Home Month and Year September 2023 Making Houses into Homes for 45 Years

Making Houses into Homes for 45 Years

Charron Ungar and Avi Amir. Photo by Rebecca Hardcastle.

When Avi Amir and his family immigrated to Canada in 1974, he was struck by the possibilities of Canada. While capitalizing on those possibilities wasn’t easy, Amir has always been up for a challenge. His civil engineering background opened doors to work with Anthes Equipment in Mississauga and Calgary. He settled in Calgary and decided to strike out on his own with Avi Construction in 1978.

There was only one problem: he didn’t have any money. While he had experience with concrete and steel construction, he didn’t have the funds to bid on public tenders so he shifted gears and with little more than faith in himself and a strong work ethic, entered the unknown world of single-family home construction.
“I didn’t know much about wood construction but I learned on the job. I took out a second mortgage on my house for $30,000 and I started working,” says Avi Amir, founder and chairman of Homes by Avi.

He bought a house in Glengarry and razed it to build a new four-plex in its place and then repeated the process in Sunnyside. It was a steep learning curve but Amir conducted business like he conducted his life, focusing on doing what’s right to give clients the best possible quality and value. Avi Construction was ready to tackle building new homes in Calgary’s growing suburban subdivisions so in 1980, he approached developer Nu-West about purchasing home lots. He was told that would require him to build a showhome first.

As luck would have it, a builder pulled out of the showhome parade in the southwest community of Woodbine and Amir happily stepped into their place. Despite the crashing economy in Alberta in the early 1980s, Avi Construction built 12 houses in its first year as a home builder and continued to grow over the following years. By the peak of the housing boom in the 2010s, Homes by Avi was building approximately 1,000 new homes a year in Alberta.

That level of production was unthinkable in the early days when he and his wife, Rachel, wore many hats and sought help from their three children. It wasn’t until 1985 that they hired the first employee for the newly renamed company Homes By Avi. The Company began to grow consistently from there; building a solid reputation as more people moved into homes built by Homes by Avi.

“After our first showhome in Woodbine in 1980, we worked in Riverbend, Edgemont, Shawnessy, Millrise, Scenic Acres, Rocky Ridge, Chaparral, and on and on. As the city developed, we tried to be in every subdivision that came up,” he says.

After 20 years of building homes in Calgary, one of his developer partners, Dandee Development, informed Amir that it would be several months before they would have land available for development in the city. Not one to sit back, he inquired about other opportunities and jumped at the invitation to build in Edmonton. In 1998, Homes by Avi created a branch in the province’s capital, building its first home in the hamlet of Sherwood Park and continued building in exciting, vibrant communities across Edmonton. The company has also maintained a presence in Austin, Texas, since 2006, building incredible single family homes, townhomes and row homes for clients south of the border.

Homes by Avi has grown into a major player in the industry and now, after 45 years, Amir is stepping back and letting the next generation take the reins. His son, Charron Ungar, has extensive experience in all levels of the company and took on the CEO role from retiring Monte Kendall in 2018, continuing to build his father’s legacy in Alberta.

Leaving Their Mark on Calgary

Homes by Avi has played an integral part in facilitating the city’s growth over the past 45 years, helping house a surging population that has grown from about 518,000 when the company was established to more than 1.6 million today. Whether it’s a couple looking for a larger home to accommodate a growing family, empty-nesters downsizing their space, a young professional drawn to the low-maintenance appeal of condominiums or newlyweds entering the housing market with a starter home, Homes by Avi is dedicated to delivering their dream space in their dream location.

“As we grew and developed, we tried to cater to the public in general, so we have something for almost everybody,” says Avi Amir. “Most communities have several different housing styles and customers can pick from our floorplans available in that particular location.”

The team is designing and building a variety of home styles in more than a dozen of the most sought after areas in Calgary, offering home buyers gorgeous front drive single-family homes in Aspen Spring Estates, contemporary condominiums in Livingston, luxury bungalow villas in Swift Creek, urban downtown units on 17th Avenue (Sovereign on 17th) and beautiful duplex homes in Legacy to name a few.

The influential home builder has made an impact in subdivisions in every quadrant of the city over the past several decades. Even after all this time, there continues to be surprises, and Amir celebrates the unique, out-of-the-box developments that got the team extra excited to be involved in bringing them to life.

The city approved University District in 2014 and since then every conceivable housing type has been introduced to the area. Homes by Avi was thrilled to be a part of it, and after selling out its condominium developments – August and Argyle – the team is now working on its third one – Autumn – for the community. This six-storey mixed-use development includes 162 spacious studio, one- and two-bedroom units that draw on 18 different floor plans to ensure homeowners will get just what they want.

