Preparing Your Home for Winter: A Checklist

Summer's warmth is now a fading memory and the inescapable and important task of winterizing your home before the first big freeze looms. Luckily, we've created a checklist of many things to consider before that first snowfall with help from Jim Fisher, a general contractor with 50 years experience in the industry.

Garden hose neatly on the grass.

1. Garden hoses

Disconnect any garden hoses, drain them of any residual water and store them away somewhere dry, protected from the weather.

Why? Garden hoses can become stiff and crack during the winter if left outside. Water in the tubing can freeze and expand, causing your hose to split and forcing you to replace it in the spring.

Outdoor tap

2. Outdoor taps

Turn off all valves inside the house, then open the taps outside to drain excess water. Be sure to leave the outdoor valves open through the winter.

Why? When water sits in the pipe feeding the outside tap, freezing temperatures can conduct along the pipe to create ice inside the pipes. This can cause cracks and damage the pipe's joints and valves, resulting in bursts and flooding.

3. Attic vents

Inspect and, if necessary, clean the venting from your attic to avoid ice dams.

Why? Attic vents allow moisture to leave the attic space, preventing mold and mildew. Your insulation and HVAC system will be more efficient when your attic is properly vented, allowing better temperature regulation in your home.

Pro Tip: Check your bathroom vents as they pass through the attic. It's easy to forget that if the piping is not insulated all the way to the exit point, this can create ice from condensation through the winter, causing water damage inside your home when it thaws.

Man standing on roof holding tools to clean a chimney.

4. Chimney

Sweep your chimney to remove any creosote buildup and ensure a clear airway for smoke and particles to exit the chimney. This may require the services of a professional chimney sweep.

Why? Blockages can cause smoke to backdraft into the home and creosote buildup will ignite under certain conditions, causing devastating chimney fires.

Pro Tip: Have your chimney cleaned and inspected annually by a certified professional before you use it for the season. Some insurance policies require this.

5. Flower pots and planters

Empty flower pots and planters of all soil or water and store them where they will be protected from precipitation. A garden shed or garage will do.

Why? Sudden and severe changes in temperature and humidity will cause breaks in terracotta and ceramic pots, with plastic becoming brittle over time—especially if they have water or soil in them.

6. Gas grill or barbecue

Clean the interior of your grill and all its internal parts. Coat the metal parts of your burner in cooking oil. Store outdoors with a sturdy cover or wrapped in heavy plastic if stored in a garage or shed.

Why? Cleaning the grill prevents mould and using cooking oil prevents oxidation of your burner elements, while covering protects it from the elements. Wrapping in plastic for indoor storage helps keep critters from nesting inside.

7. Air conditioners

Turn off the power to any external AC unit. Now is also the time to remove any window or portable units, clean their air filters and store them for the season.

Why? Shutting off the power to external ACs prevents phantom power – the little bit of heat generated by running power to the unit. This small amount of heat can attract critters to use the unit as refuge against cold weather. While you can cover the unit during the colder months, this added layer of protection can be an added attraction for shelter-seeking critters. If your unit is in a location susceptible to snowfall, you can instead cover it with a piece of plywood and a rock to hold it down. If you do opt to cover the unit, be sure to use a specially-made cover that will wrap the unit tightly and not a tarp or other loose-fitting option that can create damaging moisture build-up. Removing window and portable ACs will help insulate your home against drafts, lowering utility costs.

Man shining flashlight into furnace

8. Furnace

Have your furnace inspected and serviced by a certified HVAC technician. It is advised to do this annually. 

Why? This ensures your furnace is working optimally, preventing inconvenient breakdowns during winter.

Man replacing furnace filter.

9. Furnace filter

Replace your furnace filter, then set reminders to replace the filter as needed (check monthly). 

Why? Furnace filters remove dust, dirt and allergens from the air in your home. Replacing the filter also enables your furnace to operate more efficiently.

Person wearing gloves, cleaning leaves from eavestrough

10. Gutters and eavestroughs

Once the trees around your home have shed their foliage, clean all leaves, twigs and debris out of your eavestroughs to ensure clear passage down the gutters.

Why? Clogged eavestroughing and gutters cause ice dams which apply unnecessary pressure and stress along the edge of your roof. This can lead to water incursions, as well as an excess of water close to your home when the snow on your roof thaws and runs off.

Pro tip: Low voltage heat wires (also called heat trace, heat tape or de-icing cables) can help prevent ice dams by warming the eavestroughing. For best results, turn them on after freezing rain or a heavy snowfall, or during a mid-winter thaw. These are especially effective with older homes because their dormer angles are prone to ice buildup.

11. Windows and doors

Install weather stripping around your doors and windows, removing any old material if not done annually. For older windows, applying shrink-wrap plastic can also help reduce drafts.

Why? Heat is lost through spaces around doors and windows. Applying this stripping will help prevent drafts and reduce heating costs.

Pro tip: Door sweeps placed on the bottom of doors really cut down on heat loss. Foam or rubber stripping for door frames and windows will also help reduce drafts, especially with older windows. 

Person adjusting thermostat

12. Program your thermostat

If you have a programmable thermostat, now is the time to set your temperatures for the winter to save on heating costs. Now is also the time to check your thermostat's batteries and change them if needed.

Why? When you turn your thermostat up, you're not just heating the air in your home, it takes energy to heat the objects in your house, too. If you're planning to be away for an extended period, it makes sense to lower your home's temperature but otherwise, it's often more cost effective to set the temperature in your home and leave it there.

13. Hot water tank thermostat

Check your tank's thermostat and reduce it if necessary. In general, it's recommended that it be set to 60ºC, but homeowners with small children or eldery may choose to reduce it. If you do, the Canada Safety Council recommends a temperature no lower than 54ºC.

Why? If the temperature of your hot water is set too low, you could run the risk of not having enough when you need it or even growing bacteria within the stagnant water in your tank. If you're unsure, set the temperature to 54ºC and increase it incrementally until you're satisfied.  

14. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms

Test your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors and replace the batteries with new ones. 

Why? These are life-saving devices and should always have fresh batteries. Used batteries can be repurposed as backups for alarm clocks or electronics.

Trees wrapped in cloth during winter.

15. Bushes and shrubs

Give your bushes, shrubs and hedges a final trim, then wrap or cover smaller or more fragile shrubs. 

Why? Pruning plants in the fall will save time and help manage their size if you wish to prevent them from overgrowing. Covering smaller and delicate shrubs and bushes prevents damage from heavy snow and ice.

Person with gloves on holding a handful of salt.

16. Salt or sand supply

If you use salt, sand or another anti-slip substance to protect your driveway and walkways, be sure you have a hearty supply on hand.

Why? It's best to be prepared in case of an early freeze. It's easier to have a supply on hand before winter hits, than to run out after bad weather strikes and when supplies are in high demand.

Person spraying their deck.

17. Deck and porch

Check to see if you need to patch any worn spots with fresh weather protectant.

Why? Winter weather can be hard on wood and ensuring your deck's sealant is fresh will help extend its life.

Pro Top: If your deck is raised, placing lattice or skirting around the outside will prevent snow from blowing underneath and building up against the wall of your home. It is also possible for the ground to slope towards the home underneath the deck. Installing a vapour barrier under the floorboards—sloping down and away from the house—will prevent any ice from thawing and running towards your home. 

Person cleaning lawn mower with a scrub brush.

18. Lawn mower

Clean and service the engine of your lawn mower and remove any grass or mulch buildup underneath. Empty the gas tank or add a stabilizer and sharpen the blades before storing it in a dry, protected place for the winter.

Why? Like any machine, regular maintenance will help extend its life and ensure it will be ready to go in the spring.

Two squirrels playing on a roof.

19. Pest prevention

Ensure any possible entries into the home—spaces in the siding, under the eaves and vent openings—are sealed or adequately protected.

Why? Mice, chipmunks, squirrels and racoons will want to burrow in the warmest and safest place they can find for the winter. Keeping them out of your home will save you frustration and money resulting from any damage they might cause.

20. Insulation

Check the insulation in your attic to ensure it hasn't sagged and confirm its “R” value. R value indicates the insulating power and its ability to resist heat loss. The higher the R rating, the lower the heat loss will be. 

Why? Certain types of insulation (like fibreglass batting) can sag over time, reducing its effectiveness and allowing more heat to escape. Conversely, in the summer, the insulation in your attic is the barrier to keep the hot air from affecting the temperature in your home.

Family sitting by window looking out at snow covered trees.

