Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Just Listed in TMR





UPDATE: Here's the MLS listing.

Looking for a cute starter home amid the leafy byways of the Town of Mount Royal?

I've just listed this charming two-bedroom bungalow on Trenton Ave. at $543,000.
The 1950 property has 1,253 square feet of living space, including a spacious living room with stone fireplace, adjoining dining room and a cozy sun room overlooking the back garden. It occupies a corner lot facing a neighborhood park with playground.
The house has one bathroom on the main floor and a powder room with shower in the basement. The basement, by the way, is impeccable, with several windows in the combined playroom/home office, as well as a separate laundry room and furnace room. There is loads of storage and ample space to add a third bedroom, if you like.
The house has been well maintained but has not undergone major upgrades in recent years. The bathroom has classic white fixtures and tile. The kitchen is bright and has original cupboards, flexible flooring and melamine counters with a wood grain finish.
There is an attached single-car garage, and a woodworking or storage shed in the back yard.
The house is being sold with fridge, stove, dishwasher, washer and dryer, all under warranty.
At $543,000, this is the least expensive detached house currently for sale in Town of Mount Royal. The price reflects the fact that this property is being sold as part of a succession without legal warranty as to quality.
Interested? Need more information? Give me a call and I'll be glad to schedule a visit.
I'm also planning an open house this Sunday, November 22, between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Montreal Real Estate, A Return to Form in October

Housing resales in greater Montreal were up by 23 per cent last month compared to October, 2008.
A total of 3,543 homes traded hands - a notable improvement over the year earlier period, also known technically as "the beginning of the giant freakout."
In fact, real estate sales in the metropolitan area plummeted by 17 per cent a year ago, as buyers and sellers digested the carnage being visited on the U.S economy and wondered what the heck it meant for Montreal.
Not so much, as it turned out.
Still, let's not belittle last month's terrific sales numbers. It is more useful to measure them against October, 2007, the best October of record, according the Greater Montreal Real Estate Board. How did last month stack up? Three per cent more sales than the best previous October.
Condo sales were up 28 per cent compared to a year earlier and up 12 per cent compared to 2007.
Single-family home and plex sales were up 23 per cent and 16 per cent respectively compared to last year but were stable compared to 2007.
Prices across all property types were up six per cent compared to this time last year.
The median price of a single-family home reached $240,000, while that of a condo reached $195,000 and a plex (two to five dwellings) reached $350,000.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Verdun Fixer Upper, an update










I never did get around to mentioning that Amy Barratt and I sold our sweet little Verdun fixer upper in a speedy rapido eight days, fetching 93 per cent of the asking price.
Getting the deal to the notary proved a bit of a challenge but when the money and keys changed hands, the vendors were pleased and the buyers were over the moon.
The young couple have spent the last two months transforming the vintage post-war cottage into something more to their taste.
They began by removing the original brick chimney, buying themselves some extra square footage and improving the layout. In the before and after pix, you can see that a skylight now fills the old chimney opening.
The also decided to move the kitchen from the front of the house to the back. Instead of looking out over their driveway, soon they will be able to look into their garden as they prepare meals. The interior photos above, are of the old living room and a corner of the new living room back through what used to be the dining room and sun room.
The new owners are avid recyclers. They bought old solid wood doors at the local Eco-Centre for a few bucks each and lovingly stripped them. They tore out the boxy old hot-water radiators and are replacing them with old-fashioned cast-iron beauties. They've saved some of the old chimney brick for future projects and have made the local ferrailleurs (scrap collectors) very happy by setting aside copper pipes and scrap metal for them.
Best of all, they tore up the admittedly ugly flexible flooring found in all the rooms and discovered beautiful narrow-strip wood underneath. Bonus!
The work, most of which they are DIY-ing with the help of experts like plumbers, electricians and a structural engineer, is coming along.
I said best of all but that isn't really true. Best of all, the couple welcomed their first child, a healthy baby girl into the world on Monday. Mum, dad and la petite fille are reported to be doing well.

What Were They Thinking? #5 in a series


We return once more to the subject of nudes, tasteful and otherwise. I suppose that combined with the right decor (drippy candles in straw-covered Chianti bottles, swathes of heavy velvet drapes and romantic lighting) the above oeuvre might have a certain camp appeal.
The water-stained wallpaper and fleabag furniture makes me feel like I'm trapped in a Charles Bukowski novel and the only way out is through the bottom of a bottle of rubbing alcohol.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Baby We Were Born To Own


House got too crowded,
Clothes got too tight
And I don't know just where I'm going tonight
Out where the sky's been cleared by a good hard rain
There's somebody callin' my secret name

Bruce Springsteen
Lucky Town


Can we interest you in an 828-square-foot shotgun shack priced at $299,000 U.S.?
What if I told you it used to be Bruce Springsteen's house and that The Boss composed much of his breakthrough masterpiece Born to Run while sitting on its tiny front porch?
The two bedrooms and one bath is located a stone's throw from the Jersey shore and was recently placed on the market. It is priced about $50,000 above what comparable properties in the neighborhood sell for in the post-mortgage meltdown US of A. Not such a steep mark-up for a piece of rock 'n' roll memorabilia.
You can read the listing here

If These Walls Could Talk





Here we have the outside and inside view of a century-old Plateau house I recently sold. The interior photo is of the front bedroom, which is to say the two upstairs windows seen in the exterior shot.
Yup, it is the fixer-upper of all fixer-uppers. Beautiful brick, though!
The buyers took possession of the property on September 17 at about 6 p.m. At 8 o'clock the next morning, the wrecking crew had already begun to tear the insides out. It looks like they'll be at it until Christmas, or, possibly mid-January.
Every house has a story, but this one has a capital "S" story.
The previous owners bought the solid brick cottage from a widow in 1984. That was back in the pre-sushi shop and soy latté days of the Plateau when streets like Laval, Henri-Julien and Hôtel-de-Ville were inhabited by shmata workers, bakers, plumbers and others from the labouring classes.
The vendors shared a bit of local folklore with me. The woman from whom their parents purchased the house was the widow of a well-known local gangster. As one of them put it, "He was a crook. His brother was a crook, his uncle was a crook. They were all professional crooks."
The man, Monsieur Galipeau, came to a sudden end in the early 1980s, not at home but on his way to his mistress's apartment.
The widow Galipeau sold the house for about what an indoor garage would cost in one of the Plateau's sleek converted loft buildings. We're talking $24,000. She was glad to be rid of the drafty old house.
Soon after they took possession in 1984, the new owners got a visit from Monsieur Galipeau's brother. He knew them from around the way and was stopping by to wish them well. Here's where it gets interesting.
"You should check carefully," he told the owners. "I'm sure there's money in that house. My brother didn't believe in banks."
For 25 years, the family kept an eye out but they never found any money.
When their parents died within a short span of each other, the three now adult children debated keeping the house, still convinced one day they would find hidden treasure. They made last-ditch attempts, punching holes in the walls here and there and ripping out ceiling panels in a couple of rooms. They even had a session with a Ouija board which led them to rent a jack hammer and break up a corner of the concrete basement floor. Nothing. No money. No guns. No gold. No dead bodies.
As they handed over the keys at the notary's office, the vendors looked a little wistful. "We're sure you're going to find something."
Nearly a month into the renovation job, the only secret my buyers have uncovered is generalized floor rot in the downstairs bathroom. Pretty much every room has been stripped from ceiling to floor. So far, no money, no guns, no gold. Happily, no dead bodies.
They bought the house because it is smack-dab in the epicenter of their preferred neighborhood. Their son attends kindergarten half a block up the street. For the same money, they probably could have gotten a three-bedroom condo in a triplex but it would most likely have been a second or third floor, less space, much less privacy.
Instead, they've purchased a three-bedroom, two-story house, with 2.000-square-feet of living space, 10-foot-ceilings, a back yard and a dry basement for storage. Sure, they'll be coughing up plaster dust for months to come, but the house is going to be spectacular. And, if they play it right, they'll dine out on the story of Monsieur Galipeau for years to come.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Montreal Housing Resales Climb in September

