Pretty ... or pretty bad sign?
Those pretty icicles hanging from your roof are caused by ice damming. A charming winter picture post-card they may make, but not such great news when it comes to the cause of those icicles.
Large amounts of snow on the roof and temperatures around the freezing mark are the perfect conditions for ice damming. If the air in the attic is above freezing, it warms the roof sheathing and melts the snow above. The melted water runs down to the roof overhang, which is not warmed by the attic but rather, cooled by the outdoor air. If the air and the overhang are below freezing, the water freezes and forms an ice dam. This can cause water to form a small pool which can build up under the edges of the shingles and leak through the underside of the roof, into the attic and potentially the walls and ceilings.
The solution is to identify where air is leaking into the attic; warm air rises into the attic through leaks that might be found around light fixtures or the attic hatch. Identifying additional leaks could be done by having a home energy audit performed by a certified energy auditor.
Something to consider as your next home maintenance project.
Renovate or buy a home?
New perspectives on an old dilemma
You are desperate for more living space and now face the big decision – renovate your current home, or buy another one? Chartered Accountant Gerald Tracey, Investment Advisor, ScotiaMcLeod in Windsor, advises that this decision should be made in a two-step process.
“The current economic downturn makes it even more critical to look ahead and consider different scenarios. Both renovating and buying have pros and cons, and both are stressful, so make the bigger decision first – decide what you want and where you want to live. Then decide whether to renovate or buy. If you like your current neighbourhood, renovation may make sense, provided that the renovated value of your home is in line with the values of other homes in your area.”
“Three key factors are also important to consider in making this decision,” adds Chartered Accountant Albert Yu, Re/Max Hallmark Realty Ltd. in Toronto. “Financial costs, non-financial costs and resale value.”
From the financial perspective, one simple rule is to determine what it will cost to move. This cost generally equates to about 10 per cent of the current value of your home and includes real estate commissions, land transfer tax, and moving and legal costs. Compare this cost to the cost of renovating, and if renovating is less then take the less expensive route.
“However, homes are much more than dollars and cents, so you should also think about the non-financial costs of relocating either yourself or your family – including the stress and upheaval involved in a potential move and the time it will take you to find services and professionals in your new community. If you do have children, consider how a new school, with new friendships will impact the kids.”
“Your home is one of the largest investments you will ever make” continues Yu, “So its resale value is always a major consideration.”
“It’s a good time to move up in the real-estate market right now because higher-value properties have declined more in value. At the same time, it’s a cooler market for sellers. If you decide to move up, think resale and follow the number one rule – location, location, location.
“If you are renovating, spend your money wisely – some renovations add more value than others to the final selling price. A kitchen or bathroom renovation will potentially return 100 per cent of your costs. A basement, family room or deck is another good investment, while landscaping upgrades only return about a quarter of your costs. Putting in a pool depends on your area so talk to your Realtor first — ideally it pays to be the worst home on the best street.”
Current Economy and Financing Options
Tracey explains that while mortgage rates are very attractive right now, financial institutions are more demanding. Today more than ever, he cautions people about taking on any extra debt, especially in an uncertain job market, and he encourages them to manage their existing debt.
“If you are buying, check that you qualify for the size of mortgage you require. With the downturn in the real-estate market, financial institutions are looking harder at a home’s appraised value (which is probably lower than it was a year ago) and will only lend a lower percentage of that value.
“If you are selling your home, look at its current appraised value and make sure you can get your equity out of it – if not, it may not pay to either move or renovate. Renewing your mortgage may also be tricky. Weigh the costs of other financing options such as a mortgage insured by CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.”
If you are renovating, Eco-Energy Retrofit grants – available for items including a furnace or insulation – will help reduce your costs. The new Home Renovation Tax Credit is also available on expenditures made before February 2010. This is a 15-per-cent federal tax credit on eligible expenditures between $1,000 and $10,000, which produces a maximum credit of $1,350 — http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/gncy/bdgt/2009.
Source: Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario
The Big Flip ... Flops
Real estate shows need a reno — focus now on home enjoyment
Canadian TV shows about home improvement and real estate are undergoing renovations as the economic crisis hits the housing market. Networks plan to swing the wrecking ball at house-flipping shows in 2009. Instead, they'll focus on programs that help people sell or maintain their homes, cope with their mortgages and add value - not frills - to their property in cost-efficient ways.
Shows are also being made for renters who wish to stay out of the rocky real-estate market altogether. "We've moved a little bit away from being kind of aspirational about your home and looking at it as a commodity that can kind of be bought and sold and used for profit, to really looking at the home as the heart of your life," says Anna Gecan, vice-president of content for HGTV Canada.
