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Archive for January, 2017

Keep Home Safe While Soaking Up the Sun

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Many of us spend January, February and March somewhere decidedly warmer than the GTA if only for a week or two of heat, sunshine and flip flops.

The rigmarole of preparing for a trip can be exhausting so don’t forget about the home you’re leaving behind. Many people simply lock their front door and hope for the best when leaving their houses for extended periods of time. But there are better ways. Here’s how:

Get to Know Thy Neighbour

Since they’re right there and can easily view anything that’s gone awry, it’s best to let them know you will be on vacation. Ask them to keep an eye on your house and clear away evidence (newspapers or dropped-off packages, for example) that show you’re not home. Get them to put out a garbage or recycling bin on garbage day so your place looks lived in. Give them your contact info so they can reach you should an emergency occur. If you’re not comfortable asking this of your neighbour, ask a friend or relative to stop by a few times a week to ensure your house looks occupied.

Shovel the Snow

If you’re the only house on the block with a snowy driveway, that’s a sure giveaway that someone isn’t home. Find a neighbour kid, family member, friend, or landscaping company to clear your drive and sidewalks of snow. Naturally you will need to offer to pay them for their time and trouble, but that beats coming home to find your door ajar.

Stop Mail

Overflowing mail on your porch and heaps of unread newspapers are a clear sign that you’re away. Be sure to cancel the newspaper and postpone mail delivery. Flyers and freebie newspapers should be disposed of by a neighbour or friend who’s checking in on your home every few days.

Keys and Locks

That spare key you have hidden in a fake rock by your garage should be brought inside while you’re on holidays. Burglars know where to find keys no matter how good a hiding spot. Locking your garage door is a good idea even though those doors that have an automatic garage door opener are quite secure. Still, thieves have figured out ways to get in so security experts recommend installing a deadbolt-style lock on your garage door.


Careful with the GPS

Don’t stash your portable GPS inside your vehicle that is parked at the airport. Thieves can break in and discover where your home is easily. Whether your unit is portable or built-in, you’re best to set home for a spot near your home, good enough to get you to familiar territory, while sending a potential burglar off course.

Install Timers

Your lights and electronics should be wired to turn on a certain random times of the day and evening because a dark, quiet house for a week straight is a sure sign you’re not there.  Install timers not just on lighting but also on your radio and TV. The noise and flickering light associated with radio and television will detract would-be robbers.

Say No to Social Media

Tempting as it may be, bragging about your fun in the sun on social media is not wise as it broadcasts the fact that you’re currently not home. Even though all of your accounts are private, you’re best to wait to share photos and word of your vacation until you get home.

Hire a House Sitter

It’s ideal if you have a friend or relative who doesn’t mind leaving his or her home for a week or two for a mini vacation at your house. This option is pricier than others as you will need to compensate well for the inconvenience. But the price will be worth it, knowing that everything is being looked after. There are also professional companies that offer this service, which is likely even pricier. You will need to spend time inquiring about a service’s reputation, though. Check references, read reviews and background checks.

Save Money and the Planet this Winter

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

You may still be recovering from excessive holiday spending so now might be the perfect time to look at ways to save money this winter.

Keeping comfortable in our homes in winter not only costs money but also wreaks havoc on the environment. What better time than now to look at ways to help you save while sparing our planet.


Keep it Simple

We may not get lots of it, but winter sunshine can be a good friend for those trying to heat their homes economically. Open curtains, shades and blinds and let in the free, natural light. When it gets dark, you should close your window coverings, which provide a layer of insulation against the cold.

Is your couch blocking a heat vent? If you’re trying to save coin and do so in a way that is eco-friendly, that’s not how to do it. Let the warm air circulate more freely by moving away couches and furniture that blocks the vents.

Try a draught excluder. They run the length of your door and prevent draughts from getting inside. You can buy them fairly cheaply or make your own. These long sausage-shaped draught excluders can be made from something as simple as an old pair of tights stuffed with socks, rice, kitty litter or lentils. Naturally, you can pretty them up to match your décor if that’s more your style.