“It’s a great development and a really unique place. They’ve created a whole new community with shops and restaurants on the main floor of the multi-family buildings,” says Amir.

The builders’ customers know they’ll get something special from Homes by Avi, and University District doesn’t disappoint; amenities abound within August, with its roof-top garden and barbeque space, entertaining areas and in-house fitness centre, and the surrounding community offers a grocery store, restaurants and dog parks just outside its door. Homes by Avi is proud to provide customers with top-quality condominium units in this nationally recognized award-winning development.

The company is no stranger to having exceptional developments and customer service being recognized locally, nationally and across North America. One that has garnered awards and a lot of attention is Garrison Woods.

“We were involved with a development with Canada Land Company in Garrison Woods, and that was especially fun because it was a real revival of the community where the army used to live. We made it into one of the most interesting communities in North America,” he says.

The award-winning redevelopment began in 1998 with phase one of Garrison Woods (together with Artisan Homes) which refurbished the former Canadian Forces Base housing while adding additional new homes that mirrored the architectural look of the original homes built in the 1960s. Garrison Green followed in 2006 and lastly Currie, which is one of Canada’s largest urban redevelopment projects and a great example of new urbanism in practice. These communities were designed to encourage connection and engagement by focusing on pedestrian-friendly areas and subscribing to the desire to live, work and play in one area.

Amir couldn’t be happier with the result. This revitalized community breathed more life into the surrounding communities as well, making neighbourhoods like Marda Loop more desirable in the process. Homes he built in Garrison for between $300,000 and $500,000 are in demand and now selling for more than $1.5 million. Amir saw the value and appeal of this incredible area at the time and he and his wife were so taken by it that they moved into one of his homes in this charming community.

“I love building great communities and bringing amazing homes to people. I live in Garrison Woods among my customers and it’s so great to see people I sold a home to on the street. They always stop and say hi,” he says.
The charismatic home builder always has time for his clients, past and current, and he even writes a personal note to every customer to thank them for choosing Homes by Avi. This genuine appreciation is one of the reasons Homes by Avi has not just survived but thrived in Alberta for 45 years.

The Secret to Their Success

Even after its meteoric growth over the years, the company continues to operate as it did at the beginning. Through good times and challenging times, Avi Amir made decisions about how to run his business by what he thought was right, and that strategy hasn’t steered him wrong yet.

Sustainability was important to Amir long before it was trendy, and in 1983 Homes by Avi was the second company to be R-2000 certified in Alberta. This began the builder’s practice of using different construction techniques and products in order to build highly energy-efficient homes. Since then, Homes by Avi has worked to reduce waste, reuse materials when possible, take extra care with insulation to limit heat loss and incorporate energy-efficient appliances and high lumen LED lighting in its homes. Green considerations are always top of mind and the company is dedicated to reducing the energy consumption in the homes while working toward eventual net zero operations.

There is much for builders to consider when choosing materials to build a house, and there is even more for home owners to consider when selecting their design options. The designers at the Avi Definitions Selection Centre guide customers through thousands of details, from paint colour and tile to flooring style and cabinetry to faucets and finishings. Whether customers favour a traditional aesthetic, an urban modern feel or something in between, this talented team of certified interior designers helps customers personalize their space from top to bottom to fit their style and lifestyle. In celebration of 45 years in business, Homes by Avi is matching upgraded finishes dollar-for-dollar up to $45,000 on all new homes, giving customers more bang for their buck in the Selection Centre.

Homes by Avi is also there to help clients through the most stressful part of buying a new home: the move itself. With the builder’s moving concierge service, customers don’t have to think about coordinating cleaning, setting up and transferring utilities, forwarding mail or sourcing movers. This value-add service shoulders the stress of moving so customers can scrap to-do lists and just enjoy the new home experience.

“It’s our way to help our customers and I believe our customers really like it,” says Amir.

To Amir, the best part of his business is supporting customers through the home building process and sharing in the joy when they get to start making memories in their dream home. That customer-centric focus earned Amir his first jobs and it’s what helped make his company one of the most popular builders in the province. Homes by Avi has earned its reputation for a quality product and superior service, and the team fiercely protects that reputation with every interaction and connection. They want to ensure customers have a great experience at every step of the process.

