Maximize your Curb Appeal

When you’re selling your home, first impressions are everything. A prospective buyer will decide in a single glance if they want to consider purchasing your home, or even step inside and take a look. How does your home look at first glance? Stand on the sidewalk in front of your home and take a good long look. Do you like what you see? Will anyone else?

What you do with your front garden, walkway and entrance will help you tempt the most discerning househunter. Follow these guidelines to ensure your property has plenty of curb appeal.

 

DRIVE BY

Compare your home to the others on the street. How does it measure up? Is the yard clean and well-kept? Do the eaves and trim have a crisp, clean appearance? How are the exterior paint and roof holding up? Pick out the nicest house on the street and take note of any features or items that you can emulate on your own property – without appearing too obvious, of course.

 

A CLEAN SWEEP

No matter what the season, ensure sidewalks, driveways and pathways are free of garden debris and litter. That goes for eaves and porches too. When’s the last time you cleaned your storm door or mailbox? Get out the vinegar and newsprint, and make your front windows sparkle, too.

 

WEED AND FEED

Even if your lawn is the envy of the neighbourhood, take the time to ensure that any edges are neatly trimmed and the area is relatively free of weeds. If new sod is required, plant it as soon as possible, since it will take a few weeks to blend in with the rest of the grass. Add a splash of life to your porch or window boxes with colourful plants. And keep your garden neat year-round. Even in winter months, shrubs and trees look their best with old leaves and growth cleared away.

 

OUTER LIMITS

If your siding is looking more shabby than chic, consider repainting it. Sometimes simply touching up the trim and facia is all it takes to brighten up your home’s exterior. Or, if your property has vinyl siding, bring on the powerwasher to whip it back into shape. Start at the top and work your way down and, if you’re pressed for time, focus on the side that prospective buyers see first.

 

NIGHT VISION

Don’t forget about what your home’s exterior looks like once the sun sets. Savvy home buyers have been known to swing by properties of interest at all hours. Is your front yard still inviting in the dark? Are walkways well lit or do children even pass by your house on Halloween because it’s too darn scary? It could be as simple as changing your front porch fixture or adding some solar-powered garden lights to give your yard some evening appeal.

 

WILD LIFE

A prospective buyer should not be aware that you own a pet just by looking at your lawn. Birdfeeders, while appreciated by wildlife, should be moved during an open house to keep the yard neat and stop squirrels and sparrows from jumping out at passersby. Be sure to keep personal items such as sports equipment, toys and other items tucked away as well.

 

A WARM WELCOME

Polish up the doorknobs and dust off the welcome mat! One thing that a lot of homeowners overlook is the placement of their house number. Can you see it from the street? If not, consider relocating it or, better still, purchase some striking new numbers to identify your home with. Now stand on your front porch. Do you feel welcome? Take note of what your eye is drawn to first, whether positive or negative, and make any adjustments if necessary

 

A little effort can make a big difference in ensuring that your home has the curb appeal necessary to attract prospective buyers and encourage bids. Good luck!

A Pre-Approved Mortgage – Yes or No?

HOW A PRE-APPROVED MORTGAGE CAN HELP YOU

Whether you’re planning the purchase of your first or fourteenth home, it pays to obtain a mortgage prequalification certificate (better known as a pre-approved mortgage) from the lender of your choice. Not only does this step provide peace of mind, it also helps your offer stand out from the pack in a multiple-bid situation.

A REALITY CHECK

Your bank or mortgage lender will examine your current financial situation to determine how much you can afford to borrow, and give you a realistic idea of what your monthly payments would be.

Some people avoid pre-approvals because they feel they know how much house they can afford – or that the money fairy will suddenly appear when they find the property of their dreams. Not having a pre-approved mortgage often leads to unsuccessful bids due to financing falling through, leaving both the buyer and seller in an extremely disappointing situation. In other cases buyers become “house rich and cash poor” because most of their income is spent on housing. It’s worth it to take the time, which can be less than an hour or two, to start off on solid financial ground.

With a pre-approved mortgage, you have an amount to have in mind while house hunting. Instead of scrambling to see every open house in the neighbourhood, you can focus your search to homes that fit into your predetermined price range. And by comparing similarly priced homes, you’ll be better able to gauge the value of each property and find the one that’s right for you.