Winterizing your home may require a couple of weekends to complete, but taking these steps to secure your home before the cold weather hits will not only help save you money, it will allow for many more—warm and comfortable—years of enjoyment. 



by 

Gord Brown

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RRSP vs. TFSA: Which is the Best Investment Tool for First-Time Home Buyers?


So you've decided you're ready to buy a home. Now the real work begins—saving enough money for a down payment.


“It's absolutely critical the down payment is a good size on a first home—somewhere in the range of 10 to 20%,” says Lesley-Anne Scorgie, a personal finance author. “The rationale simply being that the habit of saving is the same habit you'll need for actually owning a home—keeping up with the payments and preparing yourself and your bank account.”


There are many online mortgage calculators available to help you determine how much home you can afford. REALTOR.ca's mortgage affordability calculator can help guide you through this entire process. It's important to save a healthy down payment to avoid, what could be, steep mortgage insurance fees.

To help, the federal government has set up a number of tools you can use to build up sizeable savings, including Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) and Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs). Each offer benefits for first-time home buyers to help them achieve their home purchasing goals.

a woman with her baby on her lap while working on a laptop

“For most first-time home buyers who earn an income of over $60,000, the RRSP is a very good choice, as they're building up their down payment while they receive the benefits of a reduced tax bill,” said Scorgie. “That money can then be put towards further beefing up their RRSP, with the ultimate goal of taking out the money for buying a home.”


First-time home buyers can use their RRSPs towards their down payment, which again, isn't taxed. Recently, the federal government's 2019 budget increased the Home Buyers' Plan (HBP) withdrawal limit from $25,000 to $35,000. The repayment period starts two years after the funds are withdrawn, and one-fifteenth of the withdrawn funds need to be repaid each calendar year (over a max of 15 years) or it will be taxed as income.


“When you pool that with a spouse or a partner, they can each take out that amount in their RRSPs. When you have 15 years, that's a nice length of time to pay it back,” Scorgie said.


There is one drawback: When money is withdrawn from an RRSP, it's not invested in any financial markets but rather in the real estate market. Home buyers are trading off one market exposure for another. In real estate, your investment is exposed to the fluctuations of the local market. Meanwhile, money invested for the long-term in stocks, bonds or mutual funds is exposed to the changes in the financial market.


“If you feel you'd be better off making more money in the stock and bond market, keep your money there. Consider instead taking the money you need for the down payment out of a TFSA,” says Scorgie, adding it can also be a better option when household income is lower.

Young woman moving to a new apartment

For example, if you've been over 18 since 2009, you would have TFSA contribution limit of $63,500 in total; $5,000 for each year from 2009 to 2012; $5,500 for each of 2013 and 2014; $10,000 for 2015; $5,500 for each of 2016, 2017 and 2018; and $6,000 for 2019. (TFSAs were not available before 2009).


“If you invest your money in a TFSA, there's no penalty for using that money for a down payment. You can also re-contribute all that money back because you get your limit back. You can keep saving. There aren't many drawbacks,” Scorgie said.


In the end, it really comes down to a personal preference between an RRSP and a TFSA. According to Scorgie, you could also use both to improve your savings power.


“In expensive markets, it's very common to use both,” explains Scorgie. I would say 90% of first-time buyers in expensive markets have to use both because of the limit of the RRSP.”


Saving for a down payment is hard work, no matter how you choose to do it. Be sure to take advantage of all the savings tools at your disposal and, before long, your dream of homeownership could become a reality.


REALTOR® can help recommend a mortgage broker, online tools, and make sure you're getting the most bang for your buck when negotiating the sale of your first home.


The article above is for information purposes and is not financial or legal advice or a substitute for financial or legal counsel.


By 

Mario Toneguzzi

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Best Places to Live: Canada Liveability Report
 
 
 
Best Places To Live Canada Liveability Report

Canadians love where they live; RE/MAX Report explores some of the best places to live in Canada

  • 89 per cent of Canadians would recommend their neighbourhoods to others
  • Major Canadian cities are a beacon for liveability


Canadians genuinely celebrate the liveability factors — the qualities that give each homeowner the true satisfaction of his/her home within the context of a neighbourhood — when it comes to choosing a property to buy and live in. In fact, 89 per cent of Canadians would recommend their neighbourhood to others according to a recent RE/MAX survey conducted by Leger.

The latest RE/MAX report examined a variety of quality of life factors and how they impact Canadians’ home-buying decisions.

 “Housing is often a contentious topic in Canada, with affordability and inventory being persistent problems from coast to coast,” says Christopher Alexander, Executive Vice President, RE/MAX of Ontario-Atlantic Canada. “However, when buyers are looking for a home, the search begins at the neighbourhood level. And the good news is that Canadians have lots of choice when it comes to ‘liveable’ cities and neighbourhoods.” 

Six-in-10 Canadians put easy access to shopping, dining and green spaces at the top of their liveability criteria. Proximity to public transit (36 per cent), work (30 per cent) and to preferred schools (18 per cent), as well as cultural and community centres (18 per cent) fall out of the top five neighbourhood wants and expectations.

The proximity and availability of these liveability factors is so important that Canadians spend more than two-thirds of their time in their own neighbourhood. This rate is higher among Baby Boomers compared to Gen Z, Millennial and Gen X Canadians.

 “While price and value are always top of mind for buyers, there are some aspects about a home that you can’t change,” says Alexander. “These liveability factors are what make your home more than just the place you live. They are at the heart of the Canadian experience, especially when you consider the survey results.” 

RE/MAX brokers were also asked to tap into their neighbourhood expertise and rate their city on each liveability factor. 

Best Places To Live Liveability Report chart

In the west, Calgary ranked high in seven out of 11 categories, including offering good access to employment opportunities, population growth, housing supply, housing affordability and easy access to bike lanes and/or walking paths. Confederation and Nose Hill Park are two of the most popular parks in the city and the Rotary Mattamy Greenway is the cycling equivalent to the ring road. Inglewood, Hillhurst and Charleswood rank as the top three all-around liveable neighbourhoods. Edmonton also ranked high in access to employment opportunities, number of top rated/preferred schools and easy access to bike lanes and/or walking paths.

 “Despite reports of slowing economic conditions and a relatively flat real estate market in Alberta, Calgary and Edmonton shine as beacons of liveability,” says Elton Ash, Regional Executive Vice President, RE/MAX of Western Canada. “This is a promising sign for any buyers considering a purchase in either city as they continue to develop as liveable cities in their own right.” 

Toronto ranked medium for access to green spaces and parks but high for availability of big and small retail stores, population growth and access to healthcare facilities. The neighbourhoods that rated highest for access to green space and parks – Rosedale, Leaside and The Beaches – are also the most expensive. Conversely, Toronto’s most affordable neighbourhoods include parts of Scarborough and East York.

Vancouver ranked medium for availability of big and small retail stores, population growth and housing supply. However, it ranked high in availability of public transit, where the Skytrain and bus system prove exceptional; and walkability, especially in Yaletown. Main, West End and Kerrisdale are the top three all-around liveable neighbourhoods in Vancouver while Mount Pleasant, Downtown and Renfrew-Collingwood are the most affordable.

Other regions include Ottawa, where The Glebe neighbourhood is the best for walkability and public transit; Halifax, where Clayton park boasted high inventory; Hamilton, where Beasley was best for affordability; Winnipeg, where Transcona is a hidden gem neighbourhood; Saskatoon, where Nutana is the all-around best neighbourhood for liveability; and Nanaimo, where Central Nanaimo is best for affordability.

 “Liveability encompasses the many intangibles when buying and selling a home than an algorithm will never sufficiently capture. You need word of mouth and the on-the-ground expertise of a REALTOR® who has genuine locale knowledge like few others,” adds Ash. 

Key findings from the 2019 RE/MAX Liveability Report Survey

Best Place To Live Liveability Report infographic

REGIONAL SUMMARIES

Best places to live Halifax

Halifax

Downtown Dartmouth, North End Halifax and Clayton Park rank as the top three neighbourhoods in Halifax for access to green spaces and parks, walkability, retail and restaurants and the ease of getting around/public transit. Downtown Dartmouth ranks as the top hidden gem neighbourhood for its unique amenities like access to ferry transportation and a multisport stadium.

Best places to live Ottawa

Ottawa

Mooney’s Bay, Downtown Ottawa and The Glebe rank as the top three neighbourhoods in Ottawa for access to green spaces and parks, walkability, retail and restaurants and the ease of getting around/public transit. Crystal Beach ranks as the top hidden gem neighbourhood, while Orleans, Barrhaven and Blackburn Hamlet rank as the top three neighbourhoods for affordability and good supply of housing inventory.

