Is There Price-Fixing in the Building Industry?

Those of us who live in Toronto already know that the new home construction industry is booming.  Aside from bungalows in older neighbourhoods being torn down to make room for larger homes with granite counters and ensuite master baths, in seems like we're always hearing about a new development sprouting up in a space we weren't even aware existed!  It would seem that with all the new construction companies which have materialized to deal with this extra demand, consumers would have some ability to shop around, right?  After all, this is Toronto, not some one horse town with only one local construction company... RIGHT??

This morning, CBC News published an article about alleged price-fixing in new home construction industry, specifically between up to 10 large companies that form moulds and pour the foundation in the basements of new, low-rise homes.  According to the article, some of the larger companies have fixed prices, made a deal not to compete and attempted to "stifle" their smaller competitors.  They allegedly met or spoke regarding prices and pressured smaller companies who were undercutting them.

As a Realtor, I happen to believe that the Competition Bureau, while necessary, can be a little high-handed and impractical at times.  Still, if this is true, it could have huge implications for the new home construction industry.  Have builders (and, by proxy, buyers) been overpaying for new homes since 1997?  What does this mean for the future price of construction in the GTA?

I must however, also look at the other side and I would want a few questions answered before solidifying my opinion:

How do they know it is true price fixing?  It is normal for members of a union to know one another, even if they work for different companies.  Is there actual evidence of conversations discussing price-fixing or is the Competition Bureau inferring this for documentation provided by one man who is connected to the accused parties?  In my opinion, discussing work and suppliers with colleagues is not a crime.  After all, don't we all want to know what our competitors are charging and if they can offer any professional advice?  In real estate, I maintain professional relationships with many of my colleagues.  We offer one another advice and support.  I have found many of my colleagues in the real estate industry to be honest, bright and hard-working.  Do these professional relationships constitute a grounds to investigate us for price-fixing?  What if we all happened to charge a similar price for providing top service within our industry and agreed not to poach clients from each other?  As you can see, it's a slippery slope and a grey area.  These rules are intended to protect the consumer, not to punish needlessly.

Another point to look at further is whether the smaller companies who are being "stifled" are also in the union or are they non-union companies?  Non-union companies can be very good companies but they can also choose not to pay their employees fairly or insist on maximum shift lengths to ensure safety.  They may not have the same level of training and I would wonder whether they were giving low bids and then inflating the tab afterwards.  If this were the case, I would find it difficult to blame the larger companies for pressuring them.  In an industry where your client/customer may not be aware of the full scope of your work, a rival who manipulates the truth or over sells their wares can be dangerous.

Still, baring some great answers to these questions, it would seem that these companies are in hot water and perhaps rightfully so.  I look forward to learning the details and watching how this impacts the construction industry.  For private owners arranging building services, we may see lowered costs but I suspect the builders will still sell their homes at the same prices since they are determined by overall demand in the housing market and neighbourhood sales.


(VIDEO) Just For Fun: Watch Barkley Walk In His New Winter Boots.

I can't believe I'm already writing another dog post but I really wanted to share this video.  After a very cold January, we decided it was time to get Barkley a proper pair of boots.  For the past few weeks, he has absolutely HATED his walks and between the ice and the salt irritating his paws, we've barely been able to make it around the block.

People with greyhounds know how hard it is to find pet clothes that fit properly.  They're just sooo tall and skinny but this means that they also need clothes desperately in cold climates!  We have actually found a great online shop that makes custom, breed specific clothes for all seasons.  Since I work by referral, I am always very conscious of referring other business owners who offer an exceptional product or service.  We buy all our dog clothes (and now boots) from Voyagers K9 Apparel and we find that the clothing fits well, is easy to put on and remove and comes with lots of little details like a hole for the leash, reflectors for nights walks, good traction and double straps on the boots, etc.  In this video, Barkley is wearing his new boots and tummy warmer but he also owns a rain coat and a winter coat.

Anyway, we know we're not the first people to have this idea but we thought it would be hilarious to film Barkley's first walk in boots.  As you can imagine, it was pretty funny.  Don't worry folks, he's already much better at walking in them and he doesn't seem to mind them at all.  Enjoy!

Why You Should Care About Toronto Land Transfer Tax.

You may have already heard that Toronto's Land Transfer Tax (LTT) has been subject of considerable controversy.  For those of you who aren't sure what it is or what impact it plays on their real estate purchase, here's a little background.

