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.


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.