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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.

Tough New Mortgage Rules

Monday, November 7th, 2016

New lending rules definitely make it tougher for mortgage borrowers, especially first-time home buyers.

The sweeping changes introduced by the federal government last month are intended to stem the debt load of Canadians, some of whom have taken on sizable mortgages thanks to low interest rates.

The new rules centre on a kind of stress test to see if the borrower could afford a mortgage should interest rates jump up. Under the new plan, borrowers are assessed on a five-year standard rate of 4.64 per cent for a five-year loan, despite the fact that most lenders currently offer rates far below that number.

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The stress test also includes other requirements such as stipulating that homeowners spend no more than 39 per cent of their income on home-related expenses such as mortgage payments, heat and taxes. Total debt must not exceed 44 per cent under the new rules.

The new rules apply to any insured mortgage in which the buyer puts down less than 20 per cent of the home up front.

By making it more difficult to obtain a mortgage, the hope is it will temper housing demand, prompting prices to fall or not rise so quickly.  The Bank of Canada announced that the rules will reduce the risk of Canada’s financial system becoming unstable.

According to Ratehub.ca, what this means generally speaking, is a family with a $100,000 income that saved $40,000 for a down payment could previously afford a home valued at $665,000. But under the new rules, that same family can only afford a home priced at $505,000.

The new policy makes it tougher for first-time home buyers, whose savings and incomes are generally limited. So if you’re buying a home in Toronto at $700,000, the minimum down payment jumps from $35,000 to $45,000. Homes under $500,000 require a down payment of five per cent, while those over $1 million need 20 per cent down.

The new plan also takes aim at foreign ownership of Canadian real estate. Homeowners are still eligible for a capital gains exemption on their principal residence but are now required to report the sale of their property to the Canada Revenue Agency. Exemptions will only be granted to Canadian residents and not apply to foreign buyers.

Also, as of Nov. 30, the federal government will require portfolio-insured mortgages to meet criteria that previously only applied to high-ratio insured mortgages.  The new requirements include a maximum amortization of 25 years, a maximum purchase price of less than $1 million, having a minimum credit score of 600 and the property must be owner occupied.

Handling Bad Neighbours When Selling Your Home

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

There’s that saying about how you can pick your friends, but family members you’re stuck with. Well, the same goes for neighbours.

But if you’re lucky, you have a flawless neighbour. The kind of person who bakes cakes for you, keeps a watchful eye on any troublesome activity and who doesn’t at all mind picking up bits of garbage and debris that get strewn on sidewalks and lawns up and down your street.

Fat chance, right? Likely your issues with neighbours lean toward the dark side and if you have a house to sell, that makes it all the more challenging. But there are ways to deal with annoying neighbours. Here’s how:

Overgrown Lawn

Living next door to a neighbour who has an unkempt property can be taxing. Toronto has bylaws that determine standards of acceptability when it comes to how tall grass can grow before it requires cutting and what types of items can be left lying around outdoors. You may need to get the city involved if you’ve tried gentler suggestions to get your neighbour to clean up.

If you’ve never broached the issue, you may want to give it a try. If you have time or are so inclined, offer to help your neighbour clean up. If you don’t have time and your neighbour is strapped for cash, you may want to pay or help pay for a lawn and garden service to spruce up the yard, at least until your home is sold.

Hoarder

Thanks to reality TV, we all know way more than we need to about people who have a psychological compulsion to accumulate junk. If your neighbour is a hoarder, abandoned vehicles, tires, old appliances may decorate their front lawn.  This will be offputting to potential buyers. To help you sell sooner, maybe you can offer to buy your neighbour an inexpensive shed to store all his treasures. While you’re at it, help your neighbour clear out the junk. Your hands will get dirty and you’ll be out a few bucks, but at least you’ll be able to realize top dollar for your home. Same theory applies for abandoned vehicles. Offer to pay the rental of a garage just to get the abandoned car out of sight.

Noisy, Unbearable or Nosy Neighbours

They are all detestable in their own special way. The noisy neighbour should be told in the nicest of ways to keep it down. Maybe they have no clue that their volume is too loud. If that doesn’t work, you could try contacting the city. The unbearable neighbour is a boor who can’t see beyond his nose. He doesn’t understand why people are offended by the beer fridge on his front porch or why neighbours suggest he wear shorts and a t-shirt instead of a thong when doing yard work. These folks can be difficult to reason with so they require a deft touch and diplomacy. The nosy neighbour should be curbed, if at all possible, before she gets to prospective buyers. Tell her that it is your realtor’s job to speak with potential buyers and if she needs to share information with them she should do so through your agent.

