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Archive for the ‘Lifestyle Realm’ Category

Attracting Bees and Butterflies to Your Garden

Saturday, June 17th, 2017

If you’re looking to heighten your level of environmental good-deed doing this summer, why not consider establishing a garden or flower bed that welcomes bees and butterflies.

Little thought they are, bees and butterflies are incredibly important to our ecosystem.  Did you know that 75 per cent of the food we eat, from fruits and nuts to herbs, need pollinators? Bees do this quite well. The fruit and vegetables you grow will be delightful with more bees around.

Butterflies play an important role in pollinating flowers, especially those that are strongly scented, are red or yellow or those that produce a healthy dose of nectar from which to feed. It’s believed that an abundance of butterflies is a sign that our ecosystem is doing well.

So let’s look at ways to create a bee- and butterfly-friendly space in your garden:

Make a Bee House

Paint a wooden house a bright colour with low-VOC paint. The bees will buzz around and make mental snapshots of their new home before nesting in their new dwelling. Once the temperature hits 12 to 14 degrees C hang the house at eye level out of the rain facing south or east.

Dig down below the soil near your bee house to expose the clay soil. This will encourage the masons to use it as construction material or you can also keep a bowl of moist clay near their house.

Offer Food

Grow a variety of plants that flower at different times. That way there’s always a snack available for them.

Showy flowers are sometimes the worst food providers for bees. Look for native plants or heirloom varieties. Consider planting flowers in clumps. Bees especially love blue, purple, violet, white and yellow. A variety of flower shapes are good for a diverse bee population with different tongue lengths.

Here are a number of bee-friendly plants categorized based on their bloom times. Early bloomers include blueberry, crabapple, foxglove, heather and willow. Good mid-season bloomers for bees are chives, dahlia, lavender and sunflower. Late blooming plants include coneflower, cosmos, pumpkin and sedum.

Butterflies like alyssum, bee balm, delphinium, hollyhock, marigold, nasturtium, phlox, Shasta daisy, verbena and zinnia, among others. Don’t forget to include plants like dill, fennel and milkweed that butterfly larvae feed on.

Create a Bee Bath

Bees and butterflies needs fresh water to survive. Because of the way they’re built, though, they need something to land on when trying to touch down in bird baths and the like. Try lining a shallow bowl with rocks or stones, leaving the rocks to stick out in spots so bees and butterflies have landing pads on which to settle.

The bath should be at ground level in your garden. Better yet, place the bath near your problems plants, those that get aphids and such, and these beneficial insects that are flying in for a drink will also take care of your plant’s pests.

Refresh the water daily.

 

Sources: www.gardeners.com, www.davidsuzuki.org,

8 Telltale Signs it’s Time to Leave Your Home

Friday, June 9th, 2017

Leaving behind the family nest is never easy.

But there are circumstances when the need for a new nest becomes quite apparent. Let’s look at signs that it’s time for a move:

There’s no room

Space is tight and you’re practically tripping over each other. Simple everyday chores turn into a big production as you reorganize your possessions just so you can find a butter knife.   Maybe you’ve had another child or maybe dad has moved in, making space all that much more precious. It’s probably time for a bigger place.

Too much space

When you call your partner’s name do you hear an echo? As empty nesters, leaving behind the family home with its many years of memories is never easy. But when you think about the time, money and effort spent on maintaining a large, empty home, it seems kind of wasteful. Think about all the other activities and pastimes you could be enjoying by moving to a smaller home.

Better schools

It’s not uncommon for families to move into neighbourhoods that are known for having good schools. The education of children is high on the priority list for many households. If you think your son or daughter isn’t getting a top-grade education, then maybe it’s time to find a neighbourhood that’s known for its high marks.

Is your neighbourhood safe and sound?

Safety is of paramount concern so if you feel your neighbourhood falls short on this count, you might need to consider moving. Are your neighbours noisy and disruptive? Do dogs bark at all hours? Time to get out.

The suburbs

Lifelong city dwellers may find it hard to imagine, but sometimes a slower pace is welcome. You’re bound to get more real estate bang for your buck in the suburbs with comparably greater square footage and outdoor space in addition to a lower cost of living and increased safety.

Time to upgrade

Maybe you want an extra bathroom, more storage space, a newer kitchen or perhaps it’s amenities such as an in ground pool, bigger yard or garage that you’re after? Rather than renovate, it may actually be more practical to move.

Downsizing

Do your bills cause you grief? Are you tired of being short on cash in order to pay your mortgage, utility and repair bills? It might be time to move to a cheaper home. Just think of the things you can do the equity you’ve built up.

