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Archive for November, 2013

Real Estate in a Buyer’s Market

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Real estate television shows such as Income Property, Property Virgins and House Hunters might appeal to our vicarious need for entertaining quick-fixes. But when it comes to reflecting the real-world of real estate, they’re something of a stretch.

“Real estate shows do a disservice to the real estate industry,” says Doug Freeman, a sales rep at Freeman Real Estate. “I just think they promote a perception that it is so easy and in one hour they’re done. Watching those programs doesn’t show the depth of work or the commitment realtors perform when they are buying and selling properties for their clients. It’s entertainment, really, and not at all based in reality.”

A good deal of finesse, skill and knowledge goes into ushering clients through the sometimes intricate ins and outs of buying and selling real estate. “This is a business in which clients need to be guided by their agents so the property they buy or sell leaves them feeling confident that their decision was correct,” says Doug.

Doug has been selling real estate for 15 years, in what has been mainly a seller’s market. He says success against that backdrop means guiding clients who win in a multi-offer situation and preventing clients from paying too much given the fierce competition at hand. While that’s clearly challenging, the rewards can be great.

“It’s rewarding when your client is successful,” says the 63-year-old. “I was involved in a bidding war last night that had 13 offers coming in. Buyers complain because it’s like bidding on a blind auction and I understand exactly how they feel.  When the market turns into a buyer’s market the onus will shift onto the sellers.”

Doug is part of a team that includes his son Trevor Freeman, 33, who is a broker. The pair works well together not only because they’re father and son, but because they complement each other in dealing with a vast and varied set of clientele, which include everything from first-time buyers to more mature, more experienced ones. Having that dual perspective is helpful as it instills clients with the confidence in knowing they’ve made the right decision in what is likely to be the biggest sale or purchase of their lives. Trevor’s natural ability with social media and the world of computers is a big plus as well.

Doug got into real estate after a lengthy career in children’s wear, in which he initially owned and operated his own company and then worked as a corporate executive for Disney licenses, travelling often to Asia to inspect the operations of clothing manufacturers contracted by the multinational.

The highs and lows of working with the public are clearly different than in his former career. But his earlier career laid a foundation in delivery, value and excellent customer service. The challenge in real estate, he says, is developing a strong client base.

“Client referrals along with clients returning for their next property are the ultimate compliment.”






There’s more to mortgages than meets the eye

Friday, November 22nd, 2013


In her nine-year career as a mortgage agent, Amisha Mistry has heard some pretty strange stories. Among those outlandish yarns, she’s also heard tales involving mischief, sad and horrific accounts of people’s lives and anecdotes so hilarious professional comics would pay just to retell the joke.

“There are not many secrets that I haven’t heard over the years,” says Amisha, “I hear a lot about people’s indiscretions. They sometimes feel the need to disclose their secrets when divulging their financial information to me.”

Fortunately for Amisha, that’s the favourite part of her job – the people, not the transgressions. Each person has his or her individual personality and a story to share.

“Learning about people, what makes them tick, warts and all, makes me a better-rounded person,” says the married Toronto resident. “I think it makes you grow as a human being.”

In the process of joining the Sherwood Mortgage Group, Amisha’s job, simply put, is to customize financial plans for clients that line up with their short- and long-term financial goals.

A partner with Freeman Real Estate, Amisha classifies herself as a conservative mortgage lender who prefers to under promise and over deliver rather than the reverse.

The first step in the world of mortgages is to pre-approve a client. Liabilities are measured against assets to arrive at an acceptable loan amount, which for Amisha, who works mainly in the GTA, averages in the neighbourhood of $600,000 to $800,000. Amisha recommends clients stick to a 40 per cent total debt-service ratio, which means all debts – credit cards, lease payments, student loans – should be no more than 40 per cent of your total income.

