Friday, May 1st, 2015
The spring selling season got off to a sunny start in March with the sale pace reaching an 18-month high.

Existing home sales rose to more than 6% in March.

Watch the Video to learn more!

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015
It seems so simple, but picking a paint color is one of the biggest obstacles my clients have when updating their homes. Once they realize they're really picking an overall palette, they're positively paralyzed.

I've been part of the process in thousands of homes, and it really is easier than most people think. Answer a few questions, make a few quick decisions, and then narrow those decisions down to an ultimate choice. I usually give myself a week to make a final decision.

What Do You Like, and How Do You Want to Feel?

Flipping through magazines and websites can be a big help when you're looking for inspiration, but first, take a minute to answer two important questions that people often forget: What are your favorite colors, and how do you want to feel in your home?

Are you looking for a serene oasis from the world or a fun and funky vibe? Finding yourself on that spectrum and considering the colors most likely to take you there is where you want to start. We react to color on such a gut level that instinct will serve you well. If you're really having a tough time, head to the closet and note the colors of your favorite clothes. Check out the bedding and the art on the walls. You'll be surprised how quickly you see a pattern that resonates. Choose three colors to get started.

What Are the Elements You Can't Control?

Now, factor in the elements of the architecture and design that you can't change. Cabinets, carpet, floors and furniture are more permanent fixtures, and it's easier - and more affordable - to paint around those things rather than remodeling just to match the paint. Now, which of your three colors come off the list? Decide quickly, be brutal, and keep moving. You can do this!

Which Rooms Can You See from Other Rooms?

Even if you're not working with an open floor plan, you want to consider everything in your line of sight as you choose colors for particular rooms. This won't necessarily result in removing any of the colors from the list, but you may end up choosing a different tint or shade of the color you like for another room in your sight line.

Are You Ready to Commit? (You Still Get to Pick Three!)

Time to make a call. Start with your three main paint chips, and then choose one or two of its neighbors on either side to give you a spectrum of the colors you like. This will give you options for accent colors or for picking a broader whole-house color palette. The chips will look different in the store than they will at home, so head home and tape them up somewhere that gets some natural light, so you get a sense of how they look in all kinds of light. Remove the "non-contenders" as soon as you can until you're down to one chip for at least two of your three colors.

Can Your Choices Pass a Test?

This is a crucial part of the process. Pick up an eight-ounce sample of your chosen colors and brush some on every wall they're intended for. Depending on the light, one color will often look like two different shades when painted on different walls. Live with them for at least three days - viewing them morning, noon and night - again noting the difference in shades under different light sources, and start narrowing.

If you're still having trouble deciding, vow to eliminate one color a day. Remember, you can always change paint, and you've already chosen colors you actually like.

Do You Want a Different Look Between Upstairs and Downstairs?

If you're working with a two-story layout, you're no doubt trying to decide if you want a different color upstairs. Many of my clients do, often choosing warmer, cozier shades for their more private spaces. If possible, try to look for colors somewhere on the spectrum of your anchor color. But whatever you choose, just repeat the process upstairs.

Do You Have Any Neutral Nooks?

Stairwells that connect your two living areas, small hallways and the other nooks and crannies of the house where colors come together are often best left in a neutral shade to avoid clashing. For these spaces, look at shades of white, beige, or "greige," a taupey color that will work with just about anything. Believe it or not, our eyes want an occasional rest from color, and this is a great way to achieve that, and bring the colors you do use into more sharp relief.

Hopefully these questions will help you develop a palette that's a perfect reflection of your personality. If you have any of your own suggestions, please share them in the comments!

Interior designer Kerrie Kelly writes on home décor for The Home Depot. Kerrie is an award-winning designer and the author of Home Decor: A Sunset Design Guide. To view a wide variety of Home Depot paint and trim colors, you can visit the company's website.

Copyright © 2015 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015
A new survey of first-time buyers in Canada reveals they are more financially savvy than the general population, well-educated, employed and married or in a common-law relationship. Most of them are millennials (34 or younger) and they share the desire of their parents to own their homes.

The survey, commissioned by mortgage insurer Genworth Canada, "shows that today's first-time buyers have their eyes wide open, their hands firmly on their pocketbook and are thinking hard before assuming the responsibility of homeownership," says Stuart Levings, president and CEO of Genworth Canada.

Rising prices have raised concerns about affordability across the country but especially in Vancouver and Toronto, where the average price for a detached home now exceeds $1 million. The high prices and warnings that interest rates could rise and prices could fall are not deterring first-time buyers, who are taking a hard look at the market and their own finances before making the jump into homeownership.

The survey says first-timers are managing their debt carefully, by not taking on additional debt since buying their home. One-third have been able to reduce their mortgage debt by increasing payments or making lump-sum payments.

