Friday, December 26, 2008

Joe Switalski's lessons in renovation

December 26, 2008

Lessons in renovation
Joe Switalski learned a lot from his renovation. Here are some of his tips: Think vertically in a small space. He reclaimed lost space over the old cabinets by replacing them with 42-inch-tall, honey birch cabinets that reach the ceiling.  Make windows look taller to give an illusion of height. He hung silk panels near the crown molding above the dining room windows. Celebrate original details. Rather than sanding the original knockdown plaster walls, Switalski embraced them. He painted the inside of the house a light tan, except for the back wall of the dining room/kitchen, which he painted deep, rich brown.

keep the lighting soft. He installed dimmers on every light in the house.  Save money with minor changes.Switalski saved the charm (and money) in the bathroom by keeping the original ceramic, aqua blue tile framed with a black, bullnose edge. The aqua-toned mosaic floor and white bathtub are also original. When he added a white pedestal sink, he moved the medicine cabinet to the side wall and replaced it with a large mirror that reaches the ceiling. Don't forget curb appeal. He paved the driveway, carport and curved path that leads to the front porch with Old Chicago brick-style pavers. Four-inch tumbled marble, similar in color to the pavers, cover the formerly cement porch. A bronze bistro table with two matching chairs and a pineapple porch light welcome visitors. 

The Reno Coach

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Canadian Institute Construction Superconference

Knowing what your policy covers ‘imperative,’ insurer says

While insurance is indispensable for construction projects, just having coverage isn’t enough, says a leading provider of insurance services.

With the numerous risks that are inherent in construction, it is imperative owners, contractors, designers and other industry professionals be thoroughly familiar with what their insurance covers, said Barry Smith, senior vice-president, Marsh Canada Limited.

The first step in that process is identifying those risks such as potential damage to adjacent property, losses causes by both excusable and inexcusable delays and damage to contractors’ equipment, especially for not-easily replaced machinery.

“Some equipment can be very expensive. If a large piece of equipment is damaged and the contractor can’t purchase another one, what will happen to the project?”

Barry Smith

Transit and marine cargo insurance is also important when the project requires the long-distance transport of expensive equipment from the manufacturer to the job site. An example might be the three-month ship transport of a chiller. “What happens if the ship sinks or is attacked by pirates?”

Smith was one of the speakers at the Canadian Institute’s Construction Superconference held recently in Toronto.

He also advised people to obtain transit insurance when materials and/or equipment can’t be stored at the building site.

A thorough review of both car and truck insurance, especially how it pertains to vehicles on and off site, is always a good idea. “There are a lot of heavy trucks driving around.”

Automobile insurance covers physical damage to vehicles, as well as third-party bodily injury and property damage, said Smith. “It should cover all vehicles, owned, leased or licensed and should be provided by all parties to the construction project.”

Touching on the diverse nature of building construction, Smith advised the audience to thoroughly understand the different insurance requirements for new construction versus renovations work.

In renovation projects, contractors are usually responsible for damage to the structure. They may be covered under builders’ risk policies. But insurance often becomes expensive if the building’s value is more than that of the renovation, said Smith.

Contractors “need to deal with a broker that specializes in construction insurance.”

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rundown cabin is not just for anyone


You have to be on a special purchasers list even to be in the running for this small house on Ward's Island

While housing prices have taken a recent tumble, an old wooden cabin going for $22,900 on the Toronto Island on Lake Ontario still seems like an absolute steal.

The chocolate-brown house on Ward's Island is one of just 262 in North America's largest car-free community, just a 10-minute ferry ride away from the heart of downtown, with a stunning view of the skyline.

But No. 12 Second Street isn't on any real estate listings, and not just anyone can put in an offer. The price is fixed (and doesn't include $48,825 for the lease), and you have to be on a special "purchasers list" to qualify as a potential buyer.

Even still, the cabin is a definite teardown, with a rodent-sized hole chewed through a front-facing log, piles of dead leaves on the deck, cobwebs around the window screens and a contented community of raccoons living at the back. 

"It's totally unrealistic to think you can get a livable house for $22,900," said Pam Mazza, a long-time Island resident. "What you're really buying is an opportunity to live on the Island, to live on a land trust and to be serviced by a boat."

