Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ontario homeowners are showing more enthusiasm for home renovations, according to a new RBC survey

TORONTO, Oct. 29, 2008 (Canada NewsWire via COMTEX) -- RY | Quote | Chart | News | PowerRating -- Ontario homeowners are showing more enthusiasm for home renovations, according to a new RBC survey. The poll, conducted by Ipsos Reid, found that 71 per cent of Ontarians surveyed plan to renovate within the next two years, just above the national average of 70 per cent and up five percentage points from 2007. Of those polled, 75 per cent said that if their homes were in need of major renovations, they would still rather assume the work themselves, than sell and move.
"Despite the current economic uncertainty, we can expect to see a moderate increase in renovation activity in Ontario over the next couple years," says Catherine Adams, vice-president, Home Equity Financing. "For those making renovation plans, it's important to carefully consider all the potential costs involved, obtain quotes, look for the best financing options and set a realistic budget that you'll be able to stick to."

Among homeowners who have completed renovation projects in the last two years, the poll found that 67 per cent of respondents in Ontario had a budget for their renovations. Of those, 46 per cent said they went over budget, by an average of 25 per cent. In fact, Ontarians were more likely than homeowners in other regions to say going over budget was their biggest renovation mistake or disaster (28 per cent). Despite budget overages, the majority of Ontarians (72 per cent) are likely to pay for most or all of their renovations with cash or savings.

The average amount that Ontario homeowners plan to spend on their renovations is also up over last year from $10,489 to $12,306 - well above the national average of $10,853 and just shy of Alberta ($12,420) which has the largest average budget spend in the country.

The most popular choices for renovations and home improvements among Ontarians include new floors (42 per cent), bathrooms (40 per cent), and exterior landscaping (36 per cent). Kitchen counter tops (30 per cent) and decks and patios (26 per cent) were also among the most likely makeover choices.

Eco-friendly renovations

More than three-quarters of Ontario homeowners (78 per cent) would choose an environmentally-friendly approach if it would save money in the long run, even if it costs more now. Of those polled, 56 per cent would consider "living off the grid" - living in a self sufficient manner without reliance on public utilities, while 67 per cent of Ontario homeowners would consider becoming 'net zero' household, enabling their homes to produce at least as much energy as they use. The majority of Ontarians (78 per cent) believe that 'green' improvements would increase the value of their home.

<< Intentions among Regions Average Spend ------------------------ ------------- Ontario 71% $12,306 BC 69% $10,064 Alberta 74% $12,422 Sask/Man 71% $ 9,743 Quebec 67% $ 8,463 Atlantic Canada 73% $10,042 Renovate or Sell/Move --------------------- Region Renovate Sell Ontario 75% 19% BC 75% 19% Alberta 71% 23% Sask/Man 75% 17% Quebec 74% 17% Atlantic Canada 78% 15% >>

These are some of the findings of an RBC poll conducted by Ipsos Reid between August 13 and August 18, 2008. The online survey is based on a randomly selected representative sample of 3,733 adult Canadian homeowners, including 1,423 Ontario residents. With a representative sample of this size for Ontario, the results are considered accurate to within 2.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had the entire adult population of Ontario been polled. These data were statistically weighted to ensure the sample's regional and age/sex composition reflects that of the actual Canadian population according to the 2006 census data.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Incomplete home renovations

Incomplete home renovations
Hard-up developers are giving up on unfinished homes, meaning a tidy profit for the next buyer

Susan Emmett
Pen y Bryn sits in a beautiful spot in the wilds of North Wales. Set in a bowl of rolling hills, with stunning views, it is an ideal location. Yet the condition of the property, which looks like a cross between a medieval castle in ruins and the remains of an old mine, is less than attractive.
It could be perfect – if only the work were complete. Sadly, the credit crunch and the banking crisis have taken their toll on the owners, Paul Hilton, 42, a sculptor from Liverpool, and his wife, Harpal Rai, 39, a fashion buyer. They cannot afford to finish the job.
“There is a huge amount to do,” Hilton says. “In the current market, there is no incentive to spend money I haven’t got finishing the place. Something has got to give.”
The couple’s mounting debt – they are also trying to sell their permanent home – means they cannot continue with their ambitious plans or dream of moving to a house in the country any time soon. They have had little choice but to call in the estate agents. The property is for sale at £350,000: still considerably more than they paid for it, but nothing like what they had hoped for.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How to Work Best with Your Renovation Coach

How to Work Best with Your Renovation Coach
By:Reiner Hoyer
Remodeling in Toronto is an exciting and rewarding experience. There are a lot of beautiful homes and apartments ready and waiting to accept a makeover!

