Practical Tips for the First Time Buyer

February 18th, 2016

I need to start out by saying that this is an overview and shouldn't be taken as an exhaustive checklist and certainly not a substitute for home inspection from a reputable, qualified and properly licensed home inspector.

Most people purchasing a property need to first check with their bank or mortgage broker and find out how much of a mortgage they will approve for you... but there are other factors to consider. A bank or mortgage broker is looking at things from the perspective of their own liability, not yours. The worst thing a first time buyer can do is over mortgage themselves. You want to be sure you can afford to actually "live" in the place you are buying. Only you know what is going to make you happy, so you have to find out how much the bank will let you borrow and how much that will cost and then seriously start crunching your own numbers. Factor in things like date nights, babysitters, day care, car payments, savings... the stuff you need to have to carry the lifestyle you want... and don't forget to plan for closing costs, things like a home inspection, insurance, land transfer taxes, lawyers fees, adjustments, appraisals, title insurance, movers... that kind of thing. Learn about different payment options, what they mean and how they work. Understand that although you might be pre-approved, the property needs to be approved, too.

The next steps, far from being floor plan or décor are just as important. The first criteria that we recommend that you consider is location. There are a number of really important reasons to consider location. First, you must remember that commuting has a cost that should be factored into your expense calculations and secondly, because you can change a lot of things about a house but you really can never change its location. Use your head, not your heart... and look critically at the place. Learn everything you can about the lot and location of the home. A buyer can do a lot to improve the dwelling itself, but they are limited in what they can do to the location, aside from cosmetic landscaping. It is important to look at the neighbourhood. Are local homes being improved or torn down? Is this home much nicer than all the others around it? If so, the neighbouring properties will bring the value down. If the home is in worse condition than neighbouring homes, the better neighbourhood will add value.

Look at what is around the home. Nearby non-conforming land uses can be a negative influence on the value of the property. Buyers should take note of things like electrical towers, busy roads and businesses or industries that use toxic products. Conversely, nearby parks and other green space add value to a property. If there is vacant property nearby, buyers should investigate whether there are any plans to develop that property. If there are none, they should check with local planning authorities to find out zoning for the vacant property and learn what potential development may take place. Buyers should always ask if there have been any environmental concerns about the property or adjacent properties. For instance, have there been any waste dumps or gas stations located in the area? It is also important to find out if there are any projects planned for the area that might have special levies attached to them because you will have to factor the cost into your budget.

Are there schools nearby? Is the property handy to other amenities? What is the local crime rate? While the specific buyer may not feel concern for the convenience of services and amenities, most buyers are concerned and it is always wise to step back from the emotional aspect of a home purchase to consider the prospect of home ownership as an investment and to take stock of the things that will be seen as an advantage in the event you need or want to resell.

Is there room on the lot for future expansion? Is that possible under current zoning regulations? Does the layout of the home lend itself to potential expansion? Is there a private laneway? Sufficient parking? What services are provided (mail delivery, garbage pick up)? What are the neighbours like? (We always recommend that people knock on the door and meet the neighbours).

If it's not in the right place, there's no point in considering the dwelling itself.... but once you determine that the area suits, you must take a good look at the important (and expensive) systems of the structure.

1/ The Foundation.

The weight of a home rests upon its foundation. Depending on the age of the home, the foundation may be piers, brick, lumber, block or poured concrete. The foundation is set on what is known as a footing (or footer) which is usually a little wider than the actual foundation wall and built about a foot below the frost line. It is the footing that helps distribute the weight of the structure and guard it against moving or settling.

It is normal for a house to settle a little in time but a bad foundation can cause major structural problems and cause secondary issues with almost every aspect of the home- these issues may not be readily seen and can be extremely costly to repair. Signs of foundation issues that you can see indoors include cracks in the walls, especially over doorways or around windows or where the ceiling and wall meet. Cracks in cement or tile flooring and/or doors that don't swing or latch easily are a tell-tale sign that something is not right.

Check to see if the basement walls and floor have any discolouration, white stains in particular can indicate moisture seepage. The walls shouldn't be cracking or crumbling. Small hairline cracks are normal. Any crack that is bulging and horizontal cracks are more serious. Check the posts in the basement, they should be completely straight beneath the beams they support and they should rest upon concrete pads.

