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Laneway Houses Provide Affordable Urban Living

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

Imagine a world in which space was abundant and economical. There are parts of the world where that exists and there are parts of Toronto where that can also exist but for some reason we mainly fail to notice it.

Living in laneways is something of a foreign concept in North America. Underused and underappreciated, city laneways are being touted as the next best thing when it comes to residences and commercial locations especially in those neighbourhoods in which real estate has grown prohibitively expensive.

City councillors promoting the concept say laneway housing could provide secondary suites or the equivalent of basement apartments with the difference being they would be situated in garages on laneways, according to the Toronto Star. They would naturally be serviced with hydro, gas and plumbing from the primary home. And just like living in a basement suite, calls for emergency services or pizza delivery would be made to the primary dwelling’s street address.

According to Now magazine, the city has approximately 2,400 laneways stretching about 300 kilometres through downtown corridors between city streets.

But building a laneway house in Toronto is not easy and approvals are handed out on a case-by-case basis. The good news is that the complicated process is likely going to change soon thanks to Ontario Housing Minister Chris Ballard. Efforts to make laneways more of a reality in Toronto have been stepped up thanks to a memo Ballard sent last year to every Ontario municipality demanding the implementation of secondary suites.

Advocacy group Lanescape is joining forces with sustainable city-building non-profit Evergreen and Councillors Ana Bailão and Mary-Margaret McMahon to amend city bylaws and loosen restrictions on the development of laneway houses, says Now.

According to Lanescape, here are some advantages to laneway housing:

  1. An increase in the quality of affordable rental housing
  2. Intensifies neighbourhoods in a way that preserves character, form and scale of built environment
  3. Uses existing infrastructure
  4. Affords increased animation and activity in laneways, enhancing pride of place

Since 2009, Vancouver has been home to over 500 laneway homes. Ottawa has recently launched a laneway housing policy and Regina is close to doing so also.

If restrictions are eased in Toronto, the city could see the addition of thousands of low-rise rental units mainly in desirable downtown neighbourhoods.

 

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

 

Know Thy HELOC

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

Know Thy HELOC

What makes Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOC) so attractive for so many is that these credit lines are so abundant, so cheap and so easy to get.

As house prices continue to rise, a HELOC can be a great option for cheap and easy money to fund home renovations, consolidate debt or pay for pricey post-secondary educations. But don’t approach these loans carelessly. There are still things to consider when borrowing against the equity in your home.

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According to the Globe and Mail, for many Canadians, HELOCs have replaced credit cards as their number one source for borrowing. Outstanding balances on lines of credit hit $266-billion in March of 2015. According to Statistics Canada, they were just $35-billion in 2000 and $100-billion in 2005. Today, HELOCs comprise 59 per cent of Canadians’ non-mortgage personal debt.

Major banks generally offer home equity lines of up to 80 per cent of the equity in a home. And some lending thresholds automatically increase with each mortgage payment creating a growing credit source potential.

Credit counsellors caution that home equity lines of credit allow people to borrow sums far greater than ever before. And since most financial institutions require payment only on the interest of the credit lines, the principal can grow quickly over time.

They worry what will happen to debt-ridden Canadians should interest rates rise or if the economy goes south. Some say events far less catastrophic such as an illness or decline in the housing market could ruin highly indebted Canadians.

According to the CBC, homeowners could face big problems with interest rate hikes as the increases would apply to variable-rate lines of credit and mortgages. If interest rates jumped by two or three per cent, those who pay only interest on their lines of credit would see payments jump by a whopping 50 per cent.

More Pros of HELOCs:

  • The money is cheap cheap.
  • The money is flexible as you can borrow as much or as little of what you need up to your limit.
  • ou can pay off any time in full without penalty
  • – HELOCs offer the lowest possible payment and flexible payment plans, including an interest-only option.

Cons:

  • It’s easy to borrow more than you initially intended.
  • It’s much harder to switch a HELOC to another lender without paying legal fees.
  • HELOC rates are not fixed. They can always be arbitrarily increased by the lender, even if the prime rate doesn’t change.
  • Lenders can reduce your HELOC borrowing limit for any reason, even if you have a perfect repayment history. This may happen when you carry a large balance and continually rack up debt and/or make only small payments. It may happen more if home prices start falling or unemployment starts rising notably.
  • Title insurance fees can be higher on a HELOC than on a regular mortgage.
  • HELOCs are more difficult to transfer to a new property. It’s common to have to discharge or pay them off completely.
  • There can be a negative impact on your credit score if you borrow a large percentage of your approved HELOC limit.

 

 

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.

 

5 Reasons Why Selling Early Means you’re a Wise Owl

Friday, February 10th, 2017
  1. Inventory, what inventory?

Your home will be the belle of the ball in the current market which is crying for stock. It’s pretty simple economics: when supply is low, with high demand, you are in the most enviable driver’s seat imaginable. Given the bevy of buyers on the market, competition for your house will be fierce. So worries about keeping your home ship-shape for weeks or months on end while strangers roam through need not concern you.

