Gardening Can Be a Bed of Roses: Try These Tips

Dreaming of a bed of roses or rows of tasty tomato plants is easy; the reality may feel like a nightmare, particularly to first-timers.

If you’re planning on seeing whether your thumb is green this summer, note that gardeners are just as varied as gardens, and even those who grew up surrounded by high-rise buildings can nurture something from a plot of earth.

You don’t even need your own backyard; thanks to locavores, the local food movement is spawning community gardens galore.

Before you take that first step, read gardening blogs and books. Talk to gardeners. Learn from them. Then check out these DIY tips:

Know your space. Gardens can occupy most of a backyard or a square-foot box. Consider where you’ll plant. Walk around your yard at different times of day so you can see what areas get the most shade, and when.

Make sure you have the necessary materials. Have water buckets and/or a hose that’s long enough. Invest in good tools and the space to store them.

A word about water. Many areas in North America are suffering from serious drought conditions, while others have the opposite problem: too much water. Both issues shape the way individuals on this continent garden today.

Know your soil. Different plants grow better in different soil types. It’s important to know the pH level of your soil. You can purchase a home test, or you can submit soil samples to a lab and have experts look at it.

Know your strengths. Gardening takes time. For some, weeding, watering, pruning, and keeping your plants safe from insects and animals is part of the joy of gardening. If all that seems like drudge work, you may have to accept that gardening isn’t for you.

Know your plan. Successful gardeners plan ahead. During June, for example, you need to plant fast-growing summer annuals and heat-tolerant vegetables that can endure hot summers.

Sale/Leasebacks May Benefit Canadian Seniors

It sounds like an impossible dream: sell your home, pocket the money, then live in that home for the rest of your days. The premise is called “a sale and leaseback,” and it could deliver meaningful benefits to Canadian seniors.

Why seniors? Increasingly, retirees aren’t saving enough for retirement; therefore, many seniors need to fund their retirement, and often the way to do this is to cash out of their homes. But here’s their dilemma: where do we live now?

While you may sell your home for more than you paid for it, soaring prices in some areas may mean you are unable to purchase in the same neighbourhood or even the same city. And many are not yet ready for retirement residences.

It sounds as though, for many retirees, the sale and leaseback concept may be the answer: they collect the proceeds from their home and continue to live in it without any maintenance obligations or mortgages as renters.

But, as a recent Financial Post article points out, there are potential problems. If the new buyer were to default on the mortgage, then renters could find themselves without a place to live.

Also, the sale/leaseback must make financial sense to the investor, who may charge back a high monthly rent.

However, the following scenario might work well for some: sell to an adult child and pay rent for a “granny flat” in the home.

The child will be able to carry the cost of the home, and the retiree won’t have to leave the familiar neighbourhood, a win-win!

Even the Tiniest Condo Can Feel Big: Read on…  

As urban dwellers scramble for affordable living space, apartment sizes are generally shrinking. As research company Urbanation suggests, the average size of a new Toronto condo is now 739 sq. ft. (69 sq. m), and some are even as small as 300 sq. ft. (28 sq. m).

Driven by this reality, residents of urban centres across North America are trying to squeeze into the smallest spaces they can to keep their downtown addresses. And they need to use their space creatively.

Designers are answering the call with mind-boggling space solutions. Here are a few that could make your 632 sq. ft. (56 sq. m) condo feel almost spacious:

  • Movable walls – Sitting less than an inch off the ground, these are attached to runners on stationary walls. They can be moved around like furniture to create rooms at will. IKEA is currently testing them on Swedish families.
  • Sliding pantry – This extremely narrow rack is on wheels or sliding tracks and fits into otherwise unused space, like the gap between your cabinets and refrigerator. Slide it out, grab a can, and push it back.
  • Drawer stairs – Why waste all that space under the stairs? Efficient designers have converted each step into a drawer.
  • Picture frame table – Your large wall hanging is no longer just art. It’s also the dining room table. A hinge on the bottom allows you to pull the top away from the wall, making it parallel to the floor. Legs snap into place along the frame’s sides and fold out to reach the floor. Voila…dinnertime!