Mortgage borrowers often make the mistake of seeking a mortgage with too many different lenders. That is so not necessary, says Amisha. Besides, a borrower can actually miss out on the lowest rate by doing so. In addition, using several lenders can hurt your credit rating as credit rating agencies view too much credit-seeking activity as a red flag.

“My advice is to stay in touch with your mortgage professional throughout the whole process. We have the knowledge if rates are going to drop or jump. One mortgage agent can do the job. They will look after your best interest.”

In today’s mortgage market there are a whole range of mortgage products available for nearly every lender. If, for instance, your credit rating is not the best, there are options available. Or perhaps you’re just looking to finance a long-awaited nose job or tummy tuck? Amisha has managed to find loan solutions for nearly every wish, even – ouch — plastic surgery.

To contact Amisha, call 647-203-1607.

What is the Quality of Your Indoor Air?

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

As temperatures drop and the autumn leaves begin to blanket the earth we collectively embark on our migration to the warmth, comfort and protection of our indoor spaces.

According to Health Canada, we spend about 90 per cent of our time indoors, at home, at work or in recreational settings such as shopping malls, restaurants and gyms. We often talk about outdoor air quality and pollution but what do we know about indoor air quality?

Given that fall is the prime time for sealing up our homes in an effort to make them more energy efficient, a look at the health of our indoor air is fitting.

Mould lives in damp environments. It might look like a stain and appear in different colours. Sometimes, though, mould is not apparent and instead there is a musty smell. High concentrations of mould spores inside your house can lead to adverse health effects such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

If the amount of mould isn’t too large, consider fixing the problem yourself. Health Canada recommends using water and dish detergent. Bleach isn’t necessary. Once that’s done, you’ll need to address the cause. There are other ways to prevent mould growth such as ensuring that your clothes dryer hose is properly vented outdoors or by repairing basement, roof and pipe leaks immediately.

Radon, which is a radioactive gas created in nature, is often found in basements and crawl spaces, where there is poor ventilation. These locations also tend to be closer to the source of radon, which is created by decaying uranium found in soil, rock and water. Radon can enter a house through cracks in the foundation or gaps around pipes. Because radon is invisible, odourless and has no taste, the only way to know for sure if you have it is to do a DIY test or call in a professional.

Formaldehyde is a colourless gas that at high levels emits a sharp smell and irritates eyes, nose, and throat and can worsen asthma in children. Low levels of this gas are extremely common indoors. Formaldehyde comes from cigarette smoke, fireplaces and wood-burning stoves; paper products such as wallpaper and cardboard;  paints, adhesives and floor finishes and pressed wood products used in home construction projects, furniture and cabinets.

The best way to control formaldehyde in your home is by not smoking indoors, ensuring your fireplace and woodstove are in good working order and by letting products containing formaldehyde air out before bringing them into your home.

Carbon Monoxide is odorless, tasteless and colourless. Encountering low levels over long periods of time can be dangerous, but high levels can lead to death. Low-level exposure might feel like the flu. More extreme exposure can result in chest pain, confused thinking and dizziness. It’s essential that you keep fuel-burning mechanisms and appliances well vented.

It’s important to maintain your fuel-burning devices, never idle vehicles in your garage and don’t smoke indoors. Invest in a carbon monoxide detector.

The following are general ways to bump up your indoor air quality, according to Health Canada:

  • Don’t smoke in your home
  • Maintain and inspect fuel-burning appliances yearly
  • Keep adequate ventilation, especially in rooms with excess water such as bathrooms
  • Monitor and control humidity levels
  • Fix leaks and cracks in walls, floors, roofs and basements
  • Immediately clean any mould found growing in your home
  • Keep your home clean by dusting and vacuuming regularly
  • Don’t idle your car or run other fuel-burning engines in an attached garage
  • Keep the door between your garage and home closed
  • Do not store paints, solvents or varnishes inside your home
  • Coat or seal furnishings made from particle-board or medium density fibre-board


Learning about the condition of the air inside your home might just be the perfect winter project. There are plenty of great online sources from which to obtain more information. For starters, try Health Canada, www.lung.ca and the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

Elden Freeman B.A., M.E.S, broker is the founder and executive director of the non-profit National Association of Green Agents and Brokers (NAGAB). Freeman says he believes that Realtors across Canada can play an important role in educating their clients on increasing energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (877) 524-9494; www.nagab.org; elden@nagab.org.