Housing resales across the greater Montreal area rose by five per cent in September, compared to the same month a year earlier, according to the Greater Montreal Real Estate Board.
Last fall was a slower than average period for real estate, what with everyone gripped by the collapse of the U.S. housing and banking sectors. But this September's numbers don't just look good compared to a crummy '08. According the GMREB, it was the best September on record. (We pause to toot our party horns and raise a midday glass of champagne!)
I know I'm doing my best to keep the numbers up. I closed two sales last month. That compared to one sale in September, 2008. A welcome 50-per-cent increase!(Update: Alert reader Amy Barratt points out that is actually a 100-per-cent increase. This is why I let her handle the calculator.)
What else does the board say? Prices are on the rise, with the median price of a single-family home or condominium unit up 7 per cent. Plexes are up by 5 per cent.
The number of active listings decreased by 7 per cent to 20,912. The number of new listings to hit the MLS system in September totaled 6,110, a 11-per-cent drop compared to a year earlier.
There were more sales between January and September, 2008 but lower volume through the first nine months of 2009 translated into prices that were bwtween 3 and 4 per cent higher than a year ago.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dupuis Park, The Battle Continues

I just received an email from Albert Albala, the Verdun resident who spearheaded citizen opposition to the planned closing of Park Dupuis last spring.
Albala got wind of the plan to close the 4-hectare green space next to the Atwater filtration plant when he saw city crews quietly beginning to remove equipment like soccer goals from the site.
Hard to know what the real story is. It is either
A) Continued recreational use of the grassy expanse over the filtration plant's subterranean basins risks depositing soil and sediment into the water supply.
B) The city is worried about dog poop and pee leeching into the reservoirs.
C) Easy public access is a security issue that makes the water-filtration plant a potential terrorist target.
D) Verdun is tired of paying the bill to maintain a park that is technically located in the neighboring Southwest borough but is only accessible from Verdun.
E) All of the above.
It looked like a truce had been reached, with a promise from city hall that the status quo would remain in place. Now, it seems that the park will be closed next spring.

Here's what Albert had to say:

"Dupuis park is still set to be permanently closed next spring. The fence is being put up, and no entrance is planned for. Four hectares of prime green space is being lost in a neighborhood which badly needs green space!

Meanwhile, incumbent mayor candidate Gerald Tremblay says parks and green space are a cornerstone of his policy; concerning Dupuis park, the Tremblay administration says the park will be closed if citizens keep going there with dogs. But the city is making no effort to let anyone know (through signs, etc.) that dogs are not welcome. The dog issue seems to be a good excuse to close the park!

And closed it will be, unless citizens act now!

If you have the time and energy, here is what I propose:

(1) call 3-1-1 and ask city officials what is going with Dupuis Park (official name: "réservoir 3A de l'usine de filtration Atwater") and other water reservoirs in Montreal including McTavish reservoir.

(2) write, call your municipal representatives to let them know what you think.

(3) ***WEDNESDAY 7 OCT*** (TOMORROW) : go to the debate of Verdun mayor candidates in Nuns' Island.

(4) create and distribute leaflets to sensitize the population (you can put them up on the fence around the city's reservoirs).

(5) if you want to contribute to an eventual citizens' report on the park (and other reservoirs including other reservoirs in Canada), and ideas to keep reservoirs accessible while ensuring their safety, please write to me.

(6) any other ideas? Let me know!

(7) leave comments on http://4hectares.info

(8) get informed about the 14 reservoirs which will be closed in Montreal, and let us know what you have learnt!

Merci à l'avance!

Albert Albala
4hectares.info citizens group


With a municipal election coming up on November 5, this might be our best chance to save Dupuis Park once and for all.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Who Says Art Can't Exist in a Vacuum?



Check out this flikr page devoted to the emerging field of Roomba art. Yup, time-lapse photography of robotic vacuum cleaners making their rounds. Kinda cool.
This is one of several pix by the photographer Reconscious.

Broken link has been fixed.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

An Introduction to Verdun




Writer Laura Roberts has posted an introduction to Verdun on the Gifted Travel web site. She thinks it's a great place to live, too.
I know the Douglas Hospital grounds are large, but I had no idea they accounted for one-seventh of the borough's area.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

No Dog Days of August for Montreal Real Estate

Resale housing in the Greater Montreal region rose by robust 9 per cent in August, according to the latest figures from the Greater Montreal Real Estate Board.
The prices increases were seen in all property types and across a wide geographic area.
The number of single-family home sales rose by 5 per cent compared to August of last year, totaling 1,674 properties. On the condo front, sales rose by 15 per cent to 855, while plex sales rose by 17 per cent to 337 units.
All three property types saw price increases, too. Single homes rose by an average of 6 per cent, plexes ( 2 to 5 units) rose 5 per cent and condos by 3 per cent.
The board pointed to the usual factors -- low borrowing rates, an improving job market and stronger consumer confidence -- as the key to the August market.
It must also be noted that August, 2008 was about the time all hell began to break loose in the U.S. economy, with failures setting off a chain reaction of business failings and job losses.
Montreal managed to dodge the bullet, at least compared to many other large North American cities. Still, the beginning of the year was a little too quiet for most agents' liking.
First-time buyers kept us busy during the bleakest part of winter. New rules allowing first-timers to withdraw up to $25,000 from their RRSPs helped quite a bit. Eventually, vendors and buyers regained their nerve, making for a busy May through August.
The cheery portrait was confirmed in a new report by RBC Economic Research, the thinking end of the big chartered bank. RBC tracks housing affordability across Canada - ie the portion of pretax household revenue needed to service mortgage, utilities and taxes. Affordability got a boost in the second quarter, thanks to lower mortgage rates and a softer real estate market.
In Montreal, that meant carrying costs for the typical bungalow ate up 37.3 per cent of household income, down from 38.1 per cent during the previous three-month period.
For the average condo owner, 30.1 per cent of household income were dedicated to paying the mortgage et al, compared to 30.9 per cent three months earlier.
The average Vancouver bungalow owner spends 63.4 per cent of household income paying the mortgage. In Tawrawna, it's 45.6 per cent.
"Greater affordability has opened the door more fully to buyers, who have sprung into action," noted Robert Hogue, senior economist at RBC. "Sales of existing homes in Quebec have rebounded strongly, rising by more than 40 per cent from the cyclical low reached mid-winter, with improved market sentiment helping prices rise."
Taking the current market conditions into account, the Royal says affordability is unlikely to show much more improvement locally in the near term.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ikea goes Høllywood

IKEA Heights from DaveAOK on Vimeo.




And I thought Ikea drama meant choosing whether to go with the Tylosänd or the Hovås.
Silly mig!
Winkingly subversive filmmaker David Seger and a troupe of equally naughty actors have pulled off a feat at least as daring as assembling an Ikea commode without instructions. He's filmed a web-only soap opera, Ikea Heights, inside one of the Swedish retailer's cavernous stores in Burbank, CA.
Here's the subversive part. They filmed with hand-held cameras during regular store hours, using the display areas for sets. They never sought corporate permission. Confused customers occasionally wandered through the frame, perhaps wondering why a couple appeared to be arguing amid the rumpled sheets of a Tromsö bed.
You can check out more of their cheeky yet cheesy webisodes at www.ikeaheights.com
Last time I browsed there were four installments. Something tells me there might not be a fifth, now that Seger has gone public with an interview in the LA Times.
We all have our Ikea weaknesses, right? For me, the call of the meatball sometimes proves irresistible. If it isn't the cheap yet tasty eats, which I wolf down in a noisy cafeteria like a prisoner sprung from hard labour, it's the cheap and transiently stylish furniture. Let she who hasn't solved a home decorating problem with an unfinished pine end table throw the first Allan key. I love my Ivar shelves, reliable companions in every place I've lived from student dive to second home.
But my relationship with the Swedish sower of random diacritical marks is conflicted. They use too much melamine, a material that will ride out nuclear winter in the landfills of the world. Ditto extruded plastic. And they use some kind of mind control to make us buy vases and throw pillows that we almost instantly regret once we get home. (I think it's got something to do with the smell of the freshly baked cinnamon buns, which, frankly, taste like cardboard.)
I digress.
What delights about Seger's stealthy cinematic gambit is that he surveyed the Swedish giant and used its limitless space, endless room settings and dazed shuffling consumers for his own purpose. I'm not sure that Ikea Heights is art, but I'm pretty sure it is genius.

