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.