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Archive for the ‘Freeman Blog’ Category

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.

 

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 & 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.

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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.

Windows – 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.

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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. See http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/hbp/ for details.
  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. For more visit http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/gncy/bdgt/2009/fqhbtc-eng.html.
  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. For info see http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/gncy/bdgt/2009/fqhbtc-eng.html.
  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. See http://www.toronto.ca/311/knowledgebase/77/101000050177.html.

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!

Green Ways to Handle Snow this Winter

Friday, December 16th, 2016

As pretty as fresh-fallen snow looks, we clearly don’t want it around for too long once it’s hit the ground. That’s when it gets grey, muddy and slushy and those descriptors don’t rank high on anyone’s list.

Granted it’s difficult for people to come and go when streets and driveways are clogged with the white stuff. Whether its gas-guzzling tow trucks, noisy snow blowers or not-so-environment-friendly de-icing salt, we all have our favourite ways to remove snow and ice.

So let’s look at some of the better ways of getting rid of snow without causing too much damage to the environment:

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Some Snow Blowers are Better than Others: Use battery-, electric- or hybrid-powered snow blowers instead of those operated on gasoline. Don’t use your snow blower for small areas such as your walkway. While electric machines consume energy, they don’t eat up gas or emit greenhouse gases.

Buy the Most Efficient Gas-Powered Snow Blower: If your space necessitates a gas-run machine, make sure it’s a two-stage, four-stroke engine as opposed to a single-stage, two-stroke.

Invest in a good quality blower with a neighbour. That way you can share the costs and benefits of an eco-friendly machine.

Kick It Old School: Shovels, ice crackers and brooms will help you clear snow from sidewalks, porches and driveways. Use an ergonomic shovel or hire the neighbour’s kid to do the job. It’s best also to shovel early and often.

Eco-friendly Snow Removal Service: Try to find one in your neighbourhood or ask that your current service use eco-friendly products.

Use a Salt Substitute:  Sprinkle birdseed, clean clay cat litter, sand, or fireplace ash on walkways and driveways in order to gain some grip. Use these substances carefully as they can be harmful to vegetation and waterways and messy when the snow melts.

Pillar of Salt: If you must use salt, choose the type you use carefully. Some contain cyanide while others increase algae growth and lead to clogged waterways. Whatever you use, be sure to avoid landscape plants especially those that are salt sensitive such as maples, dogwood and rose bushes.

Sources: www.sustainableamerica.org, www.esquire.com

Buying and Selling in January? Why not

Friday, December 9th, 2016

January is the month of new beginnings, warm-weather winter holidays, winter sports and cutting back just a little on those items that aren’t so good for us.

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January is also a good month for real estate activity, despite what you’ve heard. If you’re thinking of selling or buying a home in 2017, you may want to give January a try.  In markets like Toronto and Vancouver virtually any month is a good month to buy or sell. Real estate activity naturally slows in late December and very early January. But by the end of January’s first week it’s back to business as usual.

One big reason you want to sell your house in January is because you will have less competition. What does that mean? You can likely command a higher sale price thanks to fewer homes on the market.

On the flip side, for buyers, your odds of getting into a bidding war with multiple buyers are reduced because many purchasers are dealing with post-holiday debt.

Gone are the days when buyers waited for warmer temperatures because that’s the time when the majority of homes became available. Buyers today are more tech savvy than ever and as a result they can view real estate around the clock on their phones, devices and computers. Why wait for spring?

Keep in mind, too, that as a buyer your realtor will be able to really focus in on your needs, compared to the spring market when the market is saturated with buyers looking to purchase a home and real estate agents are juggling a heavy load.

If you’re selling, you know those buyers trotting through your house and yard are serious. No one braves the bitter cold and snow, donning boots and parkas as they schlep from house to house as a fun winter pastime.

Try to keep your exterior tidy and, if possible, decorate with outdoor arrangements and seasonal greenery. Clear ice and snow off walkways and steps and make sure your property is well lit. Also be sure to provide pool reports and try to provide photos of what your house looks like in spring and summer.

While it may be counterintuitive, it’s said that homes actually sell quicker in winter. Low inventory may be the reason. In addition, buyers tend to be more motivated and not as willing to slog from home to home to home.

