Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mold -- What Is It and Why Do We Care?

Why do we care about mold in the house? What's the big deal, you may ask?

Damage to materials is one concern. Materials can get stained or discoloured, and over time they are ruined. Moldy paper and cardboard disintegrate over time. Fabrics are damaged. Continued mold growth can indicate moisture conditions in the house that are favourable for the growth of fungi that cause wood rot and structural damage.

When molds are growing inside the home, you have health concerns about which to worry because molds release chemicals and spores.

Health experts say that, depending on the type of mold in the home, the amount and the degree of exposure, and the health condition of the occupant, the health effects of mold can range from being insignificant to causing allergic reactions and illness. Pregnant women, infants, the elderly and those with health problems, such as respiratory disease or a weakened immune system, are more at risk with exposure to mold. Consult your doctor if you believe there is someone at risk.

How Can You Tell If It's Mold?

Discoloration is a sign of mold. However, all discoloration is not due to mold. Carpeting near baseboards, for example, can be stained by outdoor pollutions entering the home. Stains or soot may also be caused by the smoke from burning candles or cigarettes.

Mold may be any colour: black, white, red, orange, yellow, blue or violet. Dab a drop of household bleach onto a suspected spot. If the stain loses its colour or disappears entirely, it may be mold. If there is no change, it probably isn't mold.

Sometimes molds are hidden and can't be seen. However, a musty or earthy smell often indicates the presence of molds. However, a smell may not be present for all molds. Even when you don't notice a smell, wet spots, dampness or evidence of a water leak are indications of moisture problems and mold may follow, if it isn't already present.

What Are Molds?

Molds are microscopic fungi, a group of organisms which also include mushrooms and yeast. Fungi are highly adapted to grow and reproduce rapidly, producing spores and mycelia in the process.

We encounter mold everyday. Foods spoil because of mold. Leaves decay and pieces of wood lying on the ground rot due to mold. That fuzzy black growth on wet window sills is mold. Paper or fabrics stored in a damp place get a musty smell that is due to the action of molds.

Some molds can be useful to people, such as penicillin and some food (i.e. yogurt). Molds are undesirable when they grow where we don't want them, such as in homes. Over 270 species of mold have been identified in Canadian homes.

Molds will grow if we provide them with the moisture and nutrients. If we keep things dry, mold doesn't grow. High moisture levels can be the result of water coming in from outside, through the floor, walls or roof, plumbing leaks, or even from moisture produced by the people living in the home, from things like bathing, washing clothes or cooking. Water enters the building when there is a weakness or failure in the structure. Moisture accumulates within the home when there isn't enough ventilation to expel it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Canadian Average Home Prices Up In Third Quarter

Home prices in Canada's resale real estate market continued to grow modestly through the third quarter in most major cities, according to a house price survey report recently released by Royal LePage Real Estate Services. This dissimilar Canadian trend is in stark contrast to the housing market woes that continue to plague the United States.

The year 2007 marked the peak of Canada's longest sustained residential real estate market expansion. It was a period characterized by higher-than-normal annual unit sales, constrained listings supply, and in many cases, sharp price increases. It is not surprising that the regions that had experienced the largest and quickest rise in home value are now experiencing easing price appreciation trends, as their markets return to more balanced conditions.

From coast to coast, strong fundamentals, such as favourable rates of employment, solid local economies, and the continuing availability of affordable mortgage financing, have positioned Canada's housing market to weather the storm south of the border and allow the country to continue to chart its own course.

"Canada's housing market is holding up well, with resilient buyer demand supporting house prices that continue to inch upwards. While rate of price appreciation is obviously tempering across the entire country, it's important to underscore the fact that Canada's housing market is supported by markedly different and stronger economic fundamentals than those that American homeowners are wrestling with," said Phil Soper, president and chief executive, Royal LePage Real Estate Services.

"For the most part, Canadian home buyers have been able to shrug off the gloomy stories of economic woe from south of the border and are taking advantage of reasonable financing options and healthy levels of housing supply. Average house price appreciation curves are beginning to flatten, but this is a completely natural reaction to the explosive gains that characterized the market earlier this decade."

Soper added, "The Canadian housing market is on a very different path than that experienced by our American neighbours. Credit-worthy Canadians continue to have wide access to fairly priced mortgages. While we are not immune to the serious problems facing global credit markets, our financial institutions are in much better shape than mortgage providers in the U.S. In Canada, subprime or high-risk mortgages account for a small portion of our banks' portfolios and the mortgage approval process has many more checks and balances in place. As such, we should expect stability in Canada's real estate market."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Condominium Living: What You Need to Know When You're Buying New

What questions should prospective buyers of new condo units ask their lawyers, and ask them well before closing? The most important questions cover a basic trinity:
  • the real cost of both closing the deal and then living in that new condo each month;
  • exactly what you will get for the price you pay;
  • the rules by which you will have to abide if you do not want to face everything from neighbours pounding on the walls to the condo board suing you.