Yes Virginia, there is value in selling over the festive season

Monday, November 18th, 2013


You’ve thought long and hard about selling your house. You’ve had those long, late-night chats with your spouse; perhaps you’ve discussed the prospect of a new school and new friends with the kids. Maybe you’ve scoped out neighbourhoods you’d like to move into. But now it’s November and with the holidays approaching, you’ve decided it’s best to wait till spring to list your home.

Not necessarily.

In today’s energetic real estate market selling your house over the holidays can actually net you a better price for your home than during traditionally strong spring and fall markets. Let me explain. With a housing market that’s as large and as vigorous as Toronto’s, seasonal markets don’t really exist anymore. That said, there are peaks in sales, usually in May and September thanks to the number of listings that come available then. The holiday period – aka the ‘slow months’ of November, December and January –  is when the number of listings drops as people turn their attention to gift buying, decorating and entertaining. But this is a great time to sell your property because demand for housing is still very high. Combine strong demand with less supply and what have you got? Higher prices. It’s simple economics.

My view may seem contrarian in that it goes against commonly held beliefs about selling over the holidays: the main one being that buyers will think the seller is desperate, which will reflect in the offers that come in. But in Toronto’s current market that notion doesn’t really fly anymore. I’ve helped clients sell during these ‘slow months’ and netted them better results than if they’d waited till spring or fall.

Here are a few tips for selling at this time of year:

Rein in the décor – Don’t overdo it. Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or another faith-based holiday, prominently displayed menorahs, angels and other religious symbols can be a distraction for potential buyers. Garish displays could be considered offensive not just to aesthetic sensibilities but also to different religions and cultures.

Don’t be a Scrooge – While it may not be a good idea to play up the holidays when it comes to decorations, giving your home that cozy Christmas feeling doesn’t hurt. Play soft music, display homemade treats on a decorative tray, and keep the thermostat at a comfortable temperature. Baking muffins or a pie just before a showing isn’t a bad idea because it fills the air with a homey, comforting scent.

Proud homeowner — Try to provide spring and summer photos of your home and property so buyers can get a sense of how it looks when trees are in full bloom or when the pool is sparkling in the summer sunlight.

Let it snow – But make sure you clear it from all paths, steps, walkways and driveways.









The Santaguidas sure love their food

Monday, November 18th, 2013


Marco Santaguida knew all those many years ago even as he worked toward an economics and political science degree while presiding as the University of Toronto’s student council president from 1994 to ’96 that his calling would one day involve food.

Today, the catering company and coffee shop that he owns and operates with his brother and sister-in-law, Carlos and Joanna Santaguida, count his alma mater as one of its valued customers.

Marco credits his success to his mother, Victoria, who taught her sons everything she knew around food. Both self-taught cooks who grew up surrounded by the culinary traditions of Italian cuisine, the Santaguida brothers have happily branched out their cooking style to include a more international approach including Asian, Mexican and Middle Eastern food.

“The best thing is doing what you really love to do,” says Marco, 42. “The catering and the café-bar really allow us to do what we love to do which is feed people. Not only is this an amazing career but even though our work days are so busy, it’s so satisfying and you end the day and say that was another great one despite the stress of it all.”

The catering business Santaguida Fine Foods and the café-bar Rapido are located on Bathurst Street near Dupont, an area that adjoins the Seaton Village neighbourhood to that of the Annex.