Anyone who has experienced buying during a period of double-digit interest rates already knows the wisdom of obtaining a pre-approved mortgage with a locked-in mortgage interest rate. These are usually guaranteed for 90-120 days and, in the event that mortgage interest rates decrease during that period, will be lowered accordingly. Be sure to check this with your lender.

The main reason to lock in your rate is to protect yourself in case rates go up, so be sure to ask about it. For example, on a $100,000 25-year mortgage, an increase of 1% to the rate would add approximately $72 to your monthly payments. That’s over $800 in a year that could have gone towards something a little more fun, like a weekend getaway. Without a pre-approved mortgage, a sudden increase in mortgage interest rates could mean you no longer qualify for your dream home.

IT’S EASY

Whether you decide to use a mortgage consultant, who will negotiate on your behalf to compare rates and terms from several financial institutions, or your preferred bank, the process of getting pre-approved is fairly straightforward. You’ll be asked to provide your financial information, including all assets, liabilities and proof of income as well as the amount you have available for a down payment.

After reviewing your financial situation, the lender will determine the maximum mortgage amount you qualify for and lock in a mortgage interest rate. Prequalification certificates normally last for 90-120 days. If you don’t buy a home within this timeframe, you may renew your agreement at the going interest rate when your guaranteed rate expires.

A FIRM OFFER

Homebuyers with a pre-approved mortgage have the upper hand when they put an offer on the table. And it’s easy to see why. Having pre-approval demonstrates that you’re serious about purchasing a home—you’ve done your homework and have arrived prepared. It also officially addresses your ability to finance the purchase, which leaves no question in a seller’s mind that yours is a firm offer.

It’s great leverage in negotiation or if you find yourself in a bidding war – and because you know your limit, you won’t place a bid that goes beyond what you can afford.

After your offer is accepted, all that’s left for you to do is to send in the property and offer details, along with any other information requested, to your lender and your pre-approved mortgage will be converted into your actual mortgage in a matter of hours.

When it comes to buying a home, there’s no better way to approach a purchase than with the confidence and convenience a pre-approved mortgage provides.

First Time Sellers

Making your home appealing takes more than just a quick cleanup and some scented candles. When you’ve got your place on the market, here are some tips for creating a great experience for prospective buyers, and really showing off your property to its fullest advantage.

1. Depersonalize. This is one of the most important rules of home staging. Store the kids’ artwork, your family photos, religious items and toiletries. Buyers don’t want to see the space as someone else’s – getting rid of your personal stuff helps them visualize it as theirs.

2. Be a minimalist. Having less stuff on display makes your place look bigger and more appealing. Pack up the knick-knacks, clear off the countertops, pull half the stuff out of your closets and organize what’s left. If you’re tempted to throw all the extra stuff into the garage, don’t. Buyers will be looking in there too. If you need to, rent a storage unit while your house is on the market.

3. Ensure your house is spotless. One of the biggest turnoffs for buyers is a place that isn’t clean. Steam the carpets, mop the floors, corral the dust bunnies, and make sure windows and mirrors are gleaming. And don’t forget about the small everyday stuff, like crumbs on the table, rumpled beds, toothbrushes left by the sink or half-full trash cans. Details count – people will notice.

 4. Always be show-ready. Yes, this is a hassle. But showings sometimes happen with very little notice, so make sure your place is always clean and ready to go. Don’t put dirty dishes in the sink – wash them right away or put them in the dishwasher. Keep your valuables stored away, and make sure personal info isn’t in plain sight. Ensure your key is always  in the lockbox. Follow a checklist so you don’t miss anything.

5. Be flexible. Be open to last-minute showings and other inconveniences. The more flexible you can be now, the less time it should take to sell your house. And don’t stick around when potential buyers are there – there’s nothing more uncomfortable than looking at a house while the current owners are there, watching you. Go out for dinner, take the kids to the park, hang out in a coffee shop or visit friends.