The Island offers a unique blend of urban and country living. Blustery in the winter, it is an idyllic spot in summer with clean beaches and bike trails that run its entire length. It maintains a rare sense of neighbourliness, and is at once safe, tranquil and spirited, attracting artists, writers, professors and teachers.

The Island, which used to be municipal land, was transferred to the province through a land swap in 1993 to resolve a long-standing dispute between Island residents and Metropolitan Toronto, which wanted to turn their homes into parkland. The Toronto Islands Residential Community Trust Corporation was created.

Whenever a house comes up for sale, it is offered to the first 100 people on a list of 500 potential purchasers. Openings on the list are filled through a lottery system.

The Trust board, composed of two island residents and four provincial bureaucrats, acts as the intermediary between buyer and seller. Once the sale offers go out, potential buyers are given several weeks to respond, and the sale is awarded to the person who holds the lowest number on the list.

There is no negotiation about the price, which is based on the replacement cost, and determined by a set formula. "When you have a trust, you don't participate in market real estate forces and there are no windfall profits," Trust chairwoman Ellen Allen said.

Yesterday, a man who is No. 64 on the list came by to look at the most recent listing, which sits on a 40-foot-by-50-foot lot. "He's been on the list for 14 years," said Ruth Howard, who lives across the street.

Even though renovation costs are 30 to 40 per cent higher than in the city, because of the logistical difficulties of bringing in construction materials, turnover of residents is very low. "Living here isn't necessarily a good financial deal," Ms. Howard said. "It is the lifestyle."

A retail-free zone, there are no shops, dry cleaners or grocery stores here, although there is a primary school. Residents get around by bike and haul their groceries in wagons from the city.

Originally, the Island was a sandy, marshy peninsula. However, in 1858 a major storm cut through the narrow eastern neck and created an island. It was first populated by fishermen, but soon cottages were built and by the turn of the century the summer population had reached between 1,000 and 3,000, and included prominent Toronto families such as the Masseys and the Gooderhams, according toThe Essential Toronto Island Guide, by long-time residents Linda Rosenbaum and Peter Dean.

In the 1950s, the Metro government wanted to turn the entire island into a park, and bulldozed 750 homes at Hanlan's Point. The remaining islanders put up a fight to save their community, a battle that wasn't settled until the land swap in 1993. The Island remains a very popular place to live.

"We can't guarantee there will even be a house sold every year," said Ms. Mazza. "If you're in the first 100 on the list, you'll likely get a chance to put in an offer. But you won't get the house unless the other 99 people ahead of you don't want it."

It took 90 minutes for Daily News to 'steal' the Empire State Building

It took 90 minutes for Daily News to 'steal' the Empire State Building

Tuesday, December 2nd 2008, 10:46 PM

In one of the biggest heists in American history, the Daily News "stole" the $2 billion Empire State Building.

And it wasn't that hard.

The News swiped the 102-story Art Deco skyscraper by drawing up a batch of bogus documents, making a fake notary stamp and filing paperwork with the city to transfer the deed to the property.

Some of the information was laughable: Original "King Kong" starFay Wray is listed as a witness and the notary shared a name with bank robber Willie Sutton.

The massive ripoff illustrates a gaping loophole in the city's system for recording deeds, mortgages and other transactions.

The loophole: The system - run by the office of the city register - doesn't require clerks to verify the information.

Less than 90 minutes after the bogus documents were submitted on Monday, the agency rubber-stamped the transfer from Empire State Land Associates to Nelots Properties LLC. Nelots is "stolen" spelled backward. (The News returned the property Tuesday.)

"Crooks go where the money is. That's why Willie Sutton robbed banks, and this is the new bank robbery," said Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Richard Farrell, who is prosecuting several deed fraud cases.

Of course, stealing the Empire State Building wouldn't go unnoticed for long, but it shows how easy it is for con artists to swipe more modest buildings right out from under their owners. Armed with a fraudulent deed, they can take out big mortgages and disappear, leaving a mess for property owners, banks and bureaucrats.

"Once you have the deed, it's easy to obtain a mortgage," Farrell said.