Best places to live Toronto

Toronto

In Toronto, the downtown core (south of Bloor Street) reigns supreme for proximity to public transit and walkability. When it comes to access to green spaces, Midtown has a variety of options to choose from, specifically North Riverdale and Leaside. For walkability, Davisville, Yonge and Eglington and Leslieville top the list. The Western Region of Scarborough is the hidden gem in the city offering great liveability and affordable housing.

Best places to live Brampton

Brampton

The neighbourhoods of Heartlake, Sandringham and Fletchers Meadow rank as the top three for access to green spaces, walkability, access to retail shops/restaurants as well as public transit. Of the three, Sandringham also has a high housing supply. Vales of Castlemore ranks as a hidden gem neighbourhood due to housing affordability of its larger size property supply.

best places to live in Mississauga

Mississauga

Port Credit, Streetsville and Cooksville rank as the top three neighbourhoods in Mississauga for access to green spaces and parks, walkability, access to retail stores and restaurants, and public transit. Mineola, Lakeview ranks as the top hidden gem neighbourhood. Lakeview also ranks high in affordability. When it comes to affordability and housing supply, the City Centre, Erin Mills and Cooksville top the list.

Best Places to Live Hamilton

Hamilton

Meadowlands, Beasley and Sydenham rank as the top three neighbourhoods in Hamilton for access to green spaces and parks, walkability, retail and restaurants and the ease of getting around by car and public transit. Sydenham ranks as the top hidden gem neighbourhood in Hamilton for its supply of both high rises and detached homes, attracting both retirees and growing families.

Best places to live Kitchener Waterloo

Kitchener-Waterloo

Doon, Stanley Park and Beachwood rank as the top three neighbourhoods in Kitchener-Waterloo for access to green spaces and parks, walkability, retail and restaurants and the ease of getting around/public transit. The downtown areas for both Kitchener and Waterloo boast affordable options and good supply of inventory.

Best places to live London

London

London’s neighbourhoods of Byron, Lambeth and Old South London rank as the top three for access to green spaces and parks, walkability, retail and restaurants and the ease of getting around/public transit. Lambeth ranks as the top hidden gem neighbourhood, while Carling Heights, White Oaks and Southcrest rank as the top three neighbourhoods for affordability and good supply of housing inventory.

Winnipeg

Winnipeg’s neighbourhoods of Bridgwater Lakes, River Heights and West Kildonan rank as the top three for access to green spaces and parks, walkability, retail and restaurants and the ease of getting around/public transit. Transcona ranks as the top hidden gem neighbourhood, while River Park South, Sargent Park and Saint James rank as the top three neighbourhoods for affordability and good supply of housing inventory.

Saskatoon

Nutana, Stonebridge and City Park rank as the top three neighbourhoods in Saskatoon for access to green spaces and parks, walkability, retail and restaurants and the ease of getting around/public transit. Caswell ranks as the top hidden gem neighbourhood, while it, Riversdale and Exhibition rank as the top three neighbourhoods for affordability and good supply of housing inventory.

Edmonton

Old Strathcona, Oliver and Westmount rank as the top three neighbourhoods in Edmonton for access to green spaces and parks, walkability, retail and restaurants and the ease of getting around/public transit. Summerside ranks as the top hidden gem neighbourhood, while Oliver, Clareview and Hudson rank as the top three neighbourhoods for affordability and good supply of housing inventory.

Calgary

Calgary’s Inglewood, Hillhurst and Charleswood areas rank as the top three all-around liveable neighbourhoods for access to green spaces and parks, walkability, access to retail stores and restaurants and ease of getting around/public transit. North Haven Upper, Renfrew, Chinook and Meadowgate Park rank as the top hidden gem neighbourhoods to housing supply, affordability and liveability factors.


vancouver

Vancouver

Main, West End and Kerrisdale rank as the top three neighbourhoods in Vancouver for access to green spaces and parks, walkability, retail and restaurants and the ease of getting around/public transit. Main ranks as the top hidden gem neighbourhood, while Mount Pleasant, Downtown and Renfrew-Collingwood rank as the top three neighbourhoods for affordability and good supply of housing inventory.


Victoria

Victoria Core, Saanich and Westshore rank as the top three neighbourhoods in Victoria for access to green spaces and parks, walkability, retail and restaurants and the ease of getting around/public transit. Estevaan Village in Oak Bay ranks as the top hidden gem neighbourhood, while Langford, Colwood and Saanich are the top neighbourhoods for affordability and good supply of housing inventory.


Nanaimo

Lower Lantzville, North Nanaimo and Departure Bay rank as the top three neighbourhoods for access to green spaces and parks, walkability, retail and restaurants and the ease of getting around/public transit. Lower Lantzville ranks as the top hidden gem neighbourhood, while Central Nanaimo, Uplands and Diver Lake rank as the top three neighbourhoods for affordability and good supply of housing inventory.


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Essential Questions to Ask at an Open House

 

This invaluable checklist will make sure you don’t miss any red flags or opportunities

If you’re in the market for a new home, there are a lot of things that you need to keep track of during your home searching journey. Purchasing a home is an endless checklist of questions that both you and your REALTOR® need the answers for so you can ensure you’ve done all your due diligence and are purchasing the right place for you. To make the process a little easier, here are eight essential questions that you and your agent should ask the listing agent at an open house before you can seriously consider buying.

1. When was the roof/hot water tank/plumbing/electrical/etc. last done?

This is an important question to ask, because it will help to give you a good idea of the current condition of the property or building. By keeping a mental record of the maintenance and upgrades that have already been completed, it will allow you to estimate any future or immediate expenses upon ownership. While the listing agent may not know all these answers off the top of their head, it is at least good to ask the agent to follow up with the seller to get the answers. This information may also be obtained from an inspection, the depreciation report, or the property disclosure statement.

2. (If a strata unit) Is there a depreciation report for the building?

If the property that you’re interested is a strata unit such as a condo or townhouse, then you should ask if a recent depreciation report is available to review. It’s important to ask the seller’s agent this question, especially if you need to obtain a mortgage, because you may have more pushback from the lender without one. Furthermore, the depreciation report will provide you with information given by a third party about the state of the building and whether or not the contingency reserve fund (CRF) can keep up with the maintenance and upgrades required over time. It will show a variety of funding models, and estimate when special levies will be necessary and how much will be required of each owner.

3. (If strata) Are there any special levies coming up?

A special levy is an amount of money that needs to be paid by the owners to cover the cost of an upgrade or repair in the building or complex, such as the roof. If there’s a $5,000 bill coming up at the end of the year, you’ll definitely want to know about it. If you know that a special levy has already been approved, then your agent may be able to negotiate that the seller pays for it upon completion.

4. Is there a property disclosure statement available?

A property disclosure statement (PDS) provides a history of the property based on the seller’s knowledge. While not to be fully relied on, the PDS will provide you with a basic background of the history of the property. On this document, the seller will have answered a variety of yes or no questions such as “has there been any history of a leak?” or “has there ever been an insect infestation issue?” to the best of their knowledge. It is a common subject on a real estate contract; however, it is not required for all sellers to complete a property disclosure statement. For example, if a seller has never lived in the property because it is tenanted, then they most likely won’t want to put themselves on the line when it comes to answering questions that they’re not 100% sure about. If there is a PDS available, it typically means that the sellers have lived in the property and are therefore confident in their answers and being held liable for them.

5. Have the sellers bought a home already?

If the sellers have bought a property and need to be out in a week then the dates will be really important to them. You’ll also want to ask this because you’ll want to know whether the sellers are motivated to move or if they’re just testing out the market. This question will allow you to understand where the sellers are at in their own real estate process, and also assist you during the negotiation process to make your offer as attractive as possible so that the seller accepts.

6. Do the sellers have fixed dates in mind?

Following on from #4, before you fall in love with a property, you’ll want to know whether or not it is possible for you to move in, based on your own time frame. For some sellers it is not always about the price, and if you can find out what the preferred dates are for the sellers, you may have an upper hand when it comes to offers. If you’re able to be flexible and accommodate those dates, there have been cases where a seller is willing to accept a lower price for more ideal dates. On the flip side, if your own dates are fixed and don’t work with the sellers’ dates, then you must be willing to make a higher bid to stand a chance of success.

7. Have you received any offers on the property?

If you’re checking out a property and ask this question, the listing agent is going to tell you one of the following: we already have an accepted offer pending subject removal; we’re taking offers on a specific day; we’ve received offers and rejected them; or we’ve received no offers yet. If they have an accepted offer, they’re continuing to show the property with hopes for a backup offer in the case that the current offers collapses. If it’s a new listing, they are likely collecting offers on a specific day at a specific time in the hope of getting multiples offers. You’ll want to know whether you’re competing against no offers or five offers, because it’s likely that your offer will vary based on how many you’re competing against. If the listing has been on the market for a while, you may be lucky enough to be the only offer. However, in this case it’s important to ask if they’ve received any offers in the past and whether or not they’ve rejected them and why.