6. Keep things fresh. A house that looks clean should smell clean, too. Cooking smells, mildew, pet odours – they’re all serious turnoffs. Open the windows, use air purifiers, put out some lightly scented candles. But be careful about using plug-ins, room sprays or other artificial fragrances. A lot of people are sensitive to them, and having an overwhelming scent can make it seem like you’re trying to mask an odour problem. Less is definitely more.

7. Relocate your pets. Fido or Fluffy might be friendly, but don’t leave them at home during a showing. Not everyone is an animal lover, and no one wants to see the litter box or a bowl of dog food on the kitchen floor. Have a plan for taking your pet with you for showings, or better yet, ask a friend to pet-sit while your house is on the market.

8. Make a great first impression. Ensuring the inside of your house looks great is important, but don’t forget about the part they see first: the exterior. Up your curb appeal by making sure windows are clean, trim is painted, and decks are power washed. Adding some colourful plants to your garden or having containers on your porch is a wonderfully cheap and cheerful boost. And don’t forget the entryway. Get rid of coats, shoes and keys, put out some fresh flowers, and make it a welcoming space that offers the perfect intro to the rest of your home.

9. Lighten up. Create a bright, cheery atmosphere by turning on all the lights and opening up the curtains and blinds (or removing them completely). Trim back any bushes that block the light, and don’t forget to clean the windows.

10. Show off your assets. Do your best to really maximize the best features of your home. Do you have  beautiful hardwood floors? Put the area rugs away. Want to highlight a nicely renovated kitchen? Get rid of the dishtowels and put countertop appliances out of sight to emphasize how great it looks.

It all boils down to this. If you do everything you can to make your space look its best and be flexible about showings, your property will appeal to more buyers – and sell faster.

First Time Buyers

FIRST-TIME BUYERS PLAN: 8 STEPS TO BUYING SMART

NAVIGATING THE WORLD OF CANADIAN HOME BUYING

STEP 1: FIGURE OUT HOW MUCH YOU CAN AFFORD.

Falling in love with a house you can’t afford can be heartbreaking. Avoid disappointment by figuring out your budget before you start looking.
  • First, decide how much you can afford for your down payment. The Home Buyers Plan lets you withdraw up to $25K per person (or up to $50K per couple) from your RRSPs – tax-free – to be repaid over 15 years. More on that here . The bigger your down payment, the less principal you will owe, and the less interest you will pay.
  • Don’t forget about closing costs, like insurance, legal fees, home inspection costs, land registration and land transfer fees. Add those to your moving expenses and service hookup fees, and they can add up surprisingly fast.
  • Your monthly housing expenses (mortgage, taxes, heat, etc.) shouldn’t use up more than 32% of your income. (If your combined monthly income is $5000, for example, 32% of that is $1600.) If you have car payments or credit card debt, the rule of thumb is that debt repayment shouldn’t be more than 40% of your income.
  • Get pre-approved for your mortgage. It’s a good way of finding out how much you can borrow – and it speeds up the process once you’ve found the home you want to buy.

STEP 2: FIGURE OUT WHAT TYPE OF HOME IS RIGHT FOR YOU.

Sit down and make a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves. Be realistic, but be clear about the features you can’t live without. How many bedrooms do you need? Bathrooms? Do you want a home office? A garage? How about a big backyard? Hardwood floors? Eat-in kitchen? Consider your lifestyle and your stage of life. If you’re planning kids in a year or two, the studio loft might not be your best bet.

STEP 3: DECIDE WHERE YOU WANT TO LIVE.

Living in an area you like is as important as buying a home you love. Do you want a busy urban lifestyle, a house in the ‘burbs, or a quiet place in the country? Do you want to walk to work or are you okay with a longer commute? Do you need to be close to good schools? Rec facilities? Shopping?

STEP 4: START LOOKING.

Go to open houses. Visit mls.ca. Check the classifieds. Drive around neighbourhoods you like looking for For Sale signs. Talk to your REALTOR® about your needs and start looking at properties.

STEP 5: BUILD A TEAM.

Put together the right group of experts to help you buy. Start with a REALTOR® you trust, then look for a reputable lender or mortgage broker, a lawyer (or a notary in Quebec), a home inspector and an insurance broker. Your REALTOR® works closely with all of these professionals, and will be happy to recommend people you can depend on.

