Were you lucky enough to score the home of your dreams this past spring and are now blissfully settling into your new home? Congratulations, and welcome home! As a new homeowner, there are many ways that you can ensure that your first year as a homeowner is pleasant and stress-free. Take a look at these do’s and don’ts for brand new homeowners:
• DO enjoy the fruits of your labour. Make the most of the nice weather while it’s here and host a housewarming party!
• DO make an effort to meet your neighbours. Taking the time to develop a cordial relationship will benefit the entire community.
• DO stay on top of lawn and garden care. Pride of ownership is important.
• DO keep saving money, building up your reserve fund for ongoing and future maintenance costs.
• DO upgrade your home with energy-saving features. Invest in low-flow shower heads, a programmable thermostat and replace incandescent light bulbs with LED or CFLs.
• DO think about fire safety. Ensure there is a smoke detector on every floor of your home. Replace the batteries just to be safe. Carbon monoxide alarms are also mandatory in every Ontario home. One should be positioned near all sleeping areas. Talk to young children about your fire escape plan, designating a meeting place outside your home.
• DO locate your main water shut off valve.
• DON’T go crazy buying “stuff” for your new home. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day! It will take time to get your home exactly how you want it.
• DON’T tackle a major renovation before moving in. Experts generally recommend living in a new home for a few months to see how you’re utilizing the space and where improvements are most needed.
• DON’T ignore issues, no matter how small. Taking care of problems when they’re minor (i.e. a leaky faucet, small cracks in the foundation, old weather-stripping, a wobbly bannister) could save you the hassle of having to completely replace something down the road!
Have you ever seen the HGTV show Tiny Houses? It’s absolutely fascinating watching how homeowners, sometimes families of four or five people, can make a 300 square-foot space functional AND comfortable for everyday living. While the style, layout and decor of these tiny homes vary drastically, there is one common characteristic that can be found in them all – incredibly smart space saving innovations.
Even if you have an additional 2,000 square-feet of space at your disposal, every homeowner can benefit from clever space saving solutions. Here are a few ways that you can make the most of space in your home that you didn’t even know was there!
In a tight bathroom, bedroom or kitchen, add shelving in the spaces between wall studs. It’s a simple DIY project that you can tackle yourself with a little online research. Simply cut away the drywall where you’d like your storage unit, build a box using plywood, add shelves and a back, and hang the box, attaching to the studs. Some trim around the edges will complete the look.
Are your night tables taking up too much space in your bedroom? Get rid of clunky furniture and attach a small shelf to the wall. Find a cute wall sconce for bedside lighting.†
If your garage is busting at the seams, overhead ceiling storage is the way to go. Build your own shelves or purchase a ceiling mounted rack from your local hardware store.
Look for inventive, double duty furniture. An ottoman that turns into a coffee table, a drop-leaf dining table or front entry benches with storage drawers are perfect for saving space while adding functionality.
Under stair storage cupboards or stair drawers look incredibly cool and are perfect for keeping your family’s belongings out of sight. Look for ideas online.†
There are also many ways to make a space feel larger. Use mirrors and other reflective surfaces, stay away from heavy drapery and use artwork or shelving to draw the eye upward in a room, creating the illusion of more space.
A bidding war certainly isn’t a new concept. Ask any realtor, real estate investor or homeowner with a few moves under their belt and they will likely have a few stories for you. But the multiple offer situations that we have seen during the past year or so in some cities across southwestern Ontario are something different altogether. With desirable homes across the GTA receiving anywhere from 10 or 30 offers within hours of listing, for a couple hundred thousand over asking price, it’s a whole new ballgame out there for realtors, sellers and buyers.† When in doubt, your sales representative is your best source for guidance and advice through the process, but here are a few basic tips:
Should you always go with the highest bidder? Not necessarily. That offer, thousands over your asking price, may be conditional on financing, a home inspection and the buyer selling their home. While the money is attractive, you have to question whether you should effectively take your house off the market while waiting for the buyer to firm up. Those conditions make it much less appealing than the competing prospect that came in with no conditions, albeit at a lower price.
So what is a seller to do?