8. How long has the property been on the market?

A follow-up question to # 7, you’ll want to know how long the property has been on the market, for a couple of reasons. One is because if it’s a new listing, you may want to prepare yourself for a multiple-offer scenario. Alternatively, if the property has been on the market for a long time then you may be able to negotiate the price to your advantage. However, if it’s been on the market for a long time and you’re in a hot market then you may want to ask yourself why that is. Is there a stigma on the house? Is the property overpriced? Proceed with caution.

Buying a home is a lot of work, and it requires a lot of time spent searching for the right property and performing due diligence. For most people, purchasing a home is the largest investment you will ever make. It’s important that you ask the above questions to ensure that you know how to make your offer appealing to a seller. Furthermore, these questions will also make sure that you know exactly what you’re purchasing and are aware of additional costs for things like necessary upgrades that may come up in the near future. 


 

Mariko Baerg
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The question of whether to buy a condo or a house may be obvious to some, but for others, it's not so simple. Each comes with its own pros and cons as far as convenience, amenities, resale value and space is concerned.

It's important to start by identifying your goals, lifestyle and budget. A REALTOR® can help you navigate the different options in your desired market, including the factors to consider when choosing between a condo or a house. Get started on REALTOR.ca by using the property type filter and compare all the options in your neighbourhood.

Condo types

There are two main types of condos on the market, freehold and leasehold. Freehold condos can be buildings divided into a number of units, row townhouses and even standalone townhouses or homes. Within freehold condos, there are standard condominiums, in which you buy your unit and have an interest in the property's common elements but do not own the land. In common elements condominiums, there are no units but you own the property and the land on which it sits. The owners within the common elements condominiums community share ownership of common elements, jointly funding their maintenance and repair. There are also leasehold condominium corporations, in which the land is not owned by the condominium corporation, but where lease purchasers buy a leasehold interest in units and common elements. 

Price

skyline of a cityPhoto by Liao Je Wei on Unsplash

Buying a standard condominium is a bit different than buying a house, as you're only purchasing a unit in a building, not a parcel of land. (This may not be the case for other kinds of condominiums). Generally speaking, a condo is more affordable than a house in the same area, however the gap is much wider in some markets than others, and may not be all that different if it's a common elements condominium, for example. In cities like Vancouver and Toronto, your willingness to sacrifice a more central location for a lower price will play a big role in whether you opt for a house or condo. 

Expenses

A bell boy at a hotel ringing the bell using white gloves

Condos come with monthly fees, which pay for services like security, maintenance and amenities. They're typically determined by the size of your unit and how many units are in the building. Some condos offer luxurious amenities, like a 24-hour concierge, pool, gym, sauna, big-screen theatres and in some cases, even a bowling alley. It's important to note, the more amenities offered, the higher your condo fees will likely be.

 an outdoor condo poolPhoto by Casey Schackow on Unsplash

Condo fees also generally cover the costs if anything breaks within the building (not inside your unit). For homeowners, no such luck. A leaky roof or window upgrades are a few of the big-ticket items you'll be responsible for yourself, especially in an older home.

Insurance is another expense that varies between a house and condo. Typically, insurance rates for a condo are much less than a house as the walls are insured by the building. Same goes for heating and electric bills, which are typically higher with houses.

Maintenance

a man shovelling snow off a drivewayPhoto by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

If you hate mowing the lawn, shovelling snow or emptying out eavestroughs, a condo may be just the ticket. Houses require a lot more work and physical maintenance, which means more time on the homeowner's part. 

Location and lifestyle

a person taking the stairs down into a subway stationPhoto by LinedPhoto on Unsplash

Condos usually have central locations, giving owners easy commutes and accessibility to public transit, as well as proximity to shops and restaurants. For professionals, these urban conveniences may be more of a priority than an extra bedroom or backyard. And while houses outside of the downtown core are more affordable, you'll sacrifice location and other conveniences associated with condo living. To help discover locations matching your lifestyle, get started with REALTOR.ca Local Insights.

If you have kids or plan on having them soon, you want to carefully consider things like space, noise and privacy. While two people might be content in a condo, if their family grows, a house may have a lot more appeal. Even a two-or-three-bedroom condo will generally have less room for a burgeoning brood than a house.

Freedom

a woman reading a book on the front porch of a housePhoto by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Condo boards have rulesall owners or tenants are expected to follow. These can limit the number or size of pets allowed, prevent smoking in common areas or private balconies, restrict the use of visitors in common elements (such as a pool or gym), prohibit owners from renting out their units (like on Airbnb), prevent using personal BBQs on patios or dictate certain decorative elements, such as hanging Christmas lights or even the colour of your curtains.

Pros of a condo: 

a low-rise condo buildingPhoto by Daniel DiNuzzo on Unsplash
  • You won't be responsible for most repairs or maintenance outside of your unit.
  • You could have access to amenities like a gym, pool or 24-hour concierge.
  • They offer increased security.
  • They're often easier to rent in the short term.
  • They're more likely to be in a central or convenient location.

Cons of a condo: 

Photo by Joseph Albanese on Unsplash
  • You generally have less privacy.
  • There's limited outdoor space.
  • You will have to pay monthly maintenance fees (on top of mortgage payments and property tax).
  • You might have to pay for amenities you don't use.
  • You'll face possible restrictions on things like usage of common elements, parking, pets, renovations and decorations.

Pros of a house: 

a dog on a backyard deckPhoto by Morgan Thompson on Unsplash
  • You typically have total freedom over how you decorate and renovate.
  • You have more control over your own space.
  • You'll likely have more outdoor space.

Cons of a house: 

a ladder in a room with a crack in the wallPhoto by Brina Blum on Unsplash
  • You are responsible for all maintenance.
  • You are responsible for all repairs.
  • Utility bills and insurance is usually higher than in a condo.
a decision-tree graphic on wheether you should buy a house or a condo
 

by Stefani Forster

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From food spills to dropped dishes, kitchens are notoriously tough on floors. Though tile has long been the traditional flooring material for our kitchens, some homeowners are swapping out cold materials for the warmth and beauty of wood. Before ripping out your kitchen tile in favour of hardwood, consider a few these factors.

When to consider wood over tile

a kitchen with wooden floors


When it comes to choosing wood flooring over tried-and-true tile, consider three things: your space, your lifestyle and your budget.

If your home is open-concept, wood floors offer a more spacious, coherent feel. If your kitchen is closed off, however, wood flooring may enhance the chopped up feeling of your rooms or be more trouble than they're worth.

If you cook a lot or have pets or children, you might want to avoid wood flooring, , which scratch easily and don't tend to fare as well in places with high moisture. Keep in mind if you have problems with leaky appliances, you should get them fixed before installing wood floors because water will also damage them. In addition, if you're on a budget, high-quality hardwood might be too expensive for your kitchen renovation. 

Laminate 

a kitchen with wooden floorsPhoto by Naomi Hébert on Unsplash


However, if you're dead set on the look of wood floors in the kitchen but can't afford or justify natural wood, laminate flooring is an option, with some major caveats. Laminate is an imitation of natural wood or stone flooring. It's more affordable, but unless you find a high-quality laminate, it doesn't quite look like the real thing. There's also the issue of moisture to contend with. Laminate is easily damaged by water, causing peeling and discolouration. You can avoid these issues by installing sheet vinyl or luxury vinyl plank (LVP), which is 100% waterproof.

a kitchen with wooden floors


While laminate has come a long way in terms of quality and lifespan, it generally doesn't last as long as hardwood floors, sometimes companies offer warranties of up to 25 years. That being said, once you damage laminate, you're stuck with the damage until you replace it. Thankfully, removing a section of laminate and replacing it is fairly simple, but if a catastrophic spill occurs—for example, your dishwasher floods—you may be in for a bigger job than you bargained for.

Keep in mind laminate typically won't add to your home's resale value in the same way wood, stone or tile will.

Solid vs. engineered hardwood

a kitchen with wooden floors


If you have the budget and the lifestyle to put in wood floors, you have two types available to you: solid hardwood and engineered wood.

