Monday, March 30, 2009

Gardening Season is Nearly Here

The snow is gone from my south-facing back yard, but I'm obsessed with the shady side yard. It still has a stubborn crust of ice and snow.
When Clancy, my beloved 16-year-old mutt, died last year (okay that's not quite true, I had him euthanized here at home by a vet) we dug a big ol' hole in the solid clay and buried him in the side yard under the lilacs. I then planted a garden over top.
All last fall that patch of land looked like a slick, muddy mess, but I'm pretty sure it will be beautiful come spring. I placed some large jagged rocks around the bed, then sowed Asian poppy seeds that my sister in Calgary semt with assurances that they will spread like wildfire. I planted ornamental grasses, yarrow and Russian sage.
Yesterday's rain did a job on the snow and today I can see lots of crocuses and early bulbs sending out strong green shoots.
This year, I'm taking my gardening cues from this guy profiled in the Sunday Times. He says gardening should be slow, easy and green. I'm done nurturing roses. My ongoing battle with goat weed is a thing of the past. This year, easy does it in my garden. I might even try making a bottle tree.
By the way, this is my favorite Montreal garden centre. You need a car to get there, but it is totally worth the trip.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Habitat Classified Historic Monument

Habitat, the iconic apartment complex in Montreal's Cité du Havre, has been classified as a historic monument by Quebec's Ministry of Culture.
The move comes 42 years after the tumbled building block complex was erected as an prototype housing development for Expo 67.
Architect Moshe Safdie, who designed Habitat as an unheralded 25-year-old, was on hand for the announcement.
Safdie still owns two 10th-floor apartments in Habitat. He was on hand for the announcement in Montreal yesterday. According to La Presse, he used the opportunity to announce that he plans to donate his apartments to an unspecified "public institution" to allow the general public to visit and appreciate the development.
Habitat consists of one- and two-storey apartments created out of precast concrete boxes that were staggered in three pyramids.
The 355 cubes created 148 apartments, each with a private terrace built on the roof of the unit below. The idea was to marry the tranquility and greenery of the 'surbs with the high-density housing needs of the city.
Built as a prototype "affordable" housing community, Habitat is now one the city's most chic addresses. There are 14 units currently on the market, ranging in price from $479,000 for two bedrooms to $858,000 for a three-bedroom. Two more are for rent, starting at $4,500 a month for a two-bedroom.
The historic designation, which covers the exterior of the building, as well as Safdie's apartments, means that Habitat's management can now apply for government funding for needed restorations.
If you'd like to get a peek inside, the design school of UQAM is organizing a free guided visit of Habitat next Saturday. You can register here

UPDATE I signed up for the UQAM-organized tour of Habitat. Sadly, I just received an email from someone at the university explaining that the automated registration system that was supposed to cap registrations at 40 has messed up and reserved places for many, many, too many people. Sadly, I didn't make the cut. Rats.

Open House Sunday 2-4 p.m.

I'll be holding an open house at 5899 David-Lewis in Côte St. Luc tomorrow. It's a pretty spectacular upper condo that was converted from a three-bedroom to a sleek one-bedroom loft with mezzanine.
It features 1,700 square feet of living space, a huge master bedroom with spacious deck, unbelievable gourmet kitchen, fireplace, cathedral ceiling and lots of light through huge windows.
Asking price is $385,000.

Depends on What You Mean By Affordable

Kristian Gravenor posted a link to the annual Demographia survey of housing affordability on his Coolopolis blog. It caught my eye, not least because the big thinkers at Demographia have listed Montreal among the cities where housing affordability has decreased in the last year. In fact, they say Montreal has tipped into the category of seriously unaffordable.
The 5th edition of the survey measures affordability by looking at typical income and typical mortgage and asking how long it would take to pay one off using the other. Montreal's median multiplier is 4.6 - that's how many year's salary it would take to pay off the typical mortgage here. Last year, the Montreal median multiplier was 3.9, according to Demographia.
It's very early and I've only had one cup of coffee, but I've got to pick a few holes in their conclusions. First of all, about biases. Demographia is unabashedly pro development.The argument articulated by survey author Dr. Shlomo Angel (NYU and Princeton) is that by embracing "smart" growth, cities raise the cost of development and put home ownership out of reach. If Demographia had its way, more cities would allow developers to run with the ball. They think sprawl is a good thing.
If you look at the 10 most affordable cities, where the median multiplier is under 2.2 (ie:, it will requires a little more than two years' salary to pay off a mortgage) you find a preponderance of hollowed out Rust Belt communities - Youngstown, Canton and Toldeo, Ohio, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Flint and Lansing, Michigan.
Can anyone seriously argue that these cities are paragons of affordability? I mean, people are auctioning houses on eBay for $1 in some of these places.
Montreal, unaffordable? In this town, the average homeowner devotes 39 per cent of gross income to paying housing costs. I'll take it. Let's leave the silly surveys on the shelf.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Because It's Friday and I Can

