The Weather may be cold... but the Market is hot

March 31st, 2016

Sold signs are popping up all around our area. We've had an early start to spring Real Estate sales... but there's something that I address. Blog after blog, news article after news article and blah blah blah, have been written about the differences between rural and urban living... and rural and urban real estate... but city people still tend to have unrealistic expectations of what they should expect from cottage country living.

I'm a transplant myself, so I understand that there's going to be some culture shock... however, it's important to realize that rural living must be a conscious choice and when you move here, in essence, you're agreeing to accept our "ways". There's usually a fairly steep learning curve for prospective buyers who come from a city. Most local real estate sales people have funny stories about dealing with city folk- and we're not making fun of people, we share the stories the same way that proud parents talk about how their kids stumble and fall, while learning to walk.

The cottage country Realtor has to do a fair amount of teaching- even with experienced buyers. Aside from obvious differences, like septic systems and wells, we frequently have to explain things like road & shore allowances (opened and unopened), assumed and un-assumed roads, township maintained versus privately maintained roads, rights-of-ways, encroachments, set backs, school bussing, postal delivery, garbage disposal facilities, the care and maintenance of hydro poles and why there are huge tracts of land that suspiciously look like subdivisions in the planning, that have looked like subdivisions in the planning for decades.

While many city dwellers have natural gas heating piped into their homes but gas isn't available here. We have many different types of heating systems, some are combinations of more than one type of heating- which may appear to be quite non-traditional to the city person, but are quite acceptable- if not envied- by the local folk. Some of the local homes have been updated with granite or marble counter tops... but we drive through granite walls, on the roads, every day and having granite isn't a priority. Most country homes don't have walk-in closets, because we don't really need them. We have a pair or two of good shoes, work shoes, rubber boots and winter boots... and they're all pretty sensible looking stuff and that's because the surfaces we walk on are quite rugged and uneven and we need to be practical. We tend to dress more casually at work- because we're in and out of snow and mud and wind and rain and it's far more practical to be tidy and comfortable.

Most residents were born here and the rest of us made a decision to live here. We came because of the trees and the rivers, the trails and the lakes and the wildlife and not because of a generous number of square feet, public transportation or access to shopping malls. We live in the town and the region- not in our houses.

& that's another thing... it costs the same, if not more, to build in the country. We don't have subdivision builders... in most cases, new construction begins with a raw piece of land that may not even have a basic driveway or a hydro pole yet. We have to get drawings and permits and opinions about what type of sewage system and water supply we need to have installed. All of our building material is trucked in, usually from a fair distance... and the costs associated with delivery get passed along to the consumer. What we do have, is relationships with the suppliers and service providers. They're our neighbours and they are there to help us. In the country, we learn how to make things work.

The people who have gardens really have put some effort into them. You can't just grab plants at the nearby nursery and expect them to grow in most of the soil and weather conditions here. Our property lines change with the season, as local waterways rise and subside with spring run off. Our lot lines are seldom straight and properties have strange shapes, because 100 years ago, someone swapped a chunk with a neighbour in order to get their livestock to some meadow or a water source. In some cases, a bit might have been severed off and given to one of the children and you really have to get to know the history of the property, to make sense of it.

Many of our citizens are retired and on fixed-incomes. We have a fair level of unemployment and a high level of entrepreneurship. We have a lot of government and non-profit agencies, sprouted from need and very savvy in assisting people who want to etch out a life here. Local clubs and associations hold suppers and dances, trivia nights and card games. Sometimes, there are movies on- at the local playhouse... but generally we travel an hour and a half to see a movie, in a theatre. Most of us have secret Netflix addictions... but you can't expect to get high speed internet everywhere... but that IS improving... so is our cell service.

In the meantime, many of us listen to the peepers and bird songs. We collect interesting rocks (after all, we're the Mineral Capital of Canada). We watch the clouds and the stars and the deer as they meander through the forest and into our yards. Sure, now and then you hear that a bear or moose has been spotted- but not really that often... and periodically, there's talk about bobcats or cougars, but some people still think that's a myth.

One thing we all share, is appreciation for the natural beauty of our surroundings. We talk about the trees and the leaves, water levels and the weather, road conditions and our health. We're really in it, together.
These are things that are hard to explain to the uninitiated. These are our priorities. These are the things one learns to love about cottage country living. They matter so much more than bricks and mortar.

The Irish in Ontario

March 17th, 2016

Peter Robinson, a prominent York businessman and a member of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada was responsible for the administering the passage and settlement of over 2500 poor Catholic families from Ireland, in two waves of emigration, to Upper Canada. Robinson personally selected the immigrants. They had to be poor, Catholic and possess a knowledge of farming. Males had to be less than forty-five years of age and in good health and families were unrelated. The majority of the Irish emigrants were chosen from North Cork.

On July 1 of 1823, 568 paupers (mainly from County Cork) to sailed on two ships for a month, toward Quebec. Upon arrival, they boarded steamships, barges and wagons to travelled another month, into the hinterland of Ontario. The first wave settled around the Ottawa Valley.

