Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Who's in Your Basement ?... or ... Do you know where your kids are?

OK, August is nearly over so I can't deny it any longer. It's back-to-school time. For some of you that may mean young people appearing in your home. For others, your young people are heading off into the big world and may be in someone else's home, an apartment, dorm, etc.

Along came a newsletter from "the Fire Guy" that seemed like a good bit of parental or landlord advice. The Fire Guy's site is www.pcfirecode.com His main business is assessing basement apartments and their ilk for upgrade needs to pass fire code.

Anyway, here's the newsletter:

The Independent Fire Code Specialist - Protecting Your Interests

Smoke Alarms
It is the law in Ontario to have working smoke alarms on every storey and outside all sleeping areas. The law applies to single family, semi-detached, townhomes and apartments (including basement apartments), whether owner-occupied or rented. Rooming houses have specific regulations about smoke alarms or fire alarm systems. In addition to smoke alarms within each unit or suite, apartment buildings and student residences operated by the school may also have a building fire alarm system. Make sure the landlord, administrator or super-intendent identifies and explains the fire alarm and detection features in the building and unit.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms
The Ontario Building Code requires carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in new buildings that contain a fuel-fired appliance. However, many existing buildings were constructed prior to this requirement and may not be equipped with CO alarms. If the building has a fuel-fired (natural gas, oil, propane or wood) appliance, a CO alarm should be installed. Check with the fire department or municipal office to determine if there are by-laws requiring CO alarms.

Fire Separations
Students often find accommodation in older homes that have been converted to apartments or rooming houses. At the time of the conversion, a building permit should have been obtained to ensure that fire safety features such as proper exits and fire separations between units are provided. Ask the owner if the property complies with the Building Code and Fire Code and to explain the fire safety features.
It is important to consider how people will escape from a room or apartment in an emergency. Every room or apartment requires adequate exits that will permit unobstructed escape from the building. Make sure to ask the landlord or superintendent to identify all of the designated exits. All windows and doors should open fully and easily. Stairways and hallways must not be used for storage as this can pose serious fire safety hazards. Furniture and other obstacles can physically block exits and may fill hallways or stairways with smoke if they catch fire. This practice must be strictly avoided.

Fire Escape Plans
In a fire emergency, everyone must know what to do and where to go. Large apartment buildings and student residence buildings require a fire safety plan, which informs the occupants about emergency procedures. Ask the building administrator or superintendent to explain the procedures in the fire safety plan.
Smaller apartment buildings and houses that have been converted to apartments or lodging rooms may not have a fire safety plan, however it’s a good idea to ensure there are two ways out of the unit. The alternate way out can be a window that can be safely exited in an emergency.

Some property owners install bars on windows as a security measure. While this may seem appealing from a security point of view, it can prevent students from escaping in an emergency situation. Security bars on windows should be equipped with a quick-opening device on the inside so the bars can be removed quickly. Electrical Safety
Many buildings offering lodging to students are older homes that may not have upgraded wiring. Outlets in bathrooms or within one metre of the kitchen sink should be the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) type. Consider the number and location of electrical outlets in the room or apartment. There should be enough outlets so that appliances such as lamps, computer equipment and stereos can be operated without the use of extension cords. If extension cords can’t be avoided, use multi-outlet power bars that are approved and provide surge protection and a circuit breaker. Make sure that electrical cords of any kind are not concealed under carpets or rugs where they can be easily damaged. Avoid overloaded circuits and octopus wiring.

For more information:

Contact the administration offices of the college or university. They will frequently maintain a registry of available accommodation for students. Call the local fire department to determine if the building has been inspected for Fire Code compliance.

Electrical safety tips and information about common electrical hazards can be found at the Electrical Safety Authority website at: http://www.esainspection.net/

Fire safety tips and information can be found at the Office of the Fire Marshal website at: http://www.ofm.gov.on.ca/

Safe Student Accommodations 101

10 tips for a safe place to live
As students prepare to move into shared or rented accommodations to attend college or university, parents, guardians and students themselves should take an active role in finding a safe place to live. It is essential for caregivers and students to talk about fire and life safety. Whether returning to school or leaving home for the first time, a discussion about good fire safety practices can help to ensure this exciting time in a student’s life is not marred by a fire tragedy.

1. Look While You Cook: Stay in the kitchen when cooking – especially if using oil or high temperatures. If a pot catches fire, have a proper-fitting pot lid handy to slide over the pot and turn off the stove. Cooking requires constant attention. Distractions like televisions, cell phones, or computers can lead to a tragic cooking fire.

2. Candle With Care: If you use candles in your room or apartment, keep them away from anything that can burn and place them in a safe, sturdy holder with a glass shade or hurricane chimney. Place them where they cannot be knocked over and blow them out when leaving the room.

3. Keep An Eye On Excessive Drinkers: Alcohol is a common factor in many fire fatalities involving cooking and smoking. Be aware of roommates and friends who have been drinking excessively, especially if they are cooking or smoking.

4. Smoke Outside: Establish rules for smokers. If you permit smoking inside, use large, sturdy ashtrays that can’t be easily tipped over. Ashtrays should be emptied into a metal container not the garbage can. Check around furniture cushions after people have been smoking, especially if they have been drinking.

5. Use Electricity Wisely: Toasters, coffeemakers and microwaves should be plugged directly into an outlet. If you must use an extension cord, buy one that is the correct gauge for the appliance and has a CSA or ULC approval mark on the label. CSA or ULC approved power bars may be used for stereo equipment, computers and lights.