So sue me. Dance!

The Garbage Warrior

I missed the Colbert Report's recent interview with radical architect Michael Reynolds. Through the miracle of the internets you can watch it now.
Reynolds uses quote-unquote "garbage" to build self-sufficient, off-the-grid housing communities. Garbage like beer cans, water bottles and old tires.
This has put him on a collision course with the powers that be of the U.S. zoning and planning world but has made him a hero in places where people need safe, affordable places to live and where clean water and reliable sewage are not a given.
Reynolds is the subject of the documentary Garbage Warrior. You can watch the trailer here.
Watching him build houses with discarded water bottle "bricks" reminds me of Montreal architect Grant Genova, who converted an old lobster warehouse on Roy St. in the Plateau into a wildly original house/gallery and workshop. Genova set empty pop and wine bottles into the cement walls of his house to create beautiful honeycombed "stained glass windows."
To build the walls, he filled discarded plastic shopping bags with wet cement and stacked them, sandbaglike. As the cement hardened it took on the amorphous blobby shape of the bags. Once the cement dried, Genova tore the plastic bags away, leaving voluptuous and rounded walls. The pop bottle windows glowed like Chartres during midnight mass. Cool stuff.
Find out more about the documentary here

Montreal Bucks Big City Trend

A report by National Bank and Teranet confirms that residential real estate prices in Montreal rose by 4.1 per cent last year, while across Canada prices declined.
In the country's three other large markets, the decrease ranged from -8.2 per cent in Calgary, to -4.2 per cent in Vancouver to -2.4 per cent in Toronto.
Buoyed by a run up in oil prices, Calgary saw resale prices leap by an average of 45 per cent in 2006. This led to a spate of speculative new construction. With oil prices down and the economy stalling, the city is now dealing with a housing glut.
In Vancouver, housing prices rose 24 per cent in 2007, which again led to a speculative frenzy that pushed prices out of the range of what the average consumer could afford. Prices will have to come down before the market can right itself, according the Michel Beauséjour, chief executive of the Greater Montreal Real Estate Board.
In Toronto, hits to the manufacturing sector have taken their toll on that city's housing sector, too. The troubled automobile sector is hurting prices in large swathes of southern Ontario. There was a story out this week that said you can now buy a house in Windsor for less than the cost of a new car. Never good.
Montreal has seen its own run-up in prices in recent years, the best of which was 2002 when prices rose by an average of 15 per cent.
Still, after a long recession in the mid 1990s, what the local market has experienced is 10 years of making up for lost time. Housing remains affordable, with little speculative investment, and few worries about over construction expect at the very high end of prices. Borrowing rates remain favourable and the economy, while volatile, is more diversified than in Ontario or Calgary and so might be better equipped to weather a recession.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Marianopolis Conversion: More Cars, More Trees.

La Presse got a sneak peek at plans for the $300-million luxury housing development on the site of the old Marianopolis College.
The scheme includes 350 units, with 10 single-family homes on the grounds of the former Sulpician seminary, Côte-des-Neiges Rd. near Cedar Ave..
The plan, by Daniel Arbour et Associés, envisages the construction of some 20 buildings varying from six to nine storeys as well as the stand-alone houses. A new pool and sports complex will be built to replace the existing structures.
Les Amis de la Montagne have already voiced concern over increased car traffic because of the project. The plans call for 2 parking spots per housing unit - potentially 700 to 800 more cars around Mount Royal, a protected zone. After a first look-see, city hall has already asked the developer, Cato Inc., to reduce the density of some of the buildings to minimize the number of trees that will be cut down and to safeguard the view of the mountain.
Cato Inc. has already promised to plant 300 trees and bushes to replace 68 mature trees that will be felled during construction.
The public will have a chance to voice its opinion during hearings, though no date is mentioned in the La Presse story. The developer hopes to break ground in the fall.
(The above rendering is by Daniel Arbour et associés)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dining in Verdun, More Than Just Hot Dogs