Online Estimates: Informative or Misleading?  

Online real estate information sites are routinely used by homeowners, home buyers, real estate agents, and developers as gauges of a home’s market value.

Some of these sites use automated valuation models (AVMs) to provide information on estimated market value, usually for homes currently on the market. The information is available on many home search websites across North America.

AVMs are often proprietary, but generally these use algorithmic calculations that take into account characteristics such as square footage of both home and property, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, footprint of the structure, and property tax information and prior sales prices for nearby homes. The factors are weighted differently according to the specific geographical location.

Consumers often rely heavily on AVMs – sometimes too heavily. According to industry executives, some have median error rates of 8 percent. Of course, the accuracy of the information varies according to the individual website.

In fact, AVM error rates vary widely, and in some places they far exceed the national median. In large urban areas, as well as in desirable suburban and waterfront locales, AVM estimates may be off by tens of thousands of dollars in either direction. Sometimes online valuations are higher than actual on-the-ground selling prices, and sometimes they are significantly lower.

There are several reasons why AVMs can be off. For one thing, an algorithm can’t determine the actual physical condition of a residence. Sometimes homes have specific characteristics that add to or detract from value, such as a poorly located bathroom, a tiny bedroom, an unusual layout, or an obstructed view. Moreover, AVMs don’t take into account title issues, such as concern over surveys or boundaries.

Many agree that AVMs can be a good place to start when you’re in the research stage of house hunting. However, once you’re in search mode, forewarned is forearmed: ask your real estate agent for more detailed comparatives.

What’s That $53 Billion in Reno Spending About?

Canadians can’t really complain about the cost of renovating 24 Sussex Dr., the official residence of the prime minister. We’re spending plenty on home projects ourselves. According to Scotiabank, we spent $53 billion on renovations in 2015. That’s the same amount of money we spent building new houses.

Maybe we really are like our national symbol, the beaver – industrious, and like to build and renovate. But is the drive to renovate always a good thing?

As Heather Mallick points out in a column for the Toronto Star, a lot of renovations have no real purpose or lasting value.

And if you’re going with the latest trend, you may be sorry. (Remember when wallpapering inside kitchen cupboards was in fashion?)

But for those of us who just want what’s in NOW (you know who we are), we should at least be conscious of how we spend our renovation dollar.

Renovate wisely

As stats indicate, most people renovate their homes when they’re planning on selling them, or shortly after they purchase a new home. Many concentrate on cosmetics – that white kitchen or the big master ensuite. But DIYers, in particular, may not be focusing on the basics or doing the best job. Unlike with dated decor, buyers may be stuck with some of these hacks forever. Unless of course they’re prepared to rerenovate.

Reality check: You will renovate your home. It will cost money. That’s not bad. But keep your priorities aligned. Don’t become so focused on improving the appearance of your home – installing new countertops or flooring – that you neglect the basics, ignoring structural problems, outdated wiring and leaky basements.

As Mallick puts it, “Homes are living spaces that deteriorate as much as their owners do.” Just as we need to maintain our bodies, and not just our clothes, we need to focus on walls and wiring, not paint and light fixtures.

Is It Curtains for the Open Concept Lifestyle?

For years, it’s seemed as though open-concept living was the design principle of choice.

Kitchens, dining rooms, and living rooms were prized for their lack of dividing doors and walls.

Now, however, the dominance of the open-concept lifestyle is in question, according to architects and designers quoted in a November 2015 article inDezeen, an international design magazine.

UK architect David Mikhail told Dezeen that he first noticed the shift while working on an affordable housing scheme. Residents were offered a choice between an open-plan living space and inserting a wall between their living and dining rooms.

“Much to our surprise, they all chose to put the wall in,” Mikhail said.

According to Mikhail, many designed homes include a mix of spaces, such that large living areas now comfortably coexist with nooks and crannies, reflecting a current desire for secluded spaces and privacy.

The trend to “flexible-plan living” may be a function of today’s mobile technology. So-called broken-plan spaces allow each family member privacy for tablet and smartphone use, as well as individual areas to watch different TV programs at the same time.