UPDATE
My posting prompted a response from a former Ikea wage slave.

"I assume this will die on the vine, as IKEA is notoriously litigious. They get cranky if IKEA isn't fully capitalized, let alone the interior of a store *GASP* is filmed by some scruffy artsy type. Scruffy artsy types are only permitted if they're photographed for the catalogue...

Despite the thin white melamine foil veneer on the company, and it's image as the Swedish themed Socialist Worker's Paradise, the truth is pretty far removed. Environmental policies, while noble, are pretty much undone by the toxic materials used to construct their goods, the maufacturing processes of developing nations they're built in, and by extension the high carbon costs of transporting those charming $2.00 brightly coloured acrylic fridge magnets from halfway across the face of the planet. The waste, if those with an actual environmental conscience could see it, is appalling.

And Ingvar Kamprad help you if you say the U word. (That's 'union', in case you were guessing).

The very least of their sins is feeding the growing worldwide consumer mentality hyped up on a cocktail of cheap, disposable goods and immediate gratification.

I've seen some pretty cynical things done in the name of The Big Blue Box while I was there, but here's what I like to call "Travel Tips From Those Who Know". Now, it would be in breech of a non-disclosure agreement to say why I don't do what I don't do. But I don't do what I don't do for good reasons. Here's a couple of the highlights.

- Don't eat the meatballs. Just... *shudder* trust me.
- Don't buy light fixtures. In fact, don't let your neighbors by light fixtures. Again, you're just going to have to take my word for it.
- Don't even TOUCH any toy, stuffy or other brightly colored object that might appeal to children. You don't want to know where they've been. It's unspeakable.
- And while we're on the subject of the little ones, don't check them into the Smaland® kiddie area.

Shame about the film going public, and thereby slamming the door shut on that project. It's definitely an idea with (I'm sorry, I can't contain it) Nordic designed, sensibly constructed, flat packaged, affordably priced, and if it can be helped, modular, legs.

Wuv,
Shawn
Recovering Ikean

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Affordable Housing meets Installation Art


Easy to pedal, until you load it down with granola and canned beans. This is part of a series created by artist Kevin Cyr.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

At Home with Pat Pink



The Gazette's Max Harrold has a Shelter profile of Montreal art gallery owner Pat Pink with photos by Marie-France Coallier. It's well worth the look-see on the Gazoo's web site, or if you want to cut to the chase right here
Pink purchased a rundown building on St. Jacques St. in Little Burgundy in 1997 to use as a gallery space and home.
I'm a big fan of Pat Pink's. Love her can-do spirit, her eye for art and her quirky sense of humor. But it must be said, she's the kind of person who makes my life as an agent difficult, what with paying $30,000 or some such for a property.
Here's the deal people. You can still buy buildings for not much money - but you have to be prepared to put the time, cash and elbow grease into transforming them into dream homes. Pink invested tens of thousands of dollars of sweat equity to create the fabulous space she owns today. Those aren't the only challenges. Read on to learn about the rubbies who like to urinate and pass out in the environs of Pink's building.
Everyone's a downtown boho, until the pee starts flying, then it's "Maybe I'd be better off in a building with 24-hour security."
Chacun à son goût!
Here's my last Pat Pink story. She's probably forgotten, but I never have. Back in the early days of my reporting career, The Gazette sent me to do a page-brightening story on a break-in at Galerie Pink. It seems a drunk forced his way in during the night and smashed up an exhibition of wooden bears carved by a Quebec chainsaw artist. Faced with ursine carnage, Pink bandaged up the broken bears - one had his front limb in a sling and a bandage around his head. Hilarious. She sold tons of the pieces, so the story had a more of less happy ending.
I too bought one of the bears. We call him Swinging Bear. He weighs about 40 lbs and sits on a rope and plank swing hanging from a branch of a tamarack tree in my back yard. That's him in the picture.

On Volunteering, Bluffing and Pie

Habitat for Humanity put out a call for volunteers last week, which is how I found myself bright-eyed a bushy-tailed outside a huge storefront on Notre-Dame St. W. in St-Henri at 8 o'clock in the blessed a.m. on Saturday.
I wasn't alone. About 15 volunteers and assorted HH crew leaders drifted in over the next half hour. Our task was to prime, paint the ceiling and put a top coat on the walls of what will soon be Habitat's new ReStore location.
ReStore is the retail end of Habitat for Humanity. It sells home improvement materiials donated by corporate partners. The biggest of these is Home Depot. Makes sense, since both organizations have roots in the region of Atlanta, Ga..
The goods were piled on pallets lining the walls of the store. From what I could see there were boxes of toilets and pedestal sinks, chandeliers, blinds and curtains, dented gallon cans of paint, small electric and hand tools, doors and windows. You get the idea.
The store, at 4399 Notre-Dame, near the corner of Ste-Marguerite, is tentatively scheduled to open on September 8. But first, the volunteer army has to get it ready.
We were led by a ridiculously handsome and charismatic man named Ernesto, whose main job was pointing us in a general direction and leaving us alone to work.
I grabbed a roller and a telescopic pole and, working with two others began laying a top coat of eggshell paint on the walls for six hours. Today, a little like John McCain, I am unable to raise my arms above my shoulders. Totally worth it, though. I'm not complaining.
The paint went on this institutional greyish beige, a shade I quickly came to think of as creme of field mouse soup. It was a vast improvement over the chalky white primer, but still. . . By the middle of the afternoon, it had dried to a warm off white, vellum or linen colour. Nice.
It was cool to see how all these volunteers, most of whom did not seem to know one another, went about getting the job done without anybody telling them how or what to do. Two women, strangers to each other, spent most of the day on a scaffold rolling paint onto the 20-foot ceilings. One said the experience gave her a new appreciation for Michelangelo. He spent seven years on his back painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Had it been me, I would have applied a coat of eggshell and been done in an afternoon. I guess that's the big difference between me and the Renaissance's greatest artist.
By the end of the day, the ceiling was done, and the walls had a first coat of eggshell. The volunteers wrapped the rollers and paint brushes in plastic for the next day. Many of them were planning to be back again on Sunday to continue.

