raised in a small fishing village in Japan and went to Tokyo for high school. So I’m pretty culturally mixed up. I think they call it “third culture kid” where the non-identity is the identity.
When did you leave Japan and come to Canada?
I always understood I should go to university in North America and assumed it would be in Canada. But the truth is I followed a young lady from high school to Los Angeles and did my post-secondary education there before moving to Canada.
So how did you end up in Kelowna?
In the middle of my career I decided to retire for a bit. I was a developer in Vancouver in my early career and then spent seven years in the Cayman Islands volunteering my time. I ended up spending summer holidays in Kelowna because we have family here. And that’s when I realized that Kelowna has legs. It’s a good place to live, raise a family and do business.
Why real estate?
Some things in life are just coincidental. I used to work for a Japanese trading company in Vancouver. There was one day when I was listening to some Japanese businessmen and they were discussing real estate. They talked about how interesting it was and what they were able to accomplish financially. At the time, I was probably shallow enough to think the multi-million dollar price tags were interesting. Now, my values have changed. But in those days, that was intriguing.
When I had the opportunity to go out on my own, I gravitated towards real estate. I like that there’s something left at the end of the day. You can point to buildings you were a part of that are permanent and will outlast you. People can build their lives, their memories and their wealth through those buildings. Real estate, unlike tech, doesn’t disappear when you unplug it. The visceral part of the industry fascinated me.
What are the origins of Mission Group?
When I moved back to Canada after seven years in the Caribbean, I started a local company and the first project was called Mission Shores. It was a success, selling out in a day, as a small townhome community on the beach. We did a few more multi-family projects in Vancouver and Kelowna after that.
We brought in more team members and formed a new partnership, but wanted to keep the equity we had built up in the name Mission Shores. So we borrowed “Mission.” It also speaks to direction and purpose, which is important to our organization. So Mission Group speaks to who we are and represents where we started with Mission Shores.
It seems like you saw the opportunity in Kelowna early on. Does the rapid changing landscape of Kelowna surprise you or did you think it was inevitable?
It doesn’t surprise me overall but I am surprised by how much Kelowna has changed in such a short period of time. Everything is really gaining momentum. People are realizing Kelowna is a good place to invest in and build your life. But the components were there: a progressive and developer-friendly city council, a beautiful location with outdoor amenities, and a great quality of life that few other places have.
Are there cities you look to for inspiration?
I think Kelowna is completely unique. It’s a young city. But it has always reminded me of Monte Carlo. We don’t have the same history but the buildings in Monte Carlo – terraced condominiums with a marina in the centre – reminds me a lot of Kelowna.
We’re able to do it a lot better in Kelowna by viewing the world and seeing what worked and what didn’t. We’re doing proper master plan communities that work together. It’s not just about one building – it’s about how the community interacts with the sites. We have that advantage but Kelowna is still really unique and deserves to be known on its own name.
Kelowna is so much more than a lot of people imagined it would be.
It takes you by surprise. It has all the charm of a small town with almost all of the big city conveniences. We have the university, airport, hospital and you can drive anywhere in 15 minutes.
Kelowna is set to more than double in size in the next decade. What does Kelowna look like in 2030?
The City of Kelowna is realizing that density is important to real estate. They know that the density in the downtown core, and not urban sprawl, is good for Kelowna. Initially Kelowna was a bit sleepy and the downtown core was depressing. When we first got here, that’s not where you wanted to be. But now it is.
The future is continuing to build the downtown up and make it extremely pedestrian friendly. The city has invested a lot of money into this, including into the sidewalks so restaurants can spill out onto the street. The city planners and council know that this is the future of Kelowna.
So in the future there will be density but also this quaint, village-like feel. You get an amenity-rich experience. More people will move here but it will be a long time, and maybe never, before Kelowna becomes a Vancouver, Toronto or Tokyo, for that matter.
Can you tell us about the sub-areas of Kelowna that you’re excited about?
Most of our business is downtown, with three projects in the Lower Mission. The Lower Mission is known as the posh and affluent neighbourhood with the nicest homes and beaches. But it hasn’t been meaningfully developed until now. We have our eyes on this area with our project, Aqua Waterfront Village.
Can you tell us about Aqua Waterfront Village?
We’re talking about three terraced high rises, sitting on a podium of retail. The expansive verandas basically invite the water in. A resort community isn’t about the buildings – it’s about how they allow you to access the setting of the resort. You have a gorgeous lake, mountain views and a beach. We also have a boat storage building and our staff can launch you within minutes of your arrival. You can also join our boat club where we have shared boats. This brings the water into your daily life experience.
Phase one of Aqua will be launched in early summer 2021; our sales centre is nearing completion now. We believe construction will start this fall and the full build will be 24 months.
The people who are registering for the first building, Latitude, are evenly split between people who currently live in Vancouver and those who currently live in Kelowna. We have people who are going to sell their larger home and move to Aqua to enjoy the view and amenities. But we also have investors who are excited about the short term rental opportunity. Airbnb is an option here and that’s very attractive to buyers.
There are one beds, one bed plus dens, two beds and some larger penthouses. The unit breakdown of Aqua is pretty typical to what you’d see in the Vancouver market.
How do you analyze a market? How does your team envision the future?
The question we ask ourselves first is, “Who will live here and what do they want?” We start every project with a one-day meeting with all the different experts of our business and begin sketching what we’re going to build. By the end of the day, we have a pretty good idea of what will be. Everything comes back to: “Who will live here and what do they want?” We even take it a step further to ask “what should they want?” because sometimes the buyer can’t envision something they’ve never seen. It’s a creative process that starts and ends with the user.
What has led to the success of Mission Group?
We see ourselves as a company that’s always learning with a long way to go, but maybe that’s part of our success. It’s easy to think you’re smarter or better than others out there, but that’s not the case. We have to stay humble, focused and down to earth. We’re here to serve people and ensure the community benefits.
Our tagline is “Build It Forward.” If we can be part of the improvement of Kelowna that makes it better for everyone, that’s what our success is all about. We see ourselves as a catalyst for happiness in Kelowna. If we continue to focus on serving others and serving Kelowna, I think that’s also the best way to run a business.
Find out more: https://www.missiongroup.ca/