Thursday, April 30, 2009

Home Energy Audit Update

In a prior posting (see How Green Is Your Home... February 24th) I outlined the province's intention as part of their Green Energy Act known as Bill 150, to make it mandatory for home sellers to have a home energy audit done on their property prior to selling. The Ontario Real Estate Association, OREA immediately came out swinging, charging that this requirement would place a burden of additional cost on home sellers while at the same time giving home buyers additional leverage to drive down prices should an energy audit highlight major deficiencies in a property's energy efficiency.
In my opinion, OREA's points had some merit albeit minimal. Firstly, a home energy audit costs approximately $350.00 for which there is a government grant to recover part of that cost back ($150.00.) Secondly, as qualified REALTORS® it is our duty when listing a home, to price it reflective of its condition including the replacement of such energy related items as newer windows, heating systems etc. If we have done our homework and allocated for a home's potential energy inefficiencies in the listed price, them there should be little room for a buyer to negotiate the price lower on those grounds. It is not uncommon in today's market for a home to be "staged" sometimes at a cost of several hundred dollars in order to have it looking it's best for potential buyers. In other words let's fluff the place up to make it look good but what about that old furnace in the basement or those drafty windows? What is ultimately of greatest importance to the home buyer, a house that looks good or one that is not going to cost an arm and a leg to heat and or cool?
OREA has continued to lobby the government on this issue and has won a partial victory. The province has agreed to amend the pending legislation whereby the energy audits will only apply to single family homes. Further, although the audits will in effect remain as a mandatory requirement, buyers will be able to waive the home seller having to conduct an audit should the buyer be not interested in one.
OREA commissioned a survey by Ipsos Reid on this issue and according to the results 65% of Ontario homeowners opposed the mandatory home energy audits. Further, according to the poll, home buyers did not rate energy efficiency as an important factor in their home buying decisions putting more emphasis instead on price, location, neighbourhood, proximity to public transit etc. Please complete the survey above and let us know what you think.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

First Time Home Buyers - This Is Your Year!

This year, Ontario consumers are can count themselves lucky in one important aspect: they are living in time that offers unequalled opportunities to realize the dream of home ownership.
Interest rates are among the lowest in decades and the availability and choice of housing no matter what the type or style is at the highest level in years.
In fact, in many situations, renting a family dwelling can actually be more expensive than buying. If you consider a $150,000 mortgage at 8 per cent for a 5-year term, the monthly payments would be less than $1,200 per month. Compare this to renting a suitable three bedroom apartment or townhouse in many urban centres, and it's easy to see that buying a home has become an attractive alternative.
If you take a $100,000 mortgage at the same rate and term, the payments shrink to less than $800 per month. Even better, if you're willing to accept a one-year term, the interest rate drops at least two percentage points. This would peg a $100,000 mortgage at only $650 per month and a $150,000 mortgage at around $975.
There is another important benefit to home ownership that often gets overlooked. Over the course of 25 years (the usual amortization period for mortgages), the total amount of money paid by many renters can actually exceed the amount paid by a home owner. This is due not only to the fact that mortgage payments can be cheaper than rent, but because rental fees generally increase over the long term. Of course, interest rates may also rise, but so probably will the value of the property. Therefore, additional equity will be gained.
Add to this the reality that after a mortgage is paid off, homeowners will no longer make monthly payments while renters will continue to bear the burden for the rest of their lives. This savings can greatly impact your quality of life upon retirement.
These figures are only intended as broad examples. The fact remains that money spent on rent is still money down the drain. Regardless of the number crunching, the bottom line is that owning a house is the best way to assure the happiness and well-being of you and your family. A home gives a family room to grow, and room to prosper.
The best childhood memories many of us hold include Sunday dinners in the family dining room, retreating to the rec room when friends visit, or skating on the backyard rink throughout the cold winter months.
If you've made the decision to buy, the first person you should talk to is a Realtor. These real estate professionals will help you with virtually every aspect of your home ownership needs. From putting together a 'buying blueprint' that details your specific housing requirements, to giving advice on what you can afford, a Realtor can cut through the complexities.
Constructing a 'buying blueprint' is a critical step for first time buyers. In it, you will list items such as: how many bedrooms do you really need; is a finished basement a necessity or can you afford to wait; how big a yard do you need; and most importantly, where do you want to live? All these considerations will affect your ability to buy.
For example, many first-time buyers will forego a property close to the downtown core in favour of a suburban or even a rural home. This can lead to huge savings which can be used to either lower the mortgage and monthly payments, or to acquire a bigger home for the same cost. Opting for a townhouse or resale home are other alternatives that can help first-time buyers escape the 'rent trap' and channel their funds into a solid investment.
When you've narrowed your requirements, a Realtor will scout properties for you and make recommendations on homes that suit your needs. Once you begin viewing, your Realtor will accompany you, offering advice on matters such as the amenities of the neighbourhood, repairs or upgrades that could be necessary, building inspections, carrying costs and so forth.
So, if you're one of the thousands of Ontario families caught in the cycle of paying rent and seeing nothing in return, now is the time to make a move. Buying a home can pay off in so many ways--you simply can't afford to pass up the opportunity.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Changes to Ontario New Home Warranties