Shorter commute

Tired of long drives to and from work? Does your Monday to Friday routine feel like a miserable treadmill from which you can’t break free? You might want to think about moving closer to work. If your job prospects are good, why not consider a shorter commute.

Good New for Home Buyers

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

Buyers eying the GTA will be happy to hear that the Toronto real estate market finally appears to be taming down somewhat.

The Toronto Real Estate Board reported that existing home sales fell in May by 20.3 per cent from the previous May, while prices edged down by about six per cent from April to May.

Though it’s too early to tell for sure, it’s believed the provincial government’s institution of new rules designed to control the housing market is the reason for the cool down.

“The actual, or normalized, effect of the Ontario Fair Housing Plan remains to be seen,” said TREB’s market analysis director Jason Mercer. “In the past, some housing policy changes have initially led to an overreaction on the part of homeowners and buyers, which later balanced out.”

In April, the province announced a 16-step plan to tame Toronto’s out-of-control real estate market. The plan targeted foreign investors with a 15 per cent non-resident speculation tax on property purchases and more rent controls which serve to restrict rent hikes.

While home buyers will be pleased with softer prices, they can also expect to benefit from a greater housing supply. Active listings rose nearly 43 per cent in May from the previous May. As for the breakdown, low-rise homes including detached and semi-detached houses and townhouses were up considerably in May from a year ago, while condominiums were down.

“The increase in active listings suggests that homeowners, after a protracted delay, are starting to react to the strong price growth we’ve experienced over the past year by listing their home for sale to take advantage of these equity gains,” Mercer said.

All of these factors contribute to a less frenzied buying model, which means less pressure plus more time and room to think for those looking to purchase.

Some say the Toronto market is echoing Vancouver, which also slapped foreign buyers with a 15 per cent tax last August. While the market subsequently softened it appears to have recovered with sales and prices again on the rise last month in Greater Vancouver.

Kill Weeds without Killing the Earth

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

It’s May and we all know that means buds are bursting, seeds are sprouting and grass is growing at a breakneck pace.

Of course, so are the weeds. But before you apply harmful toxins, there are ways to eradicate them that are kinder and gentler on the environment. Let’s look at how to wipe out weeds by killing them with kindness, so to speak:

Dandelions:

In full bloom right now, these pretty weeds can be a nuisance. If you’re feeling energetic you can pluck them out by hand. Also try decapitating the yellow flower heads before they germinate and spread thousands of seeds. Corn gluten is said to suppress dandelion growth as well as other weeds. You can also try a stronger vinegar solution that is 15—25% acetic and available at most home and garden centres.

Boil Water:

Believe it or not, this extremely simple and inexpensive method is recommended by many. This is especially effective for weeds growing in sidewalk cracks or driveways or a larger area that you would like to replant once the weeds have died. The great thing is water doesn’t leave any harmful residue.

Zap Em:

Direct heat will wilt and with repeated applications kill most weeds. Most home and garden stores carry flame weeder torches that allow you to torch weeds directly without burning down your house.

Sodium Chloride:  

Common table salt is an effective herbicide. You need to be careful, though, not to soak the soil and other plants when applying this solution and that’s why salt is often recommended for killing weeds on driveways and sidewalks. Dissolve one part salt in eight parts of hot water  and add a small amount of liquid dish soap to help the solution adhere to the weed. Pour into a spray bottle and then spray the leaves of the weeds you want to get rid of.

Pickle Them:

Vinegar is a good solution for weeds. Even common white vinegar with its 5 per cent acidity will do the job, though you can purchase more acidic vinegars at garden stores. A good recipe for killing weeds that crop up in concrete and stone patios, driveways and sidewalks is four litres of white vinegar mixed with one cup of Epsom salts and a quarter cup of dish soap. Mix the ingredients in a large grab-and-go container with an attached sprayer wand and keep it on hand all summer long.

Borax:

Sold mainly as a product for cleaning and laundry, borax is an effective herbicide in the garden. Mix 10 ounces of powdered borax with 2.5 gallons of water and pour some of the solution in a container that has a sprayer. Simply spray the leaves of the weeds you want to kill being careful not to spray other plants or soak the soil with the solution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources: www.mydandelionisaflower.org, www.treehugger.com,

Average Toronto house price hits $921,000

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

Here’s a strange anomaly for you: Even though more homes were for sale this April compared to one year ago, home prices were up by as much as 24.5 per cent that month compared to a year earlier.