In my campaign to celebrate all things Verdun, I offer this link to a Gazette story on Wellington St.'s emerging foodie scene. I'm going to dinner at Gastronomie Le Naked Lunch next week. Details to follow.

Monday, March 23, 2009

CMHC and the Big Banks Tackle Mortgage Default Worries Head On

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. and the country's biggest lenders are launching a campaign aimed at heading off an increase in mortgage defaults.
They will urge mortgage holders to approach their lenders about easing the terms of their mortgages before financial problems get out of hand.
The campaign is a reaction to a rising number of mortgage defaults in this country - though the problem is minuscule compared to what's going on in the U.S..
According to the latest figures from the Canadian Bankers Association, as of last October .29 per cent of Canadian mortgages were in arrears, up from 0.26 per cent a year earlier. To be in arrears, mortgage payments must be 90 days late.
The Canadian situation stands in stark contrast to the U.S., where Washington has introduced a $75-billion mortgage bailout that offers lenders incentives to modify existing loan agreements and standardizes the terms for loan modifications. As many as 6 million U.S. homeowners are at risk of defaulting on their mortgages in the next few years.
Canada wants to nip the problem in the bud. Borrowers are being encouraged to talk to their lenders to find alternatives such as skipping payments, tacking late payments onto the balance of the loan, extending the term or amortization amount or locking into a fixed rate.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

L'Actualité Grapples with a "Big Picture Story". Story Gets Away.

L'Actualité magazine's cover story this week is all about Quebec real estate. The headline writer must have pulled a muscle stretching to come up with the headline; "How to profit from the crisis."
Sounds juicy, right? Except after reading the whole dang thing, I don't know what crisis they're talking about. Inside, the headline reads "Where are the deals? Condo or bungalow? In town or the suburbs? How to profit from an end of boom market."
It's partly a matter of scope, as the reporter veers from the big picture in Canada, to the meltdown in Detroit to the price of real estate on the Plateau. Nice work, but could you tell me what these have to do with each other? Real estate is local, even hyper local. Even if you draw the conclusion that prices on the Plateau are overheated and due for a correction, all you have to do is drive, bike or hop on the métro and travel 5 kilometres to find a neighborhood where prices are more affordable.
The one useful thing the mag provides is an online chart that shows the variation in average Montreal prices for condos, single-family homes and plexes (two to five units) between 2000 and 2008. The rest of the report, a bit of a dog's breakfast.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Montreal Shoeboxes

My pal Susan Semenak has a fantastic piece in today's Gazette about the charm of the "Montreal shoebox", those compact bungalows you find in the city's older neighborhoods. She's such a great writer and reporter that reading her stories is like slipping through a cool pool of water on a hot summer day. Effortless, refreshing. Plus, she talks to all the right people: urban geography maven David Hanna, another guy who grew up with two siblings in one of these two-bedroom homes and me!
We had a great morning a few weeks ago touring the neighborhood around Jean Talon market to admire the rococo architecture of these otherwise humble dwellings. We then had a delicious and cheap lunch in a Vietnamese resto on Beaubien St. Photographer John Mahoney took some lovely pictures to go with the story.
It's amazing to me that you can grab one of these vintage (1900-1930s) houses with all their character and style, usually in a really neat neighborhood, for less than $280,000.
The house pictured above was listed for sale in January at $259,000. It was snapped up like that in five days by someone who paid $267,000. It's on Bordeaux St. near Jean Talon. It has about 1,000 square feet of living space, two bedrooms and a finished basement with family room and laundry. It also has a nicely landscaped back yard with a gazebo. The photos show lots of vintage woodwork and plaster and a built-in china cabinet. All this and combined property/school taxes under $2,000. I'm in love.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Village For Sale. Bring Your Own Church