Check to see that the property has been graded properly, so that the soil slopes away from the house. Gutters and downspouts need to be kept clean and open and run away from the foundation, as well. Make sure doors and windows appear square. Check for evidence of seepage from a septic tank. Are the walkways in good condition? Are the trees healthy? Are there any branches or bushes touching the house? Driveways, patios and entrance ways should be slightly sloped away from the main structure.

Foundation problems can lead to a total collapse of the structure. This is something that nobody, let alone a first time home buyer, wants to have to deal with.

2/ Exterior Walls and Structure

From the outside, sight the length of each side of the house to note any bulges. The lines from corner to corner should be relatively straight, as should the roof lines. The sides shouldn't sag, bulge or bow. Window and doorframes should look square and all be aligned. There should be about 6" between the ground and any siding materials (particularly wood). Siding should be clean and solid to the touch, without moss, cracking, dents, or curling. Be wary of vines. Look for flaking or cracks in the joints of masonry veneer. Seek professional advise about stucco, you don't want to see any cracks. Examine for signs of stains on exterior surfaces. Check painted surfaces for flaking and blisters.

Wood frames and trim around doors and windows should be examined to ensure they are tight and there isn't any rot. Joints should be freshly caulked. Check windows for screens and broken panels. Are there storm windows or thermal glass? Have drip caps been installed over the windows?

Remember, sometimes a simple change of paint colour will really make a difference in how the house looks. It might just need a simple fix!

3/ The age and condition of important systems and components related to the dwelling.

Buyers need to understand that homes are subject to wear and tear. Roofing, heating/insulation, electrical and plumbing are all significant and expensive components of a home and a first-time buyer will want to be prepared for potential expenses and also, learn how to maintain the home in good condition.

A roof is one of the most important parts of the home and keeping it well maintained is a priority. The most common type of roofing material is the asphalt shingle. Shingles are rated for life expectancy but many wear out before their guaranteed lifetime. Ask how old the present roof covering is but more importantly, have a good look at it. Understand that there is a huge distinction between a bad roof and a roof that needs re-shingling. If shingles are curling or worn, that may be obvious. Check for signs of water damage on the ceilings. Check the attic space for signs of stains on the roof or wet insulation. In the worst case, roof sheeting needs to be replaced and this can double or triple costs for a new roof. Check for vents... inadequate air circulation can account for a lot of damage. Flat roofs should have no obvious cracks, splits or patches. Watch out for a lot of blistering or wrinkles. Make sure the covering is tar-sealed at the flashings.

Roofs should have flashing at any points of roof penetration. There should be no evidence of excess cement, tar or caulking which could indicate a leak. Check soffits and fascia for stains and decay. Look for open eave vents (make sure they haven't been painted over). Look for rust, sealed joints and decay on gutters. They should be firmly attached to the home.

How old is it? When was it last cleaned and serviced? Furnace failure during a cold snap can be an overwhelming experience, financially and emotionally, not to mention the issues that can arise if the home is left without heat for a substantial length of time. Fuel tanks need to be checked by the relevant authority to ensure that they are acceptable. Distributors will not fill a tank that is improperly installed or worn. Is there any fuel odour?

Fireplaces should be inspected by a certified professional who can advise the home buyer if there are any repairs required to operate the fireplace safely and efficiently. Chimneys and chimney liners can be particularly expensive. Make sure the cap is in good condition and the chimney has proper flashing. Look for damaged bricks and cracked joints.Remember, fireplaces can supplement heating but they can also be a source of leakage and drafts. You want to know what you are getting into. When were air filters changed? Is the ductwork I good condition? Make sure there's no asbestos wrapping on any of the water or heating pipes or air ducts. Have they had their ducts cleaned? There should e separate flues for different fuels.

Plumbing should be checked to ensure that it is the appropriate type of piping. Be particular wary of a home built before 1960 as they may have used galvanized steel which is prone to corrosion. A professional can tell you if the plumbing has been fully updated with all the galvanized replaced... many people think it has, but it has only partially been done. Replacing pipes can be pricey.