Changes to the Ontario New Home Warranty program commonly known as TARION are soon to come into affect that will affect buyers who purchase a new home then resell it without ever occupying the property themselves.
Under the revised regulation, buyers that resell (flip) a new home without occupying it themselves will now be required to be registered with TARION. Previously, registration meant completing a detailed vendor/builder agreement with TARION, paying a registration fee of $600, satisfying a financial review and finally, posting a $10,000 performance bond.
The registration process has now been simplified for buyers that purchase a new home or condominium with the intention of reselling it. A new "agreement" developed by TARION must be completed by the property's "reseller" owner and provided to the buyer(s). In this agreement the seller must disclose to the buyer(s) (a) that the property is a "resale," (b) the original warranty effective date, (c) the status of the remaining warranty coverage and (d) contact information that would allow a prospective buyer to check on any warranty claims that have been made with respect to the home or condo. A $350 fee now accompanies this revised and simplified agreement. Failure of an owner to register with TARION for the new home or condo then intend to resell carries a fine of up to $25,000, a sentence of up to one (1) year in jail
and or both.
REALTORS® representing a seller(s) in this type of resale scenario are equally responsible to ensure that these TARION requirements are met. Failure to act in accordance with the new TARION requirements and or to wrongly counsel their sellers could lead to charges against the REALTOR® for "Aiding and Abetting." These requirements have been put into place to ensure that buyers are fully conscious of the fact that there are buying a resale home and not a new home directly from a builder.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cougars Making a Comeback in Our Area

As a cottage owner on Manitoulin Island I subscribe to one of the Island's newspapers and a recent edition ran a story about cougars and we're not talking the two legged variety.
Once virtually extinct in the late 1800's, these cats also known as mountain lions and puma's are now believed to total between 550 to 600 in Ontario. The Ontario Puma Foundation has been studying these felines for a number of years and works in conjunction with the Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment Canada and other organizations for the purpose of protecting habitat, educating the public and learning more about how to ensure that a sustainable population of these animals is maintained. The group have designated what they call "cougar corridor," which is a band running from the Ottawa Valley west to Sault Ste Marie and as far south as the bottom of Georgian Bay. Cougar sightings have been recorded throughout this corridor including here in the Georgian Triangle. I have personally spoken to people that have either seen one of the elusive cats in the Duntroon area or have seen tracks in various locations across the Niagara Escarpment.
Part of the reason for the cougars comeback is the existence of a sustainable food source, mainly deer. According to Stuart Kenn, provincial researcher for the Ontario Puma Foundation "where you find deer, you find cougars." The significant numbers of deer both on Manitoulin Island as well as in this area would certainly support their existence and explain the sightings.
The Ministry of Natural Resources has a "report a rare species" section on their website that allows the public to input information regarding the sightings of rare and or endangerd animals and birds across the province and you are encouraged to do so.
Given that it was Earth Day earlier this week, stories such as the return of a species like the cougar are both timely and encouraging and is further evidence that the destructive impact man has had on nature can indeed be reversed.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Home Cents© Help Tips