The hardest choice is where to begin and then how to fit all the project components together to ensure you are completely happy with the outcome - within your desired time frames and within budget.

Remodeling may come easy to you and you may complete your project quickly and on budget. Or you may be like the rest of us and have a great plan, but no idea about how to begin to initiate the process - have you ever thought about hiring one of the highly qualified Renovation Coach in Toronto?

The thought of hiring someone to do something you think you should be able to do yourself is sometimes a little difficult, but how can a Renovation coach in Toronto help you?

Well to begin with, the job of a Renovation Coach is to act as a 'middle man', they find the best contractors available to do the particular job you need completed. General contractors are responsible for finding you the best most qualified contractor available that will help you to complete your dream remodeling project.

So you have decided to use some of your budget to access the services of a Renovation Coach to help you to complete your dream project, you need to get the best results for your money - but how?

The first thing you will need to remember is that you have to be ready to be completely open and honest with your communication. You will be relying on this person to achieve maximum results for you and you need to develop trust early in the relationship.

There are a number of things that you can do to establish a trusting relationship. You may begin to research the availability of good Renovation Consultants in Toronto with friends and family or perhaps at work. If people can recommend someone the next obvious step is to view their work, either in person or by looking at photographs, and then discuss in detail the overall professionalism of the Renovation Coach to get a better understanding of their work ethic. If you don't know anyone who has accessed the services of a Renovation Coach in Toronto, then do your own research, look for someone who specializes in the projects you require, set up a meeting with them and view their work.

The next thing you should do (if you haven't already) is confirm your plans. What do you want to achieve for your space, how much money do you have to spend and what time frames do you have in mind. Without these basic decisions, your project will either not begin or will end up costing you a lot of money and time!

Ensure you have details about the size of the space you want to change, information about your building and any building permits or local regulations that you need to abide by. Do the research! Make it easy for your contractor and put together a book of ideas full of your favourite materials, fabrics, colors and fittings! Take photographs of existing spaces that friends and family live in, visit art galleries to get a better idea of colors and textures, and really research thoroughly what you want.

A good Renovation Coach will help you to access sub contractors and products quickly and easily, and will be worth the money so that you can spend more time worrying about other things in your life. In saying this, however, verbally stress the importance of your budget and time frames - you don't want to spend more money than you need to.

Renovation Coaches have so much knowledge and access to the latest products, materials and technologies, try not to get too carried away with what they offer. Be really clear and upfront with all items that will potentially cost you money, no matter how attractive they appear. Hiring the services of a Renovation Coach has the potential to make your life stress free for the duration of the intended remodeling project.

If you embark on your project with a positive attitude, have a clear understanding of what you want and need, stick to your budget and time frames and maintain an open level of communication with your contractor you will be happy with the end result.
The Reno Coach

Is there a leader among you?

Is there a leader among you?
Michael Stern, Financial Post
Experts warn that businesses of all sizes in Canada face a succession crisis in the next few years as Baby Boomers plot their exit strategies. Most business leaders know this. But knowing it is one thing, taking action is something quite different: Sadly, it's still on the "to-do" list at many firms.

As Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, might say, "the urgent is getting in the way of the important." The many challenges of running a business preclude spending quality time preparing for succession. But the biggest rewards will accrue to the leaders who set aside day-to-day work to take steps to strengthen their business. It means taking a hard look at where it is going and what sort of skills the next generation of management will need.

If key executives are even beginning to think about leaving the company, now is the time to start managing that transition. It's a golden opportunity to determine where the company ought to be in five or 10 years and execute a plan. Most companies, rarely look more than a year ahead. But without long-term, committed effort, they are likely to be caught flat-footed when key employees decide to leave.

To focus your company on the future, first admit it's hard to do inhouse. You can't plan a major renovation when you're fighting fires. It's best to hire outside consultants or coaches who understand strategic planning and will take time to get to know your company. They not only bring expertise to bear, but also keep

you focused on the planning process despite the daily crises that pop up to distract you. With this help, start exploring the most crucial questions: How is its market changing? What will it look like in 10 years? What are the key long-term factors affecting the business? What are its principal strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats?