The network started asking TV production companies to focus on the theme of "loving the home you're in" back in the fall of 2007, says Gecan, after seeing the subprime mortgage crisis grip the U.S. housing market.
"We also noticed that some of the most popular property shows and property blocks on the network were kind of flattening out," she says. "We sensed that the market and our viewers were telling us really the kinds of show that they were more interested in seeing."
To that end, two new Canadian home-related series suiting the tough economic times debuted on HGTV Canada in 2008: "The Unsellables," which spruces up homes to entice buyers, and "Income Property," which pays for half the cost of renovating a house's rental space so first-time homeowners can bring in tenants to help pay down the mortgage.
"I think putting in an apartment might be one of the only renovations that people would be thinking: 'This is something I should do now, this is a great time for this,"' says "Income Property" host Scott McGillivray, a real-estate investor who owns 18 properties with 30 rental units in Ontario.
"It's a way of ... paying those high mortgages that they have on these houses that are losing value." And losing value they are.
In early December, the ReMax real estate franchiser predicted that Canada's average house price had retreated from 2007's record high and would fall three per cent in 2008 and another two per cent in 2009.
"I'm getting very desperate people - people who are going to get kicked out of their homes," McGillivray says of the applicants they're getting for the show, filmed in the Toronto area.
Other related programs hitting HGTV Canada include "For Rent," which helps young couples who aren't ready to buy a home find the ideal rental space to live in (it debuts Dec. 29), and "House Poor" (to debut in fall 2009), which helps homeowners cope with their household finances.
Over at W Network and the Viva channel, both properties of Corus Entertainment, executives say they're looking at ways to help viewers "get more for their money, and how to use money wisely."
Touching on that theme is "Love It or List It," which debuted on W Network in September and offers tips on how to buy and sell a home, as well as how to renovate one. As production gets underway for Season 2, producer/director Maria Armstrong says they plan to do more episodes featuring lower-budget renos "that would make a big difference in a home."
"A lot of people want to downsize as well but they want to get more for their house so that they can actually move into another house and actually have a much lower mortgage," she says.
"So we're trying to attract people like that to come on the show as well. It's not all about going bigger and better. It's about people who don't need as much room and want to get the most out of their home."
It's the same sentiment on Citytv's "CityLine," where the focus for the home-improvement segments is "to bring people very cost-effective ideas and ways of achieving a look on a wiser budget," says Ramsin Khachi, a contractor and frequent guest expert on the show.
"What's changed in the past four months, I'd say, is that people are putting aside the non-essential upgrades," says Khachi, who runs Khachi Design Group Ltd. and Khachi Interiors Inc.
Chris Hyndman, co-host of CBC's daytime lifestyles series "Steven & Chris," says many of the show's viewers are writing in for advice on smaller-scale home renos. "I have noticed a difference in how many people are saying, 'I'd love to do something with my space but I'm not ready to invest a lot of money in it. I want to do that later in time,"' he says, adding they now make over spaces using a home's existing furniture as much as possible.
Despite the economic slump, TV viewers still want to be entertained when they watch lifestyles programming and won't shun home and real-estate offerings that are unrelatable, says Armstrong: "They want to have a lot of fun."
That may explain why the Canadian series "Home to Flip" - which debuted in October at a time when stock markets were crashing and when flipping homes was becoming a distant memory - was among the top-five most-watched programs on the network in 2008.
HGTV Canada says that while "Home to Flip" and "The Really Big Flip," which launches December 31, may be outdated (they were filmed a year ago when real-estate bidding wars were still common in the Toronto area) they do show viewers how to add value to a home and feature hosts that are engaging. Still, the network doesn't plan to offer any other home-flipping shows once "The Really Big Flip" ends.
"We're probably not going to do those for a while unless there's a massive rebound in the market," says Gecan. "I think the shift is towards nesting, towards maintaining your home. It is looking inward a little more rather than looking outward and seeing your home as just something to be bought and sold."
Market woes mean reno shows
The slowdown of home sales in the real world has not hurt the growth of property-related programming. If anything, the housing slump has reduced the genre to two simple choices: Fix-it shows and flip-it shows.
In the United States, where the housing crisis is more pronounced, the trend is more toward the flipping option. According to The New York Times, ratings on HGTV and TLC - the two cable channels with the highest volume of home reno shows - have soared in correlation with the gradual decline of the housing market in the past few years.
In recent months, TLC has been earning all-time high ratings for shows such as Property Guide, Date My House and Flip That House (which is not to be confused with A&E's Flip This House). Prospective home buyers and sellers are looking for any edge they can find.
"The current economic environment is changing everything about home TV shows," TLC president Angela Shapiro-Mathes said last week at the TV critics press tour. "People aren't buying and selling homes the way they were a few years ago. Now, they're worried about paying the mortgage, or whether or not they should move in the first place."