Happy to Pick Up Where Honest Ed’s Left Off

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

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Freeman Real Estate is launching a brand new community event this month that pays tribute to the memory of a much-loved retailing icon and honours the Freeman Real Estate spirit of community giving.

On Sunday, Dec. 18, Freeman is hosting a free turkey giveaway at the real estate company’s office at 988 Bathurst Street. The event, which begins at 12 noon, will see 500 turkeys given away to members of the public.

Located just four blocks north of Honest Ed’s, Freeman Real Estate is a family-run boutique real estate firm with a reputation for supporting community causes, charities and efforts. Honouring Ed Mirvish’s memory and the real estate company’s tradition of community giving helped plant the idea for the turkey giveaway.

“We always admired Ed’s charity and we thought this was a good opportunity for us to keep the tradition going,” says Elden Freeman, Broker of Record.  “We’re big believers in our local community. As residents and business persons, we benefit a good deal from our community. This is one way we can pay back and say thank you.”

Spirit of Math is also getting into the holiday spirit by sponsoring a portion of the gobbler giveaway.  Spirit of Math is an innovative leader in after-school mathematics education with more than 40 campuses in North America.

The turkeys are completely free of charge and for each turkey given away Freeman will donate 50 cents to St. Alban’s Boys & Girls Club, an organization that provides programming for children and youth.

On hand will be Ward 20 city councillor Joe Cressy. St. Alban’s executive director Chris Foster and boys and girls from the club will also be there to help give out the turkeys.

The Annex landmark, Honest Ed’s, gave away free turkeys at Christmastime for 28 years, ending the tradition this year. The retailer at Bathurst and Bloor Streets will close in 2017 to make way for condos and commercial space.

If this year’s giveaway is a success, Freeman intends to make the event bigger and better for next year.

Warm Up To a Winterized Home

Friday, November 11th, 2016

As the days get colder and darker and we begin to rummage for gloves, hats and scarves, we must also turn our attention to our homes because they, too, need a certain level of protection from winter’s chill.

Inside and out, there are many green ways to safeguard your home from the cold. Not only do you save time and money, but you’re doing your part for the planet, too. So let’s look at ways to winterize our homes the eco-friendly way:

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Start by Sealing Leaks – This is a must as even small openings and leaks can add up to big heat loss. Be sure to install your storm windows. If needed, cover windows in plastic to keep cold out and heat in. Check basement windows for leaks and be sure to replace or add worn-out weather stripping around windows and doors. Replace worn doorstops. Caulk and weather strip entry points for ducts and pipes.

Protect Pipes – This is a simple and inexpensive way to protect your house from water damage due to frozen pipes. You should pad exposed pipes in unheated areas. If you don’t know where those are start by looking in your attic, crawl space or basement.

Insulate – Loading up on insulation it a good way to save on your energy bill.

Untap Outside Faucets – Undrained water can freeze, which can cause burst pipes. Disconnect your garden hose and drain the water.

Fix the Furnace – Either have your heating system inspected by a professional or be sure to clean and change your furnace filters. Dirty filters restrict airflow and increase energy demand. Consider installing a programmable thermostat which allows you to turn down the temperature when no one is there or while sleeping.

Change the direction of your ceiling fans – This might seem insignificant, but by reversing the direction of your ceiling fans, you can actually push warm air downwards and cut your heating costs by as much as 10 per cent. In winter, your fan should turn clockwise.

Fireplace safety – You should have your fireplace inspected and cleaned by a professional.

Roll Up the Barrel – Be sure to release all water from your rain barrel and dump them upside down for thorough drainage. Remove hoses and rain spout diverter. Clean debris from the barrel and its filter screen. If you have space, store in your basement or garage to protect from further damage.

Draft Defense – There is a very easy and economical way to fight drafts, which can waste between 5 and 30 per cent of you energy usage. Take an old towel, scraps of fabric or a necktie and fill with sand or kitty litter for weight. This gives you a draft stopper that you can run at the base of your door to prevent warm air from escaping.

Clean your gutters – Clogged gutters can cause a leaky roof or water damage to other parts of your home.

Wear Woollies – Instead of walking around in a thin t-shirt this winter, throw on a sweater and turn down your thermostat. There’s no need to blast the heat when a warm hoodie or pullover will do the same job.

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.