While open-concept design still rules, other design publications have also noted a renewed interest in closed spaces.

The New York Times, for example, reported that an increasing number of buyers preferred separate dining and living areas.

And, in dissing open kitchens, Houzz writer Vanessa Brunner suggests: “If you want to leave your smells and mess behind when serving meals, a closed layout could be for you.” Point well made.

Age in Place Later; Make Good Design Choices Now  

Whether you’ve found the home you want to grow old in or you’re planning for an elderly relative to move in with your family, the design choices you make now should be made with a weather eye to the future.

You’ll want to consider adding those independent-living accessories now that will make life easier and safer for you or a relative down the road. Here are some suggestions.

Keep the kitchen safe and accessible by skipping trendy remodels that could transform it into an obstacle course.

Round the edges of countertops and shelves to reduce the risk of bumps and bruises. Place the microwave at or below counter height to eliminate the need to reach for hot dishes; frailer individuals have difficulty lifting and carrying cookware, which may cause spills and slipping hazards.

Also, make allowances for walkers or wheelchairs with lower countertops and extra space.

Consider installing a pull-out pantry with drawers that display all contents at a glance and permit easy access.

Note that U-shaped kitchen guidelines call for at least 60 inches (152 cm) of clearance between opposite cabinets, walls, or appliances; galley kitchens, a minimum of 40 inches (102 cm).

The bathroom can be a dangerous place for elderly people. Experts recommend you elevate the toilet, and install grab bars for getting in and out of the shower or tub safely.

Many designers are now including these features as a matter of course, so they needn’t negatively impact the resale value of your home.

Make sure the floors of your home are slip-resistant. Vinyl flooring offers good slip resistance and softness underfoot.

Tile floors should have enough grout and texture to grip. If your home’s interior has a few steps up to a landing or doorway, consider installing a threshold ramp; several kinds of affordable and easy-to-install rubber ramps are now available.

Well-considered changes now will make a big difference later.

Your Dream FROG Can Add Space and Value to Your Home

Instead of just a place to store stuff (and maybe to accommodate your car), your garage may also be a moneymaker.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a FROG over your garage, you may be missing out on something.

Your finished room over garage (or FROG) could be the perfect spot for a game room, kids’ play spot, or best of all (financially speaking), a rental property.

FROGS and bonus rooms are widely popular with buyers these days. And while it certainly hasn’t reached the stage where you won’t be able to sell your home without a FROG, you will add value and may be able to get a higher price with one.

According to an article at ThisOldHouse.com, a FROG can be a cost-effective way to add space. In the article, architect Mary Dorsey Brewster notes, “An over-the-garage addition doesn’t increase a house’s footprint, which helps reduce costs…

But it also presents unique challenges in planning and construction.”  These include local bylaws and fire and safety regulations as well as a host of potential structural and design problems.

Building your dream FROG won’t be cheap: you will need special insulation and will have to heat, cool, and plumb it – and that’s just for a start. You’ll also need an entrance, and you may have to install more windows or skylights to bring in natural light.

FROGs can add to your home’s curb appeal or they can look like poorly done add-ons. Hire experts to design and build your FROG. You’ll be glad you did.

A Garage Remodel Can Pay Back Big Time

The garage is a catchall, right? Right. But should it be? According to recent statistics, a clean, bright, updated garage may be a big selling point with today’s buyers.

Currently, remodeling the kitchen will return 70 cents for every dollar spent and a renovated bathroom will give you a return of 60 cents on the dollar. But updating the lowly garage, including a good storage system, will net you 65 cents per dollar spent…more than a bathroom!

Take the homeowner who added to the value of his property by building a garage. This homeowner spent $10,000 on construction, but when the home was reappraised, the garage had added $30,000 to its value.

Even purchasing an upscale garage door will generate a return on investment of more than 70 percent by improving your home’s curb appeal, according to a recent article in RISMedia.

Why the popularity of garages? Quite simply, buyers want the extra space. Downsizing baby boomers, in particular, want a place to store possessions they can’t fit inside.

Or lack of inside space could turn the garage into a dual-purpose man cave/storage area with a big-screen TV and comfy couch.