Area rugs help prevent the heat loss that comes from bare hardwood floors.

Don’t forget to let ceiling fans do their work. By reversing the direction they turn to clockwise in winter the fan will push warm air back down from the ceiling height. Use on a low setting.

Don’t mean to sound all 1930s on you but throw on a sweater and some wool socks. Walking around your home in shorts and a t-shirt in -15 degree weather doesn’t do your furnace any favours or your wallet.


New ones can be pricey but there are other means to help you control your expenses. Inspect your windows for cracks and leaks and caulk if needed. Also consider weather stripping to reduce air leakage. Window insulation kits are a cheap alternative to replacing your windows. A thin layer of film adheres to your window, blocking warm air from escaping. The film, which looks like plastic wrap, doesn’t block or impair your view. Another option for windows is to hang heavy curtains that prevent the cold from coming in.

Hot Water

Turn down the temperature of your water setting. Did you know that heating your water accounts for about 18 per cent of the energy consumed in your home?

What’s the Temperature?

When you’re home try to keep the furnace temperature on the low side. When you’re sleeping or out of the house, turn down the temp considerably. Try setting it back between 10 and 15 degrees F for eight hours daily and you could save five to 15 per cent on your annual heating bill.

 Block the Fireplace

In many older homes, fireplaces make for attractive rooms but are highly impractical when not in use. Be sure to keep the flue closed or buy a chimney balloon, which blocks cold air from getting in while allowing ventilation.

There are plenty of simple, eco-friendly ways to save money this winter while keeping the earth green. Stopping to think before cranking up the thermometer is a good start.

It is Possible First-time Home Buyers

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

Being a first-time home buyer in Toronto can be a challenge with detached homes going for close to $1 million. To get in the market at that level, your household income needs to top six figures and you’ll need a sizable chunk for a down payment and your closing costs.


If you’re just entering the real estate market for the first time those costs can seem impossible but there are ways to get a piece of the rock as a first timer. For starters, why not consider a condo? This more economical choice gets you into the market and lets you build equity while your property value increases as you pay down the mortgage. As your income also increases over time you will be in a position to trade up and move into, say, a semi-detached home.

As for how to calculate how much you can afford, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) suggests that your monthly housing costs not exceed more than 32 per cent of your gross monthly income. The CMHC deems housing costs as your mortgage payment, interest, property taxes and heating costs, also known by the acronym PITH. So if you and your spouse make $120,000 per year, your total monthly housing costs (PITH) should not exceed $3,200 per month.


The CMHC’s other rule is that your entire monthly debt load should not exceed more than 40 per cent of your gross monthly income. So if with other loans and credit card debt plus your housing costs, your debt load exceeds, in this scenario, more than $4,000 each month lending institutions may look upon your file unfavourably.

Know that help is available. If you are looking to buy in Toronto, there are four first-time home buyer programs available thanks to federal, provincial and municipal governments:

  1. The federal Home Buyers’ Plan is a program that lets you withdraw up to $25,000 per year in RRSPs to buy or build a home. With your partner, that could be as much as $50,000.
  2. The federal First-Time Home Buyers’ Tax Credit is a rebate of approximately $750 to help first-time home purchasers with costs such as legal fees and land transfer taxes.
  3. The Ontario land transfer tax rebate is a new program instituted by the province to assist first-time buyers with a refund on all or part of the tax.
  4. The Toronto Municipal Land Transfer Tax Rebate is a reimbursement program of up to $3,725 that applies to first-time purchasers of both new and existing homes.

Before you begin visiting open houses you probably should get pre-approved for a mortgage. The reason this is important is that it will help guide you when house hunting. There is nothing worse than thinking you can afford a certain price and then finding out that that is not the case. Based on monthly income, your down payment and the mortgage interest rate, you can figure out what you can afford thanks to mortgage affordability calculators, which are available online. Also, don’t forget to account for the other costs associated with buying a home. These include property insurance, condo fees, home inspections, appraisal fees, legal fees and moving expenses.