Santaguida has been catering for 16 years now. Opened originally by Marco at Dupont and Christie, his brother and sister-in-law would soon join the business, prompting the move to its current location. Marco loves the neighbourhood he’s in, describing it as a vibrant and eclectic strip that is rapidly changing with unique food shops, art galleries and other diverse retail and foodservice offerings.

“I believe Bathurst Street will be what it was in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s,” he says.

A hop, skip and a jump from another thriving family business, Freeman Real Estate, Marco is quick to praise the Freemans as a wonderful family and a pivotal part of the neighbourhood.

One of Santaguida’s proudest achievements came in 2002 when the caterer prepared food for World Youth Day, which meant feeding 10,000 people who made the pilgrimage to Toronto from Italy to see the Pope.

In 2009, the brothers opened Rapido, across and down the street a bit from Santaguida’s. A European-inspired coffee bar featuring daily specials, grilled panini and fresh, delicious salads, try not to miss Taco Wednesdays and Burrito Fridays.














Investing in Real Estate

Monday, November 18th, 2013

As a realtor, I understand to a certain extent what Duddy Kravitz’s grandfather meant when he said, “a man without land is nobody.”

He, of course, is referring to the Canadian dream of owning land or real estate.  While Duddy took this message to the extreme which resulted in his ultimate undoing, its meaning still resonates for many of us today.

Investing in residential real estate is not for the faint of heart but you don’t need to be a callous slumlord either. Given that money is inexpensive right now the temptation to buy may be stronger than ever. So let’s look at some dos and don’ts of investing in real estate:

Do your due diligence by getting to know the area you’d like to buy in. Is the neighbourhood in decline or an up-and-comer? Are chains such as Starbucks starting to move in? That can indicate that the area is emerging as the next hot real estate market. Make sure you do your research.

Do know that you could be in it for the long haul. Most real-estate investments are not quick flips, though those are the ones that get the most attention.  And while appreciation is not a sure bet, the odds of your investment’s value going up, are greater the longer your own it.

Don’t fall in love with a property. That can do you in in the end. Instead, look for practical rental properties that offer a positive cash flow each month and plenty of potential to grow in value. A positive cash flow is one in which the rental income is higher than the mortgage, taxes, maintenance and other expenses of the property.

Do join a real estate investment club. These are good for gaining insight about the ins and outs of real estate investing. In addition, it doesn’t hurt to know more people. If your network is wide and ever expanding that likely means the more properties you’ll discover and perhaps the money you’ll make.

Do take into consideration the tax deductions available to you as a landlord. For a few hundred dollars, hire an accountant to do your taxes and take advantage of write-offs.

Don’t go overboard. Consider starting small with a maintenance-fee free townhouse. These are in good supply in cities such as Toronto and often appeal to newcomers to Canada.

Don’t be impatient. That will get you nowhere. Sticks to your guns about the type of property you’re looking for and the price you want to pay. Look for deals – they’re out there.


Home inspections vs. SPIS

Monday, November 18th, 2013



When you’re buying an $800,000 house, the $500 you drop on a home inspection is a relatively small price to pay to ensure that everything is as it should be.

But bear in mind that that a home inspector doesn’t have x-ray vision. So often they may miss the fact that the basement leaks during heavy downpours especially if their assessment takes place on a clear day. Let’s face it, given that the examination is based on what you can see, even the best inspector is bound to miss potential problems.

For my money, I prefer a Seller Property Information Statement. Simply put, this is a disclosure from the seller that spells out all the issues – both good and bad – that they know to happen in their home. If you think about it, doesn’t it make more sense to have someone who’s lived in the house for years disclose problems or potential problems as opposed to someone who’s looked at it for two or three hours?

The Seller Property Information Statement, otherwise known as SPIS, is optional. It’s been said buyers love them, sellers fear them and lawyers say no to them. In Canada, since the inception of the SPIS form practice in 1997, there have been over 230 court cases.