STEP 6: MAKE AN OFFER.

You’ve found the perfect place – now it’s time to make an offer. An offer to purchase includes the purchase price you’re offering, chattels to be included in the purchase (like appliances or light fixtures), the amount of the deposit, the closing date and any other conditions.

Your REALTOR® will help you prepare your offer, and will present it to the vendor, who will either accept it or make a counter offer (which asks for a higher price or different terms). You can accept or reject the counter offer. If everyone agrees, the home is yours. If not, you can make another offer, or you may have to keep looking.

STEP 7: GET A MORTGAGE.

Once you’re approved, you’ll need to decide what type of mortgage works best for your needs. Will you go with a fixed or variable interest rate? Will your mortgage be closed or open? What will your amortization period be? Will you make payments monthly, biweekly or weekly? Your mortgage broker or lender can help you find a mortgage that suits your needs – and saves you the most money in the long term.

STEP 8: MOVE IN AND ENJOY!

Trademarks owned or controlled by The Canadian Real Estate Association. Used under licence.

Moving with Pets

Moving is tough enough on humans – imagine how overwhelming it would be if you didn’t understand what was going on. When you’re moving with pets, the boxes, the commotion and tension can add up to confused, stressed – even sick – animals. To keep your cat or dog (or iguana) calm and relatively happy during your move, all you need is a little planning – and maybe an extra treat or two.

STICK TO A ROUTINE

Stay consistent by keeping walks and feedings at the usual times.

PREPARE THEM

Let them wander around and smell boxes and suitcases so they understand that they’re safe.

TALK TO YOUR VET

Pick up your pet’s records, make sure all shots are up to date, and ask for a recommendation for a vet clinic in your new area.

UPDATE ID TAGS

Make sure tags have your new address and phone number on them in case Max or Boots decides to run away. And though this may seem obvious, make sure they’re actually wearing the tags when you move. Microchipping is a bit pricier, but if you can afford it, it’s the best way to ensure they’ll be returned to you if they get lost.

PICK UP A CAT LEASH

Your fluffy friend may not be impressed, but it’s an easy way to keep tabs on her in the car or on a plane.

GET A STURDY CARRIER

Leave the door open a few days before the move so your pet can get used to it. Make sure it isn’t too small; your cat or dog should be able to move around comfortably inside.

ON MOVING DAY, PUT THEM SOMEPLACE QUIET AND SAFE

You don’t want your pup to get underfoot or take off through an open door. If you can’t leave pets with a neighbour or in a kennel, make sure there’s a safe “pet room” (like a bathroom) in both your old place and your new one. A few days before the move, move their food, water, toys and litter box in there. Then, on moving day, put a sign on the door that says “Cat inside, do not open,” so movers and friends know to be careful.

DON’T GET A NEW PET RIGHT BEFORE A MOVE

Wait till you’re settled before adding a new member to your household.

BRING STUFF THAT’S FAMILIAR

In the new place, surround your buddy with toys, bedding and dishes that look and smell like home. Let cats explore on their own terms, and at their own pace; you may want to keep them in one room to start, and allow them into the rest of the place gradually. If you’re moving into a high-rise, don’t open the windows wide enough for an animal to squeeze through, and remember to keep kitty off the balcony.

CLEAN UP ACCIDENTS RIGHT AWAY

Get rid of odors fast so your pets won’t be tempted to use that spot again.

STAY IN A PET-FRIENDLY PLACES

If your move requires an overnight stay in a hotel, call ahead to find one that will let your pet stay in your room with you.

TIPS FOR CAR TRAVEL

Cats are generally not happy passengers, so keep them safe in a well-ventilated, securely positioned carrier. Don’t put animals in the trunk or in the open bed of a pickup, and never leave them alone in a parked car, especially when it’s hot out. Stop every couple of hours for a break.

TIPS FOR AIR TRAVEL

Whether your pet is flying in the cabin with you or as freight, try to get a direct, non-stop flight to minimize travel time and handling.

YOUR PET TRAVEL CHECKLIST

Make sure you’ve packed these animal must-haves:
• Veterinary records
• Recent photos
• Medications
• Food and water
• Bowls
• Can opener
• Reusable lids for canned food
• Leash
• Plastic bags and litter box
• Paper towels
• Favourite toys

TRAVELLING WITH A MORE “UNUSUAL” PET?