We’re talking clean, well-finished spaces, however, not the usual dusty, dark, and dingy garage.

Some buyers, particularly those with dreams of a workshop, are bringing in heat and light with their workbenches, and using cement paint in current colours to brighten it up.

Tips for renovating your garage: Get everything up off the floor and into a well-designed storage system, hang bikes on the walls, add lighting and flooring, and paint inside and out.

According to contractor Scott McGillivray, you can do a basic renovation for $10,000, although with add-ons you can spend a great deal more. However, it’s the best of all worlds: a well-appointed garage that can be a joy while you own the home and a moneymaker when you sell.

Buyer Beware: There Are Downsides to Buying a FSBO

Purchasing a property for sale by owner (FSBO) may make sense to many; because the seller doesn’t pay real estate agent commissions, the price should be lower. However, buyer beware. There are downsides to purchasing an FSBO. According to research conducted by the National Association of Realtors®, fewer than 10 percent of FSBOs are actually sold.

Why? There are any number of reasons, ranging from sellers not knowing how to price the property to potential problems with the condition of the house.

For example, without the advice of a real estate agent, the seller could overprice the home. So when your lender has the property appraised (which you will pay for), you may find that the appraisal comes in lower than the seller’s asking price. And because the lender is only prepared to lend against this appraisal value, not against the price the seller is asking, you may come up short.

A home inspection is always advisable, but with an FSBO, it’s essential. Even with an inspection, the seller may refuse to fix the items identified in the inspection and the deal may fall through.

In purchasing an FSBO, you will need your own real estate agent to represent your interests-even if you pay his or her commission yourself. Your buyer’s agent will evaluate the property in the light of current local market conditions, negotiate on your behalf, ensure that the transaction closes seamlessly, and more.

Your home is the purchase of a lifetime; if it’s an FSBO, make sure it’s done right.

A New Home for Fido…And the Rest of the Family

Anyone who owns a pet knows: a pet is family. And when you’re the parent of a pet and considering a move, you want to be sure your new home and neighbourhood are pet-friendly.

Start by Googling pet-friendly neighbourhoods. A million sites appear with blogs, maps, and articles to help you find your way. Studies show that bringing pets to work improves productivity and decreases sick time; and studies prove that pets increase longevity and decrease the effects of chronic illnesses. Other benefits include community forums, neighbourhood pet parties, pet chat rooms, and even pet-friendly dating services.

Most of these can be excellent information sources. But when it comes to the actual living space, you may want to consider a few questions. Are there too many stairs for an elderly pet to climb? Too many rugs to keep clean and hair-free? Or are the floors too slippery for a pet’s comfort? Is there easy access to a safe, fenced-in play space? Safe routes for a long, leisurely walk?

When you’re satisfied the living space is appropriate, check out the local ordinances and, if you’re condo-bound, read the homeowners association rules, which may limit the number, species, or size of pets.

To be sure Fluffy or Fido is in a healthy environment, investigate the municipal codes, including vaccination and licensing requirements; local animal control service websites are good places to start.

Then, take yourself for a walk.

In a recent article in RISMedia, author Drake Ernest suggests you search for signs the neighbourhood welcomes furry family members. Are there dog-friendly restaurants? Do shopkeepers keep doggie water bowls out in the summer and welcome the well-behaved pooch into their stores? Are there nearby veterinary services, cat sitters, dog walkers, an off-leash dog park?

Once you’ve done your homework, you can be sure your new home will be right for all your family members.

Us, Them & the Housing Market

The way things have been going, Torontonians and Vancouverites can’t be blamed for thinking housing markets are hot across the country. But according to several reports, “it ain’t necessarily so.”

Sure, the Toronto market is facing a record 2015, and Vancouver continues to post double-digit sales increases, but markets in many parts of Canada are moving at a different speed.

And as RBC’s senior economist Robert Hogue told The Globe and Mail earlier this year: “This sort of two-speed, if not multispeed, market is likely to be the central theme for the year.”

So how are other cities faring? Here are just a few examples: Resale markets in Alberta and Saskatchewan have indeed been weakened by the dramatic drop in oil prices, and Calgary, in particular, has suffered greatly from the rapid decline in prices.