In keeping with the slogan "Helping you is what we do," visitors to my personal real estate website will notice some changes taking place aimed at making my site even more informative and user friendly.
One of the more significant changes to the site is with respect to my Home Cents© Help Tips articles. I have updated and revised these pieces which now total 55 different articles to include a variety of topics on buying and selling real estate, home renovations and maintenance, mortgage financing and more. In the past, these complimentary articles were available via email request. In order to respond faster to consumer requests for my Home Cents© Help Tips, they are now available for instant downloading in standard "PDF" format directly from my site.
Just like the real estate market itself, the real estate profession continues to change dramatically most of it brought about changes in technology which in turn affects the behaviour and expectations of today's real estate consumer. Unfortunately, the gap between consumer expectations and REALTOR® performance is widening. In order to prevent this chasm from further widening, it is my personal belief that REALTORS® must take a more proactive role in providing information to clients and would-be clients long before any formal relationship has been established. The old attitude "what's in it for me" is simply no longer acceptable. Free information that is factual, of benefit to consumers and is delivered in a timely manner is now not only appropriate, it is in fact expected. My Home Cents© Help Tips are but one avenue that I hope fulfills consumer's needs for acquiring valuable real estate assistance. Please check them out along with my newsletter and other information at

Friday, April 17, 2009

Barrie Council Takes Steps to Restrict Ethanol Production

The group "Citizens Against Refining Ethanol" (C.A.R.E.) won a major victory this week when Barrie Council passed two bills that will enact bylaws restricting the production of ethanol within that city. The bylaws will restrict the production of ethanol in Barrie and are the result of two years of public outcry over the intentions of Northern Ethanol to produce 408 million liters of ethanol per year at a facility on the former site of Molson brewery.

Specifically, these bylaws will result in the following

  • Designate ethanol as a Noxious Product, thereby restricting it to land zoned EM5 (Special Industrial).

  • Stipulate in the Official Plan and Industrial By-law that ethanol production be separated from "sensitive land uses" (i.e. residences, schools, hospitals, places of worship, environmentally protected areas and other ethanol production facilities) by a minimum of 1,000 meters (one kilometer).

These bylaws will serve to restrict ethanol production such that it would be separated from those "sensitive land uses" by the maximum distance contemplated in accepted Provincial planning policy. It will be a contravention of Barrie's Official Plan and Industrial By-law to allow ethanol production to occur virtually anywhere in Barrie. Importantly, Northern Ethanol’s application would be rejected taking into account the proposed changes. These new measures taken by the City of Barrie can still be overturned by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) and a legal case against the city by Northern Ethanol has yet to be dealt with. Meanwhile, Collingwood's own ethanol plant continues to work with the Ministry of Environment in trying to alleviate the noise and odour problems that have doggedly plagued that facility since its start-up. The citizens in Barrie would appear to have reason to claim a victory. Only time will tell if the final outcome in our community with give residents of east-end Collingwood, the Town and Collingwood Ethanol reason to mutually feel the same way.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New Town Hall For The Blue Mountains

The municipality of the Blue Mountains has recently announced that Chamberlain Architect Services Limited, Burlington, Ontario has been selected to design their new municipal Town Hall. Chamberlain Architect Services Limited was identified as the successful design firm, following a competitive “Request for Expression of Interest” and Limited Design Competition process involving 29 Architectural Firms from across Ontario.
Dave Finbow, Director, Planning & Building Services for the municipality stated that: “Through the design competition process, Chamberlain developed a concept that we thought best respected the Town’s vision of creating a community gathering space, both on the Town Hall site and within the building itself and our goal of a design that reflects transparency in government and the provision of customer service first and foremost. The conceptual design also speaks to the industrial and railway heritage of the Site and pays homage to the architecture of Thornbury.”
Similar to the new public library currently under construction in Collingwood, the new Blue Mountains Town Hall will be designed and built according to a LEED Silver Certification Level. LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development; water efficiency; energy efficiency; materials selection; and indoor environmental quality, leading to long-term operational cost reductions.
The New Town Hall will be constructed at the intersection of Bridge Street East and Mill Street in Thornbury, east of the Thornbury Dam and will now proceed to detailed design and it is envisioned that construction will commence in early 2010.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Shipyards

Although the current economic slowdown has dampened the number of new housing starts and other construction activity in Collingwood and the surrounding area, it's full steam ahead at the "Shipyards."
After numerous delays much of it stemming from the extensive environmental remediation work that was required on the former shipyard property, site work commenced mid-way through 2008 with the installation of municipal sewer and water services, roads etc. Collingwood's building department recently issued $7.35 million in building permits for the initial phase of the development. The issuing of the Shipyards permits resulted in a record value for the number of building permits issued by the town of Collingwood in March, a total of $8.64 million.
Like a ship rising from its berth, construction of the first residential units of the "Shipyards" is now taking place at the northern extension of Maple Street. Ship building on the subject property ended in 1986. Since the last of the former shipyard buildings were removed a number of years ago, this prime waterfront site has remained virtually lifeless and had become an overgrown weed infested wasteland. It's encouraging to see this project finally taking place especially in these uncertain economic times. Kudos to the Fram Building Group for proceeding forward with these exciting development that is sure to transform Collingwood's waterfront.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Traditionally, the arrival of spring brings with it a revitalized level of activity in the real estate market and this year somewhat more so. After a period of several months where we have seen a decline in sales stemming from the economic slowdown, the past couple of weeks have brought with it a flurry of new listings along with some higher-end property sales which is the segment of our market that has been hardest hit.