"With good incomes, solid jobs and a financial partner with whom to share the responsibility of homeownership, most first-time homebuyers generate a positive profile from the perspective of a mortgage insurer," says Levings.

At a recent conference where the survey was unveiled, Levings said that since the federal government tightened mortgage insurance regulations, the quality of first-time buyer applications has improved. "There has been a big focus on safety to qualify (applicants)," he said. "We have a more responsible, high-quality homebuyer today than what we would have seen in 2007 and 2008."

Erica Nielsen, a vice-president at RBC, told the conference that "as a lender, we take a lot of time to stress-test our portfolio, looking at interest rate shocks as well as other micro-economic factors. We feel comfortable with the performance of our portfolio."

However, the survey did show that nine per cent of respondents said they had to draw on their savings to get by, and four per cent said they had to borrow money to get by.

How are most first-timers coming up with their down payment? The survey says they have higher incomes than the general population, with 31 per cent having household incomes of more than $100,000. Almost seven in 10 paid for their down payment from savings or non-registered investments, while 39 per cent made a withdrawal from their RRSP.

A growing number of them -- almost 30 per cent -- are getting gifts or loans from family members, particularly in the cities where homes cost the most.

Levings said, "The parents have a lot of equity and sometimes that is being drawn out through a line of credit so the kids can get into a home."

Nielsen said that because interest rates are so low, "many parents are finding the best place to fund (their children's) down payment may be from their own home, because it's so cost-effective to borrow.

Levings added that many baby boomers are tapping their home equity for renovations, second homes or investment properties, so it's not surprising to see some of that money going to help out their children.

A recent report about generation trends in luxury real estate by Sotheby's International Realty Canada says that in the luxury market, "Despite above-average incomes… 85 to 95 per cent of luxury buyers are reliant on mortgages. The vast majority also receive outside financial assistance towards down payments, primarily from baby boomer parents." The report said that only a small number of Generation X (born from 1965 to 1979) buyers receive gifts or loans on their initial down payment.

David MacDonald of Environics Research Group, which conducted the survey, said that although the millennials are educated and used to researching financial and real estate matters on the Internet, they still want to consult professionals when buying a home. Asked where they found "important sources of information", the first-timers most often cited mortgage professionals, family/friends, bank/credit union representatives and real estate agents.

Phil Soper, president and CEO of Royal LePage Real Estate Services and another panel participant, was asked if for-sale-by-owner and discount real estate commission companies are gaining market share.

"Naw, they don't have a chance," he joked. "If you look at the percentage of people (buying a home) who are not using a licensed professional Realtor, it hasn't changed. It's about 10 per cent outside of Quebec and 50 per cent in Quebec" where private sales are a well-established tradition. That number hasn't grown, he said.

"Millennials want to work with professionals," said MacDonald. He said when it comes to personal finances, "when you start to see six digits in a row, you want to make sure you are doing the right thing so that means working with a financial advisor or a mortgage professional or a real estate agent to help you."

He says professionals working with millennials to buy a home should "open their eyes to the tools (that are available to them, such as mortgage calculators on the Internet) and show them the step-by-step process they need to go through to make a decision. Let them know it requires a little bit of work right now but it will all be worth it in the end."

Copyright © 2015 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, April 18th, 2015
The interior design industry has been trying for years to break homeowners' addiction to granite counters. They've introduced stainless, concrete, glass, quartz, wood, marble and other ideas to wean people away, but the alternative surfaces just don't have the luxury look that granite does.

If you're getting granite countertops for the first time, here are five things you need to know:

Choose the right stone. Granite is a general term that describes a type of granular igneous rock formed by cooled magma and indigenous minerals. Depending on where the granite is quarried, it can be stunning with streaks of gray, pink, red, green, blue or gold. The rarity of the vein of granite can drive up the price considerably, as well as the thickness and the type of fabrication you choose.

When you shop for granite, don't choose from a sample. You're basically buying the whole slab so that's how you should shop. Look only at whole slabs, as the fabricators will use as much as possible to match sections and to minimize waste. Sometimes it's possible to buy two or more slabs from the same lot. They are sliced just like pieces of toast so they can accommodate large kitchens. If they're put back to back, they form butterfly or mirror images of each other.

The beauty of granite is the movement of color and the pattern of streaks and dapples, so choose wisely. A strong graphic pattern will be highly energizing, while a softer color and pattern will be calming.

Hold the Dumb End of the Tape. Granite is sold by the square foot. You can get an idea of the number of square feet you need by multiplying length by width for each section of the kitchen, such as countertops, backsplash, and an island. Then add the square feet of each section together.

But that's not all there is to measuring. There's an edge allowance, seam allowance, sinks and other things to consider. You can tell your salesperson how many square feet you think you'll need, and he or she can direct you to slabs and lots that are large enough to fulfill your order. Once you choose, the salesperson will "hold" the slab with a deposit, until the fabricator can come out to measure exactly.