In Montreal, real estate prices have been in a long-term slump, thanks to an over-supply of housing of all types, but activity has begun to stabilize. Even luxury properties are selling well in the city. Prices remain stagnant throughout Atlantic Canada. In Halifax, sales dropped to a 17-year low, thanks to a sudden increase in listings that seriously unbalanced the supply and demand pattern.

This picture may not change anytime soon. In a recent Globe and Mail article, BMO senior economist Sal Guatieri noted: “Strong demand from international migrants and young millennials, an influx of foreign wealth, and low mortgage rates are driving the two markets (Toronto and Vancouver).” And, so far, that’s not likely to change, either.

It’s Still Not Too Late to Winterize Your Home

For most of Canada, snow, ice and freezing cold temperatures are imminent. Is your home prepared?

Failing to properly winterize your home can cost you big bucks in service calls and repairs. Here are some winter tasks you should consider.

Find – and seal – leaks: Air leakage in your home can lead to heat loss, which can drive up your energy bills and leave you shivering. Ensure that all cracks and holes are properly caulked, and that windows and doors are adequately weather-stripped. If you think you may have some hidden leaks, Canadian Living magazine recommends holding a lit stick of incense along baseboards. “A strong leak will make the stick glow brighter and blow the smoke away, while smaller leaks will puff the smoke in a distinct direction,” the magazine suggests.

Hoses and irrigation systems: Water left sitting in garden houses can freeze and burst. Before the temperature drops, drain your outdoor hoses completely, remove any attachments and disconnect them from outdoor faucets. If you can, store them inside to maintain their integrity during the winter months.

If you have a sprinkler system installed, be sure to shut off its supply and wrap valves and any piping with insulating foam or tape.

Clean out your gutters: Gutters can easily become clogged with sticks, leaves and other debris from fall. This can spell trouble in the winter months, if an ice dam occurs and forces gutters to break open. To avoid a potential gutter-burst, make sure the gutters are clear before the snow starts falling.

The 80s Called: Your ‘Dated’ Home Is Trendy Now

We’ve seen it on TV: potential buyers (PBs) horrified by dated bathrooms and kitchens, wall-to-wall carpeting, and floral wallpaper (“The ’80s called; they want their rooms back…”)

“It’s so old-fashioned,” the PBs say, “we’ll have to gut it.”

There must be a lot of gutting going on: according to the most recent American Housing Survey, some two-thirds of owner-occupied U.S. homes were built before 1980, and many of those considerably earlier.

But before you start to tear down walls, consider this: today’s outmoded decor is yesterday’s classic design-widely loved and admired in its day.

Also consider that these homes were mostly built to last-sturdy homes that celebrated a time when “ordinary” wasn’t a dirty word. Call it normcore, meaning bland and unremarkable. Or call it trendy.

Who wants bland and ordinary? Once again, we turn to millennials (the leading edge of whom are now in their mid-30s). Similar to previous generations, these market drivers are looking for something different, and just as they are dressing in normcore fashion, the millennials are turning to normcore neighbourhoods and homes that reflect their own values.

They’re searching for balance and normalcy, notes one real estate insider in an RISMedia article titled “Best Normcore Neighbourhood to Buy an Unpretentious Home.” Like the Seinfeld TV series, it’s ordinariness as a lifestyle. And it’s now a big trend.

So next time you’re tempted to disparage wallpaper, pink and black bathrooms, and laminate countertops, think back. Remember the Formica kitchen table where you weren’t afraid to do homework or spill your milk. Or the rec room with fake pine paneling and furniture you could put your feet on.

Also remember that laminate counters and linoleum floors are virtually indestructible and are eco-friendly, and that “popcorn” and wallpaper magically cover up unsightly irregularities in ceilings and walls.

So, has your perspective on “dated” houses changed maybe just a bit?

Your Backyard Shed Can Be an Oasis

Everything old really is new again – including your old backyard shed. Forget fancy sunrooms or gazebos. Your shed can be all things to all people; you just have to decide what and to whom.