Roughly translated, LTT is a tax imposed by the government and paid by the purchaser of a property.  Of course, we have tax breaks for many first time buyers but it is important to remember that the tax is calculated based on the purchase price of the property.  This minor detail makes a large difference to a family who has sold their condo for $400,000 and purchased a $900,000 house.  They will owe LTT on the $900,000 house, and in Toronto, they essentially have to pay twice.

How much is it?  This is a question I am asked frequently by clients.  It's actually not a mystery, as many people think although seeking legal advice is always best since there are exceptions.  The tax rates are shown below:

Provincial LTT

Amounts up to and including $55,000 -0.5 %
Amounts exceeding $55,000 up to and including $250,000 - 1.0 %
Amounts exceeding $250,000 and up to and including $400,000 - 1.5 %
Amounts exceeding $400,000 where the land contains one or two single family residences - 2.0 %

Municipal LTT

Single Family Residences containing one or two units:
Amounts up to and including $55,000 - 0.5 %
Amounts exceeding $55,000 up to and including $400,000 - 1.0 %
Amounts exceeding $400,000 where the land contains one or two single family residences - 2.0 %

All other Toronto Property:
Amounts up to and including $55,000 - 0.5 %
Amounts exceeding $55,000 up to and including $400,000 - 1.0 %
Amounts exceeding $400,000 up to and including $40,000,000 - 1.5 %
Amounts exceeding $40,000,000 - 1.0 %

In case you missed it, this means that when we buy property in Toronto, we essentially double our LTT.  This means that if you purchase a $500,000 home in Toronto, you can expect to spend about $12,200 on tax and if you purchase a $1,000,000 home, you can expect to spend about $32,200! We are the only city in Ontario subjected to this excessive taxation and it is simply unfair. 

The Toronto Real Estate Board has initiated a  Let's Get This Right, Toronto campaign to repeal this unjust tax.  Their two step approach suggests removal of the tax and better budget planning for the government.  Please visit their website to learn more and find out how you can help the cause with a simple email or letter or even just by sharing the site on social media. 

I have had clients who have said that the LTT played into their decision to guide our search to the suburbs but remember, this is not just a Toronto problem.  While city dwellers are paying the tax, long term consequences such as fewer people moving to the city (a lack of demand) could impact neighbouring housing markets as well. 

We're called "Toronto The Good" and we are generally fair.  We say "please" and "thank you," we give up our seats on the subway if we see a pregnant woman, we don't want a casino in our backyard.  We're practically a few steps away from prohibition... Okay, maybe not quite.  Still, we expect our taxes to be based on some level of fairness and we don't appreciate being treated like fools.  We're polite, not docile!  Let's do our part to keep Toronto affordable!


Swapping Roles From Agent To Seller: How Do I Hide My Pet?

Another facet of my transition from agent to seller is the issue of Barkley: my gorgeous and sweet greyhound.  The listing period is certainly a lesson in discipline for any seller but I have a special understanding of the added challenges faced by a seller with pets.  Here is my tale of listing as an animal lover and pet owner.

Since I see homes all the time from the perspective of a real estate agent, (representing both sellers and buyers) I know my advice when it comes to sellers who have pets.  "I know you love them but your buyer may not.  They shouldn't be in the house during showings and DEFINITELY not during an open house!" is my standard phrase.  As a lover of all animals, I have always felt confidant that I can convey the empathy I feel for them but I also point out that: 1- Strangers in the house can be a source of stress for animals and 2- An interested buyer could miss an opportunity to spend more time in their home because of an allergic reaction.  I often gently remind my clients that pet owners often cannot smell their own pets and that fur tumbleweeds and squeaky toys that blend into the background for a pet owner can be eyesores to a buyer.  I always recommend pet daycare or leaving a pet with a family member.  A cat in a listed house is typically less offensive to buyers but still not ideal.  At the very least, the litter box should be emptied before showings and kept out of sight and a message should be left for buyer's agents to make them aware of the kitty.

When we listed, we faced our own pet dilemma: Should we send our gentle greyhound to "daycare" when we have showings?  For Barkley, this is difficult because, while he is a very EASY dog (I'll write a separate post another day about the merits of rescuing these wonderful dogs,) he doesn't really like daycare unless all the other dogs are greyhounds and there are very few dog sitting facilities which will let you drop off your pet last minute AND agree to feed him raw food.  With Corey working nights, we decided we could keep him at home and one of us would just take him for a walk during showings.  This is an excellent plan in theory and I'm still glad this is the plan we chose but there are still some challenges I would like to highlight:

1.  Pets Smell.  I love dogs and people always comment that Barkley is clean and has a healthy coat.  He has a bath once a month, we brush his teeth with an electric toothbrush, he wears a coat outdoors, he hates mud and dirt, he hardly ever farts, he is a well-groomed specimen of a dog and yet... He smells!  His odour isn't bad when I compare it with other animals but he doesn't smell as nice as we do and that's what I'm considering from the perspective of a buyer. 