6. Clear the Clutter: Keep things that burn away from heat sources like stovetops, space heaters and electronic equipment. Tea towels and paper too close to burners can catch fire. Keep space heaters at least one metre away from bedding, furniture and curtains.

7. Working Smoke Alarms: It’s the Law: Your room or apartment must have working smoke alarms. Test them monthly and notify the landlord immediately if they’re not working. Dead batteries must be replaced right away. Nuisance alarms can be avoided by making sure smoke alarms are not located too close to the kitchen or bathroom. Consider getting a smoke alarm with a hush feature. Smoke alarms should be checked after any extended absence such as Christmas break and reading week. Never tamper with or disable a smoke alarm.

8. Plan To Escape: Know two ways out of your room or apartment in case of fire.
Identify all exits and make sure you can use them. If you live in a highrise, familiarize yourself with the building’s fire safety plan. If you discover fire, call the fire department from a safe location outside.

9. Be Equipped: To stay safe, all students should put together a package that includes a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm, a battery powered lantern or flashlight and radio, extra batteries and a CSA or ULC approved power bar.

10. Learn More:
For more information about fire safety in student accommodations, contact your local fire department or visit:


So for all your Retrofit needs remember The Fire Guy
"Who is here protecting you from Fire and The Fire Departments"

Market Update ... Prepare to be confused.

I've avoided any deep analysis of housing market conditions, trends, and predictions lately. Mostly because it all ends up sounding like "on the one hand ... and on the other hand" or simply "I don't know".

Here's what (I think) I do know.
  • The US market is a mess. It's been a mess for a while. It will be a mess for a while. The mess was about as predictable as messes can be.
  • Canada is not the US. Yes, we get some spillover, but the economies, market conditions, regulatory and business environments are/were very different and mostly in our favour.
  • You shouldn't read the newspaper articles about the housing market!
  • OK, you should really. But if you do read them, you should read more than the headline. Almost universally, the headline is bad news and US-centric. Usually the article eventually gets around to explaining that not all the news is bad, and certainly Canada is different.
  • The latest (August 20/08) from down south is that prices are down and there are still more houses on the market. However, under the headline is the information that the number of sales has turned up. The beginning of the end? The end of the beginning? A blip?
  • Canada is not one market. For example, the West and Ontario are both "calming". The West because it got a bit overheated; Ontario because our economy is getting a little beatup by the US problems. Different causes will mean different degrees, durations, etc.
  • Here in Toronto, the market is softening. A bit. There are less deals ... but only compared to a couple of the best years in history. There are less "bidding wars" ... but they still exist, and they always decline in the summer
So there. It's been a wild ride. If anything is happening, it seems more like a "stabilization" than anything to get too concerned about. The market usually picks up about a week after the school year starts (the "Fall Market") with folks trying to solve some real estate issues before year-end. We'll see, but our bet is "a little quieter, but a good balanced market".

"Granted", it's not free but it IS a good deal...

If you've been thinking about energy costs and conservation, you may have some reno or upgrade projects in mind. Perhaps you've just bought a house that needs a little work, or are getting your own place ready to sell in the next few years, or the thought of firing up the old furnace in the Fall is keeping you awake at night.

You may have heard that the federal government is doling out money to help. You're right. The basic idea is you get an evaluation done. They "qualify" you for certain improvements. If you make thos improvements, they come back to check and you get a government cheque.

One small caveat: The companies doing the evaluations are often also in the business of doing the improvements. They may or may not be your best contractor option. You should probably do a little shopping before just blindly signing on with the evaluators' firm.

That said, here's where to go for the program info

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Door #1 ... no, door #2, ... no .... oh Monty, how do I pick an agent?

Introducing a series on how (not) to pick an agent…
There are a lot of reasons used to select a real estate representative. Unfortunately the search for “good”, “logical”, “rational” “statistical” selection criteria is rather futile. It’s a hard job.
It’s just as hard for a good agent to express what makes them unique and/or an agent you should consider. Poor us.
In the end, many agents advertise their strength in the areas that buyers and sellers have decided or been told meet the above criteria. And they usually mean … nothing.
In our opinion, what you should be looking for is an agent or “consultant”
• that is most concerned about your satisfaction and success,
• who you can trust to work for you and you alone,
• who will be completely honest with you at all times and
• who will keep you informed and be available throughout the process.
Unfortunately, it is near-impossible to objectively measure any of these.
So you don’t. Instead …
• You assume that all agents are in it for themselves and the gold and you should just hire the toughest, self-centred, biggest producer of them all.
• Or you decide to hire the “nicest”.
• Or the one with the slickest presentation.
• Or you decide that they’re all the same so you might as well go with your brother-in-law’s kid who just got her licence.
• Or you go back to the “objective” measures and go with “sale-to-list-price” ratios; number or size of deals; average days-on-market; etc.
Wrong. Nice try, and we understand how difficult and frustrating it all is. But still wrong.
Coming up: A series on assorted “myths” in selecting an agent. We’ll try to be succinct and clear about how the business works and why a given selection criteria is of little use (or worse, could lead in a wrong direction). We’ll try to help with some of the ways that are good ways to select an agent. But we are the first to admit this list is shorter and harder to use.
So, yes, we’re trying to help but we’ll make the decision harder. Hopefully better. But definitely harder.

Related posts:
... "98% of list ... NO NO NO!!"
..."Days NOT on market"
... "How many houses do you sell..."

... or just click the "selection" item in the tag list on the blog (in case I add a post and forget to update these links ... it happens!)