**********

My cell phone rang in the middle of the day. An agent was calling to tell me she had received an offer on a house two of my clients were planning to bid on. If we were still interested in the house, she needed our offer by 7 p.m. No pressure, eh?
I called Amy, my partner in all things including real estate. She phoned the clients and began to prepare the offer, filling in the Promise to Purchase, Annex A (financing) and Annex B (other conditions). Covered with paint, I finished my shift with HH at 4 p.m. Time to get home, shower, change and zip across town to the Plateau to meet the clients at 5:30, go over the offer, do the math one more time, sign all the documents in quadruplicate and then race to Pointe-Claire to present the offer to the other agent and her client at 7 p.m.
It's always a gamble when you learn there's another offer on the table. Is the agent bluffing or are you really in competition with someone else for this really interesting Plateau property? Do you make your best possible offer from the get-go, or do you try to to low ball in the hopes of getting it for less?
I was pretty sure the other agent was BS-ing me. It seemed unlikely that an 11-th hour buyer had materialized. I didn't blame her, she was doing what she had to do to get the best price for her client.
Still, I couldn't take a chance. The clients and I talked it over. We decided to come in $3,000 higher than the offer we had originally settled on. They were still well within their budget.
I met the agent and her client in a Rockaberry's pie shop. (!!!) After five minutes of pleasantries, we got down to business, including a spiel about what outstanding citizens my clients are, how much they love the house, how they plan to turn it into a happy home for their five-year-old boy.
Ten minutes later, after some phone consultation with family members, our offer was accepted.
Ding-ding-ding!! Jackpot! Winner-winner-chicken-dinner! It's the best part of being a real estate. When you get to phone your clients and say, "Congratulations, you have just purchased a home."
Only I didn't. Instead, I purchased a raspberry crumb pie (they mentioned it was a favorite) and drove back to the Plateau to give them the good news face to face.
There was hugging, dancing and jumping up and down. We had pie and milk, as I urged them to contact the building inspector ASAP and to double down on their bank to get the financing squared away. By 9 p.m., I was headed home. It was a full day, and like the raspberry pie, a pretty good one, no matter how you slice it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pauline Marois' Chateau on Île-Bizard Up for Grabs


The Parti Québecois' grande dame has put her spacious waterfront retreat on the block, much to the delight of local media hacks.
The 12,000-square-foot La Closerie is listed with Sotheby's International Realty for a cool $8 million. That price buys you the usual bells and whistles of genteel West Island living, including 1.7-million square feet of fenced, landscaped and manicured land overlooking Rivière des Prairies. The 15-room home has eight bedrooms and a total of 10 bath and powder rooms.
You can check out the full listing on the Sotheby's site.
You might recall that Château Marois made headlines in 2007 when The Gazette ran an investigative piece by William Marsden alleging that Marois and her husband, the financier Claude Blanchet, improperly annexed government-owned agricultural land to create the 41.3-acre estate. You can read a version of Marsden's original story here.
None of the allegations have been proven in court. It is worth noting that Marois and Blanchet are now suing The Gazette and Marsden for libel, to the tune of $2 million.
Back to the house. News of the listing has created a buzz for columnists and bloggers during the usually drowsy summer news season.
La Presse's Patrick Lagacé blogged about the château, noting that he was surprised by how tasteful the place is. "We've all seen rich people with way less taste when it comes to matters of interior decorating."
Still, Lagacé thinks the house sends the wrong message. Too big, too in-yer-face for voters to easily accept.
Readers are engaging in a brisk back and forth. Some chide the leader of the soi-dissant social democratic PQ, for being showy. Others are equally vocal in their defense, saying Quebecers need to get over their deeply ingrained suspicion and jealousy of those who make scads of money. "Does she have to rent a 3 1/2 in Montreal North to satisfy you people?" goes one comment.
Anyway, if any of you are interested in seeing Château Marois, references required, please give me a call. I would love to collect the commission.
But I'm not holding my breath.

UPDATE

As luck would have it, I ran into Marois' agent Cyrille Girard of Sotheby's last week. He opened the door for my client and me at one his listings on Parc La Fontaine. I knew Cyrille slightly from my old job as Gazette real estate reporter. I complimented him on the coup of landing La Closerie. He showed me some clippings from the papers.
Here's the interesting part. Girard told me with a big conspiratorial smile that he has an even more interesting listing on Île-Bizard. It has nearly 35,000 square feet of living space. He told me who it belongs to. I'm not going to tell, but I will give two broad hints. She used to be the first lady of a country in southeast Asia. The 35,000 square feet presumably includes plenty of room for her shoes.
That's all I'm going to say.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Everyone Likes Getting Postcards, Right?

Yikes! Remind me never to send this guy a promotional postcard with a picture of a dog on it.
Seriously. I send out postcards to about 5,000 households in my target market, or "farm" several times a year. It costs me about $1,200 to $1,400 per mailing. It's supposed to be a good way to get your name out there, or so some of my colleagues say. So does the guy at the print shop, come to think of it. He wouldn't lie to me, would he?
The big question is always what to put on the postcard. The first one I did last year had a list of charitable organizations in the area that accept clothing and furniture donations - the Sally Ann, the Friperie Renaissance, the St-Vincent de Paul. etc. etc., plus phone numbers, addresses and whether they picked up. Billingual, full-colour. My not-quite smiling mug, next to the broadly smiling face of my cohort, Amy Barratt.
The second mailing had a hyper-local neighborhood picture and a promise of a free market evaluation.
The third postcard had a photo of a property we had just listed for sale. We're planning to send out another in a few weeks, as soon as that aforesmentioned property closes. It will trumpet our genius at selling the house for XX per cent of listing price in 8 days.
I'm open to any suggestions as to what else an effective postcard should feature. I have a cherished Lamey family recipe for a cookie we call "doots". Yup, they look like reindeer turds but taste much better. Should I send out the doot recipe in November as a lead-up to Christmas? My daughter is horrified at the thought, but I think the way into people's consciousness and onto their refrigerator doors may be through their stomachs.
Thoughts? Opinions? Suggestions?

Pent-Up Demand Propelled a Busy July for Montreal Real Estate

July is usually considered the dog days of Montreal's resale market. With so many buyers and sellers focused on finding a place and moving by almighty July 1, business tends to tail of for the rest of the month and everyone heads off for a well-earned vacation, or to recuperate after helping a friend move a sectional sofa into a third-floor walk-up.
Not this year!
Housing resales across greater Montreal rose by 19 per cent last month, compared to July, 2008. Median home prices rose by 7 per cent compared to the same month a year earlier.
In reality, I think the sales increase could be pinned on pent-up demand. The real estate market got off to a slow start this year. Buyers usually start kicking tires in early February with an eye towards closing the sale sometime in mid June. This year, sales were down in February, March and April before recovering in May and June. July's increase was an example of pent-up demand in action.
For a period of about seven months the Montreal housing market decided to wait and see. The terrible headlines from south of the border and points west put homeowners on edge and made buyers clutch their wallets a little tighter.
Thank goodness for the first-time buyers, who recognized that low interest rates and steady prices meant great deals were to be had.
Here's the breakdown of sales on the island of Montreal, courtesy of my industry overlords at the Greater Montreal Real Estate Board.

July 2009

Active listings: 7,695 (-6 per cent)

Total sales: 1,325 (+19 per cent)

Single-family: 454 (+23 per cent)
Condominium: 930 (+17 per cent)
Plexes 2-5 units: 275 (+16 per cent)

Volume of sales: $448,600,429 (+20 per cent)

Overall sales still trail 2008, but with recessionary jitters hopefully safe in our rear-view mirrors, I'm looking forward to finishing the year strong.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bright Lights in the Big City


Check out the cool interactive light display recently installed in the nascent Quartier des Spectacles. The low-wattage LED lights react to movement thanks to embedded sensors. You can test drive the technology every night between 7 and 11 p.m. at La Vitrine, 145 ste-Catherine West. It's the new ticket and concert info outlet facing Complexe Desjardins.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dumpster Diving


ReadyMade Magazine, the DIY Bible for Gen X, has a blog post on Brooklyn's cool new insider hangout, the dumpster swimming pool.
New York's hippest borough is home to a lo-fi country club in the industrial neighborhood of Redhook. Its centre piece is a swimming pool made from three recycled industrial bins
The dumpsters, about seven metres long and 1.5-metres deep, are lined with heavy plastic and a bed of sand. Each contains about 6,000 gallons of fresh water that runs through a chlorinated filter. Wooden decking, plastic patio chairs and barbecues complete the picture. There's even an outhouse. Acces to the club is by invitation only.
Project spokeseman Jocko Weyland reckons a halfway handy DIYer could put together a pool for less than $1,000. Maybe cheaper, if you know where to steal a dumpster (Let's be honest folks, don't we all?).
By the sounds of it, the Montreal equivalent would be to set up a secret swim club somewhere on the Lachine Canal in the wilds of Ville St. Pierre or industrial La Salle. You know the kind of place I'm talking about; it screams transmission fluid not tanning lotion.
The company, Macro Sea, has gleaned a ton of press in the New York papers for this offbeat idea. Spokesman Jocko Wayland says he and his partners were motivate to create their secret spa because there are so few places to swim in New York.
I suspect it has more to do with not wanting to be surrounded by squalling kids, screaming mums and fat guys with hairy backs in Speedos. Or maybe I'm projecting.
To me, the cool thing is that Macro Sea thought outside the box and found a new purpose for something as smelly, disgusting and ubiquitous as the common dumpster. It's part of their larger corporate mission to bring new life to underused urban spaces like strip malls.
You can read The New York Times story and watch a video here.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Imagine Montreal Without Old Montreal or Mount Royal Park