Then look at leadership: Focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the next level of leaders. This disconnect becomes most obvious when companies look ahead to life without the current leader and begin to recognize the gap between the needs of the business and the skills of potential successors. There may be no one internally who is leadership material. A chief executive should be a visionary, a motivator, not a "doer." Many skilled business people -- finance experts, sales directors, operations executives -- have trouble moving from managing functional teams to overseeing an entire company.

In my experience, promoting from within eliminates some of the unknowns that come with hiring externally, so companies should investigate all potential candidates. Many multi-talented people bloom slowly, like rare orchids. And those who seem to lack certain skills or experience might blossom under mentoring or coaching.

Permits proposed to curb renovation hassles

Permits proposed to curb renovation hassles
Helaine Becker came home from a trip a few years ago to find a neighbour doing a major renovation had built a construction fence down the middle of her driveway.

"They had the fence for nine months. They damaged our car, they flooded our basement and we never did receive any compensation for the damage," Becker said in an interview at City Hall.

Her family would have had to take the neighbours to court, she said; that would have been time-consuming, costly and stressful.

Toronto's licensing and standards committee decided yesterday that a permit system is needed to help homeowners like Becker who live next door to problem renovations.

Frequently, homeowners have to use their neighbours' property temporarily to put up scaffolding or move equipment when doing major excavation or construction.

A patchwork of rules across the city govern the neighbour's right to access, but most say your neighbour has the right to temporary use of your property if there's no other way to do the work.

Usually, neighbours work out an agreement. But when that doesn't happen, says the committee, the homeowner who is doing the work should have to get a permit and state how long the project will take before using the neighbour's property.

Under the proposal – which must still be approved by city council – the affected neighbour would get a chance to comment and city staff would inspect the property. The homeowner doing the work would have to promise to repair any damage done to the other property and post a deposit.

If the work isn't done by the deadline in the permit, or repairs aren't carried out in a timely way, the city could move in and do the repairs, keeping the deposit and charging any excess costs to the offending homeowner's property tax bill.

City staff said similar bylaws are already in place in Ottawa and Windsor. Only a handful of permits are issued each year because neighbours usually work things out on their own.

They estimated that no more than 100 permits a year would be needed in Toronto

Renos pay off for you and Mother Nature

Renos pay off for you and Mother NatureMaking environmentally friendly decisions when you spurce up your home could bring a big return on your investment, especially if you redo the loo or carry out kitchen upgrades
Posted -38 sec ago

Today's home renovations aren't just about making a house more stylish and comfortable; many projects are undertaken to reduce the impact a home has on the environment.

With the increasing demand for green living environments, homeowners no longer have to choose between whether to make their space look better or perform better.

Making eco-friendly decisions during renovations could potentially pay off in the future, according to a recent survey by Royal LePage. The survey found that making ecofriendly kitchen and bathroom renovations can result in up to a 100% return on your investment.

Thinking of renovating? Here are some ways to give your kitchen or bathroom an eco-friendly facelift.


While kitchen designs and redesigns are usually about fashion and function, a little green thinking can go a long way. Eco-friendly upgrades will not only benefit Mother Nature, they can bring improvements that reduce everything from waste disposal to allergens if you plan properly and choose the right materials.

Rachel Finer, a kitchen design specialist in Toronto, says the materials you use to upgrade your kitchen can greatly improve indoor air quality.

Materials such as formaldehyde, plastic and particle board can carry toxins capable of poisoning the air you breath and, in some cases, even the food you eat. Luckily, suppliers and manufacturers have taken this into consideration and now offer a variety of p ro d u c t s that can actually improve indoor air quality.

"There is definitely a trend toward all-natural components," says Finer, who points to features such as glass tiles and natural stone or butcher's block countertops. Other Earth-friendly products include exotic-looking cabinets that aren't made of endangered wood types and flooring materials such as reclaimed wood, cork and bamboo.

Finer has also noticed that people are becoming increasingly concerned about waste management and garbage disposal in their kitchens.

"Thirty years ago nobody talked about garbage," she says. "Now there are accessories everywhere" designed to make waste management easier and even more fashionable than ever before - from stainless-steel compost bins to slide-out drawers for recycle bins.