Solid hardwood floors can be easily scratched and damaged. It's the most expensive flooring option but will also generally add the most to your home's resale value and, if cared for properly, last forever. If you decide to go with solid hardwood, choose a wood which ranks high on the hardness scale. You want to avoid softwood in the kitchen altogether, as softwood is prone to staining and damage and won't do well in a high-impact room.

a kitchen with wooden floorsPhoto by Jens Behrmann on Unsplash


Engineered hardwood is a great middle-ground alternative to laminate and solid wood, both in price and in quality. It has a very thin layer of wood veneer on the top followed by a few layers of plywood, so it's durable while still giving you the solid hardwood look you crave. This flooring won't last quite as long as properly cared for solid wood, but it's still very durable and the closest you can get to hardwood floors if solid wood doesn't fit your budget.

Both solid and engineered wood flooring can come in scraped or wire brushed finishes—smart options because the texture can help hide imperfections.

And while hardwood floors in living areas may be finished with traditional penetrating oils, kitchen floors will need a surface finish, such as polyurethane, to seal the wood surface and prevent water penetration.

A note on installation

hardwood floors being installed


Installing hardwood in the kitchen can be tricky; it needs to integrate well with cabinetry and the fewer gaps, the better off you'll be in terms of preventing water damage. Unless you're a pro, installing hardwood in the kitchen is not a DIY job. Also keep in mind prefinished hardwood, while the most durable, often has rounded, bevelled edges, which might mean more gaps during the installation process. A good contractor can try to mitigate these issues to give you a seamless floor.

Caring for your kitchen floors

a person mopping up wooden floors in a kicthenPhoto by rawpixel on Unsplash


If you opt for hardwood or engineered hardwood over tile floors, they'll generally require a bit more care and maintenance. Leaks and spills will need to be cleaned up right away. As a general rule, mop wood floors occasionally and do so with a slightly damp mop or towel. Never allow water to stand too long on your floors and be sure to sweep your floors regularly to keep the finish intact. Adding pads under chair and table legs will help protect floors from scratches.

Make sure you check your hardwood warranty before you install—some contracts are void for kitchen spaces or other areas where water could be a hazard, like laundry rooms.

No matter what flooring you choose, it should align with your home. Consider your taste, lifestyle and budget, and it won't be long before you're entertaining your friends and family. 


Stephanie Cervone



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6 Easy Ways to Soundproof a Room

Whether it's noisy neighbours, bleeping garbage trucks or thudding footsteps, unwanted outside noise at home can be infuriating. Thankfully, there are several ways we can minimize those sounds so our home is a peaceful, tranquil oasis. Here are some of our favourite soundproofing solutions.

1. Use sound-absorbing rugs and carpets

a rug on a living room floorPhoto by Ryan Christodoulou on Unsplash

Hard surfaces reflect sound waves while soft surfaces absorb them, so materials like padded carpeting will help reduce vibrations. Uncovered, hard floors—like bare wood, tile or laminate—will emphasize footsteps, so for rooms requiring extra quiet, like a study or a bedroom, wall-to-wall carpeting is your best bet. If committing to a fully carpeted room isn't your style, a few well-placed rugs will work wonders. Opt for thick, plush fabrics to absorb as much sound as possible and don't forget a carpet pad underneath. Thankfully, we hear shag rugs are making a comeback!

2. Fill in the cracks

a window seal being caulked Close-up Of Person Hand Applying Silicone Sealant With Silicone Gun On Window

Sound is like water; it can seep into any unsealed space. From gaps under doors to airflow coming through or around your windows, gaps let in clamour, so a very easy and affordable strategy for soundproofing your home is by simply filling in the cracks. A few ways to seal away outdoor sounds include:

  • Caulking around switch and receptacle boxes for a tight seal;
  • Placing weatherstrips under your doors;
  • Installing weatherstripping along the edge of windows;
  • Filling in cracks in drywall (a major cause of noise) with caulking;
  • Filling in any cracks you find in floorboards; and
  • Installing storm windows.

3. Hang heavy drapes

a chair up against window curtainsPhoto by David Sjunnesson on Unsplash

Windows are often overlooked as sound disruptors but they can let in a lot of noise. This is a particularly fine point for a bedroom to ensure better rest and relaxation. Spring for lined drapes, which greatly help in blocking sound from entering through the window from outside. Got a lot of noise? Heavy-duty soundproofing window treatments act as an extra-efficient barrier for reducing racket. Remember, the thicker the fabric, the better it will be at reducing sound.

4. Muffle sounds with a heavy bookcase

a bookshelfPhoto by Alex Block on Unsplash

Here's a fun hack that doubles as storage. If you have thin walls, consider installing a built-in bookshelf as a partition. Books and other objects can help reduce sound wave vibrations and noise coming from the other side.

5. Invest in new doors

wooden doors to upstairs bedrooms

Most interior doors are hollow-core, so to reduce noise, invest in new composites, like particleboard-core, composite-core or solid wood doors. They will work much better at providing a sound barrier.

6. Install acoustic panels 

a living space with a wall full of acoustic panels

Made of porous expanded polypropylene (PEPP), acoustic sound panels are meant to improve the acoustics inside a room (for example, a home theatre), but they're also great at blocking outside noise. Some manufacturers even offer custom-printed fabrics to turn your panels into wall art. Installation is relatively simple: just attach with clips and velcro. You can even DIY your own.


By Lara Ceroni

 

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Changes to schools and boundaries in Surrey school district

Via Surrey Schools.

Surrey is British Columbia’s largest and fastest growing school district. Now almost 50 per cent larger than Vancouver and growing by over 1,000 students per year, the growth in Surrey schools matches the growth in the community.

For homebuyers, one of the key questions is often “where will our children go to school?” The purpose of this overview is to ensure that Realtors and buyers are aware of what is happening with  Surrey schools and so they can make informed decisions about the school catchments and where children may be able to attend school.

The best place for information

Each month, the Surrey Board of Education updates their “Active Capital Projects.” This covers new school construction, or additions that have been approved and funded or are already in construction.

In addition, complete with maps, there is a YouTube video of the Surrey Board’s active projects and long range planning.

With a new secondary school in Grandview Heights, a large addition at Pacific Heights, and two new elementary schools in Sunnyside Heights and in Douglas, there will be boundary adjustments in South Surrey and White Rock. The Surrey Board of Education has conducted public consultation and the details of the boundaries can be found in Option 2B in these pages of resources. The boundary changes impact many schools in South Surrey and White Rock.

There are many changes coming with the new schools and while the Surrey Board is excited, they must adjust boundaries to help facilitate the changes to the school district. If at any time you or a client would like to locate a child’s potential school click here.

The Surrey Board of Education has an enormous wealth of information online and you can, at any time, find out the status of construction and the future boundary positions simply by accessing the materials or by calling them at 604-596-7733 and asking for Jacob Zinn.

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How good is the air quality inside your home? You may want to consider a heat-recovery ventilation system, advises home inspector Sean Moss








What is an HRV System?

An HRV or “Heat Recovery Ventilator” is a mechanical air-exchange system that brings fresh outside air into the home, while heating and strategically distributing it throughout the house.

Fresh outside air is drawn into the home with one vent, while passing through a filter in the system. Meanwhile, the older, warm, stale air is pushed outside with another vent. The heat is exchanged, but the air is not recycled. So, essentially, this process recovers heat that would otherwise be lost.

HRVs are typically designed for newer well-insulated, tight buildings rather than drafty older homes. However, with the proper retrofits, they can be installed in any home.

Before I jump into the benefits of an HRV, it is important to understand ventilation, as it serves two main purposes:

  • To provide the necessary oxygen for people to breathe.
  • To remove, or at least dilute, contaminants from the home.

Poor indoor air quality has been documented to cause negative health effects on humans, especially the very young, elderly and people with sensitivities. Sufficient ventilation, combined with proper filtration, is necessary for the maintenance of proper indoor air quality.

Benefits of an HRV System

Our homes are filled with all kind of pollutants, dust mites, pet dander, odours and toxins. The HRV system effectively removes them from the home to improve our indoor air quality. This is especially beneficial for those who suffer from asthma or allergies.

Some systems can recover more than 80 per cent of the heat before it leaves the home, which is budget friendly, while reducing the need to open more windows.

We generate a lot of moisture in the home from plants, through washing, cooking bathing, laundry, and breathing. Condensation can also contribute to visible and hidden moisture. HRVs remove this moisture from the home, resulting in lower levels of humidity, mildew and mold, especially from high moisture areas such as bathrooms and kitchens.

The end result is a clean, fresh and more comfortable living environment.

Where to Install the HRV

The HRV system should be located in a space that is conditioned (heated), easily accessible with ample room for maintenance and in close proximity to an exterior wall – this is important as you will need a short duct run to the outside.

Avoid closets, as they can be result in noise issues. Attics are difficult to get to, often resulting in neglected maintenance, and garages should be avoided because they are cooler, thus reducing the efficiency of the system.