Solution:  There isn't much we can do here since we are not willing to dry out his skin by bathing him too frequently.  Our solution is to keep his coat and toys clean and out of the way, wash his bedding frequently and keep baking soda in his food cupboard.  We find that Barkley's "stuff" smells more than he does so this generally does the trick.  I'm also pretty liberal with the Febreeze.

2.  Pet Accessories are Ugly Clutter.  Sad, but true from a listing standpoint.  I don't care if your pet bed and dishes are designer, they don't look good. 

Solution:  I make one (semi-joking) exception to the pet dishes rule and it's the Hudson's Bay Company Collection Striped Dog Bowl.  I would consider leaving that bowl out if it matched my decor and was sparkling clean but any other bowl or dish must be hidden in the dishwasher!  I don't stop at the bowls either- There are toys, beds, leashes, litter boxes for cats... once, I was showing a home to buyer clients and we noticed a "used" puppy pad!  With Barkley, we just hide his toys in a back closet shelf, and make sure there are no old bones awkwardly hidden around the condo.  His bed is already in the master bedroom closet and it's too large to hide so we just make sure his blankets are folded neatly.  That's right, we make the dog's bed!

3.  Pets are Furry.  We love that Barkley has no undercoat and hardly sheds... or so we thought until we listed and I discovered that I have superhuman vision and can spot a stray whisker on the floor from across the room.  Now that I am scrutinizing my home constantly as if I were my own client, I'm noticing so much fur everywhere! 

Solution:  We now run the vacuum at least once a day.  Maybe twice if we have multiple showings.

4.  Some People DO NOT Like Animals.  I know, I was shocked too.  We always think of Barkley as being a gentle dog who, despite his name, doesn't even bark.  We forget that many people are afraid of the "Big Black Dog" but this is part of the reason we chose a black greyhound since we know they are always the last to be adopted.  Our standard practice for a showing is to take Barkley for a walk during a showing but occasionally we have passed the buyers in the hallway and some have practically leaped out of the way.

Solution:  I keep Barkley on a short leash (more for their peace of mind than because he needs it) and I walk past quickly saying "He's very gentle" to reassure them.  I am respectful of their fear and I don't try to force the issue.  I also love my dog so I'm not going to let this type of reaction upset me and cause him stress:  It's not their fault but it's also not his!

5.  Animals Have Accidents.  Twenty minutes before each showing I have a moment when I look at Barkley and wonder if he looks like he needs to "go outside."  Then I wonder what I would do if he threw up (or worse) just minutes before a showing. 

Solution:  Luckily, Barkley rarely gets sick and I will likely not need to worry about this.  If it did happen, I know that I have an accessible stash of non-toxic cleaners and I'm pretty sure I could ask an agent to wait outside for a few minutes.  My worst case scenario would involve me rolling up a rug and hiding it on the balcony.

In short, I am glad to finally have a chance to implement my own strict listing rules.  I expect my clients to do everything they can to show their homes to their full potential and I have seen the results many times.  I have however made a decision that the next time I list a home with a pet and I sit down with the seller's to outline my suggestions, I'll bring some treats for the pet... and a good bottle of wine for the owners!

Bathroom Design Trends for 2013

Spring is renovation season and with it looming around the corner, many home owners want to ensure that their choices on finish are current and appeal to a large demographic so that their renovation will add value when they decide to sell.  When clients ask me this, I remind them that unless we're discussing paint, it is rare to see a 100% return on a renovation.  Kitchens come closest to this and a nicely done bathroom is high on the list so I recommend spending money on these rooms first.  I also ask them to consider how long they intend to live in the home.  Unless you're selling within a year, it is most important that you choose finishes that work for you and your family.