Real costs

When you buy a condo, you will take on mortgage payments, of course, but you will face other costs, both lump sums and monthly charges.

When is the best time to consider these costs? As early as possible during the 10-day recision period that follows the signing of the offer to purchase. Any time in those 10 days, you can back out if sticker shock sets in.

A new condo in the $200,000 range may carry total closing costs of $8,000 or more. That includes not just expected costs: legal fees of perhaps $2,000, and both provincial and any applicable municipal land transfer taxes, but a slew of charges levied on the developer by the municipality and then passed on to you.

You, therefore, need to pay close attention to what you will have to fork over every month. Yes, there will be that mortgage payment, but there will also be a monthly maintenance fee that covers your share of the building's operating costs, and that probably does not include your electricity costs since, in most new condos, each unit has its own hydro meter.

You may also face user fees for things that you might expect to be free. That might include a fee to use the party room, or a fee to have your parents or grandchildren stay the night in the guest suite.

What you are getting

If the extra cash required on closing comes as a shock, so might the look of your suite when you finally move in. Don't assume that the finishes and fixtures you see in the model suite or artist's renderings will be the ones that you get in your suite. They may be upgrades. Remember, never assume.

And don't expect your suite to be a mirror image of those model suites, even if they have similar layouts. The model suite may be 1,150 sq. ft., compared with your 1,100 sq. ft.

You have to ask if those are the appliances or the faucets or the tiles you are paying for, or if they are upgrades. You have to know just what a 10-foot-by-10-foot room really looks like.

Purchasers should also understand that occupation and closing dates may well be delayed. Have your lawyer explain the Tarion Warranty Corporation rules governing delays and have a standby plan if your condo is delayed.

Rules and regulations

When it comes to condos, your home is definitely not your castle. Every project is going to have written rules that are aimed at guaranteeing all residents have quiet enjoyment of their homes.

That can mean a limit on the kind, number and size of family pets. It can mean no barbecuing on balconies. It can mean limits on the number of people living in a suite, when, how and with whom you can use the pool, how loud you can play your sound system, and even what colour you can paint your front door.

It is up to you, the buyer, to know all these things before you close the deal. You want to avoid surprises.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tax Assessments Get A New Look

The Municipality Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) has redesigned the 2008 property assessment notice to make it easier to read and understand. This year's assessment notice will include the following:

* the assessed value of the property for each of the next four tax years
* the percentage by which the property has increased or decreased in value since the last assessment update in 2005, and the average percentage by which properties across the municipality have changed in value
* a history of past adjustments, if any, made by MPAC through a request for the reconsideration process, or the assessment review board to the assessed value of the property, and whether these are reflected in the current assessment
* details about the property, including lot size, square footage, year of construction
* a user ID and password that can be used to access About MyProperty
* the address of the nearest MPAC local office where questions can be answered and concerns addressed in person
* the toll-free phone number for MPAC's customer contact centre.

A brochure is being mailed with each notice, explaining how property owners can determine if their assessment is accurate and, if they feel it isn't, what options are available to them.

For more information, taxpayers can call the MPAC customer contact centre at 1-866-296-MPAC (6722). This is toll-free.

Property Tax Assessments to Rise

Residential property owners in Ontario can expect an average assessment increase of five per cent in 2009, the first year of a four-year phase-in plan.

"Residential property values have increased by an average of about 20 per cent across Ontario since 2005, when the last assessment update was done," says Carl Isenburg, president and chief administrative officer of the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC).

With a four-year phase-in, taxpayers will see an average assessment increase of five per cent next year.

An increase in assessment does not necessarily mean an increase in property taxes. If the assessed value of a home has increased by the same percentage as the average in the municipality, there might be no increase in the property taxes paid by a taxpayer.

The phase-in program doesn't apply to decreases in assessed value. The full amount of a decrease will be applied during the 2009 tax year.

"Our values are based on actual sales and trends in real estate markets across the province," Isenburg explains. Municipalities establish tax rates that are applied to assessed values to pay for local services and the provincial government sets rates for the education portion of the tax.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Energy Efficient Renovations and Your Return on Investment, Part II

Following Friday's post, here are some important tips to keep in mind when thinking about making any home improvements to your home. These tips are according to the AIC.

* Renovations that add features to a home that other homes in the neighbourhood already have, such as a second bathroom, have a higher recovery rate than features not shared by neighbouring properties.