  1. Mortgage rates

Too bad there wasn’t a crystal ball that could tell us what was coming. For years, forecasters have been crying about a rise in interest rates and rightly so. They really don’t have much room to go the other way so up seems a likely option. The question is when? When rates rise it will impact consumers’ buying power. Putting your house on the market while rates are low is a smart move as more buyers will be attracted to your property than if rates rise a point or two. More interest means more competition and more competition usually always means more money for you.

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  1. It’s urgent

You could say that about buyers in February and March. Who else wants to trudge through snow, ice and cold, bundling up and unbundling with each new viewing? Those are some determined purchasers. Maybe they’re the result of a job transfer or an inheritance. Who knows? Just know that they’re more motivated.

  1. It’s speedier

In wintertime, many of those who support the housing industry are not nearly as busy as at other times of the year. We’re talking about banks and lending institutions, mortgage brokers, lawyers, home inspectors, contractors, realtors, surveyors, architects. Finding the professional for the task or service you need will be easier and quicker now as, quite simply, they’re not as swamped.

  1. House prices go up, up and away

High demand and low inventory add up to one thing: higher housing prices. That’s good news if you’re selling. Since you likely plan to buy another home, though, it may be best to sell now so that you aren’t affected by rising house prices or mortgage rates. Waiting could cost you more.

 

Radon: An Invisible Menace

Friday, February 10th, 2017

The cold winter weather traps many of us inside our homes till the first sign of spring. And being inside all that time may lead you to wonder about the quality of your indoor air.

In Canada, radon gas is something of a concern. In 2014, the CBC obtained data that showed over 1,500 homes had radon levels above Health Canada’s safety guidelines following a testing of approximately 14,000 homes across the country.

Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. It’s estimated that radon is responsible for 3,000 deaths in Canada each year.

Radon is a radioactive gas created in nature that seeps into poorly ventilated basements and crawl spaces. Radon is created by decaying uranium found in soil, rock and water. Because these three elements are found in the ground, they are more likely to leach into their first point of contact which would be cellars and crawl spaces.  Radon filters into a home through cracks in the foundation and gaps around pipes.

The scary thing about radon is that it’s invisible, odourless and tasteless. The only way to know for sure if you have it is to do a DIY test or call in a professional at your own expense.

According to the CBC, recommendations that the government help fund homeowners in need of testing and cleaning up their radon issue have not been addressed. Nor has a recommendation that homes undergo mandatory tests for radon levels as a condition of sale, as is the case in several American states.

Radon gas levels are measured in units known as the Becquerel (Bq). One Becquerel is described as one event of radiation emission per second and it is minute.

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The old Canadian standard considered 800 Bq per cubic metre to be a safe standard. But ten years ago following a push to tighten guidelines the federal government changed its standard to 200 Bq per cubic metre, the same level considered safe by Russia and China. The U.S. pegs its safe level at 150.

For more information or to learn more about testing for radon visit Health Canada.

Head over Heels about Real Estate

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

There’s good reason why buying real estate is considered such an emotional roller coaster of an experience.

It has something to do with the mechanics of the heart and how we respond to what we adore. Falling in love with a house or a neighbourhood happens all the time. It’s socially acceptable, expected even, to hear people talk about their affection for their home or the area in which they live.  Expressions of worship should be saved for big-ticket items that represent sentiment. When was the last time you heard someone say they became lovestruck by those blue bath towels or that vinyl siding stole their heart because it was the perfect shade of beige?

Exactly.

As we observe Valentine’s Day this month, we thought it would be apropos and fun to draw parallels between the worlds of real estate and love.

Falling in love with a house happens all the time and no one can fault you or prepare you for it. The feeling comes over you like a soft breeze of fresh air in spring. You’re smitten and everything about the house comes into focus. Imperfections start to fade and suddenly you’re getting a clear picture of the joy you will feel living there. From the dappled light filtering through the living room window to the subtle street noises to the home’s layout and sight lines, it’s perfect. Your heart rate picks up a little.

House hunting is a lot like dating. You keep trying one on until it fits. And realtors are in the enviable position of playing matchmaker, introducing clients to a number of possibilities until they find the right one.

To play matchmaker, real estate agents must possess a laundry list of traits that might include persistence, friendliness and a sense of humour. They also need to read people well so that begs the question are they superior at dating and finding a mate themselves? In the spirit of sweethearts everywhere, let’s look at what online dating website eHarmony has to say about the benefits of dating a realtor:

  • You’ll learn more about your city. Date a real estate agent, and you’ll get an education in thriving neighborhoods, up-and-coming areas to watch, zoning laws and gentrification.
  • Can’t handle awkwardness? Real estate agents depend on their people skills to survive financially. Invite a realtor to a dinner party, and he/she will bring out the charm.
  • Real estate agents are smart — and good at math. They’re always updating courses and intentionally learning more about their business and the neighborhoods they sell in.
  • No 9-to-5 here. If you’re also a freelancer, a real estate agent’s unconventional schedule might appeal to you. Sure, she might be busy tomorrow evening, but she might also be able to swing a weekday brunch.
  • For realtors, beauty is more than skin deep. They can see the potential in a property that others can’t.
  • He probably doesn’t live in his parents’ basement.
  • According to Modern Family’s Phil Dunphy, “Every realtor is just a ninja with a blazer.”

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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.