Have you ever wanted to be part of the landed gentry? Now's your chance. An entire English village, complete with 22 homes, a blacksmith shop and two cricket pitches, is being sold on the open market. Bids start at £23 million.
Linkenholt, a postcard pretty hamlet about 120 kilometres west of central London is currently owned by the Herbert and Peter Blagrave Charitable Trust, which underwrites charities working with children, the elderly and injured jockeys. (Peter Blagrave was big in racing circles.) Given the turmoil in the financial and high-end real-estate markets, the trust thinks this a good time to sell.
Included in the sale are 1,5000 acres of farmland, 450 wooded acres, a game shoot stocked with pheasant and partridge, assorted thatched cottages, a grand manor house and clock tower. Excluded, beyond the usual appliances and garden furniture, is the 12th century St. Peter's Church.
Residents are nervous that their quiet and harmonious way of life could be put in jeopardy if some vulgar rich oligarch comes swanning in. My money's on Madonna.
This is not the first time the village is being sold. It last traded hands in 1965 and fetched £540,000. Not a bad return on investment!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Montreal Outperforms Canada in February

There was a glimmer of good news in the Canadian Real Estate Association's February national resale numbers, just out. While CREA reports that housing resales were down 31 per cent in February compared to the same month a year earlier, resales were up 8.6 per cent compared to January.
It's tough to make month to month comparisons. January isn't February, after all. Still, CREA chooses to ac-cen-tu-ate the positive. It was the first month over month increase since September and comes after a 3-per-cent decrease in January.We'll take it.
In Montreal, CREA reports a 2.2 per cent increase in single-family home prices, about the same as what the Greater Montreal Real Estate Board reported a little earlier. The two real-estate bodies define the Montreal metropolitan area differently, which tends to result in slightly different statistics.
The national average sale price was $281,792 in February, down from $310,379 a year earlier. In Quebec, the average sale price was $207.927 versus $204,661. CREA did not offer a Montreal breakdown.
Agents on the ground are noticing a steady stream of first-time buyers, drawn in by rock-bottom mortgage rates. At my open house on Sunday (an NDG duplex) there were plenty of young couples, but also a fair smattering of retirees. Plenty of tire kicking and price comparing. Looks like people are taking their time and weighing their options.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Can a Great Idea Be Contained?

Fast Company magazine takes a look at the work of architect Adam Kalkin, whose specialty is the shipping container house.
Architects have been playing with the notion of shipping container houses for a decade or so, drawn by their relative cheapness, structural strength, transportability and the ease with which they can be recycled. The most famous example of the form may be Container City, a funky live/work colony in London's Docklands district.
Kalkin has taken the idea a step further, though. His family owns a container home dubbed Bunny Lane. It is essentially a prefab aircraft hangar with a 19th century clapboard cottage inside. You get sleek industrial design wrapped around a too cute cottage. It's fun but hardly practical for the average neighborhood. Oh, it's also for sale at $2.8 million.
The Fast Company article provoked some interesting reader feedback, with valid questions about how hot the containers get in the summer and hot cold in winter. There's the matter of the two-storey glass and aluminium garage doors that frame either side of the main living space. Must get kinda drafty when you let the dog out in the colder months, no? The question of affordability is also mooted. Kalkin's most popular design, the Quik Build, tops out at between $250 and $400 U.S. per square foot, installation included land excluded. That hardly puts it in the budget category.
Still, if you were the kind of kid who loved building packing crate or refrigerator box hideouts, Kalkin's the man for you. You can even visit one, not too far from Montreal. There's an imposing 20 foot-by 80-foot Kalkin house on the grounds of the excellent Shelburne Museum, a scant 160 kilometres or 100 miles south of us, just outside Burlington, Vt. Pack a lunch, it's worth the visit.