Fish are easy to move short distances. Just put them in plastic bags that are half-filled with water and half with air. Long distance moves are trickier, and you may want to contact an aquarium retailer to get advice. With hamsters, small reptiles and birds, keep them in their usual cages/enclosures when you travel. If you’re driving, keep the car at a warm, comfortable temperature all the time. If you’re flying, contact the airline to see what their guidelines are for transporting pets other than cats or dogs.

Decorating your Walls

Walls. Everybody’s got ‘em, but beyond slapping on a coat of paint, not everyone knows what to do with them. Walls are more than just room dividers – they’re a great big canvas that you can use to express yourself, have fun, and really add personality to your space.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Give old stuff a new life.
Whether your home is modern or traditional, using architectural salvage to decorate your place is a wonderful way to add interest. Think old tin ceiling tiles hung as a series in your hallway. Graceful beveled-glass windows or intricate ironwork floor grates above your couch. Or an antique door or wrought iron gate anchored against a large bare wall. Check out your local antique store or architectural salvage shop for great ideas.

Kid art: think beyond the fridge.
For a real “statement” piece, pick up a large stretched canvas at an art supply store and let your kid loose on it with colors that complement your décor. If you get tired of that painting, paint the whole canvas white (or blue or pink or ochre) and start again.

Use frames as art.
Wood or metal, antique or modern, ornate or simple, frames can be beautiful in themselves – no art required. Hang one or group several together for an elegant, architectural effect.

Think “off the wall.”
Wallpaper’s for walls, right? Well, yes, but it’s got other possibilities too. To create a quick piece of avant garde art, take a large piece of plywood (the bigger it is, the bigger the statement) and cover it with beautifully patterned paper. Hang it up –  or lean it against the wall for a gallery look. (It’s a great way to cover up a damaged wall or anything else you want to hide.)

Chalkboards: not just for the classroom anymore.
Use chalkboard paint in kids’ rooms for an ongoing art project. (Mix in some magnetic paint, and the kids can use it to hang up paintings, photos and other stuff, too.) Don’t limit yourself to a traditional square or rectangle; apply the paint in a circle, in the shape of a tree, or using an outline of your child. And go beyond the kids’ room – try a chalkboard in your entryway as a reminder board, in your kitchen as an ongoing grocery list, or in your dining room for a charming bistro-style menu.

Stencil it.
Forget the kitschy stenciled borders you remember from the eighties. Create something striking by marking off a rectangle on your wall and stenciling an interesting shape randomly within it. Not into stencils? Simple painted blocks of colour can add drama to any space. Group blocks together symmetrically, or scatter them randomly around the room.

Create a vignette.
Display ledges are often used for photos, but you could also try pairing a photo with a favourite book, or a child’s drawing and a favourite photo of her with a small glass filled with crayons. Here’s a cute idea: Hang an empty frame around a small ledge, and use it to display a small vase with fresh flowers. Another idea: Hang an empty frame in your front hall, install hooks in it for keys, and call it “artful organization.”

Mirror, mirror.
Beautiful mirrors look great on any wall – grouping them has an interesting effect, too. Look for mirrors you like at garage sales, auctions and antique shops.

Use snapshots as art.
Take a cue from the design shows on TV: an inexpensive way to create striking, highly personal art is to play with photos you love. Scan or colour copy your favorites, crop them in interesting ways (half a face or part of a flower are okay), then blow them up to 11×14 or bigger, and have them matted and framed for an edgy, sophisticated look.

Go cheap and cheerful.
Hang anything you like: photos from calendars, postcards, letters, baby clothes, pieces of pretty fabric. Are you a book lover? Scan or colour copy the covers of your favorite novels and hang them in a literary grouping near the spot where you most like to read. Or if you’re into wine, display the labels from some memorable bottles.

The only limit to interesting walls is your imagination. Hope we’ve given you some good ideas to start with – now go forth and decorate!
Callout: “Walls are a great big canvas you can use to express yourself, have fun, and really add personality to your space.”