Electrical issues can be expensive but also, life threatening. If a buyer is considering the purchase of an older home, it's a good idea to have a licensed electrician give the home a thorough inspection, to detect the presence of out-of-date wiring. You want to steer clear of aluminum wiring which was used in the 60s and 70s and knob-and-tube wiring that is even older. Some homes have a mixture of old and new wiring and the owners may not even be aware. There should be no exposed splices. Check to see if the house has a breaker panel or fuses. Fuses are fine, but they're older technology and it's important that you ensure there is adequate capacity and that all cables are attached to the panel with proper cable connectors. In years past, homes had smaller hydro services (like 60 amp) which are not sufficient for today's lifestyle.

Look into the attic. Check for stains on the underside of the roofing, especially where there are roof joints. Check for evidence of damage, decay and pests. Is there sufficient insulation and a properly installed moisture barrier installed closed to the heated part of the house? You don't want to see any plumbing, appliance or exhaust vents ending or capped off, in the attic. Check for obvious electrical splices.

You should always find out who is responsible for the care and maintenance of hydro poles. They do wear out and they can be expensive to replace... and you may discover that the hydro poles on your property are your concern. It's better to know this, in advance.

Windows are another important part of the house. Older windows with wooden or aluminum frames can leak and cause drafts and glass seals can break. Any of these issues can lead to excessive heating costs. You want to make sure the windows are newer and that they have good seals (no fog between the panes).

Buyers considering the purchase of a home served by septic systems and wells should ask for documentation. There should be a well-record dated at the time of installation and a use permit for the septic system. These papers should be retained on file. Whether or not there is documentation for the well and septic, the pumps and related equipment should also be inspected to ensure they are in good working order. A professional can perform a well recovery test, which will tell you how many gallons per minute are available and whether it is sufficient for your needs. You will have to have the water tested by the local health authority to ensure it is safe for human consumption, as well. There are also companies that will scope the septic bed to make sure it is operating properly. Some people simply rely upon the opinion of a septic pumper, to comment on whether the chamber appears to be working properly.

Check that the interior floors, ceilings and walls are all straight and level. Look for stains on ceilings, walls and floors. Is the flooring in good condition? Are there any cracks in the walls or ceilings? Do the doors and windows operate properly? Is there any broken glass in doors and windows? Are the sashes painted shut? Are weep holes and weather-stripping installed? Is there any broken hardware, like doorknobs? Is the paint, wall paper or paneling in good condition? Is the wood trim installed properly and in good condition? Are there enough three-pronged outlets in each room? Is there evidence of enough insulation in the walls? Ask for the monthly heating costs for the past year.

Check kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans. Are they vented to the outside? Are there GFI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlets within 6 feet of water faucets? Does the dishwasher drain properly, is it leaking, does the door work? Run it! Check pipes under sinks and the surface of the cabinets under the sinks. Is there any sign of a leak? Run the taps. Does the water flow seem adequate? Look for rust and deterioration of waste pipes and garbage disposals. Turn on the elements of the stove and oven. Open kitchen cabinets, doors and drawers. Are they working right?

Sit on the toilets. Do they rock or are they sable? Check plumbing under sinks. Check water flow. Look at the sink, if it's metal, look into the overflow, is there any rust? Flush the toilet. Press on the tiles around tubs, showers and sinks to make sure they're solid. Look for signs of mould and mildew.

Is the house equipped with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors? Are the stairway treads, risers and bannisters where they are needed and in good condition? Check air conditioning units for signs of rust. Run the unit to make sure it's working well.

Flooring and wall coverings and other cosmetic changes will have costs associated but are not as crucial to the buyer being able to live in the house. Once you are satisfied that the house is in safe, affordable condition, you can think about furnishing it the way you want.

Tiny Houses in North Hastings

February 14th, 2016

A new housing craze is trending in North America, called the tiny house. Some people call this the small house movement. It's more than just an architectural style, it's social movement that advocates the simplified lifestyle. If you haven't seen one, do a search on the internet and you'll be surprised by how lovely some of these affordable homes can be.

