Friday, March 18, 2011

A Brief Digression into the World of Spring Fashion

I dropped in on my pal Danette's way-cool boutique L'Arterie (176 Bernard Ave. W.) yesterday while I was up in Mile End. The boutique is a blend of vintage clothes, designer threads by local creators and earth-friendly and vegan shoes and accessories.  Some smartypants once dubbed Danette the "den mother of the Mile End demimonde" a title that fits her like a glove. Plus, she's kind to animals, so what's not to like?

The shoes for spring had just come in and these babies from Unstitched Utilities immediately caught my eye. They are made from recycled Tyvek, a Dupont product used as a vapour barrier in the construction industry. Tyvek is lightweight, windproof, breathable and water-resistant, pretty much every attribute you want in a sneaker. Best of all, these kicks retail for a very affordable $69.  I suspect I might have to have some. Check 'em out at L'Arterie and throw a little change in the can by the cash to support Danette's local animal-rescue efforts.  

Now back to regularly scheduled programming.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

To Reno or Not To Reno? That Is the Question.

When it comes to selling houses, vendors seem to come in two basic types: those who think that spending a little on renovations will greatly boost the eventual  sale price of their property and those who think their homes are perfect just the way they are.

When it comes to preparing a house for the market, you need to step back and take an objective  look at the product you’re selling. Start by asking whether the place is clean. Next, ask if it is uncluttered. Third, ask if everything works as it should.  Only once you’re able to answer yes to those three questions should you contemplate pre-sale renovations as a way to boost market value. Seriously, a few buckets of soapy water ,  a jumbo box of Hefty Bags and $100 worth of light bulbs might be the most cost-effective investment you can make.

This isn’t to say that renovating isn’t a good investment. The Appraisal Institute of Canada has an online guide that shows the payback value of various home improvements.  You’ll get 75- to 100-per cent of the money you spend on a kitchen reno back, for example. The guide is useful inasmuch as it shows which renos bring the highest return. Getting all the money back isn’t guaranteed, however.

You should ask yourself a few more questions before gutting the kitchen. How’s your wiring? Is the electrical panel big enough? Is the plumbing okay?  Why bother with cosmetics when the fundamentals are less than sound? Sometimes renovating is like putting lipstick on a pig, a lot of effort for not much return.

I decided to renovate the kitchen in my first home knowing that I planned to sell the property within the year. The kitchen had always been the problem room in our house. It had been poorly renovated by the previous owners, the kitchen cabinets were all slightly crooked and the layout was  wrong. In all, I spent about $8,000 on off-the-shell maple cabinets at the local big-box hardware, a melamine counter, new hardware for the sink and labour. We enjoyed the kitchen for about six months before selling.

I dropped by the house to pick up mail less than a year later and was shocked to see my homey maple cabinets gone. The buyers had ripped the whole thing out and installed a sleek European style kitchen in gleaming high-gloss white. 

Was the reno worth it? We had to scratch up the money in the first place and live through a month-long gutting of the home’s nerve centre.  We enjoyed the kitchen but in the end I’m not sure we got any of that investment  back. Chalk it up to ego. I didn’t want strangers seeing how ugly my kitchen was.

Big presale renovations are best undertaken when you possess three precious commodities: time, expertise and money.   If you are living in the property, sanding and refinishing the floors is complicated. If the property is empty, it’s easy and relatively inexpensive.  Go for it.

Painting is easier. Nothing makes a place look more dated than bright accent wall colors. Neutralizing with a warm off white is the way to go. It will make any place look bigger and brighter. Again, it isn’t a costly job but it has immediate impact.

Lighting is another cost-effective fix. I recently had a client whose turn-of-the-century flat seemed quite dark. She upped all her light bulbs to 60-watt  cool whites, as opposed to warm whites  and removed all the fussy little parchment shades from her vintage fixtures. Voilà, suddenly the place was bright, even on the grayest midwinter day.

