Friday, February 27, 2009

3 Bedrooms, 2 Baths, No Bats

Looking to make an underground real-estate deal? The owners of a 15,000-square-foot cave in Festus, Missouri have a house for you, especially if you're a yabba-dabba-do-it-yourselfer.
They are selling their one-of-a-kind home on e-Bay. Bidding starts at $300,000.
That will buy you nearly three wooded acres not far from St. Louis. The house is built into the opening of an abandoned sandstone mine with 11-metre high ceilings and natural stone walls. The entrance is finished with natural timber and 37 sliding glass doors that flood the space with natural light.
There's no furnace or air-conditioning system. Climate control is provided by passive solar energy and geothermal. The ambient temperature is a nice even 16 degrees C year-round. The owners run 3 giant dehumidifiers almost constantly to keep the damp and mustiness at bay.
Except for a little trouble with the odd occurance of falling gravel and dust, they say it is a great place to live. No bats, no bugs, no noisy neighbors.
The home features three chambers. The front, where all the natural light reaches, is the living area. The second chamber is used for laundry storage and a guest bathroom. The third chamber, way at the back features a stage. Once upon a time, the cave was operated as a roller skating rink and also a rock venue. If you listen closely, you might just hear the fading strains of Cat Scratch Fever and Against the Wind, courtesy of rockers Ted Nugent and Bob Seger, both of whom performed there.
The current owners bought the property in 2004 for $160,000. The vendor took half the money up front. The rest is due in May. You will be surprised to discover that U.S. lenders are reluctant to mortgage a cave at this time.
They figure they've sunk another $150,000 into the project and that there are still finishing jobs to do.
So far, they've had about 6,000 email inquiries.

If you want to see more click here

First Time Buyers Into The Fray

I mentioned the phenomenal number of first-time buyers who've called me since the beginning of the year. It seems it might be a trend.
Phil Soper, CEO of Brookfield Real Estate Services, says factors like historically low mortgage rates and declining prices in many parts of Canada, are luring newbies back into the housing hunt. This is a reversal of the recent market trend which saw sales fueled by downsizing baby boomers.
Now the babies of the baby boomers could step up in big numbers. They're an interesting bunch, as Soper pointed out at the Scotiabank Real Estate Outlook Forum in Toronto today.
Generation Next, now in their 20s and 30s, were raised in homes where both parents worked. Today's first-time buyers tend to be self-reliant, tech-savvy and able to do their own research. They will use all the on-line tools at their disposal to suss out neighborhoods, prices and services before making an informed housing choice.
In recent years, first-timers have been pushed to the sidelines but they might just what we need to put a little spark into the market.
(Brookfield owns the Royal LePage and La Capitale banners, by the way, so you know Phil Soper has a finger on the industry pulse.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Getting Light Where It's Tight

I spotted an ad for this handy golf-ball sized LED light and knew immediately I had to have one. The wide-angle light has 12 super strong magnets so you can point the light to exactly the right spot. Perfect for those tight, dark spaces (like behind the TV, under the kitchen sink or the fuse box. There's no sign of a Canadian distributor, but you can order directly from the manufacturer. Doesn't it look like the kind of thing you'd see in the Lee Valley catalogue or at Mountain Equipment Co-op?

You can see more pix and watch a little video here

R.I.P. Florence Bernard

I only met Re/Max Royal Jordan agent Florence Bernard once, but what a memorable meeting. I was still The Gazette's real-estate columnist when she called me up out of the blue and invited me for a chatty lunch at a very nice Italian restaurant on the West Island.
We talked about all the changes she saw over the course of 37 years in the business.
"Back when I started, I was often the only woman in the room. The broker was a man, the banker was a man, the notary was a man, the seller was a man and the buyer was, too," she said.
Times sure did change. Florence became one of the West Island's most successful and recognizable agents. Her face, all mischief and confidence and bouffant blonde hair, grinned out from lawn signs from Dorval to Ile Perrot.
During that long, wine-fueled lunch, Florence told me about helping a doctor find the perfect house. He wanted to get her a thank-you gift. (That's a switch. It's usually the agents who get the clients gifts!). For some reason, Florence got the idea in her head to have a full-body MRI, because she had read about people doing this in the U.S. as part of their annual physical exams. You can only imagine how long the waiting lists were in Quebec for such things. Somehow, the doctor finagled an appointment.
What was supposed to be a lark, quickly became deadly serious. They found cancer. The tumor was so small that if might have gone undetected for a long time but it was a serious and malignant thing.
She underwent aggressive therapy and battled back. The experience gave her a new zest for life. She traveled more and savoured her friendships more. She had found the man she'd always been looking for in Ed.
Sadly, Florence Bernard died on February 22, after a recurrence of cancer.
I don't pretend to have known her, but I enjoyed that lunch so much and felt I'd made a friend. I always thought our paths would cross again. I'm sure I'm not the only person in her wide circle of clients, colleagues and acquaintances who feel she was taken too soon. God rest Florence . May the angels sing you home.
Visitation is today from 3-9 p.m. at the Collins Clarke MacGilllivray White Funeral Home on Highway 20, Pointe Claire and again tomorrow from 10-noon. The funeral is Friday 2 p.m. at the Beaconsfield United Church.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Montreal Prices Holding Steady