Many crooks have done just that:

Asia Smith stole her 88-year-old grandmother's house in Springfield Gardens,Queens, pocketing $445,000 in mortgages she took out.

"Her grandmother raised her," said Queens Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kane. Smith, 22, was arrested last December and is serving a one-year jail term for fraud.

- A man posing as someone who had been dead for 19 years deeded the dead man's property to himself. He then sold it to the scheme's mastermind, who took out a $533,000 mortgage and vanished with the cash.

Toma Dushevic managed to steal seven dilapidated city-owned buildings inBrooklyn 10 years ago.

He got renovation permits, fixed up one of the buildings, and rented out apartments. He sold another building for $250,000 and ran his scam for nearly two years until he was caught. Dushevic returned the buildings and did 18 months behind bars.

The FBI says financial institutions filed 31% more Suspicious Activity Reports involving mortgage fraud last year than in 2006. Nationwide, lenders' losses totaled $813 million, and New York was one of the top 10 mortgage fraud states.

The Renovation Consultant

Dead man gets mortgage worth whopping $533G

Dead man gets mortgage worth whopping $533G

Wednesday, December 3rd 2008, 1:37 AM

Eugene Thomas had been dead 19 years as of Sept. 13, 2007.

On that day, "Thomas" showed up to sell his Jamaica, Queens, house to a man named Tolessi Enyonam - and lawyers, a mortgage broker and a title company representative at the closing found nothing wrong.

They didn't care much about ID, either: The buyer and seller presented green cards as identification.

At the closing, Enyonam also took out a $533,000 mortgage fromWells Fargo bank on the Union Hall St. house.

The deed transfer and the mortgage were duly recorded by the office of the city register.

The transactions have since blown up.

"Thomas" was con man Willie Thomas, who was paid about $1,000 for his brief acting stint, according to Queens Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kane.

While Tolessi Enyonam does exist - and Enyonam is a woman, not a man - she's not the person who bought the house and took out the mortgage.

"We don't know who that person is," said Kane, explaining that the male mastermind of the scheme stole the real Enyonam's identity for use in the transactions.

The scam chief replicated the real Enyonam's green card so it had his photo on it.

"Then, he disappeared with the mortgage money," Kane said.

Willie Thomas has been charged with grand larceny.

Prosecutors say they have since learned that others were involved in the scam, including an accountant, a city clerk and a disbarred lawyer.

Authorities say the ring stole another house in Queens and a third house inBrooklyn for a total mortgage takedown of $1.4 million.

In the aftermath, the real Tolessi Enyonam's credit has been ruined, and the bank is foreclosing against Eugene Thomas' widow, Dorothy, 74, who has lived at the Jamaica house for more than 30 years.

"I don't know any of those people, never met them, never heard of them," Dorothy Thomas said. "It's unbelievable what happened."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Retrofit Your Home and Qualify for a Grant!

Retrofit Your Home and Qualify for a Grant!


Thinking of ways to make your home more energy efficient? Here's what you can do to reduce your energy consumption and receive grants through ecoENERGY Retrofit.

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) is offering a new residential energy efficiency assessment service to owners of single family homes, including detached, semi-detached and low-rise multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs) that are no more than three storeys high. Under the ecoENERGY Retrofit program, property owners can qualify for federal grants by improving the energy efficiency of their homes and reducing their home's impact on the environment.

NRCan-certified energy advisors conduct a detailed on-site assessment of your home's energy use from the attic down to the basement. They then provide you with a personalized report, including a checklist of recommended retrofits to improve the energy efficiency of your home or MURB and, in some cases, to reduce water consumption. The report also shows the grant amounts for each eligible upgrade that you can receive by carrying out these energy-saving improvements.

On the following pages, you will find a list of improvements covered under ecoENERGY RetrofitHomes and the corresponding grant amounts. The maximum grant you can receive for a home or MURB is $5,000.

The grant is calculated and based on amounts that are in effect at the time of the post-retrofit evaluation (E evaluation).

Effective January 1, 2008

House Renovation

Assessing the Renovation Project

Over the years, we’ve developed a good understanding of how buildings perform. Construction techniques for new homes have changed rapidly. Most of these improved techniques also apply to renovations.