When a client asks me for specifics regarding what buyers currently want, I look at my own experience and I turn to the multitude of blog articles on the subject.  I used Style at Home's article, Kitchen and Bathroom Trends of 2013 as a foundation here and selected my favourite trends and the trends I feel are most likely to last.  Most of the trends I highlight here follow a spa theme, which I believe is an overall trend which is here to stay.  With our hectic, work focused lives, who doesn't want a place to unwind?  Please thank me in advance, as I did not include the Japanese Talking Toilet in my list of top trends.  Let's hope I am right.

1.  Heated Floors are here to stay!  They feel luxurious in bathrooms and kitchens and also save energy by allowing us to reduce costs associated with heating.

2.  Brass Faucets like this one from Overstock.com are a beautiful way to do something a little bit different.  They feel warm and luxurious in an otherwise stark bathroom.  I also happen to like satin nickel.

3.  This Free Standing Tub by Acritec is simple and beautiful.  Most buyers would love it.  For me, it wouldn't be functional since I prefer showers and only use the tub to wash the dog.

4.  Nothing feels more spa-like than a warm towel after a shower.  This Electric Towel Warmer has the added trend bonus of also having a brass finish.

5.  Towels in exotic prints like these Indian Printed Towels (left) featured on The Beautiful Life or these Moroccan Printed Towels (right) featured in the LA Times are a great way to embrace a trend (which I personally think will be over in a year) without a large financial investment.

6.  Wood Accents were not specifically mentioned in the style at home article but they are always at home in a spa.  This Wood Framed Mirror from CB2 is a lovely nod to the theme.

7.  This Spacious Shower featured on HGTV is beautiful.  Many large showers also include a variety of different shower heads at different angles, a bench and even a steam shower option.

I searched the web for some beautiful bathrooms which implemented many of these trends.  The powder room, (left) featured in West Elm's Blog is an excellent reminder that patterns can look very sophisticated when used in dark or monochromatic rooms.  The spa-like bathroom (above) featured on Design emo is one of many featured in a 2011 article and shows a freestanding tub, wood accents and am overall spa feel.  The sleek bronze faucet (right) was featured on Remodelista as part of an article featuring several brass-tone faucets.

Personally, I prefer the heated floors and large showers!  Which is your favourite trend? 


Having Fun With Lighting: 6 Cool Pendant Lamps Under $350

Let there be light!  ... And let it add more than just function.  Nothing adds to the mood of a room like the lighting.  When we first moved into our condo, we spent some time online looking for some vintage bargains.  The photos of our own fixtures were taken by the talented Thea Menagh.  We ended up finding a fun, retro smoked glass pendant for our dining room (bottom left,) an oversized industrial pendant for the bedroom with lots of patina (top left) and a funky chrome sputnik-style light for the living room (bottom right.)  While they all needed some TLC (and in some cases re-wiring,) I think each one was under $100.  For those who prefer a newer look or who shy away from DIY projects, I have compiled a list of fun pendants which will add a playful touch to any room.  Read about them after the jump:

1.  Glass Jar Pendants $104.00 from West Elm

2.  Pendant Barn Lamp $315.00 from Design Within Reach

3.  Flok Pendant Lamp $279.00 from CB2

4.  FLY Suspension Lamp by Kartell.  $310.00 on Amazon.com (I also see these on Craigslist from time to time)

5.  Galaxy Pendant $279.00 from Structube

6.  Polished Concrete "Martini Pendant" Hanging Light $195.00 by atstuart on Etsy.com

What do you think?  Do you prefer homemade, vintage, modern or perhaps something more traditional?


11 Apps to Help You Find the Perfect Home... and 5 More for After you Move:

It is a new era in real estate and both buyers and sellers expect to be better informed than ever before.  While a good Realtor can answer most of your questions, there's nothing like the Independence you feel when you have the information at your fingertips.  My list of Apps is designed for Toronto buyers but many are relevant to other cities and many cities have similar tools for their residents.

1.  Realtor.ca:  This one is probably obvious but it's nice to have the MLS content formatted for a smartphone.  It is now also available for your iPhone or iPad.  Ask your Realtor for more detailed listing information.

2.  Magic Plan: This app is so cool!  Not all listings include blueprints but buyers like to know if a room is the right size or if their dining table will fit in their new space.  This app creates blueprints from photographs!  It's slightly more complicated than that but only slightly.

3.  Zeitag TO:  This fun app allows you to see historical photographs of your future neighbourhood.

4.  Mortgage Calculator:  This comes with 7 common mortgages and amortizations for both Canada and the US.

5.  6 in 1 Real Estate Calculator:  Perhaps even better than the mortgage calculator, this app also calculates LTT (land transfer tax) as well as rent vs. buy scenarios.