Continued After Advertisement Below


Planning to update your appliances? Be sure to look for Energy Star products. Appliances with this certification meet government energy-efficiency guidelines. Though the initial cost may be a little high, these appliances use less energy and water, which is not only good for the environment, it's also good for your wallet.


"When it comes to bathrooms, green means thinking about water conservation," says Shane Judd, product development expert for Kohler.

Judd notes that today's bathroom fixtures are much more efficient than they were 10 years ago.

One of the simplest ways to make your bathroom more environmentally friendly is to install a high-efficiency toilet, he says. By making the switch, you'll be consuming up to 20% less water than a regular toilet uses.

Another option is to install a high-efficiency showerhead. Comparable in cost to regular showerheads, these fixtures can consume up to 30% less water.

One of the cheapest ways to conserve water in your bathroom is to install a low-flow aerator on your faucet. "You'll be consuming up to 36% less water than with a standard faucet," says Judd. "And you really can't tell the difference. It's a simple and inexpensive solution. Simply unscrew the aerator and for a just a few dollars you've made an ecofriendly decision in your bathroom."

The good news is that in order to be environmentally friendly, you don't have to sacrifice style and performance.

"You really can look at design and style choice first, it shouldn't be a tradeoff," explains Judd. "You get expert design and style and the added benefit that it's also eco-friendly."

If your budget is a little more flexible, there are many stylish ways to up the green factor of your bathroom. When shopping for vanities and cabinetry, look for products made of renewable materials. Judd recommends searching out natural materials like bamboo or others that can be grown or engineered easily.

Not only are these pieces beautiful, they'll also improve your indoor air quality. And while they may be a little pricey, they are worth the investment, says Judd.

"They're not going to wear out and you won't find yourself having to replace them in the long run."

- - -


A Healthy House is bright, open, energy efficient and welcoming. It can be new or renovated, in downtown or suburbia. Wherever you find it, the Healthy House is characterized by five key elements.

1OCCUPANT HEALTH The Healthy Housing concept promotes superior quality of indoor air, water and lighting.

2ENERGY EFFICIENCY The Healthy House reduces energy use all year long. It minimizes heat loss in winter and gain in summer. It relies on efficient heating and ventilation systems, reduces the consumption of electricity and other fuels, and encourages the use of renewable energy. It also reduces the energy used in the manufacture of building materials and in house construction.

3RESOURCE EFFICIENCY The Healthy House makes efficient use of resources. It is also affordable and adaptable to changing needs. Efficient use is made of building materials, and construction waste is well managed. Durability of building components is essential. The Healthy House conserves resources, especially water and energy.


The Healthy House uses alternative water and wastewater systems, encourages site planning that reduces land requirements, promotes resource-efficient landscaping and considers broader community planning issues such as transportation.

5AFFORDABILITY For the Healthy House to succeed in the marketplace, it must be good for the owner, the builder and future generations. Many features of the Healthy House make it affordable, and its design makes it easily adaptable to its occupants' changing needs.

Source: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The 15th has come and gone, and we’re still not open

The 15th has come and gone, and we’re still not open
Posted on September 25, 2008 by Teo Paul
(Photo by Alexandra Sawka)I was walking by a friend’s place yesterday and she asked me if I was “getting close.” I stopped to think about it for a brief moment, as though maybe we were getting close, but then reality came back and whacked me on the head. All that came out was “no.” This restaurant opening is not easy; the hardest thing about it is that I have to rely on other people to get things done, yet if anything goes wrong, it’s my problem to fix because everybody has you by the noisettes, and they know it. This is my first attempt, and I have already made a handful of mistakes that are biting back.
Sometimes, I start thinking that I just ain’t cut right for the project, and I start missing the times and places where I could drift along without all this riding on me. But I have a ton of family support behind me, which helps a lot. I met my dad for lunch recently, and I hit the chardonnay. He told me about a time when we were in the backyard grilling quails on the barbecue for 30 teachers my mom had invited over for dinner. He was freaking out because the fire was weak and the birds were all over the grill. He kept asking me, “You think we can pull this off? You think we can pull this off? We can’t, we’re screwed, it’s a disaster.” Apparently, I just kept telling him, “Don’t worry. Relax, we will get it done.” He kept pressing: “How do you know? How do you know?” And I just said, “Because we have to.” It’s as simple as that—sort of cuts through all the crap. This train is going to be late, but it is going to hit the station. Simply because it has to.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Going Green on Renovations