* Renovations done on a home with a lower market value than the others in the neighbourhood provide a higher recovery rate than renovations done on a home which is worth more than neighbouring properties.

* Poorly done renovations may have no positive effect. In fact, they may actually reduce the value of the home.

* Ensuring that a house is in good repair and well maintained is essential. However, renovations done on a home which has maintenance problems will have much less of a bearing on its resale price.

Here is what homeowners can expect to get back at resale for the most common home improvements, according to the AIC:

Home Upgrade ROI (%)
Kitchen upgrade 75 - 100
Bathroom upgrade 75 - 100
Interior painting 50 - 100
Roof replacement 50 - 80
Replacement of furnace/heat system 50 - 80
Expansion (addition of family room) 50 - 75
Doors and windows 50 - 75
Adding a deck 50 - 75
Install hardwood floor 50 - 75
Adding a garage 50 - 75

A calculator is offered on the Resource Centre page of AIC's RENOVA website ( and it can help you get a better idea of the ROI you can expect for a variety of home improvement projects. The site shows a payback range in dollars and as a percentage of what you plan to pay for the upgrade. Homeowners can choose from among the 20 most popular home improvements.

For more information, give me a call and I'd be happy to help you out (613-725-1171).

Friday, November 14, 2008

Energy Efficient Renovations and Your Return on Investment, Part I

Realtors are often asked to suggest improvements that will make their clients' homes more saleable and provide the biggest return on investment (ROI).

Kitchen and bathroom upgrades still offer some of the best ROI. However, now, according to the 2008 Appraisal Institute of Canada (AIC) RENOVA survey, energy efficiency upgrades are top on the list of highest paybacks. AIC surveys its members every second year and then compiles a list of renovations that yield the highest recovery rate, according to the opinion of professional appraisers. Recovery rate is what is defined as the likely increase in a home's resale value which could be attributed to a renovation as a proportion of the cost of the renovation. For instance, if a $10,000 renovation increases the home's value by $6,000, the recovery rate would be 60 per cent.

For instance, refurbished kitchens and bathrooms can typically bring in between 75 and 100 per cent of the investment at resale, provided the renovations are professional and tastefully done.

Since energy savings are on the minds of most people these days, this year's AIC survey asked respondents to rate five energy-efficient upgrades in terms of their influence on the resale value of a home. 'Green' renovations were cited most frequently as having an average recovery rate of 61 per cent. High efficiency windows received the highest level of agreement among respondents as the energy-saving home improvement that would have a significant positive impact on the appraised value of a home.

The type of heating system, heating system efficiency and insulation were also considered to make a significant difference. Efficient hot water heaters, on the other hand, were judged to have only minimal influence on a home's resale value.

Several other improvements were identified as having higher recovery rates, including using neutral paint colours (67 per cent), the addition of a cooking island in the kitchen (65 per cent), and installing a Jacuzzi or whirlpool bath separate from the shower stall (64 per cent). Spa-style showers were cited as being very popular upgrades. However, while stylish and trendy, their recovery rate is at a low 36 per cent. Not surprisingly, adding a swimming pool also scored very low. In fact, the addition of a pool, hot tub or skylights were not only considered to contribute very little to the resale price of a home, they sometimes had a negative effect.

Tomorrow, I will elaborate on other renovations and upgrades and what they will get you when you sell your home.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

October Stats for Ottawa's Housing Market -- Slowdown in Progress

Members of the Ottawa Real Estate Board sold 961 residential properties in October through the Board’s Multiple Listing Service® system compared with 1,094 in October 2007, a decrease of 12.2 per cent. There were 1,206 sales in September 2008.

“The resale market in Ottawa is easing back to around 2006 levels. Year-to-date, Ottawa’s resale home sales are ahead of where they were at the end of October 2006, and sale prices nudged upwards once again last month. At the end of October, 12,619 residential properties had been sold through MLS® this year, compared to 12,217 at the same time in 2006,” said Board President Heather Skuce.

The average price of residential properties, including condominiums, sold in October in the Ottawa area was $280,470, an increase of 2.2 per cent over October 2007. The Board cautions that average price information can be useful in establishing trends over time but should not be used as an indicator that specific properties have increased or decreased in value. The average price is calculated based on the total dollar volume of all properties sold.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


This site has been created for anyone who needs and wants information on buying or selling a home in Ottawa, Ontario. In this day and age of economic turmoil and concerns about the housing market in general, I thought this might be a good way to get regular and current updates out to everyone about the Ottawa market, as well as numerous tips and articles related to real estate and home ownership.

If you don't see something here that you want to see, please drop me a line and let me know. Or you can reach me at Royal LePage Team Realty, 613-725-1171.

Thanks for dropping by, and welcome!