Happily, we don't have to entertain such nightmare scenarios, thanks in large part to visionary architect Sandy van Ginkel.
There was a time in Montreal when the powers that be in city hall and development circles saw the cobbled streets of Old Montreal as a slum ripe for urban renewal. In the early 1960s, a plan to build an expressway through the heart of the old city was formulated. Van Ginkel is credited with persuading the city's first urban planning director, Claude Robillard, of the cultural and historical value of Old Montreal.(Duh!) The Ville Marie Expressway was dug a few blocks north and Old Montreal was saved.
It wasn't his only gift to the city. He worked on the master plan for Expo 67 and saw promise in a young architecture student named Moshe Safdie. With van Ginkel's help, Safdie went on to design Habitat 67. He opposed development on Mount Royal. His other accomplishments included designing new towns in Sweden and the Netherlands after World War II and a hydrogen-powered bus used in the city of Vail. Did I mention he was also a member of the Dutch Resistance during the war?
Van Ginkel died on July 5 at the age of 89. The Globe and Mail has a nice obituary here. Canadian Architect weighs in here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Moss, Apparently It's Not Just a Problem on the North Side of Trees

I've been a Jon Eakes fan for a long time. The TV and radio handyman is a wellspring of home-repair and renovation information and a good talker, to boot.
I interviewed him once when I was still The Gazette's real-estate columnist. Instead of sitting in a café or office to chat, he took me on a ramble through Shaughnessy Village, that neighborhood around the old Forum and Montreal Children's Hosptial, pointing out giant icicles on the roof lines and diagnosing the probable causes. (Improper insulation is the number one cause, if memory serves me right.)
Anyway, Eakes has a great fix-it website. Every once in a while he sends out a newsletter. The latest issue has tips on removing moss from roof shingles. The rainy weather hasn't only been bad for sunbathers. Moss can eat away at the shingles, reducing the life of your roof.
I've been meaning to get up on a ladder to check out my rain gutters. Guess I might as well check for moss while I'm up there.
While on the topic, when was the last time you had your chimney professionally cleaned? Most insurance companies require an annual cleaning to reduce the risk of fire. It only costs about $50 to have done, but it's easy enough to forget about, especially if you don't have a fireplace. Now's as good a time as any to make that call. . .

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Montreal Real Estate Resales, Straight From the Horse's Mouth


June sales were up, up, up despite the lousy weather. I love that the real-estate board spokespeople are huddled under an umbrella outside the front door of the massively ugly Greater Montreal Real Estate Board headquarters, better to take advantage of the natural light. I guess they don't have the technology to shoot video indoors under fluorescent lights.
BTW, it has always struck me as funny that GMREB operates out of one of the tackiest office buildings in the city. How tackiest? If the GMREB was a custom tailor, it would be wearing a white polyester leisure suit with stealth-bomber lapels.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Housing Affordability, Hard to Beat Montreal

A new study by RBC Economics finds that housing affordability improved across Canada during the first three months of the year, with weaker home prices and lower borrowing costs substantially reducing costs in many markets.
On average, the cost to own a typical bungalow across Canada fell by 17 per cent, to $1,350 a month compared to $1,650 a month during the first quarter of last year.
RBC's affordability index looks at the percentage of pre-tax household income used to pay mortgage, utilities and property taxes. The Canadian average was 39.4 per cent, though you probably paid waaaay more than that if you lived in Vancouver, where the average household spends nearly 63 per cent of pre-tax income covering housing costs.
There would be revolution in the streets of Montreal if housing costs ever gobbled up anywhere near that percentage of income on anything as stodgy as a roof overhead.
In a city where renters still make up a bigger percentage of the population than in any other large Canadian city, people put a premium on living well with their money, even if it means settling for a smaller, possibly shabbier apartment. Don't believe me? Just peek through the window of any reasonably good resto on St. Denis St. on any Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday night. We like to eat out, and wash a good meal down with a good bottle of wine. Not once a week or once a month, as often as possible. Good food, nice clothes (your humble blogger excepted) and travel, these are the things Montrealers like to spend their money on.
The good news? It remains more affordable to buy and maintain a home in Montreal than in almost any city in Canada.
In Toronto, housing costs eat up nearly 46 per cent of household income, in Ottawa, it was just over 39 per cent. The two large cities that had costs lower than Montreal were Calgary (35 per cent) and Edmonton (34 per cent).
The RBC report found that Quebec housing markets fared better during the downturn than other parts of the country. Prices dipped a little during the last few months of 2008 but rebounded quickly in the spring.
"During this blip of a few months, prices barely missed a beat, generally staying their upward course (albeit at a slower pace.)" according to RBC's economists.
There was a common theme with the first-time buyers I worked with during the first half of the year. They all seemed to think the housing market was in freefall and that they would be able to pick up a house at a steep discount.
They were half right. Prices did not fall in Montreal. They held steady or rose slightly compared to last year. Where the discounts came was in borrowing costs, which fell steeply. That's what made this spring a good time to house hunt.

You've Got Fe-Mail!


Alert reader and avid kayaker Karen spotted this mail box/work of art on her way down to the Lachine Canal for a paddle. Nice!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Sunday Morning on Wellington St.




A mismatched assortment of chairs appeared on the walkway in front of this Wellington St. church a few weeks ago. At first, I thought they were a barricade to keep pedestrians from stepping in wet cement. Apparently not. The church's owner, who lives on the premises, set them up to give transit users a place to perch while waiting for the bus.
An interesting side note. The purse on the high stool remained there for a few days before eventually disappearing.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

L'autre Montréal


National Georgraphic Society has partnered with Heritage Montreal, Les Amis de la Montagne and other local players to devise a different kind of tourism guide to our fair city.
The so-called MapGuide, focuses on geotourism, which is described as tourism "that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place -- its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its residents."
You can download a PDF copy of the guide here
I love that it includes everything from the city's pretties back lanes to La Binerie Mont-Royal, home of authentic Quebec grub like ragoût de pattes et boulettes and pouding chômeur to Parc des Rapides, La Salle's beautiful park on the edge of the whitewater rapids.
This is the Montreal I want visitors to see. Heck, this is the Montreal I want to see during my staycation this summer.
Speaking of Montreal tourism, check out this old tourist poster that I grabbed off a web site somewhere. I think it's from the 1950s. For the life of me, I can't find the web site to get a larger image. Too bad.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Quebec To Finance Residential Solar Panels


The provincial government today announced a pilot financial program to help residential property owners install solar panels on their homes.
The government hopes to help as many as 600 homeowners install solar-powered hot water heating systems on their roofs between now and October, 2010.
The subsidies vary from $2,700 to $4,250, depending on the size of the installation. That represents about 50 per cent of the cost, according to a press release from the Agence de l'efficacité énergetique.
That's good news for Energie Verte Benny Farm, the non-profit energy services company that organizes buyers' groups to steer consumers through the solar panel purchase and installation process.
EVBF expects its first buyers' group of about 20 to begin installing their roof-top solar panels this summer. It is currently holding workshops with a second group, which could result in another 30 or so buyers moving ahead this fall.
EVBF has been anticipating the subsidy plan for nearly 18 months.
The subsidies, combined with other federal and provincial incentives could reduce the cost of buying and installing solar panels by as much as 75 per cent.
The roof-top panels are used to preheat water for domestic use - bathing, dishes and laundry. Hot water consumption accounts for about 30 per cent of a home's total energy consumption. Using renewable solar power results in lower energy bills and eases the strain on the environment.
You can read the Agence de l'efficacité énergetique press release, in French only for the moment, here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Secret World of Point St. Charles