Finally, if you don’t have a second income to rely on or if your total household income isn’t enough and you still really want to purchase a home consider doing so with a friend or another family. While this would clearly pose numerous challenges and you’d need a real estate lawyer to manage all the scenarios (how are home maintenance expenses divided and what if one side decides to sell?), this set-up is one way to get your foot in the door. Remember it doesn’t have to be forever and it may be your first step toward financial independence.

Give the Ice Rink a Whirl

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

There’s nothing like a spin around an open-air ice rink come winter’s cold. Whether you’re gliding mitten-to-mitten with your sweetheart or teaching your wee ones how to balance on blades, nothing says wintertime fun quite like an outdoor ice rink.

Did you know Torontonians are quite enamoured of al fresco skating? We must be because the city has 51 open-air ice rinks. Here, in no particular order, is a peek at a few of the finest:

Christie Pits Park is an 8.9 hectare park located at 750 Bloor Street West and Christie Street, across from the Christie subway station. The park features the Alex Duff Memorial Pool, three baseball diamonds, a multi-sport field, basketball and volleyball courts, a community garden and an artificial ice rink. The sides of the pits are highly sloped and are used in winter for tobogganing and related activities. There’s street parking on the outskirts.


Founded in 1954, the Phil White Arena at 443 Arlington Ave. in Cedarvale has an outdoor rink for free skates adjacent to the Cedarvale Park Ravine system. The City of Toronto offers various Learn-to-Skate programs as well as Drop-in Skating for Older Adults, Drop-in Skating for All Ages and Drop-in Hockey.

At 875 Dufferin Street just south of Bloor St. W. is the 5.3-hectare Dufferin Grove Park. It features a multipurpose sports field, a basketball court, a picnic area, a wading pool and a children’s playground. At the north end of the park is the Dufferin Grove Park Artificial Ice Rink and Clubhouse. Don’t forget delicious fresh, local foods for sale and its Friday-night community dinners.

The city’s grand dame of outdoor skate rinks is probably Nathan Phillips Square, a high-profile space that is enjoyed by the public all year long. Enjoy the tranquil sights and sounds of the outdoor water fountain in summer, then lace up during winter and coast to your heart’s content. Skating is free here. Skate rentals are not.

Trinity Bellwoods Park is located on Queen St. W. at Strachan Ave. The 14.6 hectare park features three ball diamonds, eight tennis courts, an off-leash area for dogs and owners, a picnic area and an artificial ice rink. The southwest section of the park houses the Trinity Community Recreation Centre.

Two artificial ice rinks are featured at Wallace Emerson, a 2.7 hectare park on Dufferin south of Dupont St. The ice rink offers changing facilities. In addition to skating there is a children’s playground, three bocce courses and a motocross bike area.

The Evergreen Brick Works at 550 Bayview Ave is a new kid on the skating block with skate rentals available and a green conscience that donates all of its rental fees back to its free skate program. Thanks to its trees, this spot feels like a winter oasis.

At 76 Wychwood Ave., you’ll find a natural ice rink that is maintained by volunteers. Known as Wychwood Barns Park, the rink’s conditions can vary depending on weather and the availability of volunteers. While the city offers support by providing access to water and shovels, community-made rinks such as this one shoulder no liability so use at your own risk.

The Colonel Sam Smith Skating Trailat 3131 Lakeshore Blvd W. is a unique outdoor rink shaped in a figure eight and covering 250 metres of chilly adventure. The facility features a rink change area which includes a large change room with benches and washrooms.

At the foot of Lower Sherbourne Street between the Gardiner and Lakeshore East near Sugar Beach is the city’s newest ice rink at Sherbourne Common Park.

At 235 Queens Quay W. is the Natrel Rink at Harbourfront, which is located on Toronto’s harbour. Admission is free. Skate rentals are on hand as is sharpening.

Enjoy and don’t forget the hot chocolate afterwards!

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.