For example, your shed can serve as a miniature bar and lounge; add couches and a TV and it functions beautifully as a man cave or (especially popular now) a “she shed” for mom to entertain, relax or garden.

Older children can entertain friends, and the young ones can use it as a playhouse or fort.

Today’s shed isn’t just about leisure: it can become a home office, studio or workshop, so you can work at home but away from the house.

Decorate it beautifully, consider adding heat and AC, and voila: the perfect workplace.

If you don’t already have a shed, you can purchase prefabricated ones from many local hardware and gardening stores, or order online from businesses specializing in them. Be sure to check local zoning bylaws to see if they’re allowed and where they can be located.

Don’t think you can build it, and they will come: if you’re transforming your shed into something the whole family can enjoy, make sure they will – don’t skimp on finishes, and be sure to have a maintenance plan.

Oh, and your shed can also be a shed. If you’ve decided you should use your garage as a garage – for your car – you will likely have to move its contents to the shed.

It’s crucial to buy sturdy shelving designed around your needs. They should be wide, deep and accessible, but don’t forget to add some higher shelves to store collapsible patio furniture.

Even if your shed is just a shed, it still should look nice: ensure it’s solid and tidy inside and out, and surround it with attractive plantings. Now it’s not a shed; it’s an oasis.

Small Nest Egg; Big Dreams? Here’s How to Catch Up

If you’re dreaming of becoming a homeowner, or planning to upsize, you’ll need to tap your savings for a down payment and to support your mortgage application. Are you there yet?

If not, you’re not alone: Most adults over age 55 are behind on savings, according to a survey of 968 respondents conducted by Financial Engines. The survey showed that 68% of adults aged 55 and older have procrastinated when it comes to building a nest egg. And while most agreed that the best age to start saving is 25, many don’t start until 35…and it makes a difference.

The study provides a hypothetical example: This individual saves 6% of a $36,000 salary annually. The nest egg increases by 1.5% a year, due to raises, etc. If the saver begins at age 25, assuming a 3% employer-matching contribution and a 5% annual return, by age 65, he or she will have saved roughly $500,000.

But to reach the same goal when starting at age 35, the saver would have to contribute 12% of his or her income per year.

Making up for lost time isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible, thanks to the power of compounding. And if returns are compounded in a tax-deferred account, the potential income growth is even greater.

If you did get off to a late start, there’s still time. Talk to your advisor, and together you can build a solid savings plan to make your housing dreams come true. Just perhaps a bit later then you’d like.

Manage Fall’s Clutter and Mess with a Mudroom

September means transitions. School begins and seasons change. There are more backpacks – and dirt – in your home. So why not consider creating a mudroom to ease the transition from outside to in?

Mudrooms should be located where they will be used. Usually that means at the front or back of your home, near entrances. They offer a dedicated space to store items like shoes, boots and coats so the rest of the home stays clean. And they’re not exclusive to big properties. Small city homes – even condos – can include mudrooms.

To design your own mudroom, first look at the space available in your home. Just adding storage for shoes and coats can transform a back porch into a mudroom, but even a hallway near a door can hold a bench with storage space underneath.

A ground floor laundry room also may work for you; dirty clothes can be tossed directly into the washer. You might even consider a dog station to wipe muddy paws before they track up your floors. Use durable surfaces and consider indoor/outdoor carpeting for easy cleanup.

Mudrooms can be fun as well as practical. Have good lighting. Use different-coloured personalized storage for each family member. Let the kids choose their own storage containers – they’ll buy into the concept if they have a stake in it.

Also remember your mudroom is for everyone. Even guests. Provide a basket of slippers, a welcome place to sit and somewhere to put bags. They’ll love you for it.

Here’s Why Homeowners Insurance Costs so Much

Do you know why your home insurance costs are high? According to a recent article in the Financial Post, there are 14 specific home features that could be driving up your rates. Such as:

Swimming pools. Swimming comes with a risk of drowning, so pools come with more expensive home insurance. Your liability goes up when the pool isn’t protected by a fence.