I've taken on a number of new clients since the beginning of year, mostly young, first-time buyers who think they might be able to pick up a home at a bargain price because of the soft economy.
If I had a dollar for every client who has earnestly asked me whether prices are coming down, I'd be able to buy a round of coffee for all my faithful readers.
In fact, while Canada's other large cities are facing a steep drop in prices and an oversupply of listings, prices continue to hold steady in Montreal.
The just-out Teranet-National Bank composite house-price index shows that prices fell year-over-year in three of Canada's biggest centres, contributing to a 0.6-per-cent decline nationally. Prices were off in Calgary (-7.6 per cent), Vancouver (1.5 per cent) and Toronto (-0.6 per cent). Home prices rose by 5.4 per cent in Montreal. The survey looked at 2008 as a whole. The forecast is for Montreal prices to fall by 0.1 per cent in 2009. On a $250,000 home, that's a big $250 saving, about what you might expect to spend on your first trip to the hardware store as a homeowner. A nice bit of change, but hardly a deal maker or breaker in the great scheme of things.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Not To Bite The Hand That Feeds Us But. . .

So the federal government is offering up to $1,350 in tax rebates to home owners who spend $10,000 on home improvement projects this tax year. Nice, right? Sure, but when you stop to think of it, what does it really mean? How much will $10,000 buy you? A bare-bones reno of a small kitchen with off-the-shelf cabinetry, maybe. Certainly not a professionally installed dream kitchen.
I can't help but think that Ottawa could have been bolder. If the point was to get people to invest in their homes and keep the cash registers at the big box stores ringing, they could have gone two ways. A higher spending limit would have been an option. Why not boost the limit to $20,000, as Quebec has done with its recent home renovation tax scheme?
Another idea would have been to keep the limit at $10,000 but increase the tax rebate to 20 per cent. As it is, you have to shell out for purchases and pay sales tax of 12.87 per cent in order to get a 15 per cent income tax rebate. Nice, but not a huge incentive. Boosting the tax rebate would encourage more owners to invest in things like paint, wood for decking, landscaping, flooring of all kinds. It might not create construction or renovation jobs, but would certainly make it more interesting for DIY types to get busy with home improvement projects.
But then, maybe that's the point. Perhaps the aim isn't to help Canadians keep more money in their pockets. Perhaps the aim is to strike a blow against under-the-table contractors.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tax Rebates for First-Time Buyers and Homeowners

The recent federal budget has a few bonbons for Canadian homeowners, including tax rebates to help offset the cost of home renovations and more money for energy retrofits.
First-time buyers will will get two boosts. Ottawa will allow first buyers to withdraw an additional $5,000 from their RRSPs to use as a down payment on their purchase. That brings the limit to $25,000, or $50,000 per couple. This is the first time the RRSP limit has been increased since the first home buyers program was introduced in 1992.
It goes without saying that housing prices have climbed substantially since 1992 (when Garth Brooks ruled the pop charts and a single-family home could be had for about $116,000 in Montreal.) Don't forget, you have two years to start paying the money back into your RRSP and must repay the amount in full within 15 years.
Ottawa has also announced a 15-per-cent tax credit to help buyers offset closing costs on their first home purchase.
Details as yet are sketchy. Buyers can claim the rebate on items such as notarial fees and what are described as "land-transfer fees". In Quebec, that could translate to help with the pesky "welcome" tax billed to buyers withing 60 days of taking possession of a property. Are other fees related to the home purchase - inspection fees, for example - eligible? So far, the clerks at Services Canada are not able to say. Save your receipts and talk it over with your accountant when you file your 2009 income tax return.
The 15-per-cent home renovation tax rebate kicks in when you spend more than $1,000 and up to a maximum of $10,000 on a wide range of improvement projects. It covers labour and materials but does not cover the purchase of tools, furniture or regular maintenance and cleaning. The maximum credit is $1,350.
Quebec introduced its own home-renovation tax credit in January, though with much less fanfare than Ottawa. The rules are different, the time frame is different and the spending requirements are different, too. Basically, you will be eligible for a 20-per-cent tax rebate on renovation projects that cost more than $7,5000, to a maximum of $20,000. The work must be done by a "qualified professional". A gold star for you if you do the work yourself, but sadly, no tax break.
Click here for more info.

What economic slowdown? There are more agents than ever.

Quebec's real-estate regulator, the Association des courtiers et agents immobiliers du Quebec, also known as the ACAIQ, reports that the number of agents who sought licenses for 2009 jumped by 1,500. There are now 17,500 licensed agents in Quebec.
What's going on? For one thing, a weak economy may be propelling more people into the industry. The barriers to entry are low. It costs less than $4,000 to enroll in a certified real-estate program. If you study full-time, you can be on the street with a license to practice in less than four months. That can be an attractive option for a laid-off worker seeking a new career path.
The number of real-estate graduates has been climbing steadily for a decade, from about 1,100 in 1997 to more than 2,400 in 2006. No doubt some of those graduates were attracted by the lure of easy money.
The reality is that about 85 per cent of those who graduate stick it out in the business for one year. At the end of five years, only 50 per cent of those graduates are still in the business.
It is only going to get harder.
The ACAIQ is in the process of rewriting the Real Estate Brokerage Act, the legislation which governs the practice of real-estate brokerage in la belle province. Starting as soon as July, it will be harder and take longer to earn that real estate license. Maybe some of those freshly minted agents are signing up now to avoid the heavier training requirements. If history is any indicator, a bigger crop of new agents won't necessarily translate into a larger pool of agents further down the road.