That depends on you and what’s most important. If it’s money, you have your answer. If you need a firm closing date, then you need to go with the offer that lines up with yours. Perhaps you’re more comfortable with the buyer who put down a deposit of $20,000 compared to the one who wrote a cheque for $5,000. An offer to purchase with more money is definitely attractive, but if their terms don’t meet yours, a lower-priced offer with fewer strings may be best.
When more than one offer comes in, you generally have one of three options: accept one of the offers because you like the terms, counter one of the offers and change those terms that are not acceptable or you can ask the bidders – whether there are two or 17 – to improve their offers. But be warned this final tactic can leave you high and dry.
With the help of your realtor, consider what is important to you, the pros and cons of each scenario and try to determine what will work best for you.
Even homeowners who do all their homework before buying are occasionally surprised by how quickly the many expenses of home ownership add up each and every month. But rest assured; if you stick to your budget and make a few sacrifices here and there, it is possible to save money and maybe even pay off your mortgage a few years early!
Mortgages are compounded with hundreds of payments to slowly reduce both your principle loan as well as interest charges, so you can expect interest-heavy payments for the first five to seven years as your bank makes lending you all that money worth their while. But there are ways to pay down your mortgage faster and save money in the long run!
Bi-weekly is best - Opting for an accelerated biweekly payment schedule will not only allow you to make 26 payments a year, it will also reduce both your interest rates and principle amount faster. Lenders may charge you an additional fee, but this is money well spent.
Round it up – Did you know that a hypothetical increased payment of $1,000 instead of $830 could save up to $48,000 over the course of the mortgage? That’s nearly eight years of payments! Ask your lender if this is an option for you.
Make a lump payment – If you get an annual bonus or consistently receive a substantial income tax return, consider using the windfall as a lump payment at the time of your mortgage renewal or sooner if your lender allows it.
When it comes to saving money, it’s common to have difficulty during your first few years of homeownership as you adjust to the added expenses. But it can be done. Here are a few simple ideas to help you cut back:
-Online grocery shopping. How many times do you walk into a grocery store with nine or ten items on your list and leave with a cart full? Instead, do your shopping online and simply drive to the store to pick up your order – no more impulse buying! Check your local retailers to see if the service is offered
-Make your own lunch and coffee every day
-Use public transportation if available
-Install a programmable thermostat to save on energy bills
With the warm weather on its way, the kids out of school soon and weekends booking up fast with lots of family fun, the last thing you want to be is tied down every Saturday morning cleaning the house. During the summer months, certain weekly chores can safely lose priority (it’s only for a couple of months!) and there are many ways that you can ‘clean as you go’ during the week to reduce the mess you’re facing come the weekend. Take a look!
Spread out the jobs: The kitchen is likely a room that you spend way too much time in cleaning each weekend. In order to avoid the massive weekend scrub-down, divide your tasks and tackle one each day. On Monday, wipe down the cupboard doors, on Tuesday, clean the oven, on Wednesday, sanitize the microwave, on Thursday clean out the fridge, etc. Also be sure to wash and dry dishes and wipe down the stove, sink and countertops after each and every meal so mess doesn’t build up.
Keep supplies in each room:† Having furniture polish and a microfiber cloth tucked away somewhere in your living or dining room will make it easier for you to give shelves, tables and other surfaces a quick wipe as you pass through. Keep cleaning supplies in each bathroom as well so that you can wash things down throughout the week when you have a few minutes.
The clutter basket: Keep a good-sized basket out of sight when not in use, perhaps in the laundry or mudroom. Each morning before you leave the house, do a quick walk-through, tossing in the clutter from each room. Ask family members to check for and remove any possessions that have accumulated on a weekly basis – or they go in the trash!
Other easy ways to clean as you go:
†- Multitask by folding laundry while watching your favourite show
†- Spray the shower and tub after each use
†- Invest in some good storage cubes, baskets or shelves near your front entry or in the mudroom
†- Buy a cordless vacuum and keep it charged and close by for quick clean ups
It’s true that the home itself is generally what will seal the deal when house hunting, but the neighbourhood in which that home is located is also important. Here are some questions you can ponder before beginning your hunt for a new home:
Is a rural or urban location right for you? Are you looking to buy a home with plenty of outdoor space and lots of privacy? Or would you prefer the hustle and bustle of city living? Both lifestyles offer many pros and cons. Living in a country home spares you from contending with the gridlock of busy urban centres but may actually increase your commute time overall. Living in a major city offers the convenience of nearby amenities, but homes are more expensive than those in a rural setting.