Now That's What I Call Full Disclosure

This vendor gets full marks for honesty, but I'm not sure it will help unload the property. Actually, the photo is a fake. It's from a series of "de-motivational" posters. Funny, though.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The immortal words of The Clash ring in my ears every time I hear the Bank of Canada has cut the prime rate. (I'm sure this is exactly what Joe Strummer and the boys had in mind when they penned Combat Rock's punk anthem)
More to the point for many mortgage holders is whether now is the time to break the shackles of their fixed-rate mortgages for the low, low and lower cost of a variable-rate mortgage. In 2005, a five-year fixed rate of 5.5 per cent sounded like a pretty sweet deal, especially as compared to the 18 per cent folks were paying in the early 1980s.
Times change. With the latest BoC cut, banks are offering variable-rate mortgages for as little as 1.9 per cent.
So, is it worth breaking your existing fixed-rate to get with the variable flow? A tricky question but one that Professor Moshe Milvesky of York University might be able to help you with.
Milevsky has created an interactive mortgage savings calculator that allows you to punch in a few numbers and let you see how much you'll save by breaking one mortgage and opting for another. The math is simple, in theory. The penalty could be as straightforward as the equivalent of three months of interest at your current rate.
Increasingly, however, banks are basing the penalty on something called an Interest Rate Differential (IRD) . It's based on a hocus-pocus calculation of the spread between the actual and new rate, multiplied by the balance owing and the number of months of payments left on the mortgage term.
Milevsky got a lot of ink in 2001 with a study that showed that people who opted for variable rate mortgages came out ahead of those who chose the stability of fixed rate mortgages 88 per cent of the time. I interviewed him and was persuaded to go the variable rate route. Haven't regretted it, either.
Today's environment might be the time when locking in makes sense, he told

Friday, March 13, 2009

That Sinking Feeling

The New York Times had a good piece in yesterday's Home & Garden section about five easy fixes any homeowner can do to make their home more efficient.
Face it, not everyone is in a position to install photovoltaic panels on the roof to capture and convert the sun's rays into energy (though one of my Verdun neighbors seems to have done just that). Everyone can fill a 2-litre pop bottle with water and place it in the toilet tank to reduce the amount of water that goes swirling down the bog every time you flush.
Perhaps the smartest fix is replacing your old electromechanical thermostat with a newfangled electronic gizmo. Hydro-Québec offers residential customers up to $65 back on the purchase of programmable electronic thermostats and another $65 (maximum) rebate if installation is done by a master electrician.
I have no idea how hard it is to install an electronic thermostat but I can't imagine it's a job that requires the services of a top-drawer electrician. He'll charge you an easy $65 just to cross the threshold. Maybe I'm asking to be electrocuted.
Bottom line? Swapping out the imprecise old thermostats will save you 10 per cent on annual heating costs. It'll also allow you to preset the system so that the furnace kicks in just before you wake in the morning, ensuring a toasty wake-up and cooler temperatures during the day if and when no one is home.
But I digress. The thing that really caught my eye in the Times pieces, was mention of the SinkPositive, essentially a toilet tank topped with a hands-free sink. Everyime you flush, water comes out the tap. The water you use to wash your hands then cycles into the toilet tank and is used to flush.
By the looks of the installation video, it's pretty easy to hook up. Here's the big problem: no hot water. That's right, you have to wash your hands with the icy cold water from the main water line. Yikes! Besides, call me crazy, but I think there's a cognitive disconnect involved. Rationally, we all know that the water in the toilet tank is perfectly clean. And yet, ewww! I'm washing my hands in the toilet.
I'm not sure it's an idea whose time has come.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Home Insurers' Use of Credit Scores Raises Red Flag

Consumer groups are warning that the way insurance companies use consumer credit scores to determine home insurance rates could affect affordability for some. The widespread industry practice also raises privacy questions.
The Globe & Mail and Toronto Star (no link) both report on the practice by some insurers to check their client's Transunion, Equifax and Experian files. The logic is that people who are late paying their bills are also likely to be less responsible homeowners.
No one, not even an insurance company, can access your credit information without your explicit approval. The insurance companies acknowledge as much. No one will be denied insurance if they refuse to allow an insurer to peek at their credit report, they say. You just might not get the very best rate possible, if you don't.
To quote Paul Simon: "What is the point of this story? What information pertains?" You should ask to see a copy of your credit report - if for no other reason than to know where you stand. If you're buying a house, applying for a car loan or looking for home insurance, having a clean credit report could save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars down the road.

Griffintown Saved?