Ideally, your HRV system should be installed by a licensed, experienced ventilation contractor, as there are a number of important sizing calculations and requirements to ensure the system runs properly with optimum efficiency.

What about Maintenance?

The HRV system is intended to run 24/7, so annual preventative maintenance by an experienced, licensed contractor is required.

Have your contractor show you how to do some of the simple maintenance tasks, such as replacing the filter, cleaning the drain pan and checking the exterior intake/exhaust hoods. Unless you are properly trained, leave the complicated components to the professionals.

With increased exposure to and knowledge of indoor air quality, as well as moisture issues, the demand for HRV systems is becoming common practice.

For more information and specific details, including costs and pay back periods, contact a reputable HRV contractor to learn more. 

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Fairest for Your Feet: The Best Flooring Choices for Condos







You’ve decided to install new flooring in your condominium, or update the flooring before you move in. But what to buy?


With condos you have to take a lot more into consideration than simply how the floor will look. First and foremost, there are the neighbours, and it’s not just how much they might hear you, but how much you might hear them.

Before you start shopping for flooring, says Ashley Kitchen, interior designer at reVISION Renovations, check into your condominium bylaws.


“With older condominiums, many strata councils will absolutely say no to hardwood floors,” she says. “You really need to speak to the strata members before you do anything else.”

Soundproofing

 The next consideration is noise control. No one likes listening to their neighbours pace across a room in high heels or listen to their pounding music. The type of floor and underlay you choose can greatly reduce the sound that travels through the floor.


“The key to soundproofing is in the underlay,” says Kitchen. “Talk to your installer to get their recommendations.”

If you are in the market to buy a new condo, ask the sales team or your realtor to inquire about how soundproof the flooring is and, more importantly, “don’t be afraid to ask for the specifics of the underlay.”

Kitchen went on to speak about a product her installers are raving about.


“I haven’t worked with Flexilastic yet, but it is a peel-and-stick sheet coating that reduces impact and airborne sound transmissions. It works great with ceramic, porcelain and natural stone tile where sound absorption is really needed.”

In addition, the way to ensure maximum soundproofing is combining the best underlay with carpet.

“The prices [for underlay] really depend on the model and square feet you need to cover, so the best thing to do is call your installer to suit your specific needs.”

Carpets

Although carpeting will provide your condo with the best soundproofing, Kitchen admits she hasn’t had any clients in recent memory who have asked for it. As much as baby boomers have become accustomed to carpet for its warmth and soft feel underfoot, many are turned off by its staining and the crushed, matted traffic areas.

“Millennials do not want carpeting anywhere, period,” she says. “However, when customers request carpeting, they are going for a tightly woven wool carpet.”


Although on the pricier side of carpeting, wool actually retains its shape much better, is durable, naturally soil resistant, non-allergenic, and eco-friendly.


Manufacturers are also creating synthetic carpeting that is more environmentally friendly and a few are actually producing fibre combinations that take softness to a whole new level.


The seasoned designer says there’s no question that carpeting is quiet. And, when a high-density pad is used, a beautiful wool carpet can look stunning and feel comfortable to walk on.


As far as carpet colour is concerned, condo owners are sticking to the organic neutrals – greys and whites but no beige, which “is passé.”

Laminates vs. Hardwood

The biggest craze in condo flooring, hands down, says Kitchen, is laminate. Today’s laminate looks so much like hardwood, many people would be hard-pressed to know the difference.


“There are faux-wood laminates, produced in Europe and in China, that you can’t even tell they aren’t hardwood,” she adds. “They look amazing. Most clients are going for the long, wide planks.”


The faux hardwood laminates come in a huge selection of colours and options.


The great advantage of laminate flooring is that not only does it have the look and feel of hardwood but it costs a fraction of the price.


“In newer condos, engineered hardwood is not the driving force anymore,” says Kitchen, adding hardwood will always require a lot more maintenance. “I’ve had clients who say their first and only choice is hardwood but, when I show them the laminates, they can be swayed.”


However, some homeowners will never be convinced away from hardwood. Kitchen concedes that, for some clients, the beauty and feel of hardwood is hard to beat.

Tiling

Tiles that look like concrete are super-hot right now in Europe and gaining momentum here in BC.

“Again, these tiles look great and they feature minimal grout joints, so they are easy to clean and almost seamless,” Kitchen adds.


She goes on to say that there are tiles coming out of Spain and Italy that look like hardwood as well.

“We’re also seeing lots of tile that looks like fabric,” she says.


Another hot trend is decorative tiles for accents with a nod to the old hydraulic tiles.

“They look stunning in larger bathrooms and kitchens... the factories are producing them differently now but with similar patterns,” says Kitchen.


As far as tile size goes, small is definitely not better. What is vogue right now is moving toward “modular” sizes – rectangular tiles or 12-by-24-inch sizes. 


“Twelve-by-12 tiles are out, we are following the European trend of bigger is better, going as big as 24 by 24,” she adds.


As a condo owner you are probably thinking that is way too big for small spaces. Not true. If you avoid dark colours, large tiles can actually make a room look bigger.


“A side benefit is that with bigger tiles there are less grout joints, so less cleaning,” she adds.

Vinyl

Vinyl… the word alone conjures up 1950s cheap flooring. Well, not anymore. Today’s vinyl is gorgeous and can be pretty pricey.


Although some vinyl flooring choices are quite affordable and look great, Kitchen says others can cost from $18 to $22 per square foot or more.


“It’s a tough sell – because it's expensive but it is a really good quality product,” says Kitchen. “It comes in a variety of options… it can have the look of stone, slate and even hardwood.”


Vinyl is easy to install and maintain and Kitchen recommends it for recreation rooms, offices, gyms or play rooms.

Cork: Yes or No?

In an eco-conscious province like BC, there’s been a lot of buzz about cork flooring. Made from tree bark, it’s a natural and renewable resource, so it’s environmentally friendly. But is it trendy?

When asked, Kitchen says: “It's not durable at all, and the style is a little outdated.”


Michelle Hopkins
 
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Moving With Kids? How to Choose a Great School Near Your New Home


There are many factors to consider when searching for your dream home, including cost, number of bedrooms, layout and neighbourhood. But if you have children—or plan to someday soon—you need to think about another important selling feature: schools.

After all, you don't want to buy a house only to discover the local schools don't get a passing grade. Here are a few tips to help you find the right school for your children, whether you're moving across town or to the other side of the country.

Find the perfect school with REALTOR.ca's neighbourhood information

a map showing some schools in Toronto

Home buyers can access comprehensive school catchment information for more than 40 cities across Canada while looking at property listings on REALTOR.ca. You can set the online filters for public, private, elementary, high school, English or French schools. 

Do your homework

young children in a classroom with a teacher at the front of the class

Most provinces offer online directories of school boards and individual schools, which can be useful for learning about class sizes, student-teacher ratios and whether they can accommodate children with special needs. Just as you would research a hotel before going on vacation, you'll want to read what others have to say about a given school. Many parents rate schools online, based on teacher quality, curriculums and enrichment programs.

For academic information, the Fraser Institute's handy tool, CompareSchoolRankings.org, provides detailed school-by-school performance reports. In addition, don't forget to scroll through a school's social media feed, which can yield a wealth of great information, such as photos and newsletters.

Talk to your future neighbours

two families with young children sitting on stairs in front of an apartment

Take a walk through your prospective neighbourhood and check out the area's parks and community centres. Don't be afraid to approach parents pushing kids on a swing or watching their child's swimming lesson. Strike up a friendly conversation and tell them you're thinking about moving to the neighbourhood. Ask about schools in the area and if they have any advice for choosing the right one for your children. Find out whether the local schools encourage parent volunteers or how many field trips are organized each year. 

Map out the commute

young students standing in a single file, waiting by a school bus

Is a home within walking distance of the school at the top of your priority list? Will your children need a drive twice a day? Call the school board to find out if they offer bus services or if you'll be juggling carpool schedules as part of your morning routine. If you have older children, see if public transportation is an option by mapping out possible bus, subway or streetcar routes. 

Visit the schools

a father and daughter holding hand while walking out the gates of a school

Make an appointment with the principal to tour each school you're interested in and arrive with a list of questions, such as whether special programs are offered. Ask to see classes in progress, along with the facilities and grounds, to help you evaluate which school works best for your children. If your children are athletic, ask about extracurricular sports teams; if they're artistic, inquire about their music, arts or drama programs. Can't go in person? Set up phone calls with the principal, administration and ideally the teachers who'll be teaching your children.

Armed with all this information, you'll get top marks in your housing search.