The team treats every new home as if it’s the only one they are building and they strive for quality that they would want for themselves if they were going to live in it. Standards are high for the Homes by Avi team as well as the subtrades working on sites, and they all work together to ensure they are handing over a well built, well designed, attractive home that will make customers proud.

“We make sure that the standard of our construction is high because that really emphasizes the comfort of living inside the house, of keeping the weather outside,” he says. “And if something is wrong, I always take care of things. I care about the value that they have in their home.”

Amir cares about his people too. It’s a family business and Amir treats the staff like part of his family. And what a big family it is. On top of the large number of long-time subcontractors who do the building, there are 240 full-time employees between the Calgary and Edmonton locations. Many of the staff members have stayed with the company for decades because they feel valued, respected and believe in Amir’s customer-first business model. These incredible people work together to build quality homes for great people.

“People don’t quit companies, they quit managers, so we’ve got quality managers that keep our people here,” Amir says.

Great communication is preached from the top down, and the Homes by Avi team prides itself on keeping customers updated throughout the process, from the first meeting when they provide information to reports on progress through to handover. After all, the team wants to keep customers excited as their house is being built so they already love it once they move in. This months-long relationship doesn’t end when they pass on the keys. The team continues to reach out through the first year to make sure everything is going well and there are no warranty issues that need to be addressed.

“Our people have to be treated well and then the customer will be treated well. And they are the people who keep us in business. Our values of friends, family, community and honesty are very important for us. These are the foundations of our company,” Amir says.

Community is a key value, and Avi Amir takes pride in giving back to the communities that have helped him so much over the decades.

Community First

In the early years in business, the company was working in Shawnessy which had a community association with insulation issues, so Amir stepped up and remodelled the exterior to make it a more functional space for the organization. That kickstarted the company’s long history of community service.

First, a staff member asked if the company would assist with a Habitat for Humanity build to help the charity get started in the province. Homes by Avi bought a lot and sold the land to Habitat for Humanity for half its value and then worked with their volunteers to build a home at no charge.

From there, Homes by Avi took up a variety of causes and formed long relationships with organizations including the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter (which has since been renamed FearIsNotLove), Calgary HandiBus, Calgary Flames Foundation, Stollery Children’s Hospital and Alberta Children’s Hospital, the Libin Cardiovascular Institute and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.
As part of the RESOLVE campaign, Homes by Avi donated $1.4 million to the project and did what it does best: committed to construct a building for the Calgary Housing Foundation. The result was The Maple, a 25-unit complex that supplied housing for chronically unhoused women to help them rebuild their lives.

Another huge community initiative for Homes by Avi is the Rotary Dream Home at the Calgary Stampede that is done in partnership with Calgary Stampede Lotteries and the Rotary Club of Calgary at Stampede Park. For 27 years, the builder has custom designed and constructed a stunning home that is on display during the Stampede. This year’s Dream Home will be relocated to Rangeview by Section23 Developments, Calgary’s first garden-to-table community and a lucky Rotary Dream Home lottery winner will move into the fully furnished $1.26 million home.

“We are involved in the communities in a big way wherever we can. We try to concentrate on education, health and homelessness, so anytime we are needed, we are there,” says Amir.

Homes by Avi has been a huge supporter of the industry as well and it endeavors to support educational programs that promote and facilitate the trades. Since 1998, the company has supported Jack James High School’s Knowledge and Employability program (K&E) through a joint home build. The students build a home in their school over the course of the year and then the Homes by Avi team transports this home onto a foundation onsite and finishes the build there.

“This provides them with hands-on experience building homes, and they get a portion of the profit,” he says.

Since 1997, the company has also supported Bishop Kid and Ernest Morrow junior high schools.

To further stoke interest in the trades and battle the labour shortages that plague the industry, the company contributed $1 million to build the Trade and Technology Complex at SAIT in addition to another contribution of $1 million that is split between SAIT and NAIT to promote education and training for construction trades students. Both Amir and Ungar are active in various associations on the local and provincial levels to keep the industry strong.

The Next 45 Years

Homes by Avi will continue to evolve to meet the shifting needs of home buyers in an ever-changing market, all the while preserving what made the home builder special and successful from the beginning – providing incredible service to customers as they build their dream home together. And it’s a source of pride for Avi Amir to see the second and third generation of customers coming to Homes by Avi for their homes, and watching the second and third generation of his family doing such a stellar job serving them.

Companies, like houses, need to be built on a strong foundation and that’s what allows Homes by Avi to make dreams come true for Alberta home buyers.

245 Forge Road SE
Calgary, Alberta T2H 0S9
T 403.536.7000 • F 403.536.7001