MLS® sales throughout the Georgian Triangle for the first quarter of 2009 total $56.7 million a decrease of 47% over the first three months of 2008. Unit sales for the quarter total 238 individual sales as compared to 394 in the same period last year, a decrease of 40%. As you will note on the accompanying graph, sales since the start of the year are trending upward indicating that the local real estate market may be on the rebound. Single family home sales for the first quarter total 144 properties, a drop of 44% from the first quarter of last year. At the same time, area condominium sales have performed better dropping 25%. During the first quarter, condo sales represented 20% of all residential listings sold whereas 15% is more the norm.

Prices in the area continue to remain relatively stable. Average prices in both Collingwood and Wasaga Beach have actually increased slightly year-over-year. In other municipalities such as the Blue Mountains, average prices have diminished largely the result of the fact that higher-end home sales have been extremely weak in recent months. For the first three months of this year, there have only been 14 sales over $500,000 as compared to 27 last year. Most notably there have only been 1 sale between $700,000 and $1 million this year compared to 6 last year and year-to-date sales over $1 million total just 1 as compared to 6 in 2008.

For a more in-depth look at year-to-date sales and listing activity please see my 1st quarter 2009 Georgian Triangle Real Estate News letter.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Spring Our of Hibernation

Well we had to know it would happen, winter is not about to release its grasp on our area just quite yet. Many people have been out raking their lawns as spring brings a sense of excitement and anticipation to those tired of being cooped up indoors for the long winter months. This is especially true for gardeners – spring means it’s time to get growing again.
For many people, just the act of digging in the soil can be very uplifting. But equally satisfying is the beauty a well-kept garden can add to your home. If you are thinking of selling your home, landscaping can actually increase your home’s “curb appeal” and “salability.”
Even if you don’t consider yourself a green thumb, you can enjoy the art of adding colour and life to your garden. And, there are plenty of places to turn for tips and advice. Your local library or bookstore will have a variety of books and magazines to help you and the Internet has an abundance of gardening information as well.
You may be looking out the window at a lot of dead plants, leaves and debris leftover from the winter. The first job for most people will be a thorough clean up of your yard, planters and flowerbeds.
Take care to plan your garden before you start buying flowers and shrubs. Because garden centers are so busy at this time of year, it’s a good idea to bring along a sketch of what you want your garden to look like. Consider sunny and shady areas of your yard and decide where you want flowers, shrubs and vegetables to grow. Also be sure to think about a colour scheme, varying heights and widths of plants as well as blooming schedules. You don’t want the whole show to take place in early spring or summer.
Your local garden center can help you choose a combination of perennials, shrubs and annuals that will provide continuous colour throughout the entire growing season and into the fall. Many will even provide landscape design services free of charge provided you purchase the plants from them.
Once you start seeing tulips and other spring bulbs come into bloom, the soil is usually warm enough to start digging. The ground should also be thawed enough to divide and move perennial flowers and herbs, plant shrubs and trees and to start rejuvenating your lawn. It’s also a good time to prune bushes.Here’s a few more tips to get your garden growing this spring – check with your local garden center for more advice:
  • Prepare your flower beds by deeply digging the soil and adding composted manure. Loosen heavy clay soil by adding peat moss.
  • Plant perennials now and enjoy them for years to come. Pay attention to different blooming times and plan for a sequence of color all season long.
  • Tidy up your spring bulbs by removing faded flowers. Don’t cut down the leaves of your spring bulbs until the foliage turns brown. Bulbs need their leaves to replenish food reserves for next year’s flowers.
  • Plant summer flowering bulbs such as Freesia, Gladiolus, Dahlias, Lilies and Anemonies.
  • Plant annuals and vegetables once all risk of frost has passed.
Your garden can actually become an extension of your living space – outdoors. A well-planned and maintained landscape will beautify your home and provide an oasis for the senses and in the event you are thinking of selling, it will create an element of curb appeal that will set it apart from the competition.

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