If you’re still in the market for a house you may have noticed that significantly more homes – 33.6 per cent to be exact — were for sale last month compared to April of 2016. But the greater supply did little to stem the upward flow of the city’s house prices, according to figures released by the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB).

Based on TREB data, the average cost of a home in Toronto climbed to nearly $921,000 last month, up almost $200,000 from last April’s average house price of $739,762.

April also saw sales nudge down by 3.2 per cent compared to a year ago, a sign, say some, that the Toronto real estate market is finally cooling off.

Any which way you look at it, more listings will inevitably signal a positive note for the Toronto real estate market, says a TREB economist.

“It was encouraging to see a very strong year-over-year increase in new listings,” said Jason Mercer, director of market analysis. “If new listings growth continues to outpace sales growth moving forward, we will start to see more balanced market conditions.”

Still, the board is not expecting any downturns in home prices. In fact, Mercer says the spring and summer months will see the growth of house prices well above the rate of inflation.

A greater housing supply could be a reaction to the market’s big year-over-year price jumps and the province’s newly implemented Fair Housing Plan, though it’s too early to tell.

Another indicator that the market is cooling showed in sales of detached homes, which slipped slightly from March to $1,205,262 from $1,214,422. Semi-detached homes also dipped a bit last month, while condo prices increased by 4.3 per cent.

Buyers Take Heart

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

In today’s scorching hot real estate market it’s easy as a buyer to become discouraged as each house you love gets lost under a pile of bids that come in at ridiculously high sums over the asking price.

Take comfort knowing that there are situations, though rare, where it’s not always about the top dollar for the seller. An American couple made international headlines in March when they opted to sell their Oakville home for $150,000 less than the highest bidder thanks to a heartfelt letter they received from the buyers.

The Sohs, a family of six with four children between 9 and 14, told the sellers that the family had returned changed from a six-week missionary trip to Africa, where they visited slums and taught in village schools. Returning to their 3,600-square-foot home, the Sohs realized the space was too large. They decided they would sell their current home and find something cheaper so the family could use the money saved for good works.

Here is some of what they wrote:

‘Our desire is to downsize and live simply so others may simply live,’ they wrote. ‘The gift of your home would allow us the freedom to do more mission trips and it would free up more of our finances to take care of the poor and needy and build His Kingdom. This would also allow us to further build in our children what has been planted in their hearts, to love those in need more than the things of this world.’

They are trading in 3,600 square feet for a home of 1,983 square feet.

The home, in original condition on a pool-sized, pie-shaped lot, was listed for $789,000. The Sohs paid $200,000 over asking. They were one of 14 offers on the property.

The Crofts, who now live outside of Denver, said they wanted to sell their home to a family who would treasure the community they lived in for 15 years. They had a dollar figure in mind that would make for an easy move and purchase of a home in Colorado. They don’t see taking less money as a loss. “When that number was met, we thought, ‘What’s enough? What’s the point?’” Michelle Croft told the Toronto Star.

Adding a personal touch to an offer is nothing new in Toronto real estate. And while it seems like a lot of extra work, it may just be worth the effort. Work at winning over the seller but please be authentic because most people can smell phoney baloney claims, lies and insincerity.

Be creative and original. Tell the sellers what you love about their home and how you plan to enjoy it. Introduce them to your family. Include a photograph, as the Sohs did.  If writing is not your thing, consider introducing your family and your story to them via video. Who knows? Your story may just give you the added edge.

Common Gardening Mistakes

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

There is nothing like springtime to get motivated about working in the garden. The birds are singing, the air is fresh and mild, the sun is shining. Signs of rebirth are all around you.

And nowhere do you see our unbridled passion for the outdoors more than in our garden, flower bed and landscaping displays. But some of us tend to go overboard, spending piles only to learn over time that certain plants don’t grow in certain areas or the flowers on that Weigela are the wrong colour. At the other end of the spectrum, there are folks who think that lone boring hedge sitting next to the front steps is a big contribution to the world of horticulture.

There’s a happy medium somewhere between the two extremes. So let’s take a look at those common mistakes made by home gardeners and see if we can work to avoid them this year:

Don’t Be A Quick-Change Artist

Try to live in your house for a full year before making any big changes to the lawn and gardens. It takes a complete year to realize what your plants, shrubs and trees look like in bloom and whether you want to keep move or discard them.

Not Planning Ahead

Earmark 10 to 20 per cent of your budget for construction of a new addition for landscaping. Sadly, construction can eat up your total budget with gardens and landscaping looking like a sad afterthought. If you can’t afford another expense right now, plan garden beds and landscaping in phases.