6.  Walk Score:  This apps shows local schools, restaurants, parks and many more important neighbourhood amenities.

 7.  Tourism Toronto:  Great for those who are new to the city, this offers information on events, dining and things to do.

8.  Rocket Man TTC:  For those who use public transit, knowing that the buses run frequently in their new neighbour could offer great peace of mind.

9.  Wellbeing Toronto:  While it's not available for smartphones yet, this fantastic web tool allows you to view different Toronto neighbourhoods in terms of crime, demographics, health and more.  You can even check specifics such as voter turnout and library hours.

10.  Dictionary of Real Estate Terms:  Many of these are American and different markets tend to use slightly different terms.  For instance, Americans say "earnest money" but in Canada, we expect to hear "deposit."  This is a great way to stay in the loop.

11.  Home Tracker:  This app allows organized buyers to take notes when viewing listings.  They may also save information such as photos and map property addresses on Google Maps.

After you buy a home, you may be interested in the following:

1. inSured or My Home Scr.APP.Book: These clever apps help maintain an inventory (with photographs, serial numbers and appraisal information) of your valuables in case of an insurance claim.

2.  Home Design 3D:  This one is handy for those post-move renovations!

3.  Mike Holmes- Make It Right:  With tips from Holmes and tools to plan a renovation, this app should make a new owner feel a little more confident.

4.  HomeSavvy:  Keep your investment in good repair.  This app allows you to design a custom maintenance schedule based on the needs of your home.

5.  HomeStars:  While not a mobile app, this is a great website for those who need to find the right expert for home repairs.  As always, I recommend asking friends and family for referrals first, the rating system on this site is usually pretty accurate.


Handmade Pottery: The Perfect Finishing Touch!

Handmade pottery has always been one of my favourite staging accents and, while always classic, it was just listed in House and Home's 2013 list of Editor's Must-Haves.  Whether the look you want to achieve is playful, modern, sophisticated or even industrial, carefully chosen handmade pottery can add an organic touch or a touch of colour to finish the look.
In my staging arsenal, I keep a mixture of colours and glazes.  I am often drawn to larger statement pieces with interesting layered glazes.  I am also a sucker for interesting textures, although a smooth finish can be perfect in the right room.  Apartment Therapy often features work by independent artisans and this list of 10 Handmade Clay Creations is a fabulous example.  I have also compiled a list of my own favourites from online or Etsy shops:
1.  Burlap Textured Tapas Plate from Leif.
2.  Conversation Piece in White No.4 - Sculpture in White from Kimwestad.
3.  Serving Bowl from One Clay Bead. (Note- I love this artist and the pieces featured below are custom works which I commissioned from her Etsy shop.)
4.  Set of 3 Modern White Small Bottle Vases from Sara Paloma Pottery. (These are on my wish list.)
5.  Large Decorative Lace Bowl from Ning's Wonder World.
6.  Sepia Ceramic Lace Damask Bowl from  DGordon. (I love her use of lace to create texture.  She also has some lovely pieces stencilled with dragonflies which made me think of Kate Spade's June Lane Collection of formal china.)

Pottery adds a pop of colour in my
modern kitchen.
Now that my condo is listed for sale, I am using some items from my staging closet for my own home.  My twist on the traditional bowl of fruit in the kitchen incorporates unexpected fruits like citrus (instead of just apples, although I use those too) and some colourful pottery nesting bowls (all three are shown left) from Lee Wolfe of One Clay Bead.  I had them commissioned a couple of years ago since I wanted nesting bowls that could also be used for staging.  The variety of sizes and glazes makes them versatile photo props for many of my listings and I also use them constantly for baking and serving. 

My kitchen is very modern with black cupboards and stainless steel appliances but I like it to feel warm as well.  Part of this is achieved through the butcher block counters but the colourful accents help draw the eye in.  Once I saw my nesting bowls, I contacted the same artist asking for something larger with a lace textured detail.  The lace bowl (left) is asymmetrical, rustic and huge and yet, it (for some reason) looks perfect in my modern kitchen.

Finally, I think the trick is choosing a fun contrast between the other accent colours in the room.  I've never liked a room to be too "matchy-matchy" and, the kitchen lends an excellent opportunity to experiment with colour as we are still following a cohesive theme: food.  My green apples in my blue and brown bowl don't technically match anything in my home and yet, they look great on my counter!  And if you're curious about how often I buy fruit for staging, the answer is... never!  We only buy fruit to eat...or bake with.  The fruit in these pictures is the frighteningly realistic (I have to remind clients not to eat it) faux fruit which is usually available online from Crate and Barrel.  Great trick, right?