Majority of Ontarians willing to spend more on a home with environmentally friendly features to save money in the future, according to TD Canada Trust Green Home Poll

TORONTO, Sep. 29, 2008 (Canada NewsWire via COMTEX) -- TD | Quote | Chart | News | PowerRating -- While we're not seeing solar panels and windmills on front lawns yet, the majority of Canadians are environmentally conscious when purchasing a new home or renovating their home, according to the second annual TD Canada Trust Green Home Poll. The biggest incentive for those Ontarians willing to spend more on environmentally friendly features is the potential saving on future energy bills (64%).
"Despite a slowing economy, two-thirds of Canadians are willing to pay more for a home that includes greener features," says Joan Dal Bianco, Vice President, Real Estate Secured Lending, TD Canada Trust. "This number is down only slightly from 2007, which shows that even when times are a bit tougher, the environment is still important to Canadians."

Fifty-nine per cent of Ontarians (57% of Canadians) are willing to spend 5 to 10% more on a home that includes environmentally friendly features. Although improving the state of the environment is an important factor, Ontarians say that what matters most when renovating a home is saving money in the future (44%), followed by the resale value of their home (30%).

"With the average Ontario home price at nearly 300,000, the fact that some Canadians are willing to spend 5 to 10% more on a home with green features is an indication that people are committed to environmental responsibility, especially energy savings down the road," says Dal Bianco.

Almost all Canadians are making their current homes more environmentally friendly. In fact, 93% of Ontarians have made improvements or will be making improvements in the next 12 months. The top improvement to making their home greener is replacing regular light bulbs with CFL light bulbs (76%), followed by applying weather-stripping and caulking to stop drafts (57%) and replacing, kitchen appliances with more energy-efficient models (53%). Eighty-two per cent of Ontarians have made or plan to make three or more improvements this year (77% nationally). Older Canadians (55 plus) are taking the most action when it comes to environmentally friendly home improvements.

Not surprisingly, environmental friendliness in and out of the home is key for the majority of Canadians. Results from the first TD Friends of the Environment Foundation 'How Green Are You?' Survey, conducted in May 2008, also revealed that Canadians take their environmental commitment seriously. According to the poll, 93% of Ontarians report that they recycle, with 49% of respondents stating that they recycle everything and 44% recycling when convenient. Overall, the 'How Green Are You?' Survey found that when it comes to being environmentally responsible, 98% of Ontarians give themselves a passing grade (compared to 96% nationally). When asked to grade their environmental friendliness, 27% gave themselves an "A" and 55% gave themselves a "B." Only 1% gave themselves an "F" and said that they did not really care about the environment.

The TD Canada Trust Green Home Poll found that nearly all Canadians feel that the government should create initiatives to make residential construction greener. In fact, 94% of Ontarians agree with environmentally friendly change being brought into building codes for new buildings and 83% agree with building code changes for renovations. Canadians are less likely to agree with government initiatives if they directly have to pay for them. Sixty-nine per cent of Ontarians disagree with a carbon tax for "non-green" homes.

Two-thirds of Ontarians (67%) would consider an environmental assessment prior to finalizing their renovation plans. Of those willing to consider an environmental assessment, 51% would pay under $400 for the assessment while one-third would like the assessment to be free.

Many banks offer incentives for homeowners either purchasing a home or renovating a home. TD Canada Trust has two Green Home products for those who are planning to purchase a home or leverage the equity in their existing home. Both the TD Canada Trust Green Mortgage and the TD Canada Trust Green Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) offer a lower interest rate and rebates on certain purchases, while giving back to the environment. The cost of a residential energy efficient assessment is eligible for a rebate.

About the TD Canada Trust Green Home Poll

The TD Canada Trust Green Home Poll surveyed adult Canadians from across the country, to explore the relationship between the environment and home purchase or home renovations. The survey was conducted by Angus Reid Strategies on July 31, 2008 with English and French speaking Canadians 18+, using the Angus Reid Custom Express. The sample size includes 1,000 men and women.