In the spring of 1825, Robinson recorded nine ships with 2024 passengers in the second wave. They left Cork Harbour with everything they owned. By that fall, each family had been allocated property around the Scott's Plains, upon which they were required to erect a log shanty. The plains had originally been settled around 1820 by Adam Scott who had moved from Port Hope to establish a sawmill and gristmill on the west shore of the Otonabee River (near what is now the corner of King and Water Streets).

Adam Scott had been born in Edinburgh Scotland in 1796. He was a millwright. In 1812, he left England and settled in New York state where he married and produced six children- three sons and three daughters. In 1818, Scott was contracted by Squire Henry to build a mill at Cobourg and there he lost nearly all of his savings. In the spring of 1820, he moved to 12 acre lot beside the Otonabee. The site was densely covered with huckleberry bushes and a few pines.

Standing 6'4" in height and weighing 260 pounds of pure, muscle, Scott was reported to have once carried a heavy mill crank all the way from Peterborough to Port Hope for repair. He is known to have often crossed the Otonabee on stilts, to reach his oxen which were pastured where the village of Ashburnham is now located. Scott's wife died in 1825 of cholera and by 1827, he had lost all of his property to debt. Although he was asked by Peter Robinson to assume the immigration agency, he declined and moved to Cavan township.

There had been no road to Scott's Plains, so Robinson had set his man to build a sixty-foot scow which they poled for more than twenty miles to the Plains, which Robinson called the "prettiest place" he had ever seen. There, past Scott's ramshackle buildings and the riverside willows, stretched what was really a natural park covered with the most beautiful wildflowers, feathery pines, oaks, balsam and silver birch.

Robinson had hundreds of lean-tos built, using poles, bark and slabs from Adam Scott's mill. This encampment would house the families until they had proper log shanties erected. In addition, he built five large long houses, which he called Government House. It took sixty trips in all, to bring the settlers from Cobourg to Scott's Plains. At least twenty died that first autumn, while Robinson pressed on, hiring guides and axe men to help. Before the snow, Robinson had settled 1,900 people in six townships that spanned an area if thirty miles from north to south and fifty miles from east to west.

Within four months, there was a flourishing village with all sorts of shops, dwellings and businesses. The community had also laid out lots for a school, church and jail to be built by the following spring. The settlement was renamed Peterborough, in Peter Robinson's honour.

They Called it the Greatest Real Estate Sale of the Century

March 9th, 2016

In May of 1964, two young Realtors from Peterborough (John Bowes & William Cocks) advertised 120 homes owned by the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation on sale in the townsite of Cardiff. There were three styles of bungalows available for almost half the cost to construct them and potential buyers were enticed by the offer of either a maple rocking chair or a helicopter ride over nearby Paudash Lake. With a 10% deposit and $41 per month payment, buyers could avail themselves of long-term mortgage rates to purchase retirement or investment properties in a community that boasted municipal water and sewers, a modern school, swimming pool, stores, both a United and Catholic Church, dial phones and television reception- in the healthful moderate climate of the Highlands of Haliburton.

In the late 50s and early 60s, 3 communities (Bicroft Heights, Dyno Estates and Cardiff) had been built to accommodate mine workers. At one time, there were about 1500 people employed at the mines known as Bicroft Urnanium Mines Ltd, Canadian Dyno Mines Ltd, Faraday Uranium Mines Ltd and Greyhawk Uranium Mines Ltd. Few of the miners actually purchased their homes because they moved on to follow mining jobs. The communities had been put together through government programs and the province was left on the hook for the costs of the infrastructure. When the mines closed, many of the houses were simply bull dozed, but by some accounts, about 300 people traveled to the former mining community to have a look at the homes which had cost over $8,000 to construct and were being offered at $4250 for a 2 bedroom model and $4500 for a 3 bedroom model. The average lot was 24 X 43 and all models had full basements, four piece bathrooms, oak hardwood floors, forced air oil furnaces and double glued asbestos siding.

Studies undertaken in the 70s revealed that waste rock had been used for roads, driveways and building foundations. The Paudash Lake Conservation Association alerted authorities to the lack of remediation and concerns that crushed waste rock my be contaminating groundwater with heavy metal and radionuclides. Tailing ponds were deteriorating and leaking into nearby creeks, potentially entering the local aquifers- although the ads declared "Cardiff: Where the Air you Breathe and the Water you Drink is the Purest in North America". That was true, pure spring water was piped in and on tap.

Real Estate- It's a Local Thing

February 27th, 2016

People who are shopping for a home rarely shop in a large region... they choose a city or town and they generally go there, to see what is available. We do, though, talk about the Canadian Real Estate Market... as if there was some consistency between the housing market in Nova Scotia and the market on Vancouver Island.

The truth is, we talk about the Canadian Real Estate Market because we are appealing to outside investors. Our stable socio-economic and political climate is comfortable and the current exchange rate on our dollar is encouraging, too. Canada, it appears, is a safe bet.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Association of Foreign Investment in Real Estate, Canada has fallen a little in its ranking- from 2nd to 4th place in popularity... and that's because of the high price of oil.

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.