If you plan carefully, you can renovate your home to make it look better, work better, last longer and be more comfortable. Before renovating, it’s important to assess the condition of your home to determine if there are any significant underlying problems that must be addressed before or during your planned renovation project.


Figure 1: Problems that should be addressed

Common Situations

In Canada, we need affordable houses to provide shelter from the elements. We also want our homes to be pleasant, comfortable and attractive.

Homeowners have higher expectations than in the past, particularly about comfort and interior design. Renovations are an opportunity to address some of these expectations.

Some of the reasons people decide to renovate are to:

  • Upgrade or improve outdated or deteriorated systems — replacing an outdated furnace, old siding or windows are common upgrades.
  • Maintain and repair various elements of their house — reshingling a roof or fixing foundation cracks are typical renovations.
  • Address lifestyle needs — converting unused attic space to living quarters, add a sunroom or build a home office.

Healthy Housing™

Renovating is an ideal time to make your house healthier for you, the community and the environment. When assessing your renovation project, be sure to consider the five essentials of Healthy Housing™.

House as a System

A house is much more than just four walls and a roof — it’s an interactive system made up of many components including the basic structure, heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment, the external environment and the occupants. Each component influences the performance of the entire system. A renovation provides an opportunity to improve how your house performs.

As you assess your renovation project, ask yourself how changing particular components will affect the performance of the whole house. For example, as part of a bathroom renovation you may want to add a hot tub that will generate large amounts of humidity during operation.Your existing ventilation may be inadequate to handle the increased moisture levels. It will be important to provide proper ventilation to avoid mold growth, indoor air quality (IAQ) problems and damage to the structure or finishes. You may need to consult with a qualified home inspector or a professional renovator.

Avoid Surprises

A systematic and thorough inspection will help you to assess the condition of your home. Look for any signs of deterioration and the possible causes. Start your inspection in the basement. Many problems in other parts of the house originate there. Depending upon the size of your project, you may want to ask a qualified home inspector or a professional renovator to help you assess your building and develop a plan. Here are some of the likely questions that you’ll want to think about.


Before You Start Renovating Your Kitchen

Before You Start Renovating Your Kitchen

Your kitchen is probably the most used room in your house. Poor layout, inadequate lighting, cramped spaces, outdated fixtures and old cabinetry are common complaints of homeowners.

Before you decide to go ahead with a kitchen renovation, it is important to clearly identify the features you want in your new kitchen. Just as important is a thorough pre-renovation inspection to identify any existing problems.

Renovating your kitchen

Common Situations

Kitchen renovations are high on the list of the most common home renovations. A renovation can be as simple as installing new flooring or be a major undertaking that includes enlarging the space and replacing all fixtures and finishes.

Homeowners consider kitchen renovations for many reasons including:

  • Size and design — the existing kitchen may be too small or poorly laid out.
  • Fixtures and appliances — the fixtures and appliances may be worn out, inefficient or outdated.
  • Cabinets and countertops — cabinet finishes, hardware or countertops may be outdated, need repair or replacement.
  • Structural problems  — there may be problems that require structural changes or repairs.
  • Moisture — the floor, walls or finishes may be unsightly or damaged due to moisture problems.
  • Plumbing and electrical — many older kitchens don’t have enough electrical outlets and circuits. Older plumbing and plumbing fixtures may include lead or galvanized steel piping.
  • Heating and ventilation — older kitchens often have inadequate ventilation or heating systems. The area may be poorly insulated and have a high degree of air leakage, two factors that lead to high energy consumption.
  • Finishes — older finishes may be unattractive or not durable enough to withstand the daily wear and tear.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ontario builders seek relief in budget

Ontario builders seek relief in budget

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's top priorities in the upcoming 2009 budget should be job creation and infrastructure projects in an effort to stave off a devastating slowdown in the economy, according to the province's property developers.

A survey by the Ontario Home Builders' Association found more than a third of builders expect to lay off staff for 2009.

"People will continue to work and we can ensure adequate roads, transit and residential services are upgraded and expanded," OHBA president Frank Giannone said.