7 Reasons to Love Reclaimed Wood Furniture

Our hall bench is made from a piece of bowling lane.  A stamp showing that it was refinished in 1999 is visible on this side.  The other side shows the transition between the pine (which is used in the middle of a lane) and maple (which is used for the first 12 feet and the pin deck.)

Since I listed our condo and posted the photos, people have been asking me about our dining room table. While it's also my favourite piece of furniture in our home, I thought I would take an opportunity to mention a furniture trend I plan to continue supporting: Furniture made with reclaimed wood. 
It's no secret that most of our decor is vintage. We love hunting for treasures on Craigslist, cleaning and restoring them and making them our own. We think it gives our home a young, eclectic vibe... Almost as if fun people lived there instead of a high-strung Type A like me. :) Like a couple of bargain hunting magpies, we look for chrome and lucite, furniture with good lines and anything shiny and colourful. Once, we even found a church pew which was actually free as long as we could carry it! Still, I have a special love of old wood, especially if it has been made into new things. Here are my top reasons for hopping on this bandwagon and perhaps even leading the fan club of this trend:
1. It's good for the environment. Sure, we're only average recyclers and I swear we'll compost when we get a house but every small step counts, right?
2. Each piece is unique. Reclaimed wood has character. I love knowing that I eat dinner at a unique (instead of mass produced) dining table.
3. You're supporting your own community. This may not always be true but often these pieces are made my local artisans.
4. It is beautiful. This may be similar to point 2 but I love the look of knots in wood.
5. You can have it custom made to suit you. Our dining room table was designed to accommodate the dimensions of our dining room, the footprint of our chairs and it was stained to the exact shade I requested.
6. It is well made. Often, this furniture is made by skilled craftsmen and it is made to last. This more than justifies any extra expense for a beautiful piece.
7. It may not be readily available forever. The sources I am discussing today are bowling lanes and old barns. Many bowling alleys are now using synthetic alternatives to wood for their lanes and 150 year old barn boards don't grow on trees... anymore.

In my home, I currently have furniture made from both bowling lanes and barn board.  I would like to discuss each briefly.  The beautiful room photographs were taken of my home by the lovely and talented Thea Menagh.

I came across photographs of furniture made from reclaimed bowling lane wood while reading a blog article and I began searching Craigslist and Kijiji for the materials.  At the time, we had just finished our kitchen so the bowling lane counter idea, while fabulous was not something we could pursue at the moment.  We ended up deciding that we could afford the space for a small coffee table in my office and a narrow bench near the front entrance.  The problem with having a love of vintage furniture is about 50% budget and 50% finding the space. 
Corey made me a hall bench (top right) which I find helpful when putting on boots in the winter.  It bears a stamp (bottom right) from the last time it was refinished in 1999.  It also shows a lovely tongue and groove transition between the pine used in the centre of a lane and the maple used on either end.
He also made me a coffee table for my office (top and bottom left) which is made from the maple pin deck (the most expensive part of the lane, likely because it is so distinctive) and finished with some vintage hairpin legs from Etsy.
Overall, we love the look of the bowling lane wood and it looks light and artistic against our light flooring.  We bought more than we needed at the time and even have enough for a project or two for our next home.  Just keep in mind that the weight and thickness can make this wood difficult to work with.  To be honest, Corey and I could barely carry some of the longer pieces.  If you have the manpower and the tools, these would make beautiful flooring!  If you don't, companies like Counter Evolution provide the finished product:  No DIY necessary!
One of the most complimented items in our home is my gorgeous dining room table made from reclaimed barn boards.  We worked with Louis and Christee, a wonderful couple who own Provenance Harvest Tables and they allowed us to choose many features such as the type of wood, stain, thickness, style of leg, dimensions and even how smooth we wanted it sanded.  It was a perfect experience and I look forward to commissioning another table from them in the future.  They even delivered it to Toronto.  When we visited their store, Louis showed us the marks on the 150 year old barn board made by old saws.  We immediately asked that they left these marks and even small gaps between boards for a more rustic look.  On the website, our table is called the "De Sa Table" and the picture we originally sent Louis and Christee was taken before we even had baseboards installed.  On their website, Louis and Christee describe our table as being made with one inch hemlock (two inches was an option) wood which is over one hundred years old.  There is a smooth top but they (at my request) did not sand away all the character from the wood and so it has a rustic plank look.  They made it with 4 X 4 shaker style legs and stained it dark walnut.  This table is my favourite piece of furniture.  If I could make one change for next time, it would be to splurge on extensions to make the table longer.