Dramatic fixtures in the living and dining room can add punch to any home, especially if they replaces weird fixtures from a bygone era. The same can be said of the vanity light in the bathroom. Does it make your reflection look green?  Switch it out. Ditto for switch plates and outlet plates. Are they utilitarian gray or beige? If so, clean white plates cost about $2 each.

The main thing to remember with renovations is that the materials can’t look cheap and the work can’t be shoddily done. If you’re going to undertake renovations, make sure you have the means to do the job well or else you’ll be throwing good money away.

On the whole, I don’t think big renovations are advisable when you’re trying to sell a house. You probably won’t get your money back and you most likely won’t get much opportunity to enjoy the upgrades yourself. Save the cash and put it into your next house, that’s my advice.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Location, location, location.

I was interviewed in The Gazette recently about choosing the right location. What I had to say boiled down to "One man's fish is another man's fowl." Or something like it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Dispatch from a Plateau Lifer on his New Life in Verdun

A Facebook message arrived this morning from one of my clients, reporting on life his Verdun home, after a 27-year tenancy in the Plateau Mont-Royal. I'm not even going to try to tell you what a beautiful three-bedroom home they got for about the price of a two-bedroom Plateau flat. It would make you jealous.

Moving is always stressful and exhausting but it hasn't taken Jim long to twig to the good things Verdun has to offer. He's already a regular at The Woodland Restaurant, lauded in last Saturday's Gazette as a source for authentic Montreal pizza. Hey Jim, try Pizza Mory next time. It's always two-for-one. Make sure you ask for sesame seeds on the crust. But there I go, assuming you were ordering 'za.

The other thing Jim remarked on was the quiet pleasure of enjoying coffee at his dining room table on that first morning and watching a cardinal in his backyard tree just a few metres away. That never happened once in 27 years on the Plateau, a place known for its $5 lattés and drab little sparrows.

"I guess we're not in Kansas anymore," Jim observed in his deadpan way.

Wait a few weeks, Jim. The red-winged blackbirds will invade the hedgerows and you'll find yourself staring at them like a yokel.

During our first week in Verdun four years ago, we sprawled en famille  on the back lawn to stare at the stars in the inky midsummer sky. Our previous back yard was tiny with no lawn to speak of and tall buildings all around. The stars were virtually invisible because of the inner-city streetlights.

All of a sudden - what the heck! - fireflies. Fireflies in our backyard.  I felt like we'd hit the jackpot. Quiet nights, fathomless darkness and now lightning bugs doodling through the cooling air. We were home.

Welcome home Jim and Winnie!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Tale of Two Houses or What a Difference a Little Elbow Grease Can Mean

Just listed a spacious four-bedroom Victorian house on May St in Verdun this week. If that sounds oddly familiar, it is because my last post said essentially the same thing.

I now have two big ol' Victorians side-by-side on May, the last street in Verdun before you cross under the overpass into Point St. Charles.

The house at 276 May, listed at $299,000, is quite similar to its neighbor at 282. Built about the same time, on land that once belonged to a Mr. May. The big difference is that 276 is currently rented to a pack of university students who appear not to be earning advanced degrees in Pick Up Your Dirty Laundry or Take the Empties Back to the Dep.

OK, the place is a pig sty, but if you can see past the dirty clothes and unmade beds, this is a genteel house, as straight-backed and solid as your maiden aunt. It just needs a little love, Charlie Brown.

Below you will find a photo of the fireplace in the living room, currently inhabited by a hairy undergrad whose decorating style runs to crumpled Kleenex and pants that lie where they were dropped.  You might not notice the fireplace because his huge TV is sitting in front of it. Sigh.

The point is that this four-bedroom has the potential to be every bit as regal and inviting as its gussied up sister next door. Might you be the person with the passion and vision to bring out all its best features? It is a quality house at a bargain price.

The tenants, by the way, are leaving at the end of June.  Not a moment too soon.