Job creation, infrastructure spending and personal and corporate tax reductions were the top three priorities identified by home builders. A balanced budget was in fourth place. Financing in tight credit markets was another issue.

About 47 per cent of home builders surveyed said availability of financing was down. A third also said they had difficulty financing new home and renovation projects.

Meanwhile, separate reports released yesterday show the housing market hasn't hit bottom yet.

"Issues affecting the overall economy are impacting housing markets across the country and the situation is not expected to be remedied until consumer confidence is restored," ReMax Ontario Atlantic Canada executive vice-president Michael Polzler stated in a report.

ReMax is forecasting average prices across Canada will fall 3 per cent this year and 2 per cent next year to $293,000.

Other forecasters however, are taking a gloomier view.

Carl Gomez, vice-president of research for real estate consultants Bentall Investment Management, said prices have to fall nationally by at least 10 per cent from their peak to return to normal valuations. In Alberta and British Columbia, where prices have gone up a lot quicker than the national average, values may have to fall by as much as 30 per cent. However, prices may fall further than that as the market seeks to correct itself, Gomez stated in a report released this week.

"All markets in Canada are facing deteriorating economic conditions that are likely to either accelerate or cause a larger than required cumulative decline in house prices."

Prices in Ontario are about 10 per cent overvalued, but could fall further depending on economic conditions, Gomez stated.

"The recent deterioration of macro economic conditions and the potential for deflation to affect all asset prices in the current environment could potentially result in Ontario home prices falling by even more than the expected 10 per cent," Gomez stated.

Globally, Canada is in better shape than other industrialized countries because home prices increased far more moderately, by about 80 per cent between 1997 and 2008, according to the report.

By contrast, Britain and Spain saw increases of 200 per cent in the same period. United States house prices jumped 190 per cent between 1997 and 2006 before crashing in 2007.

Another, tough-minded report yesterday by the Center for Economic Policy and Research in Washington says U.S. house prices must fall further to stabilize the market.

"Prices in many markets are still hugely out of line with trend levels," it said.

"As long as house price remains inflated there is no way that the market can stabilize since there will continue to be a large excess supply."

The best way to stabilize house prices is to deflate the bubbles by allowing government-sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to refuse to buy mortgages in markets in which house prices are out of line, said the U.S. report. ."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bathroom Renovation: Still Popular In Todays Housing Market

Double Bathroom Vanities Top Of The Line Bathroom Furniture

Toronto, CA 12/01/2008  

With homeowners significantly scaling back their remodeling plans or scrapping them altogether in light of a floundering economy, many are finding ways to create the bathroom of their dreams while avoiding the excessive costs of full-scale renovations – by opting for double bathroom vanities from

Bathroom renovations are expensive. The cost to renovate even a small bathroom averages at least $20,000. A bathroom remodel, though, is also among the most valuable renovations one can make to a home.

Many leading economists expect the current financial crisis to last for some time, but the need for homeowners to renovate their bathrooms isn’t dropping with the stock market. But homeowners don’t have to forestall their remodeling plans.

With such a wide array of styles and sizes available, finding a double bathroom vanity to fit an existing bathroom, or the bathroom of your dreams, at a fraction of the cost of a full remodel at  is a snap.

Replacing existing vanities, or expanding a single vanity to a double vanity, can significantly upgrade an existing bathroom.

double bathroom vanity is a perfect for master bathrooms. They offer more storage and the ability to use two sinks at one time – solving morning conflicts over who gets to use the sink first and ending battles over drawer space. offers numerous traditional, antique and contemporary styles. The wood, color and metal finishes available can fit any bathroom’s motif. All of the vanities come complete with countertops and sinks, with many offering a number of faucet styles.

Double bathroom vanities from  make remodeling a bathroom simple and affordable without scrimping on quality. The vanities can be easily installed in one day without having to hire a contractor and cost a fraction of the price of a bathroom remodel.

What’s more, double bathroom vanities from  are durable and easy to maintain. They are sure to add a more luxurious feel to any bathroom.

Enhancing a bathroom with considerable improvements can be done easily and without breaking one’s budget. For a complete listing of different styles and designs, installation guides and more bathroom renovation ideas,