The changing times have prompted TLC to form a Saturday-night prime-time block titled House Calls featuring the popular home-reno programs My First Home, Trading Spaces and the more recent addition of the Canadian-made series, Holmes on Homes (which airs in Canada on HGTV, Thursdays at 8 p.m.). The arrival of the brawny contractor on American cable television means a broader viewing audience, but his message remains the same: buyer beware.
"The whole idea of real estate is to make money," says Holmes, who came to Los Angeles to promote the show's U.S. launch. "People use cheaper contractors to get the work done, and before long they've got a leak that turned into mould or some other problem. And it's getting worse."
Holmes has performed countless missions of mercy since the show launched on Canadian television in 2003. Forever sporting work coveralls and his trademark buzz cut, the native of Halton Hills, Ont., specializes in uncovering substandard construction and works with each homeowner to fix the problem.
Over six seasons, Holmes has discovered more mouldy walls, unsafe wiring, rusty pipes and generally shoddy repair jobs than anyone on television. On this week's show, he leads his team of carpenters, electricians and plumbers into a development where literally every new house is beset by cheap workmanship. As in all renovation matters, the road to proper home repair begins with finding the right person for the job.
"There is still no substitution for a reliable contractor," he says. "I think the mistake of some programs is showing people how simple it can be, and that they can do it themselves. I'm totally against it. You might as well perform your own brain operation."
The house-flipping phenomenon is taken in a different direction with the upcoming series Hope for Your Home, which makes its debut in August on TLC. Hosted by Kirsten Kemp Becker of TLC's popular Property Ladder, the new series acknowledges the sagging housing market and shows distressed homeowners how to add value to their domiciles before putting out the For Sale sign.
Source: Toronto Globe and Mail
Planning to renovate?
Forty per cent of Canadian homeowners say they intend to spend $1,000 or more on renovations this year – although economic conditions could cause some to scale back their plans, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said Thursday. “It all depends on how consumers are feeling confident with the economy,” Julie Taylor, senior economist with CMHC's market analysis centre, said in an interview.
In any given year, there is typically a gap between intentions and execution with it comes to home renovations, Ms. Taylor said after CMHC released a survey, conducted in February, on the home-improvement plans of householders in 10 major Canadian centres.
Still, Ms. Taylor said, consumer sentiment in Canada continues to remain “pretty strong” in spite of the deepening economic crisis in the United States and soaring fuel prices.
Gardening in the Toronto
Living in the city like Toronto need not translate to being out of touch with nature. Gardens make for peaceful havens in the midst of a big city's bustle. Don't let cramped living quarters or the lack of a large backyard stop you from exercising your green thumbs.
While Toronto may not be the ideal place for gardening, with a little guidance you can make the most of your limited space. The goal is to make small gardens seem larger, more livable, and more interesting.
Cover the perimeter of the garden with foliage. You can do this with bushy shrubs or a tall fence covered in creepers. It will create the impression that the garden extends further than it actually does.
Dividing the space with a latticework screen or a line of trees will make it look larger.
Keep it simple. Avoid using too many colours, as this will create a chaotic effect. Soft blues and lavenders create an effect of distance whereas reds, yellows and oranges will make your garden seem more crowded. Emphasize leafy plants; green is a soothing colour and will not overpower your garden.
A wide variety of plants can create an overwhelming effect in small gardens. You can have lots of plants in a small space as long as you limit yourself to a few varieties.
Trick the eye. Placing plants in strategic layouts can create an impression of depth. Graduating a line of the same species from tallest to shortest will do this. You could also place darker coloured, rough textured plants to the front and put light coloured, fine textured plants in the back. Mirrors will also create and illusion of depth.
Use small-leafed plants to give the illusion of spaciousness. Remember the plant doesn't have to be small - just its leaves.
Using climbing plants on fences and walls with increase the lushness of your garden without taking up space on the ground.
Avoid big, bulky plastic chairs and a large number of disparate garden decorations. Keep accessories to a minimum: choose one or two pieces that are unique and speak to your personal style. They will become the focal points of your garden.
Using potted plants in your garden will provide additional spaces for growing. Container plants can be hung from fences or placed on tables. If a plant requires lots of moisture, however, it should not be kept in a container as the soil dries out too quickly. Roses, trees, shrubs and vegetables usually grow well this way. The labels on the plants should indicate whether or not they are suitable to be left in containers.
Spring is just around the cornner ... so happy gardening.
Here's a great recipe for cookies ... guaranteed to please.
- 1 cup of water
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 cup of brown sugar
- Lemon juice
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup mixed nuts
- 2 cups of dried fruit
- 1 bottle of Crown Royal
- Sample the Crown Royal to check quality.