I have never cared much for the rules regarding how many different types of wood could be mixed in one room.  For me, the variety makes a room feel more personal and fun accessories let people know that we don't take traditional decorating rules very seriously in our home.  What do you think?  How much is too much?


What's Happening in the Housing Market?

As we transition into the "spring market" many buyers are looking for answers to their questions regarding our market.  Many media outlets prophesied doom and gloom and painted pictures of bubbles bursting throughout 2012 but, since it now appears clear that we're experiencing a soft landing, we're reading stories of confusion.  If I received my market information from the news, I too would believe that Toronto is filled with real estate agents who are just shrugging their shoulders and scratching their heads as they wonder what will happen next.

While none of us own a magic crystal ball, to me, this spring doesn't look too unlike other years.  Perhaps buyers are a little wearier but, as a recent Globe and Mail article points out, there are still homes selling for over asking in multiple offers.  Some condos and overpriced houses are sitting on the market but a recent Toronto Life article reminds us "Realtors are reporting bidding wars for the first time in several months with the interest mostly focused on larger and older condo units, and homes in desirable neighbourhoods with limited housing inventory like the Beach."

Basically, if you are priced reasonably and have something fairly unique that people want, 2013 (at least the beginning) will look similar to 2012.  And what if you don't?  Hire a good agent and price it fairly.  Torontonians (and I'm going to extend this to the burbs) who own homes need to accept that the fast sales and bully offers we noticed last year are very unusual.  If you can sell the average home in 28 days for a good price, that is still an indication of a good seller's market.  We need to adjust our expectations.  Buyers also need to ask their agent what they can honestly afford as we are still seeing some prices which appear artificially low since the seller is unaware that the expectation of crazy bids may not be quite as realistic.

Overall, it usually takes a few months after a shift in the market for buyers and sellers to catch up.  This means a few months for many sellers to begin pricing their homes properly and a few months for buyers to realise the market isn't crashing and decide to actually take the plunge and make an offer.  I think we can look forward to a stable year.


Swapping Roles From Agent to Seller: Week 1

It has been a week since we listed our condo for sale and, I'm gaining a whole new respect for my seller clients!  While I have experienced the process from the buyer's side, this is my first experience with a personal sale.  I hired a friend in the business to list my condo and spent some time staging and cleaning to prepare for showings.  Now I am hoping for the best.

I thought my readers might find it helpful to know my "to do" list prior to each showing.  When I list a client's home, I give them a similar list to ensure that their home shows well and I certainly hold myself to the same standards.

Before Each Showing:
-  Tidy, tidy, tidy.  This includes all personal items and valuables locked in the safe.
-  Vacuum.  This is necessary when you have a dog or are listing in the winter.  We are dealing with both!
-  Wipe surfaces in bathrooms and kitchen.
-  Clean those bathrooms.  Do not leave out your half finished toothpaste tube or a brush with clumps of hair.  Yuck!  Toilets should be scrubbed and sparkling.
-  Make the bed.  We don't pretend to be daily bed makers... Especially when Corey is working nights.  However, for the sake of selling our home, we are!
-  Take care of odours.  This includes opening and checking the fridge, the closet where we store dog food, the laundry hamper and especially the dog's bed.  I walk through with a bottle of febreeze and I light some candles in the kitchen and bedroom.  Lavender is nice and relaxing for a bedroom, while I prefer a Bath and Body Works candle that smells like fresh baked bread for the kitchen.  I do this with enough time that the candles can be put away right before a showing.
- Turn on our digital photo frame. While we keep our decor fairly neutral and remove many personal items during the listing period, we feel it doesn't hurt to allow buyers to see that nice, happy people live here. We have a small digital frame with a carefully edited selection of photographs which allows a small part of "us" to be visible.
-  Turn on the lights!
- Leave with the dog.  I love my dog and I know he's gentle when I'm around.  However, many dogs become fearful or aggressive when they perceive a threat such as strangers in their home.  Some sellers prefer to lock their animals in a small room or crate but I prefer to give buyers an opportunity to see a home without the distraction of noise or possible allergies.  Even those without pets should give buyers the privacy to fully explore their home by leaving or (at the very least) remaining in the back yard.