Looks like brute economic forces have done to Devimco's ill-conceived $1.3-billion redevelopment of Griffintown what grassroots democracy and common sense at city hall could not?
Hey, we'll take it!
The developer has already had to scale back the project because of the economic downturn. The city has in turn lifted expropriation orders on 27 properties along Peel and Wellington Sts., freeing those owners to lease or sell their buildings. Some of them might even tear them down and rebuild, thanks to the new PPU (plan particulier d'urbanisme) or urban plan that Devimco bullied through city hall last year.
Irony of ironies that the the strong-armed developer actually may have helped the mostly small building owners of the area kick start change in the gritty and historic old industrial neighborhood.
In La Presse, Devimco president Serge Goulet said he's already spent $10 million on area improvements without seeing any return. Now it's time for the city to pony up or else he'll head back to Brossard and continue working on his Dix/30 mega-shoppotainment complex.
If it has any brains (?), city hall will take a pass and says "Merci M. Goulet. Attention que la porte ne vous frappe pas les cuisses!"

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Household Objects May Be More Animated Than They Appear

Totally loving these installations by artist Rune Guneriussen. Common household objects like desk lamps and rotary-dial phones are transformed by placing them in group settings in the great outdoors. I'd love to have a massive photo reproduction of this or this in my living room.

Barbie's Malibu Dream House, For Real!

UPDATE The L.A. Times has a story and photos from the Barbie party. Also, the designer's name is Jonathan Adler, not Ken. That would have been too perfect.

A California decorator has dolled up a 3,500-square-foot Malibu mansion to resemble a real-life Barbie Dream Home.
Toymaker Mattel commissioned the house overlooking the Pacific Ocean as part of the festivities marking the preternaturally perfect plaything's 50th birthday.
Designer Ken Adler told the Associated Press he went for "glamorous, kittenish, chic, colorful and happy". That translated into pink, pink and more pink with the stylized "B" monogram throughout. Among the highlights, a $200,000 Andy Warhol portrait and a chandelier made up of 30 blonde wigs.(Sounds like a fire hazard to me.)
The kitchen is stocked with cupcake-making ingredients, while the walk-in closet has 50 pairs of peep-toed heels.
Where do you suppose Ken hangs his safari suits if Barbie's filling the closets with impractical shoes? Oh, that's right, Barbie and Ken broke up on Valentine's Day, 2004, after dating for more than 43 years. (In my mind, I can hear Beyoncé singing Single Ladies: "Ken, if you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it. Oh-oh-oh!")
The Dream Home will be the site of swanky party on Monday - all the plastic people will be there. The decor will then be shipped to the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, where Barbiephiles will be able to book a stay in a Barbie-themed suite.
The picture above shows the original 1960 Barbie Dream Home. I can't seem to make the link for the AP story work, but you can Google it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Excellence Award For Green Development

A "green" condominium project on Nuns' Island has been awarded the Quebec Homebuilders' Association's highest prize, le prix Domus, for ecological excellence in residential construction.
The hardware has been given to Le Vistal, an ambitious two-tower project under development by Proment Corp.
Le Vistal is being billed as the largest residential project in Quebec being built according to LEED specifications for energy efficiency, environmental impact and sustainability. The 25-storey glass towers, rising on the south or open water side of Nuns' Island will feature elements like geothermal and passive solar energy, air-recovery systems, high-efficiency water management and a planted green roof over the underground parking garage to allow rain to be more efficiently reabsorbed into the ground.
The project has a $50-million budget, of which $1 million is dedicated to energy efficiency. The building will use 35-per-cent less energy than a conventionally built project of similar size.
Other features include the use of local building materials like wood and Quebec granite, rather than imports that might cost less but leave a larger carbon footprint. As much as 45 per cent of the concrete used on the site will be recycled. Manufacturing concrete is a killer in terms of the ratio of raw materials to finished product and the energy required in the transformation.
Proment has been building on Nuns' Island for more than 40 years. Chairman Sam Gewurz takes a lot of grief from bird watchers and environmentalists. They would prefer that he stop building. But here's my take on Gewurz and Proment - he never stops learning and he never stops striving to do better. He's incorporated riverfront walking paths, a forest preserve and a green corridor for migratory birds into each of his developments over the years.
With Le Vistal, Proment is setting the bar higher by taking on the added expense and logistical nightmares of building a high-rise project to the exacting specs of the Canada Green Building Council. The council oversees the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Leadership.)
Buyers, albeit, deep-pocketed buyers, are responding. Phase I is 95 per cent sold. Phase II is 75 per cent sold. Prices range from $230,000 for a 675-square-foot suite to $1.5-million for a lordly 2,600 square feet. They throw in the breath-taking river views for free.