Do you require easy highway access? For those who commute to work, this should be at the top of your list of considerations. Purchasing a home with easy highway access can save you time and frustration during your daily commute.†
Is there a specific school district you want to be in? For many families, this is an important factor when house hunting. Do you want your children to be within walking distance to their school? Is there a Catholic school close by as well? Is there a school in the neighbourhood that offers a French Immersion program?
Do you want to be within walking distance to parks and rec centres? For families who lead an active lifestyle, these amenities may be at the top of your want list when choosing a neighbourhood to call home. Find out if there are walking trails close by, team sports to get involved in and extracurricular activities for kids.† †
Which local neighbourhoods are considered safest?† All it takes is a phone call to the local police department to get information about the crime statistics in your community. You can also make your own observations by simply driving around the neighbourhood. Are the homes well cared for? Are there signs of vandalism or graffiti?
How have property values and taxes changed in the past 5 years? Your realtor should be able to answer any questions you have about property values and market trends in the neighbourhood. Ask about future developments in the area that may increase or decrease property value. Your realtor will also be able to tell you the property tax rate and how much it has gone up in the past ten years.
As a homeowner, the arrival of each new season usually brings with it a few maintenance chores that will need to be tackled, so wait for a nice, sunny day and check these jobs off your to-do list!
1. Repaint windows, siding and doors if needed. While wood will always be a popular material in home building, unfortunately it does require regular maintenance to keep it looking its best and realizing its life span. As with any job, take the time to gather the proper materials before getting started – it will make things run smoothly. Scrape away old, chipped or peeling paint from window and door frames and wood siding. Sand if necessary and finish by pressure washing on a low setting. Prime and paint as needed with a good quality exterior paint.
2. Organize the garage. After a long winter, your garage may have become a drop-zone for gardening supplies, sporting equipment, toys, broken items, etc. Enlist the help of kids to help create piles, including one for items to throw out, one for items to sell and a third for items to keep. If storage is an issue, assemble some heavy duty shelving or hooks. If your garage floor has seen better days, consider sealing and painting the floor for a tidy, clean look that will also extend its lifespan.
3. It's likely been a few months since your air conditioner saw the light of day, so remove the cover on your outdoor unit, shut off the power and give it a good cleaning, removing any dust and debris. Inside the house, you'll want to change the air filter and check for any leaks in the ductwork. Almost every HVAC company offers maintenance packages, so if you're not up to the challenge or just don't have time, schedule an appointment with a professional. Proper A/C maintenance will extend the life of your cooling unit and keep your energy bills down all summer long!
4. Clean or pressure wash deck. Canadians certainly spend as much time as possible during the summer months enjoying their outdoor spaces, so start off the season with a fresh slate! Take great care when pressure washing soft wood surfaces – one would rarely need more than 1500 psi to complete this task – any more can damage the wood. You can skip the pressure washer and buy a good quality wood cleaner and use some good, old-fashioned elbow grease to get your deck gleaming for the season ahead!
While interest rates remain low, there have been a few changes in recent months and some even bigger changes in recent years that have made purchasing a home tougher for first-time buyers. Prices across most of the country are on the rise and housing stock is low in many areas, creating a fast-paced, red-hot real estate market that is leaving some in the dust.
Here are three things you should consider before you start the hunt for your first home:
Can you afford it? Without a doubt, this is the most important question of all when planning the largest purchase of your life. In addition to mortgage payments, be sure to factor in all the added costs that homeowners face. Closing costs, property tax, monthly utility bills, home maintenance and repairs will add up quickly and with the new mortgage rules that went into effect last fall, getting pre-approved is tougher.
Is your down payment sufficient? While it's ideal to put down 20 percent (to avoid paying mortgage insurance, which can tack an extra $50 to $100 per month onto your debt load) the law in Canada requires purchasers to pay, up front, at least five percent of the purchase price. If you're having trouble coming up with this amount, talk to your lender or a financial planner for suggestions on saving money faster.