They're a really interesting solution for those planning to build a more permanent home or cottage on a property as the tiny home could be used as temporary accommodation while the larger structure is being built and later on, converted into a guest Bunkie... or a shed... or as our American neighbours at the island used to call their tiny cabin, "The Beach Cottage". For people who like camping, they offer a great option- the opportunity to have an indoor living room, kitchen and bathroom.

One of the problems is that most local municipalities have restrictions. While no building permit is required for a structure that has a footprint of 107.6 sq ft or less, houses need to be 800 sq ft or more, and serviced with a well & septic and some sort of power. In most cases, hunt camps can be smaller, but they be lived in year-round and really aren't allowed to have any services or they're taxed like a residence. Frank Mills, the chief building official for Wollaston Township and Hastings Highlands says he gets a call a week, inquiring about permits for a "tiny house".

“We are still receiving requests for Tiny Houses, usually about 500 square feet.", Mills wrote in a report to Wollaston Council, "My recommendation is to amend the zoning bylaw at some point to allow them on rural lands."

I hope council was listening.

Log Home Construction

February 9th, 2016

For many people, a log house is their ultimate dream home. Built properly, a log house can last centuries, providing the cozy comfort in the winter and cooler comfort in the summer, because heavy timber is a great, natural thermal insulator.

If a log home appeals to you, don't be disheartened by well-intentioned friends and family who don't understand that log home construction has come a long way since the late 1800s, when pioneers hastily stacked logs to create a one room cabin for their families. These days, building codes speak about "R" value or "R" factors for insulation, which doesn't take into account the mass of wood, which holds heat in log construction.

While log homes are still built essentially by stacking logs, different builders use different systems to fit the logs together, this is known as joinery. Most use a system of gaskets and sealants designed to move with the logs as they shift and shrink, settling during the first 8-10 years after the house is built. Some employ tongue and groove construction. notching the logs so that they fit into the top of one row and the bottom of the next row of logs. Still others, use bolts that go through the logs, employing a spring mechanism that pushes downward to ensure that the logs settle evenly.

Problems with log homes are generally caused by the types of logs used, designs that don't protect logs from getting wet and a lack of maintenance on the exterior. As with any structure, site drainage should ensure that water drains away from the home on all sides. A properly designed and constructed log home, will have adequate overhangs, rain gutters and down spouts and requires the same house maintenance routine as any other home.

Specific attention should be given to places where the end grain of a log is exposed. These should be treated with preservative chemicals or flashing, trim and caulking as required. All exterior surfaces of logs should be brush or spray treated with a wood preservative that contains water repellent. Corners and other areas that are exposed to frequent wetting should be thoroughly treated.

Corners may be Dovetailed, Saddle Notch or Butt and Pass cut like the pioneers made theirs. Dovetail corners often have a layer of asphalt-impregnated foam between layers. Some say that a properly built but-and-pass house will never settle. Most log homes have some sort of chinking. This material fills the gaps between the logs and is usually a synthetic material, although in some cases it can be mortar.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about mortar chinking. Some people believe it can be drafty or crumble... this is simply not true. It requires a little more finesse to install it, but it more economical and longer-lasting than synthetic products plus it's easy to install, do-it-yourself friendly, minimizes water damage and it's fire resistant to boot.

It is the responsibility of the log-home builder to understand and conform to the best practices of the trade, but the secret is in keeping the space between logs tight. Logs "check" during drying, causing longitudinal splits and for the first couple of years, which can make quite a loud banging sound. The choice of wood can affect the degree of checking and the amount of maintenance required over time. Attention to this sort of detail is where craftsmanship comes in.

In order to rot, wood requires a moisture content somewhere between 30 and 60%- this is more of an issue in warm, humid, southern climates, so it's highly unlikely that your Central Ontario log home will rot. Log homes aren't a fire hazard, either. A solid log wall is resistant to heat, due to its mass. When there's a fire in a log home, the subfloor, interior walls and roofing will always burn first. The walls will stand up a lot longer than in a home with conventional framing.