While you’re at it, draw up a blueprint of your garden plan. Include patios, out buildings and pools in addition to trees, bushes and flowers that are best suited for your soil and climate. Get advice from your local garden centre or hire a landscape designer to help with your plan.

Ignoring Soil Health

Adding supplements to your soil will save you time and money in the long run.  Add in peat moss which helps with water drainage in clay soil and helps sandy soil retain water. In new gardens add two or three inches of organic matter such as compost or manure to the top 12 inches of soil. Be sure to add mulch to your flower beds and gardens. Mulch keeps your soil cool and retains water.

Overwatering

If you’re an enthusiastic gardener you may be guilty of this oversight. Plant roots will drown if sitting in water as, like humans, they need air to survive. If your plant is wilting, though getting plenty of water, that may be the culprit. Leaves will turn brown or yellow and feel soft to the touch with too much water.

Too Little Watering

You are better to water less often but thoroughly. Shallow watering is a common mistake made especially by those who use a handheld garden hose. In this scenario, the top of the plant and the dust and dirt on the leaves gets washed off but little water goes to the roots. This will cause shallow roots which results in plants toppling over and wilting because their roots haven’t grown deeply into the ground which anchors them and lets them draw water from deep in the soil.

Incorrect Pruning

According to Mark Cullen, almost anything can be pruned in the fall without worry of harming the plant. But that rule gets a little dicey when it comes to flowering shrubs. Prune fall flowering shrubs such as Rose of Sharon in the fall. Early flowering shrubs like forsythia should be cut back in late spring or early summer after they have bloomed. Prune perennials in spring but keep sturdier flowers as a food source for birds and visual interest through the winter. Roses are typically trimmed in spring.

Planting sun lovers in shade or vice versa

Those info tags in plants at the garden centre are there for a purpose. Please read them. Though the information is sparse they tell you whether the plant thrives in sun, shade or a combination of the two.

 

 

Go Green with your Spring Clean

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Tough on dirt and soft on Mother Nature is how you’ll want to tackle indoor and outdoor spring cleaning this year if being kinder to the environment is on your bucket list.

Besides dumping VOCs and phosphates back into the water system which creates health and environmental hazards, another good reason to use green products is that they are easy on your wallet. Green cleaners such as vinegar, baking soda and borax are inexpensive when compared to store-bought brand-name cleaning products.

Using green products is also simpler.  There are eight products that will clean just about anything. In addition to the three already mentioned stock up on hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice, olive oil, castile soap, and washing soda.

House Exterior – For some exteriors all you need is water and a pressure washer. Be careful though. Scale back the pressure when using on masonry and vinyl because full-blast water can get in behind the vinyl and loosen mortar from stone and bricks. Another sure-fire method calls for a bucket and mild soap. Rinse with your water hose.

Driveways – Watch the type of cleaning products used since chemicals can end up in the local water supply. Use organic, biodegradable soaps. Using a street-sweeper style broom and hosing down dirt and dust regularly should do the trick. For oil stains try super absorbent materials such as cat litter, sand or sawdust. Simply cover the stain and let sit for a few days then sweep away.

Windows – Eliminate the use of paper towels by using a clean, lint-free soft cloth or sponge. Try cleaning your windows with baby shampoo or vinegar and water. Window screens can be cleaned in a shower or tub or outdoors. Spray gently and use a soft bristle brush to reach small spaces. For stubborn dirt, use mild soap and water.

Patios & Decks – If your metal lawn furniture is looking dirty, try a mixture of warm water, hydrogen peroxide, a squirt of natural dish soap and a scoop or borax. Spray, let stand for 15 minutes then scrub and rinse. Mold occurs regularly if you’re not super diligent about covering your furniture. Mix one teaspoon of tea tree oil for each cup of water. Test it on the back of a cushion and if it’s okay spray on the moldy areas. The oil will kill the mold and there’s no need to wipe it off.

No Waste – Aiming for a no-waste clean is a smart move for those wanting to reduce their carbon footprint. So ditch the use of paper towels, Swiffer cloths and disposable mops. Try instead microfiber cloths and sponges, brooms and a reusable mop.

The 3 Rs – Did you forget what they are? Go through your house with a fine-tooth comb, especially those spots that accumulate junk: attics, basements, spare closets and drawers. Chuck it or better yet donate it. Of course, you can always reuse things. Think you’d like to turn those old teacups into a pretty planter? Go right ahead. The idea here is to save you from buying more stuff. Finally, the third R, recycle. This is your final option once you’ve exhausted the first two.