About TD Bank Financial Group

The Toronto-Dominion Bank and its subsidiaries are collectively known as TD Bank Financial Group. TD Bank Financial Group is the seventh largest bank in North America by branches and serves approximately 17 million customers in four key businesses operating in a number of locations in key financial centres around the globe: Canadian Personal and Commercial Banking, including TD Canada Trust; Wealth Management, including TD Waterhouse and an investment in TD Ameritrade; U.S. Personal and Commercial Banking through TD Banknorth and Commerce Bank (to be known together as TD Bank); and Wholesale Banking, including TD Securities. TD Bank Financial Group also ranks among the world's leading on-line financial services firms, with more than 5.5 million on-line customers. TD Bank Financial Group had CDN$509 billion in assets as of July 31, 2008. The Toronto-Dominion Bank trades on the Toronto and New York Stock Exchanges under the symbol "TD", as well as on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
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SOURCE: TD Canada Trust

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Nobody is protected from fraud,"

Fraud can turn dream home purchases into disaster

By ERIC SHACKLETON The Canadian Press
Sun. Oct 19 - 4:46 AM
One of Halifax’s large, older homes on Inglis Street is shown in this file photograph. (Ted Pritchard / Herald)

TORONTO — The purchase of a dream home is probably the greatest investment in many people’s lives, but beware — even with such a major purchase, fraud could be lurking just around the corner, say experts in the real estate industry.

This joy killer comes in many forms — lawyer negligence, title defects, title liens such as unpaid utility bills, property encroachments, title fraud such as forged documents and land survey errors.

"Nobody is protected from fraud," says Ray Leclair, vice-president of TitlePLUS, a division of LawPRO, the liability insurer for lawyers.

"Unfortunately, fraud is on the increase," not just in urban areas but even in small communities, he said in a recent interview.

"It’s like a lottery. There’s very little chance of it happening to you. But if it does happen, it has a huge impact."

To help protect themselves, prospective homeowners should make sure they have title insurance and also get their own credit report.

People can gain a lot of "peace of mind" for as little as a premium of $200 for title insurance, said Leclair.

A credit report can be obtained from a credit reporting agency for free, said Gary Siegel, regional manager in Calgary for Invis one of Canada’s largest mortgage brokerages.

For those who also want to know their score — a breakdown of the factors influencing their credit report — agencies charge around $20, not much to pay for some security, he said.

"With the amount of identity theft that we’re seeing these days, it’s probably a good idea to get your own credit report once a year," he said.

TitlePLUS’s title insurance policies cost between $200 and $300 a year depending on the value of a home.

The premium for a single family home valued at between $200,000 and $500,000 in Toronto is $260 plus taxes. For a condominium of equivalent value, the premium is $195 plus taxes.

"The cost may be reduced because generally title insurers will exempt some search requirements, a saving to the client who must pay for the searches," said Leclair.

Title insurance covers unknown title defects that prevent clear ownership; liens such as the previous owner’s unpaid debts from utilities, mortgages, property taxes or condominium charges; encroachments such as a neighbour’s fence being on the property; title fraud including forged documents; errors in surveys and public records.

One of the areas to watch out for fraud is the home renovation business, a spot where title insurance might come in handy.

Leclair cited a recent case where a homeowner in Toronto, who set out to do some renovations, discovered that an addition to the home was not properly done, and not under permit.

After an investigation,TitlePLUS is "now forecasting basically spending $400,000 to replace the whole addition," said Leclair.

"There’s been a big kick in the last few years of renovating your home," he said.

This "creates a lot of situations where people think they’re getting a renovated home which looks very nice, but which may in fact be camouflaging a lot of problems" - renovations done without permits, without proper inspections and not up to code, said Leclair.

"This is one of the areas where title insurance would be a huge benefit," he said.

Another area where fraudsters like to hang out is the mortgage business.

"All financial services in Canada these days seem to be subject to fraud," said Siegel.

One of the most common schemes, he said, "is where someone says to you, I’ll give you $5,000. You just need to apply for this mortgage as though you’re going to buy the house and live in it."

"Don’t worry about it we’ll just take over your mortgage and we’ll look after that."

That is an illegal activity, said Siegel. But "people don’t necessarily know that."

While the actual number of cases of real estate fraud is low — about 10 per year out of about half a million house transactions — it is on the rise, especially in what has been until recently a hot housing market.

It is costing financial institutions, mortgage lenders, and homeowners hundreds of millions of dollars, figures show.

"Fraud is being picked up by some organized crime organizations that are seeing great avenues," said Leclair, a lawyer in the real estate market for over 20 years.