There's no need to worry about termites or other wood-boring insects any more than one would with other types of construction. These pests are more interested in logs that have bark and it's hazardous to construct log homes from logs that haven't been debarked. Once logs are stripped and dry, they aren't that delicious, so log homes aren't any more susceptible to termites than conventional houses. Logs that are left unprotected for several weeks after being cut may be vulnerable to colonization by fungi but this readily identifiable and less likely if the trees are felled in late fall or winter.

After logs are removed from the woods and debarked, they are usually dipped in a preservative and stored off the ground, under cover, to air dry. Some manufacturers kiln-dry or partially kiln-dry their logs. This makes the logs less vulnerable to rewetting during storage and the kiln temperature kills beetle larvae and fungus spores. Some manufacturers additionally treat log-kits with fungicide.

When we speak of maintenance, it's something every home owner has got to do. The exterior of a log home should be maintained with a good quality stain purchased from a reputable company that specializes in log homes. The application of maintenance treatments will vary depending on the procedures used during the manufacture.

Generally speaking, the exterior should be retreated after the first six months, at about 18 months to ensure that untreated areas of the log, exposed by checking, receive treatment. Large checks and splits, especially the ones on the upper faces of logs should be caulked to prevent moisture leaks. After eighteen months, the exterior should be maintained at four to five year intervals and some products have even better longevity.

It's a good idea to wash your log home every year. This removes surface contaminants like dust, bird feces, pollen and insect remains that prematurely wear the finish. After you've cleaned it, touch up and breaks in the chinking and if your log home looks dull in spots, you should apply a clear maintenance coat to those areas.

NOTE: Wood sealants and film-forming finishes tend to trap moisture in logs, so it is best not to used any until after the first heating season. Once stained or varnished, under normal circumstances, the interior walls should never have to be redone.

We are on Facebook

January 26th, 2016

Readers of this blog have learned that it isn't really about self-promotion, so much as it is to talk about the beautiful area in which we trade... or to talk about stuff that interests us. It's interesting, some of our posts get a lot more attention than others. Thousands and thousands and thousands of reads. Yup. Lots.

One post, from a while back, that still gets regular messages is the one entitled "PROPERTY RIGHTS- what every Buyer should know". It's amazing how little we really understand when it comes to the various rights that may or may not be included when we purchase property.

There are lots of other interesting notes that come back and sometimes we share them, on our Facebook page.

Visit us on Facebook at:.
https://www.facebook.com/JodyandFabian/?ref=hl

Up, Up & Away?

January 21st, 2016

Royal LePage CEO, Phil Soper, predicts that Canada will continue to see home prices to rise by 4.1 per cent over the course of 2016. He also predicts that the markets in Greater Vancouver and the Greater Toronto Areas will continue to grow at a less "frenetic" rate.

Gregory Klump, the chief economist with the Canadian Real Estate Association suggests that Toronto is still experiencing a sellers' market, as an imbalance in supply and demand has resulted in large price increases for single family detached residences. Condominium sales, have slowed somewhat, except the smaller units which are generally favoured for short-term living or investment.

Derek Burleton, Vice President and Deputy Chief Economist for the TD Bank Group has expressed concerns about deteriorating affordability in the region. He suggests that higher land costs and restrictive regulations have made it difficult to supply affordable housing, even for those with moderate and higher incomes.

People in Toronto are quite accustomed to seeing old houses torn down to make way for skyscrapers. The push is on and while multi-unit dwellings, like high rise condos, are remarkably more affordable than single-family homes, the increased density puts a greater strain on the basic infrastructure of the area.

In the short-run, we need affordable housing. In the long-run, most of us want to secure social, economic and environmental prosperity. We need to find some middle ground. I know it's easier to provide services to a highly populated region, but there are problems with high density living, too.

City streets, buses and subways are already overcrowded and many industry professionals are concerned that there has been more attention given to creating housing than to sustaining the communities being created. Can we begin to imagine the long term ramifications to the quality of life that vertical concrete communities pose to our rapidly aging population?

What we need are housing policies that address long-term needs, rather than short-term demands. Burleton suggests, we need to find ways to reduce the cost of construction, expedite delivery and encourage investment in a broader range of housing types. & there's plenty of room in this neck of the woods. Perhaps we need to work at helping small towns to better accommodate some of this growth!