Living in the Point means being engaged with your neighbors, whether you like it or not. Houses are generally built close to the property line, putting front steps and even doorways right on the sidewalk.
But there's a secret world in the Point. Behind those close-set houses you'll often find huge yards, sometimes wild, sometimes beautifully landscaped, invariably full of mature trees that do a lot to gentle the urban landscape.
Above is a picture taken from the balcony of a client's newly acquired condo in the Point. He fell for the architecture of the building, the high ceilings and the spacious rooms. The balcony and the tranquility of the neighboring yards are a bonus. I love this view.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Best News I've Heard in Maybe Seven Months



The number-crunchers at the Greater Montreal Real Estate Board report that May marked the first time in seven months that home sales outpaced the same month a year earlier.
Yup, after a sl-oooooo-w fall and early winter, buyers started to pop up like so many brave little crocuses in late March and April. In May, they were in full flower.
Sales through the board's MLS system increased by 8 per cent to 4,839 transactions. Single-family homes led the way, with 2,959 sales, a 13-per-cent increase compared to the same month in 2008. Condo sales rose by 2 per cent and plex sales up by 3 per cent.
The market spread the love around, with sales on the South Shore up by 13 per cent, year over year, on the North Shore sales rose 8 per cent. In Montreal, the off-island western suburbs and Laval, saw sales increase by 7, 5 and 4 per cent respectively.
What happened to get the market moving? The real estate board pegged it to increased consumer confidence, which is at its highest level since July, 2008. According to the board, 55 per cent of consumers surveyed said this was a good time to buy a home, compared to only 38 per cent in April. Historically low interest rates may have had something to do with that increased confidence.

Monday, June 15, 2009

In Verdun We Do Summer Right



This house at the corner of Desmarchais Blvd. and Wellington St. always has the most beautiful flower baskets.

What $180,000 to $190,000 Can Get You




At least 280 properties have sold since the beginning of 2009 for between $180,000 and $190,000 in greater Montreal. Included in that number are at least 67 single-family homes.
That should be good news to anyone who thinks that housing prices have risen beyond reach. Know hope! There are still plenty of affordable homes to be had, especially if you are willing to be something of an adventurer and take up residence outside your comfort zone. Yes, my Plateau hipsters, I'm talking to you!

The three properties posted here all sold for between $180k and $190k this year. They are all located in central neighborhoods and offer three different ownership possibilities.

The bottom photo features a duplex on Dumas St. in Ville Emard, located within walking distance of the Monk métro stop and near Ignace-Bourget Park, home to an awwwwwesome tobogganing hill.
The duplex features two two-bedroom apartments, each rented at $500 a month. The listing mentioned the possibility of quick owner occupancy. By paying 5 per cent down and using the rent from the other unit, a buyer could in theory reduce the monthly mortgage payment to about $500 a month.

The middle photo shows an upper undivided condo on St. Vallier St. in lovely Petite Patrie.
(I've been enchanted by St. Vallier St. ever since first hearing the Beau Dommage song Tous les Palmiers. It's about saying goodbye to sunny tropical climes for the joy of Montreal in early spring. "Adieu, adieu pays des oranges/ J'm'en vais aider mon frère qui déménage." The chorus goes "Soixante dix-sept soixante St-Vallier, Montréal.)
I digress.
The building is held in undivided co-ownership, which means that rather than buying a unit, the buyer acquires a fraction of the total building. Undivided properties generally sell for less than comparable divided properties. The upside is that they have lower school and municipal taxes. The downside is that buyers generally have to put at least a 20 per cent deposit when purchasing. This upgraded upper features two bedrooms and a balcony, plus a large storage area in the basement. The Beaubien métro is close by, as are St. Denis and Beaubien Sts., Little Italy and the Jean-Talon market.

The top photo features a Montreal shoebox-style bungalow in eastern Ville-Marie. In fact, it's so far east I'm not sure why it isn't considered Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, or HoMa, as the cool kids are calling it these days.
This 1,000-square-foot home has three closed bedrooms, as well as a living room and dining. The kitchen has a skylight and there are patio doors leading to an enclosed backyard. The garden has a pear tree, an apple tree and a cherry tree, as well as three kinds of grape vines. There's a fireplace in the living room and many upgrades including thermal windows, copper plumbing and a new hot water tank. The house is within five minutes of Frontenac métro.

These are just three of the nearly 300 properties that sold for between $180,000 and $190,000 so far this year. There are plenty of others to choose from in places like Rivière des Prairies, Pierrefonds and Mercier. If you're thinking of buying and affordability is on your mind, looking outside the hottest neighborhoods is a good option. You won't be alone. In its last quarterly market update, The Greater Montreal Real Estate Board reported that prices across the region rose 2 per cent between January and April. HoMa was one neighborhood that beat the Montreal average - prices there rose by 17 per cent, compared to the same quarter last year. Bargain-conscious buyers are flocking there. The same can be said for the Southwest borough, where prices are up a minimum of 37 per cent and as much as 55 per cent, depending of property type, over the last five years.

Friday, June 12, 2009

What Were They Thinking? #4

Where do I begin? If it was my kitchen, or I was the agent trying to sell this place, I'd start by sweeping everything off the table and counter tops and into a big bin that I would leave in the other room. I for dang sure wouldn't have a tea towel draped over the counter and I'd pick up the plastic bags and giant sack of kitty litter.
Next, I'd put all the lights on and then I'd go next door and borrow more lamps to make the place look bright and homey. I'd get the coat rack out of the picture and I'd open the curtains in the background all the way.
This picture was fairly representative of all the photos that went with this listing. It will not surprise you to learn that this hovel eventually sold for $130,000 less than asking price.
BTW, sometimes it's easy to blame tenants when a house appears messy. In this instance, the owner lived on the premises.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Montreal Making a Green Turn?

Gazette municipal affairs reporter Linda Gyulai is frantically tweeting about green promises coming out of city hall today.
Executive committee memeber Alan DeSousa (St. Laurent) says that from now on municipal renovation projects will aim for LEED gold certification. Also, the city is going to seek BOMA 1 or 2 ratings for existing buildings and plans to reduce energy use in existing municipal buildings by 15 per cent.
This news comes on the heels of the much ballyhooed launch of the downtown Bixi bike sharing network.
Sustainable development, energy efficiency and non-profit bikes, wow! Can it be that the Tremblay administration is worried about Louise Harel's entry into the municipal fray?

Urban Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder


New York City inaugurated a new park 30 feet above street level today. The High Line is a nine-block stretch of abandoned elevated rail track running through Manhattan's west side.
The rail line carried cattle to the city's meat packing plants from the 1930s to the 1980s. Two local residents made it their business to champion the weed-choked, graffiti-sprayed eyesore when others wanted it demolished and the area redeveloped. Against long odds, and the wishes of the Guiliani government, they managed to find sponsors and gain public support for an overhead park.
The first stretch of the High Line, awash in wildflowers and native plants, benches, walkways and vantage points offering views of the city, Statue of Liberty and Hudson River, opened at 7 a.m..