Sellers are not required to fill them out, but I encourage my clients to do so in most instances. My thinking is it protects vendors from down-the-road lawsuits if they’re being honest and forthright. After a property sells and changes hands, the SPIS protects the seller should something occur at that point that the new owner might try to pin on the seller. By filling out a SPIS it also demonstrates to buyers that the seller has integrity and nothing to hide as they are willing to disclose defects or issues.

The SPIS is a two-page document that covers questions regarding zoning, taxes and encroachments. Queries are asked about soil contamination, flooding, oil tanks and grow houses. Other questions focus on moisture problems, types of insulation and renovations or addition made to the house.

I’m not saying to disregard home inspections. But if you know houses and have bought and sold a few in your time, you can probably uncover the same that a home inspector would so save the $400 to $600 inspection fee for a rainy day.

Home inspectors are especially useful for first-time home buyers, who know little about the process. A home inspection can help calm the nerves of a buyer who has no idea what shape the roof is in, where the water shutoff is or how to replace a furnace filter.

Shawn Freeman: He’s right up your alley

Monday, November 18th, 2013


A true love of visual arts led Shawn Freeman to pursue a career in architecture and today he’s hoping to use that passion to change neighbourhoods for the better.

The Toronto architect, who lives and works in Seaton Village, is spearheading a move that could ultimately transform how the city uses its alleys and laneways. The residents’ group he co-founded with architect and office mate Andrew Morrison is known affectionately as Victory Lane because members plan to win over city hall in their push to rezone the space behind peoples’ homes for live-work use.

The concept behind Victory Lane is quite simple. Not everyone wants to move out of the city and away from their homes, neighbours and family members as they age. But many are forced to thanks to escalating housing and living expenses and reduced incomes or limited pensions. Shawn’s plan would allow more leeway in the development of garages to generate income. A homeowner could potentially convert their garage into an apartment or perhaps a studio space that would be rented out to a photographer. The possibilities are virtually endless.

The move is motivated in part by recent vertical housing intensification taking place along Dupont and Bathurst. Homes are being overshadowed by six-storey buildings and residents are feeling a loss of privacy. Proponents of alley development believe that two to two-and-a-half storey buildings built adjacent to laneways won’t result in a loss of privacy.

Given recent studies and anecdotal evidence that indicate how much better it is for seniors to remain in their own homes as they age and Toronto’s housing density and affordability issues, his idea may just be perfectly timed. It’s also believed that laneway development would heighten the safety of the area behind people’s homes.

And while the plan is not a new concept and is used widely in pricey housing centres such as Vancouver, Shawn realizes Toronto city hall can be a tough nut to crack, although he expects Adam Vaughan, the city councillor for Seaton Village, to come on board.

A practicing architect for nearly two decades, Shawn has valuable, hands-on experience and has actually designed and built a home recently that would exemplify this concept off of a laneway behind Bathurst Street.

Shawn, whose Bathurst Street practice is just down the block from Freeman Real Estate, where his two brothers and parents own and operate an independent real estate business, lives with his wife and three school-aged children in Seaton Village, a neighbourhood he’s called home since 1992. He walks or bikes to work often toting his 70-pound Hungarian hound named Big Boy.

His architecture specialty is custom-designed homes and cottages in addition to alterations and additions to living spaces. Heritage homes are another speciality he enjoys and has done work on designated homes in Rosedale and Forest Hill.

For more about Shawn and his work visit www. shawnfreemanarchitect.com. Or if you’d like to join Victory Lane or want more information about the group, email him at Shawn.freeman@sympatico.ca.







Randi Kwinta

Monday, November 18th, 2013

That Randi Kwinta enjoys the personal touch shines through in practically everything she does.

As a real estate salesperson for Freeman for the past seven years, Randi delights in getting to know her clients whether they’re medical researchers, opera tenors or millwrights. If you’re fortunate enough to work with her, you’ll find yourself sharing information about your profession, your children and your hobbies and pastimes before you know it. It’s not that Randi is prying; it’s more that she has a natural curiosity about new people and experiences. That’s what gets her wheels spinning.