- Take a large bowl, check the Crown Royal again and to be sure it is of the highest quality, pour one level cup and drink.
- Turn on the electric mixer. Beat cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl.
- Add one teaspoon of sugar. Beat again.
- At this point it's best to ensure that the Crown Royal is still OK ... sample another cup ... just in case.
- Turn off the mixer thingy.
- Break 2 leggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit.
- Pick the frigging fruit off floor.
- Mix on the turner.
- If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers just pry it loose with dewscriver.
- Sample the Crown Royal to check for tonsisticity.
- Next, sift two cups of salt ... or ... who giveshz a sheet.
- Check the Crown Royal.
- Add a spoon of ... or somefink ... whatever youzh can find.
- Greash the oven.
- Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and don't fall over.
- Don't forget to beat off the turner.
- Make sure to put the stove in the dishwasher.
Insurance Discount Tip
Most insurance companies offer discounts for homes with security systems. They understand that a home with a security system is less likely to experience the type of emergencies that result in insurance claims. If your insurer does not offer such discount, it may not hurt to shop around, as it is standard practice for many.
The Home Renovation Decision
Anyone who has lived through months of dusty floors, washed dinner dishes in the bathtub, and stayed with friends when the water in the house is off for two days knows major remodeling is an extraordinary pain. But letting go of what you have and trading up to a new home is not an easy decision.
Ask yourself what factors are most important to you:
- Do you love your neighborhood?
- Are you near services and schools?
- What is your commute time?
- Is there room to renovate - considering lot size, etc.?
- Have you built up enough equity in your current home to justify spending on a remodel?
You've heard the old adage "location, location, location." If you already live in a desirable neighborhood, but the house vexes you because it has one bathroom, or a kitchen that was last updated in 1960, remodeling may be the answer.
Timing and the Market
Does it make sense to invest in a major renovation in your market? A renovation that will pay off in Toronto, may not pay off in Beaverton. If you spend $85,000 on a kitchen renovation, you may recoup more than what you spent in Oakville, but not in Keswick where housing prices are a much lower percentage of the cost of the remodel.
Renovation Decision Points
Do your research:
Appraise House and Neighborhood
Paying for a current appraisal is money well spent in the remodeling process. If your home is already valued high relative to the market, you will not recoup the cost of an expensive remodel. Research comparables using My Estimator to value your home among the others in the neighborhood - remodeled or not - to get a better picture of your possible financial gain. It is easy to spend over $10,000 on a bathroom upgrade without architectural changes, but will it pay off?
Check out the RENOVA home improvement valuation guide for an idea of typical remodeling project costs and possible payoffs. Some projects will return 75 percent of your costs while others may return as much as 103 percent, but some financial experts caution that these numbers are only valid if you turn around and sell your home within a year of completing the remodel. The longer you wait to sell, the more the renovation value decreases.
Paying for It
Do you have the equity in your home to open a home equity line of credit, or apply for a home equity loan to pay for the remodel? If you have less than 20 percent equity in your current home, wait to remodel.
If you do have the equity, what will the renovation entail? If it is a large project - such as big structural changes and losing the use of your kitchen or your one bathroom, you may want to consider moving out during the hammering and drilling.
Trading Up and Out
Depending on your area, trading up to a new house with all the features you are looking for is often cheaper than remodeling. The trading up trade-offs are that you may need to move a distance from your current home and incur the time and costs of buying and selling again.
Homeowners in the mood to renovate
Canadians are spending thousands of dollars to renovate their homes, according to a new study by Canada Mortgage and Housing (CMHC). The report says households in 10 major urban centres spent more than $11,000 on renovations on average in 2006.
About 1.5 million households in those 10 cities spent more than $17.3-billion on renovation related spending in 2006. The CMHC report also suggests the spree isn't over: almost half of homeowners surveyed said they plan to spend $1,000 or more on renovations in 2007.
More than a third of households went over their planned budget last year for the renovation. Most people said they renovated to “add value or to prepare to sell the residence.”
This is the first time the CMHC has published its expanded study on the market, so comparable numbers aren't available. But the pace of renovations may be slowing: two years ago, the average Canadian family expected to spend $14,000 on home renovations, the agency reported in 2005.
The top three renovations completed last year were re-modeling of rooms, painting or wallpapering and hard surface flooring and wall-to-wall carpeting. More than a third were do-it-yourself attempts.
The share of households who spent $1,000 or more on renovations last year was the largest in St. John's, followed by Halifax. Future renovation plans are strongest in Edmonton and Winnipeg and the lowest in pricier cities of Toronto and Vancouver, the government agency said.