February: Sales Declined But Prices Rose

The Greater Montreal Real Estate Board issued hotly anticipated new data on the local market this morning. It shows that sales fell overall by 30 per cent in the metropolitan area last month but that prices increased by 2 per cent.

Here's the breakdown:

Single-family homes: 1,947 sold, -30%, average price $225,000, +2%

Condominiums: 863 sold, -32%, average price $187,000, +6%

Plexes (2-5 units): 291 sold, -27%, average price $329,000, -1%.

The good news is that despite uncertainty in the economy, Montreal homeowners are in no panic to dump their homes. The flip side is that fewer people are inclined to list their homes unless they have to. A total of 7,360 new listings were added to the board's computerized MLS system in February, a 7-per-cent decrease compared to the same month a year ago.

Statisticians also caution against drawing conclusions from a small survey. One month's worth of statistics don't tell the whole story.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

When Times Get Tough, Small Gets Big

I just spotted this story on the renaissance of post-war housing on

There's a story in the current issue of Businessweek magazine about KB Homes, one of the largest builders in the U.S. offering 880-square-foot homes in Houston for the bargain price of $64,000. That buys you two bedrooms and 1.5 baths.
It's a return to roots for KB, which got its start building homes for World War II veterans in places like Levittown, NY.
If you know folk music, or have watched the TV show Weeds, you might be familiar with the song "Little Boxes". Songwriter Malvina Reynolds was inspired by a photo of Levittown she saw in Life magazine.

Little boxes on the hillside/Little boxes made of ticky-tacky/Little boxes, all the same.

The 880-square-foot "mini-houses", as Businessweek calls them, are direct descendants of those post-war homes.
KB Homes' chief exec says the cottages are the right house for a troubled U.S. market. Buyers today are asking themselves "What do I need?" not "What do I want?"
Montreal has its share of Levittown style cottages. Crawford Park, the so-called "Westmount of Verdun" is made up almost exclusively these peak-roofed houses on big lots. You'll also find them in western NDG, Rosemont and Ville Emard. Over the years, people have added dormers to the slope-roofed second storeys or extensions to gain extra living space. They're small, about 950 to 1,000 square feet of living space, but hardly what I'd call mini.
They've become hot commodites locally over the last decade, with the average price of a Crawford Park cottage leaping from about $95,000 in 1998 to in the range of $275,000 today.
It isn't about economic necessity, either. The houses are solidly built and, as mentioned sit on big ol' lots - typically between 4,000 and 5,000 square feet. There's lots of room to expand. Besides, they are all located in mature neighbohoods with big trees, quiet streets and a real sense of community.
We've just come through the era of the McMansion, all looming double-wide garages, pretentious porticos and fake turret. Excess houses for excess times. Maybe it's time for smaller,simpler homes to make a big comeback.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Give Up The Rolls? Nevah!

Further signs of the apocalypse come today from the New York Times, which reports on a Manhattan agent who is considering giving up her chauffeur-driven Rolls. OMG! Soon the baying hounds of economic restraint will expect us to ground our corporate jets, like so many cap-in-hand automobile executives.
I can't imagine the realtor's humiliation at having to downgrade to a lowly Audi. Oh the humanity!
Seriously, the Rolls, or in my case the Jaguar, is a business must. It tells clients that I am "successful". By extension, anyone who rides with me must be "successful" too. Still, needs must in these sober times. Here's what I've done - maybe you'll find this tip useful. I've had my Jag customized so that it bears an uncanny resemblance to an '03 Focus Wagon. (Seriously, you'd think it was the real thing.) So, those in the know, enjoy the incomparable luxury of a Jag but all the outside world sees is a boxy grey car with a slight ding on the front driver's side. It's what you might call a win-win.

Read the Times story here