Your home business. If your home contains items belonging to your business, or if part of it serves as your place of business (for example, a daycare, bed-and-breakfast or meeting place with clients), then your premiums may increase. Check with your insurer about the impact of your personal business on premiums.

Finished basements. Your basement entertainment room/home gym/office may increase the value of your home, but it may increase your premiums too. If a pipe bursts, damage is likely more costly than in an unfinished basement.

Roofs. What kind of roof do you have? If it’s a shake-shingled roof, you’ll pay more – up to 10% more, according to some experts. Why? Because, however attractive, this type of roof is more vulnerable to wind, rain and other weather nasties. According to Daniel Mirkovic, an insurance expert quoted in the Financial Post article, stone and metal roofs are your best bet.

Wooden frame construction. Structures made of wood are vulnerable to fire. For cheaper premiums, buy a brick or concrete home.

Wood stoves and fireplaces. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and if you have a wood-burning feature, you’ll be paying additional premiums. You also may require a home inspection.

Older properties. Your home doesn’t need to be shiny and new, but outdated and aging roofs, wiring, and structures are red flags for insurers, who may require upgrades.

Valuable items. Don’t forget your belongings. You may need riders or separate policies for jewellery, art, expensive athletic and recreation equipment, and musical instruments.

Stay Close to ‘Home’ with Boutique Condo Living

It’s hard not to notice that high-rise condos have taken over the urban scene across the country in recent years. The high-rises make sense: when you can’t build out, build up. And for young people and those who work in the heart of the city, a bustling downtown is attractive.

But in older, established downtown neighbourhoods, where housing tends to be fairly singular (detached and semi-detached homes on generously sized lots with large trees and lots of green space nearby), skyscrapers don’t fit.

That said, even these neighbourhoods have been changing. Many residents of older neighbourhoods are looking to downsize, but don’t want to move away from the area where they’ve raised their kids, walked their dogs and shopped. They don’t want to leave ‘home.’

There is a place like home.

Enter boutique condos. These buildings – unlike typical high-rise condo developments – tend to occupy a much smaller footprint, with larger units and traditional floorplans spread out over fewer storeys. And they’re located within footsteps of those leafy neighbourhoods.

A recent National Post article highlighted two Toronto developments, which have in common a mix of mid-rise condos and townhomes near established neighbourhoods with lots of outdoor space built in. They’re close to the amenities downsizers are looking for. In fact, they’re almost ‘home’: Downsizers – who typically can afford to spend more for housing than the young professionals seeking urban condos – can retain most aspects of their lifestyle in close proximity to the community they’re used to, but with less maintenance and more security.

They aren’t alone. Some boutique condo developers are also targeting younger families who need the kind of space boutique properties offer. But don’t expect boutique condos to come to a neighbourhood near you any time soon: not only is it harder to find land in older neighbourhoods, but those neighbourhoods tend to be more – sometimes prohibitively more – expensive for the average home seeker.

Boost Your Home’s Look for Less: Try These $500 Hacks

Itching for a home improvement project but low on cash? Not every project has to break the bank; there are plenty of jobs that will boost your home’s appeal for under $500. Here are a few ideas:

Paint: Paint your kitchen, paint the baseboards, paint your front door, and paint some furniture. It’s amazing how a few coats of a new colour (or a refreshing of the old one) can improve the overall look and feel of your home.

Work in the yard: You don’t have to have the best garden on the street, but a well-maintained front yard plays a huge role in curb appeal. Trim trees, replace or repair fences and install a new mailbox. If you haven’t touched your front walkway since moving in, consider a remodel.

Get organized: Most people have a place in their home that could benefit from a major reorganization. For messy closets, a DIY organization system can be installed individually or as a unit; big box stores have good selections at many price points.

Replace hardware: It’s expensive to replace cupboards and cabinets, but swapping out hardware can make a big impact for little money. Switch up handles and drawer pulls for updated (or antique) hardware to give your kitchen or bathroom a new look.

Replace your backsplash: If you’re handy, replacing your kitchen backsplash is fairly easy and instantly renews the look of the room. Tiles vary widely in price; know how much space you’ll need to cover and price out the project before shopping to avoid overspending.