People who commit fraud are also more sophisticated these days, he said. They know that identification is required, so they are showing up with falsified identification.

To protest themselves, some lawyers are getting drivers’ licence readers, said Leclair. One lawyer nixed a case of fraud in Toronto this summer.

"His staff swiped the licence permit through and the information that came back from the (Transport) ministry was not the same as that on the card."

While you might think that fraudulent behaviour is only confined to major urban areas such as Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver or Halifax, it is also being reported in rural areas, said Leclair.

He recalled a recent incident in a small community about a four-hour drive from Saskatoon, where a lawyer discovered fraudulent behaviour in the sale of a home in the $100,000 range — "a very average property in the middle of nowhere."

The lawyer "smelled that there was something wrong with this transaction and as she tried to get more information, she discovered that this was a case of fraud."

Some tips to help avoid fraud:

•Get a real estate lawyer upfront, who can fill you in on all the parties involved in the transaction and how the game is played.

•Do due diligence such as searching the title, going over land surveys. All transactions need a paper trail.

•Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet, unless you have initiated the contact or know with whom you’re dealing.

•If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Before you reveal any personal information, find out how it will be used and if it will be shared.
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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pump up your Home Remodel with a Renovation Coach

Pump up your Home Remodel with a Renovation Coach

Browsing the news, a phrase caught my eye - “Renovation Coach“. What a marvelous idea! Personal coaching & training has been all the rage. So now you can get a coach for your home improvement projects?

I imagined a “Renovation Coach” as someone who calls you early on Saturday morning to get you back on the renovation horse when you’ve fallen off or have an unpleasant maintenance job to do. Or gets you up at 6am to go to Home Depot for those needed materials. Or trains you with that nifty new nail gun before you hurt yourself.

Well … not really. A Renovation Coach is the same as a “Renovation Consultant”, which although less catchy is every bit as useful. In 2007, the Renovation Coach or Consultant is an idea whose time has come.

Previously, I wrote posts about the rising number of DIYers needing to be bailed out by professionals. And interviewed online “Electrical Coach” Wayne Gilchrist. But it’s not only the DIYer using and needing this type service. People who are going to hire someone to do the job are also discovering the benefits of a little “renovation coaching”. This Old House goes so far as to call them “a new breed of therapist “.

“The thing about home renovation is that very few people have been able to practice for it,” says Irving, who honed his skills working on 33 whole-house projects in his 17 years with the show. “They get wound up and ner­vous, facing this potential money pit, and it doesn’t have to be that way.”

I second that emotion. An experienced Renovation Coach can help with …

setting goals or developing a vision for your large home renovation
determining the return on your renovation investment - Cost vs. Value or Move vs. Remodel - to help you decide
identifying the professionals you will need (like an Interior Designer) for a quality renovation
giving you a ballpark figure against which you use in evaluating quotes from contractors
navigating the building permit maze
a wealth of experience about products & approaches, pros and cons
negotiating or communicating with contractors during the process
planning and project management
Quality Assurance to ensure a job well done and up to code
mediation in disputes with contractors
And yes, he or she can even go shopping with you for building materials and supplies if need be.

Although they work on an hourly rate, and they usually don’t come cheap, the benefits of using a Renovation Coach or Consultant are numerous. They bring planning, project management and experience to both flesh out and ground your renovation ideas. The result? More understanding for you the homeowner. More control over the process and your budget. A successful project. An empowering DIY experience. And of course, a beautiful renovation. All you need to be “home improvement happy”. And put in that context, well … maybe they are therapists after all.

How far will you travel to consult on a project?

How far will you travel to consult on a project?
I don’t want to say, “Don’t call Reiner if you have a million-dollar renovation in Hawaii,” because I’ll go to Hawaii. But I’m based in Toronto Ontario Canada, and the bulk of my business is in this area. My Computer is my best friend, because so much of the service I provide is match-making. That said, I can opine strongly about a project no matter where it is. Alternatively, owner's reps can act as the homeowner’s proxy in all matters of the job. They tend to be for wealthy people who don’t have the time to be fully engaged on the project. I also hear that some architects will moonlight as owner's reps. So you could call up an architect and say you don’t want to hire them to design the project but you do want to hire them for a second opinion.
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Any advice for keeping projects on budget?