By 

Wendy Helfenbaum

 
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The Importance of Using A REALTOR® When Buying Pre-Construction


Home buyers might assume there's no need to work with a REALTOR® when purchasing a pre-construction build. After all, the builders and developers have on-site representatives promising to take care of all the paperwork, right? 

Not so fast. There are a number of advantages to working with someone who has your best interests in mind. Here's what you need to know if you're thinking about buying a brand-new build.

A REALTOR® makes the sales process less overwhelming

GIF of a man saying: "Calm down, beathe."Via Giphy

Buying a new build can be a lot more complicated than purchasing a resale. You'll benefit from working with a local expert who knows the project's neighbourhood, target audience, materials used and sales data. Enhance your search for homes by saving your search and getting notifications from REALTOR.ca favourites. Most importantly, they'll know which builders are most reputable for delivering on time. A REALTOR® can also offer information on what is the best time to buy—pre-construction, mid-construction or after the building is completed—since they might have intel on upcoming promotions. For example, builders may be a free parking spot during pre-construction or they may lower the purchase price when the building is unloading the last few units.

A REALTOR® can negotiate on your behalf

GIF of a woman in a store saying: "I'l give you a dollar for all of this"Via Giphy

Sure, you can simply trust a sales representative to haggle with the builder, but that may not get you the best deal or added perks, like free upgrades or new appliances. Understanding the fine print in a purchase contract is not for the faint of heart. A real estate professional can point out the confusing clauses you're better off negotiating on. 

You'll get the low-down on the up-sells

GIF of a man signalling to another man to not do/go for somethingVia Giphy

Immaculately designed model homes offer all the bells and whistles, tempting buyers into adding all sorts of extras onto the standard price. Sometimes, these upgrades aren't worth it. Your REALTOR® can help you decide what's worth doing and what can wait.

You won't fall for sales pitches that seem too good to be true

GIF of a man in a suit asking: "Are you sure?"Via Giphy

Buyers are led to believe if they don't use an agent, the builder will subtract the price of a REALTOR®'s potential commission from the purchase price. But since the seller (i.e. the builder) pays your agent's commission, it only makes sense to insist on having one. Builders are reluctant to reduce prices because those discounts are available for other buyers to see. 

A REALTOR® will provide guidance and support throughout the transaction

GIF on a girl in a crowd cheering someone onVia Giphy

When it comes to pre-construction, home buyers must navigate multiple steps and interact with several people before closing. In addition to making decisions around design, buyers must also make technical choices about electrical work or construction add-ons during the build. In addition, some buyers will be dealing with loan officers, appraisers, notaries and home inspectors. Having a trusted REALTOR® means you can access their vast network to find the best professionals.

Bottom line? The builder's rep has the builder's goals in mind, while your own agent is a valuable resource with just one person to satisfy: You.

By Wendy Helfenbaum

a illustrated quiz about whether of not you should use a REALTOR when buying pre-construction
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Are you thinking about breaking your fixed-rate mortgage? While traditionally considered a financial faux-pas, many Canadians choose to break their fixed-rate mortgage when they find their current terms and conditions no longer meet their needs.

“Breaking a fixed-rate mortgage occurs more often than you would think,” Jared Ksenica, Regional Vice-President, Mortgage Specialist, with BMO Bank of Montreal said.

Of course, there are penalties to pay for breaking a mortgage. When you break a mortgage contract, the penalty is supposed to cover the lender's costs related to unwinding the loan, while also recouping part of their lost profit. The amount is dependent on the interest rate and the mortgage balance.

According to Ksenica, some of the most common reasons for breaking a mortgage include refinancing for debt consolidation, purchasing a second property and helping children with their education or helping them buy a home.

an application for a fixed percentage rate mortgage application

Another reason to break a mortgage is to take advantage of a lower interest rate. If you've been watching rates lately, you may be wondering if you could break your fixed-rate mortgage to save money in the long-term with a cheaper interest rate.

This may sound like a good idea, but be forewarned: trying to figure out what you'll be charged for breaking a fixed-rate mortgage is very difficult, with homeowners often miscalculating the cost of their penalty.

What are the advantages of breaking a fixed-rate mortgage?

a calculator on top of a sheet of calculationsVia Pexels

John Tarnowski, Executive Vice President, Retail Financial Services at ATB Financial, says it's important customers look beyond the rate and compare the full mortgage package to determine what's best for them.

“If moving to a variable or new fixed-rate term will save interest costs over the remaining mortgage term, it might be worth doing, even if they have to pay a prepayment penalty,” he says. “If a person’s life or lifestyle has changed, it might also be a good time to consider this option.”

These kinds of decisions shouldn’t be taken lightly and it’s best to discuss options with a mortgage specialist. Despite paying the penalty upfront for breaking a mortgage, there may or may not be effective savings in the long-term—especially if you're facing high penalties. 

What are the penalties for breaking a mortgage? 

a person at a desk doing some financial-related workPhoto by rawpixel.com from Pexels

The biggest disadvantage of breaking a mortgage is the out-of-pocket penalties. And they're often much, much higher than you might have anticipated.

Fixed-rate mortgage penalties are always calculated based on whichever is greater: “the greater of a) three months interest or b) the interest-rate differential (IRD),” with the IRD being the difference between the existing mortgage rate and the interest rate currently charged.

However, there are key differences in the actual rates lenders use to calculate your IRD and this can greatly impact your penalties. The Standard IRD is what most people think of when breaking a mortgage, whereby the lender takes the difference between your contract rate and their current rate that most closely matches your remaining term.

But there's also the Discounted Rate IRD Penalty (used by RBC, BMO, TD, Scotia and National Bank). Banks who use this IRD format take your contract rate, compare it to the posted rate that most closely matches your remaining term and then subtract the original discount you got off of their five-year posted rate.

This small tweak that can make a huge difference in terms of the penalties you can incur. Using this calculation, it's possible for an IRD to jump from the Standard $1,500 to $9,000.

The Posted Rate IRD Penalty (used by CIBC) can have even steeper penalties. In this variation, the bank calculates your IRD penalty using the five-year posted rate they offered when you initially got your mortgage.

Get informed about the penalty calculators your particular lender will use before signing any mortgage contract so there are no nasty surprises down the road.

people at a table looking over contractsPhoto by rawpixel on Unsplash

If you decide to break your fixed-rate mortgage but you want to stay with the same lender, ask if they offer penalty discounts. While not all lenders offer this type of incentive, some may be willing to reduce your penalties if you decide to stay with them. mortgage contract but still stay with them. In this case, Tarnowski says you can break your mortgage “in conjunction with a new mortgage,” minimizing the penalty by making a lump sum payment on their mortgage.

Be sure to check out our affordability calculator to find out how much you can afford and use our handy mortgage calculator to determine your ideal amortization period and down payment options.

The article above is for information purposes and is not financial or legal advice or a substitute for financial or legal

counsel.


By Mario Toneguzzi

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Decorating trends have come and gone but the accent wall has stood the test of time. Also known as “feature walls,” accent walls are an easy, low-commitment way to highlight an important element in your home, show off your personal style and make your design vision pop.

A simple coat of dark or bright paint is a tried-and-true way to turn heads, but there are plenty of other ways to draw attention to a feature wall.

a dark green accent wall in a living roomA dark green accent wall adds depth to this living room. Via Ron Frazier on Flickr

Nicholas Nankissoor is a design-builder in Toronto, responsible for the look and feel of several vegan restaurants, including Mythology DinerCopenhagen Vegan Cafe and Vegandale Brewery. He uses accent walls to draw in customers and encourage them to take selfies. However, he notes there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about creating an accent wall. 

Why create an accent wall?

a textured accent wall above a fireplace

“Don't just randomly select a feature wall,” Nankisoor says. “Let unique architecture or furniture guide you.” In most rooms, the location of your accent wall will be obvious, setting the scene for a key feature or piece of furniture, such as a headboard or a fireplace. Accent walls can also help define a space into multi-purpose areas in an open-concept space. If there's no naturally-occurring accent wall, you can create your own focal point with decorative pieces, like a large mirror or favourite painting.

Different ways to accent your walls

Paint: The solid choice

a blackboard feature wall in a nurseryVia It's Great to be Home on Flickr

A coat of paint is by far the easiest way to update your space without a big commitment, Nankisoor says. Painted accent walls often look best when painted a darker or bolder colour, while harmonizing with the rest of the walls. A foolproof trick to choosing the right hue is to “make your accent wall a few shades darker than the other walls.” Alternatively, pick a shade that currently exists in the room's décor elements, like throw pillows or curtains.