Is home ownership right for you, right now? This is a valid question for Millennials who are considering taking the leap into owning real estate. Buying a home is a major life event and, while owning real estate is always a wise investment, if you have a career that could include a transfer a year down the road or there's a chance you may return to school to further your education, the timing might not be right. Location is another factor to consider. Do you foresee yourself in this town or city for a number of years? Buying and selling a home and moving are costly steps, so be sure you've found the right location to set down your roots.
With some thoughtful consideration, you will make the right choice. Having a trusted realtor on your side will always be a benefit, so take some time to find the professional who's right for you!
Home inspections have become commonplace in the Ontario real estate industry. In fact, many deals hinge on the completion of a home inspection report that is satisfactory to the buyer involved. Traditionally, the buyer has been responsible for paying for and arranging an inspection after the offer has been accepted. The seller agrees to facilitate access to the home for the inspector, the buyer and usually the buyer's realtor during an agreed upon time frame before the deal becomes firm.
In recent years, however, some sellers have taken the reins and obtained a pre-listing home inspection before their home even hits the market. There are a number of reasons why a pre-listing home inspection can benefit sellers.
1. Be the first to find out about any problems. Obtaining an inspection before listing a home puts the seller in the driver's seat when it comes to necessary fixes, whether major or minor. Some buyers will get hung up on small repairs, especially if a few start piling up during a home inspection. By having a pre-listing inspection done, the seller can repair leaky faucets, secure handrails on staircases, improve inadequate insulation, etc. before buyers begin viewing their home. And if there are major issues discovered, the seller can decide how to proceed, attaching any repair estimates or paid invoices to the inspection report.
2. It encourages a firm deal. If a buyer can view a completed home inspection report before making their offer, they know exactly what they purchasing and will likely feel more comfortable forgoing a home inspection condition in the offer.
3. Convenience. By obtaining a pre-listing home inspection, the seller is able to hire a reputable inspector (choose one who is a member of the OAHI – the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors) and schedule the appointment at their convenience.
A pre-listing home inspection also benefits buyers. It will help them determine a fair offer price and decide if they are willing to repair any highlighted issues before making an offer. Buyers will also enjoy a savings of $350-$500 off their closing costs (the typical cost of an inspection).
When it comes to buying or selling a home, there are a few important documents that will come into play during the process. Some of these forms include pre-written clauses that your realtor will discuss and explain to you. Due to the nature of these contracts, be sure to read them thoroughly and always, always ask for clarification if needed.
Seller Representation Agreement (Listing Agreement): The listing agreement serves a number of functions. It establishes the relationship between the brokerage (and real estate representative) and the seller, it outlines specifics about the property for sale and it explains the services that will be performed and remuneration agreed upon. A Data Input Form will also be completed, describing the property in more depth i.e. legal description, age, room dimensions, zoning, etc.
Seller Property Information Statement (SPIS): Completing this form is optional for sellers. This form expands on information already provided about the property for sale, including items like restrictive covenants, known easements, details about past renovations, moisture issues, etc. If a SPIS has been provided by the seller, the salesperson should inform potential buyers of its existence. It is important to note that the SPIS is not a warranty or guarantee for buyers and should not replace a home inspection.
Buyer Representation Agreement: This agreement is an authority granted by a buyer to a real estate brokerage to act on his or her behalf during the purchase of a property. It outlines and explains the responsibilities of both parties and the commission arrangement. While a realtor in Ontario is required to complete the agreement and submit it to the buyer before any offer is made, the buyer is under no obligation to sign it.
Agreement of Purchase and Sale: An agreement of purchase and sale is like a conversation in writing that expresses the buyer's wish to purchase a property and the proposed terms of sale. It only becomes legally binding when everything is mutually agreed upon and signed by both parties. Commonly referred to as an offer, this document summarizes the terms that the buyer is seeking. Items always covered in the agreement of purchase and sale will be deposit amount and sale price, conditions, chattels and fixtures, completion (closing) date, etc.
While the exact forms may vary from city to city across the province, the fundamental concept behind each is the same.