That people are a big part of the real estate business happens to be a good thing for Randi, who concentrates mostly on residential real estate in the Annex and downtown Toronto. Still, she has clients throughout the city and also enjoys selling condos and dabbling in rentals as well.

The mother of three “fabulous and incredible” children aged 18 to 22 likes to stay busy. Working in the housing industry allows her that in addition to a wide variety of assignments and tasks. That she can find herself one day sitting at a desk going through statistics, then heading out to her car for a meeting with potential clients then off to an open house to check out a property is the kind of variety she embraces.

“I just eat up the diversity I get from this profession,” says Randi. “There’s nothing like it.”

Ironically, Randi first hooked up with the Freemans while studying psychology at the University of Toronto in the 1980s. There, thanks to study groups and university events, she met Elden Freeman, who was studying environmental science. Twenty-five years would pass before their paths crossed again when after many years as a marketer for a corporate interior design firm, Randi decided it was time for a career change.

Once she settled on real estate, she had to think about the type of business she wanted to embody. Freeman Real Estate Ltd. with its smaller, more intimate boutique vibe, was perfect. The fact that Randi is low-maintenance, unpretentious to a fault and a hard worker who enjoys giving clients the best service she can made the fit even more appropriate.

“I knew I wanted to take care of my clients and do the very best for them,” she says. “I like it that the Freemans work really hard and that they do anything and everything for their clients.”

Randi can be reached at randi@freemanrealty.com.









City life for empty nesters

Monday, November 18th, 2013


As an empty nester, new housing options open up to you like never before.

And while some will stay in the suburbs right into old age, many will abandon their mega houses, mega lawns and mega bills for smaller, lower-maintenance digs in hip and trendy city neighbourhoods.

That trend appears to be well on its way. According to census data from Statistics Canada, the country’s metropolitan areas grew by almost eight per cent since the previous census.

While you may need to forfeit certain features such as space and property to live in the city, the benefits you gain more than outweigh your losses. Besides, when you think about all the time you spend on the maintenance and care of your sprawling suburban house and property, don’t you find yourself thinking surely there’s more to life than this?

The benefits to city living are vast and varied. You’ll be able to give up that second car as you walk your neighbourhood or turn to the comprehensive transportation grid offered by streetcars, buses and subways. Are you into obscure post-modern art? You’ll find it in Toronto. Maybe theatre is your thing? Again, your options are greater in the city. Do you get your kicks from social activism or delving into community causes? There are plenty to choose from in the city. Heck, if quieter pastimes such as bird watching or yoga in the park appeal, there are plenty of spaces in which to indulge your Zen side. If gastronomy is more your thing, there are literally thousands of restaurants, snack bars and coffee shops in which to taste the latest culinary craze or ethnic food trend.

The opportunities to be a part of your surroundings are virtually limitless. And if you’re still working, as many Canadians are postponing retirement, you’re probably closer to the office than you were in the ‘burbs. You may also be physically closer to your grown children, many of whom have recently launched their own careers in the city.

Condo living may be the perfect antidote to decades of high-maintenance suburban living. In Toronto and Vancouver there are plenty to choose from. But if condos strike you as too restrictive, small or fee-laden, there are numerous options available. Smaller bungalows, semi-detached homes and townhouses are perfect for the empty nester who wants outdoor space but less of it.

Change rarely comes easily. And moving to the city may take some adjustment after decades in the relative peace and quiet of the suburbs. But I’m guessing the odds are you won’t look back.


The data included on this website is deemed to be reliable, but is not guaranteed to be accurate by the Toronto Real Estate Board. The trademarks REALTOR®, REALTORS® and the REALTOR® logo are controlled by The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) and identify real estate professionals who are members of CREA. Used under license.