A second phase is scheduled to open next year. A third phase is under discussion.
I'll think of the High Line every time I hear some snob with a pricey condo on the Old Montreal waterfront whining about how the Silo # 2 blocks their view of the river. If nothing else, the overhead park offers proof positive that ugly has a beauty all its own.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Thinking Inside the MuvBox

If you are a semi-regular reader of this blog you might suspect that I have a thing for compact homes. It has a little to do my belief in the need to reduce consumption of all kinds. A good way to start is by not building big-ass houses that needlessly consume precious resources.
An equal part of it, though, is a deeply ingrained love of treehouses and best of all childhood pleasures, the packing crate hideout.
So imagine how delighted I was to disover MuvBox, the shipping container snack bar designed by local entreprenneur Daniel Noiseux.
Noiseux has taken a basic reinforced steel maritime container and with a tweek here and there, created a turn-key resto. The sides flip down, to create a deck, tables are screwed in, counters folded out and, voìla, a working lobster shack is ready for action in about 90 seconds. Did I mention that it is solar powered?

Fantastic! If it wasn't pouring out, I'd head right down to the Quai des Eclusiers in the Old Port for a lobster roll and look around.
Fire-proof, earthquake-proof, rustproof, what other proof do we need that this is an idea whose time has come? The typical shipping container is six metres long, and 2.5 metres in width and height. When are we going to see locally designed MuvBox style homes take shape?
Seriously, when?
Montreal is justifiably proud to have been designated a UNESCO Design City, the first in North America. The designation recognizes the effort both public and private sector players put into promoting and conserving good design in la belle ville. Why not sponsor a contest in which architects and designers create a model shipping container community. Lord knows we've got vacant land in the city core.
After all, some could argue that Montreal took a step forward in world consciousness in 1967 when Moshe Safdie's Habitat 67 was unveiled during the World's Fair. Maybe its time we made another splash with another modular housing concept. Why not erect a demonstration MuvBox City at the foot of Peel St., near the Old Port?
Think of the fun cutting-age architects like YH2, LOEUF or Sid Lee Architecture could have with these durable and adaptable boxes?
London has already done this with Container City in the London Docklands, but Montreal, anoher port city with a surplus of old containers, could put its own spin on the idea.
For another take, check out this story on the U.S. firm that is building $8,000 container homes for the working poor in Juarez, Mexico.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Things You Didn't Know You Needed




I've lived this long without a temperature-gauging shower head but now I'm not sure I can manage another day without this über-geeky bit of technology. The LED light shows blue when the water is cold but turns red when the temperature hits 89 degrees Farenheit. Did I mention that it also serves as a water-flow regulator, reducing the water flow to 2.5 gallons per minute at a pressure of 80 psi? Nice!
And to think that for all this time we've been sticking our hands under the shower and saying "Yup, that's hot."
You can order one here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What Were They Thinking, #3 in a Series.


Who is the bigger idiot, the owner who doesn't bother cleaning up the kitchen before letting the agent/photographer take pictures of the property, or the agent/photographer who thinks this image is going to help sell the property?
Maybe they were after that coveted sad clown demographic with those flaccid, deflated balloons.
Here are a few handy tips to make your home photograph better. Clear the counters, take the fridge magnets, photos and coupons off the refrigerator. Make the beds. Close the cupboard and closet doors. Put the toilet seat and lid down. Get the shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, make-up and stuff out of sight beforehand.
The aim is to create the illusion of space and order, even where neither exists. Believe it or not, people buying houses are trying to escape their own messes. They sure as shooting don't want to buy yours.
Resume what you were doing.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?


The sleek modernist Chicago area home featured in the '80s classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off has recently been put up for sale at a tidy $2.3 million U.S.
You remember the house. At the end of the film Bueller's friend Cameron accidentally sends his dad's prize 1961 Ferrari through a glass curtainwall and plunging into the ravine. Yup, that house.
You can see pictures and the listing here
Its connection to a cherished post-boomer comedy notwithstanding, the Highland Park property is plenty cool, if a little antiseptic, in it's own right.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Habitat in St. Henri


Habitat for Humanity is gearing up to build two more houses for low-income families in St. Henri this summer. They are looking for volunteers to help on the various committees leading up to the build as well as others to do the more usual hammering, sawing and toting of construction materials.
Sound like something you might like to do? There's an information session Saturday, May 30 at 10 am. The location is the Delta Hotel, 777 University St. (kitty corner to Place Bonaventure at St. Antoine)
If you have questions, you can email the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity at: construction@habitatmontreal.qc.ca or info@habitatmontreal.qc.ca
You can visit the local Habitat for Humanity web site here.
The picture above was cribbed from HH's web site. It's from a home-raising in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve last summer.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Local Housing : Lots of Choice Yet Prices Firm

La Presse had a good resumé of the current housing market in the Saturday Mon Toit section.
The headline read "À défaut d'aubaines, l'embarras du choix", or "In the Absence of Bargains, an Embarrassment of Choice".
The underlying theme was that while turmoil has struck other markets across North America, Montreal continues to chug along.
Buyers hoping to scoop up real estate at distressed prices have been disappointed. Prices are stable and even rising. What has changed is that properties are taking a little longer to sell. It took the typical home 65 days to sell during the first three months of last year. During the first quarter of 2009, that listing period was 80 days. There are more properties to choose from and buyers have more time to consider their purchase, but prices continue to increase.
You can read the article here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Living Large, Not.


The Los Angeles Times has a nice photo essay today on the movement to build "tiny" houses. Author Mimi Zeiger has just published a tiny art book on the topic. The movement is sparked by the laudable impulse to reduce the size of our carbon footprint and to pare homes down to the essential. Waste not, want not and all that. The houses featured are daring, beautiful and fanciful. I, for one, love the idea of living in a little cabin on stilts among the primeval treetops. Must check whether my neighborhood is zoned for that. . .
They aren't all practical, however. Horden Cherry Lee Architects' 76-square-foot micro-compact aluminum cube might have two double beds, a kitchen, bath and dining table, but who would want to live in it? It is the residential equivalent of a Smart car, cute as all get out, but really useless when there are three of you needing to get from Point A to Point B in a hurry.(Good luck if you blow a tire on the highway, btw. Smart cars don't come equipped with spare tires.) Tiny, when this small, is a parlor game.
Funny how tiny becomes chic when rich people and their architects adopt it. Tiny houses are just plain "too small" when poor people live in them. I'm still waiting for architects to devise beautiful. compact and architecturally daring small homes for the masses. Now that would be revolutionary.
But enough of my gassing on. Take a look at the LA Times' photo gallery here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Going Solar?


Have your ever wondered whether installing solar panels on your home was a viable energy alternative? Many people have, only to drop the idea because of the expense or daunting technical nature of such a project.
Energie Verte Benny Farm understands your reticence and offers a possible solution.
EVBF is a non-profit company that promotes alternative and renewable energy solutions. It has a program called Acces Energie that puts together buying groups to bring down the cost of solar-powered energy systems.
According to EVBF's web site, the typical solar hot-water system for a household of 4 costs about $5,000 installed. Subsidies and savings through the collective buying process could reduce that by as much as 50 per cent.
Accès Energie's consultants will help you figure out which system is best suited to your home and will send out tenders to contractors to get the best equipment and installation price. It will even walk you through the municipal permit procees.
All this to say that Energie Verte Benny Farm is planning at least two information sessions for those interested in learning more about installing a roof-top solar energy system.
The info sessions will be held at the Urban Ecology Centre, 3516 Park Ave. on May 27
and at Coop la Maison verte, 5785 Sherbrooke W., on June 10. Other sessions are being planned. Check the web site for more details.
UPDATE Sometimes, I'm too clever by half. After talking to Alex Hill, the engineer who coordinates the Accès Energie program, I now realize that the panels in my picture are photovoltaic and not the solar thermal panels that Accès Energie promotes. My bad.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What Were They Thinking, #2 in a Series


The listing could just as easily have said "Unfinished basement, suitable for storage."