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Barking Dogs

Besides the fact that noise bylaws generally address excessive barking issues, it’s probably a good idea to have a chat with your neighbour if their canine yaps too much. Tell them you fear their dog’s excessive barking will make your house difficult to sell. Ask the neighbour if they can arrange to keep the dog in their home during showings. If that doesn’t work get your child or a neighborhood kid to walk the dog during showings. If your neighbour is being disagreeable, offer to pay for the services of a dog walker.

You can’t choose your neighbours but you can choose how to deal with them. Keep a cool head and a compassionate heart and never take their odd behaviour as a personal insult. It isn’t. If you’re not sure where to turn, call the city. They should be able to direct you.

Should I Buy or Should I Sell First?

Friday, October 21st, 2016

The real estate market offers consumers a laundry list of questions, decisions and quandaries, some large, some small. Perhaps one of the first such that springs to mind for the home buyer is the not-so-simple question of should you sell first or buy first.

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How you approach this issue depends on a number of factors. Should you buy before selling, your main consideration has to be whether or not you can afford to carry two properties should your existing house sit on the market for an extended period.

A second, though equally compelling factor, centres on how active the real estate market is in the area in which you’re buying and selling. The GTA’s very active market has prompted something of a reversal in the traditional approach which dictated that you sell your home first before shopping for another. This turnaround has occurred thanks to the speed with which homes are being sold.

Naturally, there are pros and cons to either choice. Let’s take a look at both options:

Buy First:

There’s nothing like shopping for a new home. Each dwelling offers endless possibilities and it’s important to hold out for those must-haves on your list. Without a closing date hanging over your head, this makes the house-hunting process all the more enjoyable. If your offer is unsuccessful, you can wait it out until the next perfect home comes along.

But the downside to buying first is that you could end up with two homes. Can you swing two mortgage payments in addition to the other expenses associated with owning two homes? That is a consideration you need to address before shopping for a new house.

While you can protect yourself by making your offer conditional on the sale of your current home that would be a tough sell especially in Toronto’s overheated market.

The final consideration is that buying first may force you to sell below true market value because you feel pressured to meet the closing date on the house you bought.

Sell First:

As mentioned, this was the traditional approach, when homes sat on the market for weeks and sometimes months.

Perhaps one of the biggest pluses to selling first is that it gives you a better idea of what you can afford for your next home. It also automatically removes any risk of you owning two homes at the same time.

The disadvantage, of course, is that you may feel under the gun to buy a house in order to accommodate your closing date. That’s never a good strategy and can result in you paying more than you should have for a home you’re not crazy about. One way around this is to seek a closing date that is longer than the usual 60 or 90 days. That way, you have more time to find your dream home. Another less desirable option is to rent until you find your dream house.

Either way, it’s wise to always have a plan in place should you find yourself with two houses or needing to bunk temporarily with family or friends.

The Ghosts and Haunted Houses of Toronto

Friday, October 14th, 2016

There is nothing like the month of October to bring out thrills, chills and tales of things that go bump in the night. Toronto has its share of real estate that is reported to be haunted so in honour of this bewitching month let’s take a look:

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Perhaps the most known haunted house is the Keg Mansion, a popular Jarvis Street restaurant and former home to the Massey family. It is said that a brokenhearted maid hung herself in the front foyer after the death of Lillian Massey. Restaurants patrons have said they’ve seen a frightening apparition hanging and some have reported hearing the voices and laughter of children from the upper floors.

This 200-year-old Georgian manor, now known as the Grange is reputed to be home to the undead. Witnesses report seeing a man, who may be Goldwin Smith or Algernon Blackwood, both writers who lived there at one time. Reports of a lady dressed in black haunting the second-floor bedrooms exist as well as accounts of other ghosts in and around the staircases.

Old City Hall is believed to house the spirits of many, including Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin, who were the last two men to hang in Canada. It’s said judges have heard footsteps and felt tugs on their robes, while the frightful moans of locked up prisoners have been heard in the cellar. Some say a presence is felt in the northwest part of the attic.

Gooderham and Worts Distillery co-founder James Worts committed suicide in 1834 following his wife’s death. Legend has it that Worts makes his presence known by opening and closing doors, making odd banging noises and turning lights on and off.

The historic house known as Colborne Lodge on the south side of High Park is said to be home to the spirit of Jemima Howard, a former mistress of the house. More than 100 years after her death in 1877 she has been seen staring out of one of the upper storey’s front windows — that same room in which she died. Other ghosts are said to haunt the main staircase, the hallway leading to Jemima Howard’s deathbed and even the grounds outside.

Christie Mansion is perhaps the creepiest tale of all. The Victorian home at Wellesley and Queen’s Park Crescent was the home of Robert Christie, of Christie cookie fame, who despite having a wife and family, managed to keep a mistress locked away in a hidden windowless room in the same home. She was not allowed to leave the mansion and her only visitors were Robert and his servant. Eventually Robert lost interest and she hanged herself out of loneliness. It’s said Robert had her buried secretly somewhere on the grounds of Queen’s Park. When the home was converted into a female residence for the University of Toronto some say they were haunted by her spirit in the hidden room otherwise known as room 29.  Reports say the room’s door would slam shut and lock, imprisoning the student till daybreak.