Does this sound exhausting?  Yes, it is but it's worth the effort to give buyers the best possible impression of my home.  I'm prepared for a long listing so I may be singing a different tune next month but for now, we're sticking to our list. :)

To view my listing, click here.  Or, enjoy my fabulous virtual tour.


Does Your Listing Need Professional Photos?

As a real estate agent, a partnership with the right photographer can make a huge difference in the marketing of a listing.  I work with Thea Menagh whenever possible, and I'd like to credit her for taking the professional "after" photographs in this post. 

I recently listed my condo for sale and many people have been really interested to know how someone in the business lists their own place.  I've had many questions about pricing, my own expectations, whether I post the listing under my own name or if I hire a colleague, and many others that I can't think of at the moment.  While I'll address most of the questions in a subsequent post, the short answer is that I treat my own listing the way I would treat a client's.  This is includes, hiring my favourite photographer, which is the topic of this post.

I met Thea early in my career although I wish now that I had known her from the start.  I like to see a listing with bright photographs and my biggest pet peeve is the notorious fish-eye lense which, when used in a listing can make even the nicest house look unattractive.  Instead of making a room look large through digital trickery, Thea uses a classic wide-angle lense and moves around (sometimes performing some impressive acrobatics) to find the best shot which will make a room appear as large as it is.  Not larger.  I find it heartbreaking to see the look on a client's face when they arrive at a home only to be disappointed that the house did not live up to the photos.

Thea always reminds me that something that looks nice in person, may not show well in a photograph.  For this reason, she insists on undertaking some pre-photoshoot staging specifically for the camera.  I know from experience that this can make all the difference so I tucked my ego aside and helped her move some of my favourite items (including my fabulous retro orange chair) and I told myself that in this area of the listing, she was the boss!  Below, I'll show some of the actual photographs from my listing along with some others I took on my own.  It will be obvious, but I'll mention anyway that the photographs on the left or top are mine and Thea's professional shots are on the right or bottom.  Think of is as a before and after.  Also, I'm excluding exterior photos as well as bathrooms and my second bedroom/office. 

I know, I know, the "before" is just awful, right?  Well, unless you're a professional, black cabinets are not easy to capture.  Thea cleared away some items from the counter, adjusted the angle to show the opposite side of the kitchen, and made proper use of her lighting.  Her photograph gives a much more accurate portrayal of my modern yet warm kitchen.

Next, we look at the dining room.  With an entire wall of floor to ceiling windows, I don't know how I managed to make my picture look so dark.  It's also a little embarrassing that I managed to make my large dining room (which has room for an entire church pew along one wall) look cramped.  Thea moved some of my art as well as my little butler table and replaced it with a vintage kidney shaped stool in a light colour.  Essentially, she removed anything that would photograph as clutter while maintaining visual interest.

She also managed to capture the light and space in the room in the second picture.  She stood back and wasn't afraid to show the walls and ceiling.  In the second picture, you see the windows as well as the floorspace.  A buyer would be able to see this and decide whether there was space for their own table or buffet.  I was also amazed that Thea was able to capture subtle details like the wood grain in the floor and the reflective top of my buffet.

When we moved into the living room, I had to bite my tongue.  I knew Thea was right to move my orange chair but even my fabulous piggy bank wasn't safe on the mantle.  It was nice to consult with a professional who could remind me gently that my quirky taste does not always have mass appeal.  Pros need reminders too and while I love my living room in person, I can't argue with the fact that some editing produces cleaner listing photos.

Thea's use of HDR not only exposes the hallway properly, allowing a buyer to see even space but it also allows my lamp to be on while allowing my walls to still appear as a true light grey.  Even my flokati rug looks more plush and cozy!

Finally, the master bedroom photographs show perhaps the best example of how a pro can show the actual size of a room.  The photograph I took was only really able to capture the bed.  Considering the fact that my bedroom is quite large, the effect was underwhelming.  Thea chose an angle which captured significantly more floor space and furniture.

I believe the results speak for themselves. I would not list a home without the assistance of a professional photographer. Remember, the main objective of listing photographs is to show buyers a true picture of the home. While some pros brag that they can make rooms look "bigger and better" this could also backfire by leading to more showings with disappointed buyers. I prefer to choose a professional who captures the nature of the home instead. I want buyers to be interested enough to visit, but also pleased when they see the home in person. Wish me luck with my listing!

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