Spring cleaning can be done without harming your health and the planet. These are sustainable baby steps, to be sure, but imagine the collective pay off.

 

Sources: www.bobvila.com, www.treehugger.com, www.sparkpeople.com

 

Vacant Homes Hit All-Time High

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

You may have read the story about that vacant home in the city’s west end that’s been empty for more than 25 years. Neglect and suffering centre on that tale of woe but that’s not the kind of unoccupied homes we’re talking about here.

Newly released 2016 Census numbers from Statistics Canada show that 99,236 homes in Toronto are not regularly occupied. Again, that’s nearly 100,000 dwellings in the city that are left empty for the most part. These numbers are identified by the owners of the residences.

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According to Better Dwelling, this represents 4.5 per cent of all homes in the city, and a 10.5 per cent change over the past 5 years. The general population grew by 4.5 per cent during the same period, which means this trend appears to be accelerating.

A large part of the city comes in with dwelling vacancies under five per cent. However, a few concentrated areas skewed up the numbers such as the Concord area of Vaughan, which showed unoccupied dwellings at 35.27 per cent.

The downtown averaged higher than the rest of the city. South of Bloor Street, east of Roncesvalles Ave. and west of Yonge Street showed an average of 8.79 per cent unoccupied. King St. West, also known as the fashion district, showed 21.81 per cent or 3,316 units not regularly occupied, while the stretch going up Yonge Street also had a higher than normal concentration compared to the rest of the city.

While you might think foreign buyers are responsible for the vacancies, remember that the numbers comes from census takers, who are Canadian residents and not offshore investors. Some believe owners are using their properties for short-term rental uses such as the type you might list with Airbnb or a pied-a-terre. Still others believe they are owned by speculators who are waiting for the right time to sell.

According to the Census released in February, Canada is home to 1.3 million temporarily unoccupied residences. That’s enough to house 3.2 million people. The Toronto numbers have tripled since the 2001 census. They are followed by Montreal and Vancouver.

But it is smaller cities, towns and rural areas that lay claim to having the most empty homes percentage-wise with St. John’s, Saskatoon, Halifax and St. Catharines leading the pack.

In 2015, Paris implemented a tax that has since tripled to 60 per cent on vacant dwellings. And last year, Vancouver issued an empty home tax aimed at making properties available for lease in a city that has near-zero vacancy rentals.

 

Foreign Ownership in the GTA

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Throughout history when a scapegoat can be conveniently blamed for something negative it’s human nature to point a finger. When that scapegoat is foreign, even better goes the thinking. Far-off culprits are much easier targets thanks to distance and unfamiliarity.

Could that thinking be behind the GTA’s high house prices?

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It depends who you talk to. For some time, foreign investment in real estate has been blamed for the rising cost of housing in the Toronto real estate market. Fuelled in large part by the Vancouver market, offshore investors were slapped there last year with a 15 per cent tax. The result of which has been a big drop in foreign buying.

So the question is, is the same true of the GTA market? The Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) recently released new research refuting that theory. The TREB information showed that fewer than five per cent of the 113,133 residential real estate transactions in 2016 involved foreign buyers. The data showed that more than half were buying homes for themselves or family members. According to a November Ipsos survey of TREB agents, about 25 per cent of the homes purchased by non-Canadians were rental investments.

Despite calls for a foreign buyer tax like the one in Vancouver, TREB believes such a move would be misguided. Should a 15 per cent foreign buyer tax be implemented in the GTA, TREB fears the move may hike real estate prices outside of the GTA, where the tax doesn’t exist. It also warns that such a tax could reduce the already limited supply of rental housing and discourage immigration to the GTA.

But not everyone buys the TREB findings. Some say the TREB figures are not a true picture of foreign ownership in the GTA because the numbers don’t account for new construction sales, which could up the figure from TREB’s estimate of 4.9 per cent by another five to 10 per cent.

The Vancouver tax seems to have worked. In January, sales were down about 40 per cent from the same time last year. But Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has said that the province will not follow British Columbia’s move to introduce a tax on foreign homebuyers.

Meanwhile, don’t look for price relief in the near future. TREB reported that the average home price in the GTA skyrocketed at the end of 2016. The average home price hit $730,472 in December, which is a 20 per cent increase compared to December 2015. Prices are estimated to rise again substantially in 2017 with hikes in the neighbourhood of 10 to 16 per cent.

 

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.