La Fontaine Park, Update


After reading the post on La Fontaine Park, my alert friend Karen sent along this photo of her five(?)-year-old self and the aforementioned whale aquarium. Looking good, Karen! I like the bangs.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Chowhound Weighs in on Verdun's Mysterious Mauritian Resto

Chowhound, the foodie web site, has a hilarious review of one of Verdun's best kept gustatory secrets. Délices de L'Ile Maurice gets an enthusiastic thumbs up here.

The Zoo at La Fontaine Park


This 1961 photo posted on the Histoire du Plateau blog took me right back to childhood. Anybody else remember the zoo in the north (Rachel St.) end of La Fontaine Park? It had a distinctly biblical theme, with an ark full of goats and sheep and a giant whale whose mouth you could walk into. Inside was an aquarium full of goldfish, as I recall. It seemed to me that the zoo was closed in the early 1980s, but Wikipedia assets that it remained open until 1989. Can that be right?
My friend Noni's parents lived in a triplex on Christophe-Colomb a little north of the park. She says you could hear the peacocks squawking at all hours of the day.
Of course today the zoo has serves as a playground for the offspring of the Plateau bourgeoisie.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dupuis Park Saved, For Now

Public outcry and a little media blitz seem to have done the job. The city has agreed to leave Dupuis Park and Rutherford Park open to the public for at least a year while it studies ways to improve the security of their water-treatment plants.
You can read The Gazette report here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

April Resales - Fewer Transactions, Prices Hold Steady


The Greater Montreal Real Estate Board confirmed what agents on the ground have been sensing, that April was a quiet month for Montreal resale market.
The board reports that residential resales declined by 6 per cent to 4,829 sales last month compared to the same month a year ago. April, 2008 was one of the busiest months on record, according to the GMREB.
As for prices, single-family values held steady last month, neither rising nor falling, while the average condo price crept up by 5 per cent. If you break out condo sales on the island of Montreal alone, prices rose by an average of 7 per cent. The average plex (two- to five nuts) edge up by 1 per cent.
Buyers are taking a little longer to make their choice, with the typical property staying on the market 80 days, compared to 67 days a year ago.
The number of active listings has increased by 10 per cent, year over year, to 28,322.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Home Renovation Tax Rebate Calculator

Both the Quebec and Canadian governments are offering home-renovation tax rebates this year as an economic stimulus measure. Now the Quebec government has an on-line calculator to help you figure out how much you could get back.
Cool tool, though I have to say the disclaimer at the bottom of the page is a bit of a buzz kill:

The calculator can be used to estimate the assistance you may be entitled to, based on certain assumptions designed to reflect the most common situations. The exact amounts will be determined by the responsible departments and organizations on the basis of the specific characteristics of each measure and depending on the specific situation of each household.

It kinda reminds me of those perscription ads on TV. "If you experience double vision after applying for the Quebec home-renovation tax credit, or persistent itching, should you grow hair on your tongue or develop a third eye in the middle of your forehead, consult a professional. The Quebec home-renovation tax credit may not be suitable for all users."

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Jane's Walk - Point St. Charles




It was a sunny if blustery day for Jane's Walkers in Point St. Charles today as three local volunteer guides led about 15 people on a walk through the old working class neighbohood. The talk was a little heavy on political skirmishes of the past and a little light on the kind of human-interest stories that bring neighbohoods alive. Still, I'm glad I went. A lively discussion broke out about which is the best Indian restaurant on the main drag, Centre St. Apparently four of them have opened in the last year.
I gleaned a few things during the walk. If you've ever biked the Lachine Canal bike path, you might have noticed the remains of the red brick factory and a blackened smokestack just east of the Charlevoix Bridge. (Left) It is all that remains of a 19th century rope-making factory, the Converse Co.. The factory was a narrow building that lined the canal from the Charlevoix St. to, wait for it, Ropery St. a long city block away. Now I know how Ropery St. got its name. Because the rope was wound around stanchion located at either end of the factory, they needed a long footprint, but not a lot of width.
St. Gabriel's Church on Centre St. in the Point was built by the sizable Irish community in 1895.(Right) It was the second church built on the site, replacing a wooden church built in 1875.
In 1954 the church was heavily damaged by fire, which explains why it has no steeple. By that time, many of the working-class Irish who had filled its pews had moved out of the neighborhood. The bell tower never was rebuilt.
According to our tour guides, the first Europeans settled in what is now Point St. Charles in 1654. It was mostly agricultural land. Today, 43 per cent of the neighborhood's rental stock is social housing.

Bike Paths in and Around Montreal


The Montreal Mirror, a newspaper with which I started my journalism career*, has a good piece on area bike trails.

* Actually, I started my journalism career at age 11, writing Girl Guide and Brownie news for my hometown St. Bruno Journal. The difference is that I didn't get paid for that column. The Mirror paid me with free LPs (!!!) and the occasional movie pass.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Save Dupuis Park




UPDATE The Gazette now reports that the city is also restricting access to Rutherford Park, the green space atop the McTavish reservoir just south of Pine Ave. at University. Could this have something to do with the fact that people keep documenting how easy it is to get into the filtration plants?

The Gazette reports that without a word of warning, much less public consultation, the city has decided to close Dupuis Park, a four-hectacre green space that sits atop the Atwater filtration plant's water reservoirs.
The city says the park, where locals run, fly kites and play soccer and other sports, was never officially a park. Funny, because it is listed among Verdun borough's parks on the city web site.
Area residents told The Gazette that the non-park's soccer nets and baseball diamonds were removed about 10 days ago.
The city has tried to dodge responsibility, with Verdun saying the green space actually lies within the borders of neighboring Sud-Ouest and Sud-Ouest saying Verdun has long agreed to maintain the park because its three public access points are on Verdun territory.
Now the story is that the green space is the private property of the water filtration plant. The plant will allow some controlled access by sporting associations, but the days of wandering into Dupuis Park for a jog, a picnic or to admire the city skyline are over.
Perhaps they thought no one would mind. They thought wrong. A citizens' group has started organizing to save the park. You can find out how to help and sign a petition at www.4hectares.info


Paul Beaupré, who looks like he has never flown a kite or picnicked in a park in his life, represents the Verdun district in which Dupuis Park is or isn't located. His number is 765-7010 His email is paul.beaupre@verdun.ca The next borough council meeting is at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 5. The address is 4555 Verdun Ave.

Michel Mérette
is the manager of the Atwater filtration plant. I can't seem to find a phone number for him.

If you don't get satisfcation from either of them, you can, as a last resort, file a complaint with Montreal's go-get-'em ombudsman, Johanne Savard at (514) 872-8999 or ombudsman@ville.montreal.qc.ca

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Will Recession Create a Back-to-Basics Movement in Architecture?



Witold Rybczynski suggests it might. The renowned Montreal-born architect and thinker asserts that one casualty of the worldwide economic downturn might be what he terms architectural "instant icons".
He was the keynote speaker at the American Planning Association.
Once upon a not-so-long-ago, buildings were designed and built for the long haul. Think the Empire State Building, which at the time of construction was not considered a standout of skyscraper construction, according to Rybcynski. It gained that status over the decades, thanks to the people of New York.

"What makes icons isn't architects. It's really the public," Rybczynski said. "It's really the public deciding on its own, sometimes quickly and sometimes over a long period of time. ... It somehow captures the public's imagination."

That has shifted in recent decades as architects and their clients strove to create instant landmarks. Syndey's Opera House is an example of a signature building that instantly transformed the skyline. Frank Gehry's undulating Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain is another.
But for every success, there are a equal or greater number of failures. He pointed to his hometown's extravagantly unsuccessful Olympic Stadium, The Big Owe, as one example of a "instant icon" that failed and failed big time.
In this report from his speech, Rybczynski seems to fault the Big Owe on practical grounds - uh, the friggin' retractable roof has never once worked - rather than aesthetic - it's fugly - grounds.
Rybczynski says that with money scarce, the pendulum may be swinging back. People will worry more about how a building works and less on how it looks. If that happens, it will be up to the public to decide which buildings are icons.