Alkarim Devani fights urban sprawl one sustainable home at a time
Beyond Sprawl: One man’s mission to build homes and communities
by Jessica Patterson
Sometimes, it pays to stand out from the crowd. That’s what Alkarim Devani, the owner of Calgary’s Beyond Homes, is discovering. At a time when the homebuilding industry in Calgary is pumping out a decidedly familiar-looking product (one might even describe it as “cookie-cutter”) and adding to the already imposing sea of beige homes, Devani is thinking – and building – differently.
Photograph Bryce Meyer
He’s the face of change in Calgary’s homebuilding market, and his timing couldn’t be much better given that the city seems to have realized that it can’t continue to expand inexorably outward until it bumps up against Okotoks and Airdrie. As far as Devani is concerned, an end to urban sprawl can’t come quickly enough. “You get these little communities whose residents don’t have to come into the core anymore,” he says. “Where’s the heart of the city? Where does that interaction take place, where people from different ages and walks of life mingle?” He intends to be a part of a movement that sees Calgarians start to turn inwards rather than outwards. “I want to be part of the growth in Calgary,” Devani says. “I want to be part of that change, to help reshape communities and leave a long and lasting impression.”
Devani established his business in 2007 after earning a degree in marketing from the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business and working as a real estate agent for Re/Max. But perhaps the most important part of his development came in the form of experience working with his brother Afshin, who owns Devani Homes. “It was really amazing. He taught me the ropes,” Devani says of his brother. “There is something to be said about working with your family. You’re allowed to make that many more mistakes and they really take that time to teach you the ins and the outs.”
He finished building his first home for his own company in 2008, in Calgary’s Altadore neighbourhood. “We took a stab at it, (but) it didn’t go very well,” Devani says. That was largely due to market conditions, which weren’t exactly hospitable to any company doing business in the real estate market, much less one trying to find buyers for a premium product. Like most people, Devani didn’t see the recession coming, and by the time it arrived he decided to finish what he’d started. He thinks that will pay off down the road. “It’s a testament to who I am,” he says, “because I’ve been through it all. I feel we can weather whatever storm comes at us.” It also taught him to err on the side of caution. “My parents were always reminding me of the 1980s and how not to get ahead of myself, so that was something I kept with me,” he says.
Still, while that first home wasn’t exactly a screaming success, it showed him that he’d found his niche. “It was fulfilling because it was what I wanted to do,” he says. “I think I realized my passion for design and for building sustainable homes.” Beyond Homes now specializes in building innovative, sustainable custom homes, and is a member of the Built Green Canada program, which focuses on environmentally- friendly construction. As such, Devani tries to take a long-term view with all of the company’s custom builds. “We don’t want to build a house that will be around for 100 years,” he says. “We want to build a house that will be around for 500 years.”
Today, Beyond Homes has a small, sleek office in Calgary’s North Glenmore neighbourhood. Work is done by Devani and his wife Majida, who owns a design firm, Building Bloc Design, and is the company’s architect and LEED accredited professional.
And while Devani and his company have both come a long way from those difficult days in 2008, he still faces his share of challenges. One of the biggest has to do with his age – or lack thereof. “As a young homebuilder, obviously you face challenges at times. When people sit down, first impressions make a big difference,” Devani says. “You get those questions, ‘How long have you been doing this? What’s your background?’”
He even had someone come into his show home and ask to see his dad. “I said, ‘My dad doesn’t build homes. He worked at CP Rail for 35 years and is retired,’” Devani says.
Still, he’s sensing a change, both in people’s attitudes about what a home should look like and the kind of people who are looking to buy. “We’re starting to get a lot of consumers in our age range of 30 to 45. That’s awesome, because we’re dealing with people we can relate to.” And while he still has to convince a few people that he’s able to do the job, he takes that in stride. “When you lead with passion and heart you may get knocked down,” he says, “but it’s how you pick yourself up that really matters.”
Devani’s company continues to grow and expand, with all of its 2012 homes sold and plenty of demand for the 2013 stock. But despite that success – or maybe because of it – he’s committed to continuing to raise his game. “We’re always learning about new material and we’re trying to improve and advance,” he says. “I really take pride in finding ways to build these houses so that one day, when I am no longer here, people can look back and say, ‘Beyond Homes really brought some cool stuff to this city and helped really define some of these communities.’”