Paint: Stripes, patterns and murals 

a striped feature wall in a living room

While a solid-colour wall can work wonders for a room, there are plenty of other ways to use paint on a featured wall, such as with DIY stripes or other creative projects. Simple stripes of slightly lighter and darker shades can add a lot of visual interest; all you need is two shades of paint and painter's tape. 

Empty room background with striped yellow wallpaper a wooden floor and a plant

At one of his soon-to-be-opened restaurants (we can't name it here, unfortunately; the project is top-secret!), Nankisoor is creating a feature wall that will also serve as selfie opportunity for visitors, with fun phrases in speech bubbles painted all over it. 

Updating a kids' room? If you're artistically inclined, there's nothing more fun than a hand-painted feature corner!

a mural on a tree on a kid's bedroom wall

Wallpaper 

a tropical leaves wallpaper in a living room

Aside from a fresh coat of bold paint, a wallpaper accent wall is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to add personality to a room. It's also a great way to dip your toes into the fun, funky world of creative wallpaper. Choose something bold and eye-catching—after all, it's only one wall and there are so many kinds and patterns to choose from.

Wood

a three dimensional wooden accent wallIntricate wood accent wall at Bosk restaurant, Toronto. Via boskto on Instagrama wooden feature wall at a restaurantVia boskto on Instagram

Paint and wallpaper are great for adding colour and texture, but why not experiment with different materials to really make your accent wall stand out? Bosk restaurant in Toronto features a “small, wooded area” wall marked with the restaurant's name to complement the space's wood panelling and Japanese-inspired latticework.

“Board pattern and stain colours are all up to your own personal creative vision,” Nankisoor says.

But it doesn't have to be as complicated as all that. Even simple wood planks can have dramatic impact. The most important element, Nankisoor says, is valuing authenticity in the materials you use.

“With wood for an accent wall, reclaimed wood has a natural patina and gives a much more authentic feel than taking new wood and trying to make it look old,” he says. “When choosing wood, look for pieces with nice big knots which will pop out against the stain.”

a rustic wooden-panel feature wall in a restaurant Photo: Nicholas Nankisoora rustic wooden-panel feature wall in a restaurant

Brick

a brick feature wall in a bedroom

If you're lucky enough to have a brick wall as part of your natural architecture, play it up with smart interior design decisions.

“What makes brick such a rare and warming design is that it can only be done when you have the opportunity,” says Nankisoor. Take advantage of your naturally-occurring brick wall by using it as an accent and really emphasizing its unique features. For example, if your brick wall is red, try a cooler, grey-toned palette for the rest of the room to make the brick pop. 

Concrete

a concrete feature wall in a bedroom

Cement or concrete walls are an eye-catching interior design feature that usually come pre-existing in a home, loft or condo but with the opposite effect of brick, adding starkness rather than warmth. Concrete walls look especially beautiful in long hallways, but when used in other rooms, like living or bedrooms, make sure your décor complements the cold, industrial feel. If you want the look of concrete without actually covering the wall in this material, you can use wallpaper that mimics the look of concrete. Unlike brick or stone, you won't give up the real texture quite so much if you use this shortcut. 

Stone

a stone feature wall in an outside dining spaceA natural stone accent wall adds lots of character to a home.

A natural stone accent wall is truly a sight to behold. Depending on the stone, it can add a Mediterranean or Tuscan feel to your home and while it makes for a dramatic look, it can be expensive if you're building one from scratch.

a tile feature wall in a kitchenNot just for the backsplash; add some drama with bold kitchen tiles feature wall!

Not just for bedrooms or living rooms, accent walls can also look super luxurious in kitchens and bathrooms. In kitchens, a bold backsplash is often used as a focal point, but you can just as easily use tile as a dramatic feature wall.

In the bathroom, an accent wall can draw focus to a beautiful tub or vanity.

a tiled feature wall  in a bathroomA bathroom gets a modern update with this funky tile accent wall. Via mosaics lab on Flickra tiled feature wall  in a bathroomBeautiful, bold tiles can turn a bathroom into a work of art.

Not a fan of too much tile? Apply a bold tile pattern selectively as a “half-accent wall,” for example, to draw attention to a gorgeous mirror or faucet. 

a tiled backsplash in a bathroomPhoto of a bathroom sink and mirror with tile design. phone photo

Moulding and other materials

lattice work on a wall in a reading corner

Crown moulding and panelling work particularly well for formal sitting or dining rooms. However, there's no rule that says you can't have glamorous panelling in a playroom and a lovely hand-painted mural in your dining room. “It's really up to you,” Nankisoor says.

Accent wall Dos and Don'ts:

a wooden feature wall in a sitting room
  • DO work with the existing architecture and furniture;
  • DO choose natural, authentic materials whenever possible;
  • DO choose a darker colour while harmonizing with the rest of the walls;
  • DO make your accent wall a few shades darker than other walls;
  • DO choose an existing colour shade that exists in the room's décor;
  • DON'T forget there's more to accent walls than just paint;
  • DON'T be afraid to go for bold paint or wallpaper.

Finally, Nankisoor says the biggest takeaway for designing any space is to make it bespoke to your particular home.

“A big mistake is thinking because something looks good in a photo you saw of a different space, you can just copy it at your place,” Nankisoor says. “You want to think about the natural, existing elements and play those up with smart design decisions.”


Article by Stefani Foster

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Did you know that residential renovations in Canada contribute more than 2 million tonnes of waste a year? Some home improvement projects, like installing draft-proof windows or energy-efficient appliances, can go a long way in reducing your carbon footprint, but they can also produce a lot of waste if not planned responsibly. 

On your next project, make sure you renovate responsibly. Put the three “r's” back in renovation with these tips on how to reduce, reuse and recycle your home improvement refuse.

Pare down on packaging

Photo by Luka Siemionov from Pexels

Many furniture and manufacturing companies have recycling programs in place to reduce their environmental impact, so it's worthwhile to inquire about their initiatives. When you place your next order, ask if the distributor can minimize the amount of packaging they use for your shipment or see if they'll pick up and reuse packaging. If they don't, inquire about how to recycle the materials.

Reface, don't replace

Renovations don't have to be a total “out with the old, in with the new” overhaul. When planning your next home reno project, aim to reface and repurpose as much as possible. Could those kitchen cabinets be transformed with repaint? A fresh coat can work wonders on waste and budget reduction – just make sure to use eco-friendly paints and avoid those containing volatile organic compounds. 

Donate

Help someone else build their dream home by donating your loved-in furniture, appliances and other items. Organizations such as Habitat ReStore, the Welcome Collective and Diabetes Canada will pick up your contributions and find them a new home. 

Swap your scraps

DIY workspace make with pallet. Computer blank on the desk

One person's abandoned toilet may be another person's readymade pièce de résistance. Just because you haven't found a way to upcycle furnishings or scraps, don't assume others can't. Hawk your unwanted goods online in exchange for something you want or need or curbside pick-up.  

Recycle

Once you've reduced and reused what you can, it's time to recycle. Add sawdust, cardboard and other shredded paper materials to compost heaps. Small plastics, aluminum and glass items can be put out for regular collection, while larger items can be brought to depots or picked up by collection companies. If you're unsure about what to bring where, contact your local recycling center. 

Dispose of hazardous waste safely

Photo: Hilary Halliwell via Pexels

Some things can't be recycled, so make sure household hazardous waste is disposed of responsibly. Everything from batteries and paint thinners to furniture cleaners may contain toxins, corrosives or flammable properties, which can leach out of landfills, contaminating soil and water. Read labels, keep materials tightly sealed in their original containers and don't mix products or dump anything down the drain. Then, refer to your province's household hazardous waste collection program.

Build an eco-friendly home

Photo: Flo Pappert via Unsplash

In addition to rebates and incentives governments offer for energy efficient home improvements, going green can make your next renovation more sustainable. Fortunately, many retailers are shifting to renewable materials, but there's plenty we can do in the meantime. For instance, you could switch to energy efficient appliances or consider paper composite kitchen countertops. If you're planning to build, a REALTOR® can help you find land for your dream eco-home. 


Katie Sehl

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Findings from the second phase of the 2018 Recreational Property Report:


  • Recreational properties are experiencing a surge in pricing with 78 per cent of regions surveyed showing growth
  • A RE/MAX survey showed that retirees drive demand for recreational properties in 91 per cent of regions examined
  • An older Canadian population with more purchasing power is driving prices

Download the Recreational Property Data Table!


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In October 2017, CMHC completed an online survey of 2,507 prospective home buyers, all prime household decision-makers who intend to purchase a home within the next two years.


Three groups of prospective home buyers were identified. The sample composition and definition for each group is as follows:


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