How to Stay Cool in an Overheated Real Estate Market

Friday, October 14th, 2016

With the average price of a detached home in Toronto pushing well past the million-dollar mark it’s understandable how we all might get a little frenzied when buying and selling our homes.

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Low housing supply mixed with high demand means you have houses selling for more than their asking price, a phenomenon driven by multiple buyers attempting to outbid each other.

If you’ve ever been involved in a bidding war, you’ll appreciate the emotional roller coaster consumers experience on either side. Whether you are trying to make financial gains for retirement or simply hoping to get your family situated in a neighborhood with good schools, today’s highly competitive real estate market is not for the faint hearted.

But are consumers able to keep their cool when everyone else is getting swept up in the commotion? A recent study by the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO) suggests not. In fact, 57 per cent of GTA respondents told RECO they would think about offering 10 per cent over their budget for the right home, while 38 per cent said they’d up their numbers by 10 to 20 per cent. The numbers were only slightly more conservative in the rest of Ontario with 47 per cent indicating they would consider paying 10 per cent more while 31 per cent said they would look at offering 10 to 20 per cent more to outbid the competition.

To help consumers overcome the challenges of a hot market, RECO has launched the Be Home Smart Tour, a community outreach campaign that will travel to 13 locations across Ontario this fall and into 2017. The campaign includes an interactive display booth targeting those in the buying and/or selling stage of their lives – engaged/newly married couples, new parents and downsizing boomers.

“Buying or selling a home can be a rollercoaster of emotions,” says Joe Richer of RECO. “People tend to let their heart rule their heads, especially first-time buyers.”

The RECO survey found that 35 per cent of homebuyers said they let their emotions sway them more than they should have when they last bought a home. For millennials, that number jumped to 42 per cent.

Here’s a quick look at RECO’s five tips for consumers:

  1. Leave your emotions at the door
  2. Read and understand everything before signing on the dotted line
  3. Be sure you and your representative are on the same page
  4. Know your tolerance risk
  5. Be flexible and have a back-up plan in place

Other upcoming stops in the RECO Be Home Smart Tour include the Zoomer Show in Toronto at the Enercare Centre on October 29 and 30 and the BabyTime Show in Toronto at the Metro Convention Centre from November 11 to 13.  More shows will be added in 2017.

A Foreclosure Ain’t What it Used to Be

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

At one time in Canada finding a power of sale or foreclosed property could provide deep discounts for buyers wanting to pick up real estate for the cost of a car. Okay, not always quite the cost of a car, but certainly bargain- basement prices.

On the heels of the 2008 financial crisis, Americans were losing their shirts in the real estate market. Homes were going for much less than the mortgages people held on them so what did they do? They walked away. Some left behind big palatial houses, while others were more modest. Either way, at the height of the housing crisis streets were lined with vacant homes and the only run on anything was for plywood used to board up windows.

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But that saying that from tragedy comes triumph certainly applies to those who snapped up foreclosure sales in the U.S. for a song. And plenty did. But foreclosure sales south of the border are quite different than in Canada. There, foreclosed homes need only collect the amount that’s outstanding on the loan and buyers stand to make sweet deals at cut-rate prices.

Selling real estate far below what it’s worth won’t cut it in Canada. That’s because lenders are mandated to sell power-of-sale properties for fair market value following strict guidelines that prove the foreclosed building is being sold for a fair and reasonable price.

Buyers of foreclosed properties in Canada bear more of the burden because these homes are sold as is, with no warranty or representation. That means you get what you see so hidden deficiencies, chattels such as appliances and issues around encroachments or land surveys all fall on your back. While these issues can happen with any purchase, a buyer can list these items as conditions in the offer to purchase, which pushes the responsibility back onto the seller. Ensuring all appliances are in working order, disclosing the home’s serious defects and allowing the buyer the time to obtain home inspections and reports that check for encroachment and building codes then become the responsibility of the seller.

While there’s no guarantee, foreclosed homes are often in sub-standard shape in terms of coming with appliances, fixtures and other items you might expect in a regular home purchase. Often this is because the when homeowners are alerted that their lender is foreclosing on their home, angry homeowners sometimes respond by damaging the home and taking everything with them.

The courts typically give the foreclosed homeowner six months to repay the loan and reclaim their property. Sometimes, though, a home will go on the market in that time so the new buyer could be left high and dry if the original owner pays up.

That power of sale you’ve been thinking about isn’t as appealing as you may have thought. Unless you’re buying south of the border, you may be better off purchasing a fixer-upper that’s been on the market for a long time.

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.