Any advice for keeping projects on budget?
On the design front, be very careful if you hear the word “just.” People seem to think that the volume is what counts. “I’m just bumping out the kitchen four feet,” they say. Well you might as well make it 40 feet, because it’s the corners that cost money. Put yourself in the builder’s position. You’ve been told to build a bump-out. You cut your whole in the wall and, boom, you’re off. But as soon as you hit a corner everything stops. Careful cuts get made, fasteners get put in, trim added. So much of the labor is when you change direction. So on the design front, remember it’s the corners that count.

What advice do you have for choosing appliances in a kitchen design?

What advice do you have for choosing appliances in a kitchen design?
It’s a pretty personal thing. If someone’s gotta have a Sub-Zero, they gotta have a Sub-Zero. But before they pull the trigger on something that’s beautiful to look at it, I actually do say, “Let’s see what Consumer Reports has to say.” Because it ain’t gonna be beautiful if the person who gets to know it the most is a repair guy. In general though, I think you should spend good money on appliances. The kitchen is on display like never before, and I adhere to the principle that you should spend extra on the stuff you’re touching every day. That goes for door hardware, cabinetry, and appliances for sure. Even if you’re more likely to do take-out than cook, these things are still going to get looked at and fondled every day.

What’s the biggest mistake homeowners make when remodeling?

What’s the biggest mistake homeowners make when remodeling?
Minimizing the importance of good design. Even if you’re just redoing a bathroom, I really think you should hire someone to give you sound design advice. I have my sense of design, you’ve got yours, but we don’t live and breathe it the way people who practice design every day do. A smart design that provides layout advice as well as insights into the world of materials is totally worth it. When it comes to large additions or whole-house renovations, I insist that people use an architect when they work with me. You're going to spend a boatload of money whatever you build, so you’d best build the right thing.

At what stage of a project are you typically called in?

At what stage of a project are you typically called in?
In the best possible world, I’m in there when the homeowners are scratching their heads wondering what to do. A lot of the work is psychological, listening to what’s bothering the client about their home and what they want to—or think they want to—change. There’s also the financing. People tend to get a fixed idea about what they want to happen, and they minimize in their mind what it would take to realize that idea. Why do they minimize? You could blame the media, which has a tendency to make remodeling look easy. Or it could just be human nature. On almost every job, people underestimate how much time and money will be involved. I tell people to get their best-guess cost estimate and add 25 percent. Then take their best-guess time estimate and add 20 percent.

What’s the most important lesson your objectivity has taught you?

What’s the most important lesson your objectivity has taught you?
I’ve come to realize that there’s something unpleasantly contentious about many jobs. People are pitted against one another early on, and echoes of that persist throughout the project. It starts with the bidding process, when you have finished drawings that builders compete from, and it so often boils down to “the number.” It sends a sort of dehumanizing message. I’d rather get the drawings 50 percent there and then bring in a few potential builders. You can get to know them better, and they don’t have to spend hours and hours drawing up a bid for a project they may never get. Once you settle on the builder, you can finish drawings with the benefit of their input. Basically, I’m a big fan of team play on a project.
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How do you differ from a general contractor on projects?

How do you differ from a general contractor on projects?
I’m not a builder, nor am I an architect. But for years and years I stood in the midst of builders and architects, as well as materials suppliers, building inspectors, town officials, and of course, homeowners. I got a very good education in the multiple dynamics at work on a renovation project. When I come to a job, like the renovation of the home in Toronto, I’m not carrying the perspective of a builder or an architect. I’m coming at it almost as a reporter, seeing it happen in many different ways. So what people buy when they hire me is a no-agenda opinion. I just call it like I see it, and I think people appreciate the objectivity. That third-person-in-the-room factor becomes very important during the project, as I make sure that everyone—homeowner, architect, builder—gets heard and heard fairly . . . kind of like a marriage counselor!
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Why is remodeling such a charged experience for so many homeowners?

Why is remodeling such a charged experience for so many homeowners?
From a strictly hard-nosed, economic point of view, your home is the most valuable thing you’ll ever own. And when you think about it, to be able to spend money on fixing it up is a great privilege. So it’s doubly tragic when something you should enjoy and take pride in goes horribly awry. On a psychological level, our homes are a reflection of who we are. They’re very near and dear to our hearts, so operating on them is like operating on one of your kids. You want it to turn out really, really well.