Meanwhile, your cabinets should be installed before the fabricator comes out. Most appliances fit under the countertops, but if you're installing a new sink or cooktop, the fabricator will need those measurements, too. Let the fabricator take the measurements. That way the fit is guaranteed.

Be aware of slab thickness. Not all granite slabs are sliced the same, so expect to pay more for a three-inch thickness than a one-inch thickness. If you choose a thick granite, make sure your cabinets can support that much weight.

Next, you'll choose an edge that is bullnose, ogee or beveled, or raw-edged. The finish can also change the look of the granite. Polished granite is glossy and reflective. Honed granite is a smooth matte finish. Leather is a textured finish.

Ask for as few seams as possible. If you're doing a large area like a kitchen, you want to use as few seams as possible so that the flow of the granite pattern and color is less interrupted. A seamless slab in a kitchen looks beautiful and holds more value than seamed pieces because it's like a work of art. Ask the fabricator if any parts of the job can be done without a seam. Sometimes it's very possible, depending on the design of your kitchen.

To save money, you can choose granite tiles, which is like a tile, so there will be no seams, but they add little value to your home. You can also order from scraps the dealer may have leftover from other jobs, but they're only be suitable for small jobs where you don't have to match another granite, such as a powder bath or laundry.

Granite requires care. Granite is fairly heat-resistant and easy to clean, but you should keep in mind that it's also porous. It can crack, chip, stain and show scratches.

Don't put hot pans directly on the surface; use a trivet or hot pad. Use only granite-safe cleansers. Don't use bleach, ammonia products, scouring pads, or anything acidic such as lemon or vinegar to clean. Don't use dish soap to clean as it can leave a dulling film on the surface. Spills of wine, juice and tomato sauce should be cleaned up quickly.

Some finishes such as polish act as more of a seal, but you can also purchase granite sealers at your local market. Just wipe it on once a year or so to keep your countertops looking their best.

If you're wondering whether your countertop needs sealing, spill some clean water or the surface and cover it with a paper towel. If it leaves a stain, it will go away eventually, but you'll know it's time for sealant.

Copyright © 2015 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved

Saturday, April 18th, 2015
ERA Real Estate and HGTV reported 46 percent of consumers see smart-home technology as important for their current and future residences. But luxury homebuyers are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. According to Digital Interiors, 94 percent of buyers surveyed would sacrifice 1,000 square feet of living space for more technology in their new home. Oversized houses are no longer the driving trend in the luxury real estate market and agents are under pressure to respond to the demand. Here’s what affluent homebuyers are looking for and which gadgets are must-haves.

Get a Smart Thermostat

Outfit your listings for luxury with smart-home additions like a smart thermostat . The Nest programs itself based on your preferences and can adjust whenever you leave to conserve energy. Your clients can control the system right from their smartphones. Owners can warm up the living room before an evening entertaining clients. Talk about how they can jet set to their vacation home and simply check-in on their property as needed. The idea behind a smart thermostat is really about controlling the overall climate of the home as opposed to an exact temperature.

Enhance your Home Surveillance

Home security systems have always dabbled in the high-tech world of smart automation. In the past, most alarms simply triggered an annoying sound and contacted the police at signs of danger.

Today, home security cameras keep an eye on the inside and outside of the home with wireless cameras. A wireless camera system can be mounted to the wall or ceiling and monitored remotely. Home buyers are sure to be wowed by its sleek and discreet design. Some home security companies, like Lorex Technology, even offer subscription-free monitoring options, yet another attractive feature for potential buyers.

New owners can keep an eye on their home from vacation, at work or on a spontaneous outing without worry.

Go High-Tech Culinary

Updating a kitchen has always been a recommended way to raise a home’s price tag and attract buyers. But affluent home shoppers are looking for more than just new appliances and chef’s kitchens. The latest technology trends include no-touch faucets and smart refrigerators that can alert you when you’re running low on groceries. The LG model features an internal camera to check on its contents, built-in Wi-Fi to connect to your mobile device and offers available accessories that can be 3-D printed. Other high-tech touches like Bluetooth smart cooking thermometers tell your mobile device when your food is ready to create perfect dishes every time.

Upgrade your Luxury Entertainment

Just about every home has a flat-screen television; some piped for surround sound and home theaters. Let your clients take entertaining to a new level by controlling everything from one device like Savant. Your clients can adjust the lighting, change the channel on your smart TV and turn on music. A system like Savant can also help monitor your home’s security and adjust the climate as needed. While clients are getting ready upstairs for an evening with friends, they can adjust the entertainment area and living room downstairs to create a luxurious atmosphere.

Copyright © 2015 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.