Monday, May 9, 2011

Old, but good, news...

Friday's Globe and Mail had a string of interesting, even useful, real estate articles.
"Well, of course they did", you say, "Friday is the day they publish their real estate section."
Except these better articles were all in the Report on Business section. It was so full of juicy items it took me a few days to get around to writing this up.
With the wee summaries and links below, I quickly maxed out the character limit for Facebook and Twitter ... so you get a blog post.  To wit (not to Tweet)...

"Rule changes make mortgages a moving target".  Opens with a statement that all the new rule tweaks make "it harder for many Canadians to get a mortgage".  Followed by a bunch of reasons why the new changes and restrictions are a bad idea.  Towards the end of the article we get stuff more along our thinking: that the new rules help ensure that "the goal and dream of owning a home is balanced with the ability to repay..."  A broker suggests the changes affect decisions for 10-15% of buyers.  If he is right, I suggest that the new changes probably influenced 90% of those people to make better decisions.  In other words, there are very very few people out there who have really good reasons for a 95% mortgage amortized over 35-40 years.

"How to play the low interest-rate game". Pretty solid advice on how to take advantage of the current low interest rates without losing your mind and taking inappropriate risk. My favourite quote (though I admit there are exceptions) "If you can afford to put down only 5 per cent, you can't afford the house".

"The $600,000 question".  What do you get for $600k in various parts of the country.  If you are just one happy puppy on some acreage in the boonies you can get a lot of house.  If you want to step outside and stroll to every imagineable cultural, recreational, and commercial attraction, think smaller.

"The long, slow flip". Cindy Wennerstrom's business is "flipping" homes but she takes an interesting middle ground between the fast buy-reno-flip and the long term investment property approaches.  She argues that her approach has risk and tax advantages.

If any of those sound interesting beyond my precis, follow the links and enjoy.  Comments also most welcome.  Please.  Somebody.  Comment. On something   :-)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

How Many Houses Do You Sell in a Year?

[Part of a series on how NOT to select a rep.]

When we are being interviewed by a potential client and this question is asked, our first response is "none".  That is because we don't "sell" houses.  Our clients sell/buy.  We help.

But the question is often asked on the premise that the more you sell, the better you are and the more you can do.  Sales are results, so more sales equals better results, right?

We think not.  Certainly, an agent must have a number of successful transactions per year to be considered "successful" ... and to pay bills and eat. But beyond some point, more sales may mean poorer, or at least different, performance and service levels.

There are only so many days in a year and hours in a day. We limit the number of active clients we will take on at any one time (to 10, though a constant 10 would have us lowering the number in a hurry!).  If we assist in the sale of a home a week during the high seasons, we are happy and not really looking for any more business (maybe less).

Why? Because we want to have a life while providing top service.  And because we decided we want to be fully involved throughout the process with our clients.

That is not saying we are the best (that's a story for a different place and time).  It's just our opinion that a number higher than that requires either reduced service or a different business model.

The reduced service is pretty obvious and unpleasant. The point to be emphasized again: More is not continuously better.

The different service model can work well, but you need to understand what it means.  Typically it means a small -- or not so small -- "firm" of professionals and service staff who, to a greater or lesser extent, specialize.  The "names" of the firm typically do the signing up -- listings or buyers.  For a listing, much day to day contact will be with a staff person.  If it's a buyer, or a seller who is also buying, a "buyer agent" may be assigned to that effort.

It's fundamentally the same model as a consulting, accounting, or advertising firm.  In those businesses, you only see the senior partners between signing and cheque-collecting when there is a big, BIG problem!  It works great with a well-managed firm with good training and a steady supply of young keen fresh meat!

I'm rambling.  The point is that that is how an agent "sells" 200 houses a year. They don't. [First, to be repetitive, an agent doesn't sell anything ... except maybe themselves].  A mini-brokerage, firm, team, whatever manages the sale of those homes.

To choose between someone involved in 20 sales or 200 or 300 sales, you need to decide on what kind of model you want and who you want to be working with.  The specific number of sales itself is not relevant.

Previously in this series of posts:
  • The introduction to this series is here
  • The chat about the not-validity of evaluating an agent by the ratio of sale price to listing price (You know the drill: "SOLD OVER ASKING!!") is here.
  • How about the guy with the lowest "average-days-on-market"? Debunked here

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Best Answer Ever (Grow Op Edition)

The other day we presented a (successful) offer on a fine home owned by a lovely senior couple.  A fairly standard clause in these strange times has the owner warranting that they have never used the property as a marijuana growing operation.

The listing agent properly noted the clause and asked them to confirm that they could so warrant.

Said the grandfatherly owner: "Well, I've pulled on a few, but I never grew it."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Days NOT on Market

I'm reviving a series on how NOT to select a rep. The intro was posted previously. You can find it here. There was also a chat about the not-validity of evaluating an agent by the ratio of sale price to listing price (You know the drill: "SOLD OVER ASKING!!") ... That piece is here.

Another common suggested criteria is "Average days-on-market".  A low number is deemed an indicator that the agent prices and markets well, allowing properties to sell high and quickly.

We agree that a properly priced home will generally attract the right buyers and receive the best offers.  And, as a result, it will typically mean a prompt sale.  But list price is ultimately the seller's decision and there can be reasons to "test" higher prices.  We can (and will) decline the listing if we have major problems with the plan, but sometimes the logic is there.

For example, a common reason for "testing" a higher-than-likely price is an estate sale.  An executor may feel pressure to demonstrate to the heirs that every attempt was made to attract the highest price.

All that said, the ultimate "days-on-market" stat is often deceptively low for much the same basic reason that sale:listing price ratios are meaningless. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New app for us iPhonies (and Webbies, too)

Anybody done mortgage rate comparisons at  What did you think?

We haven't been serious viewers/users of the site but it reads as a fairly neutral place to get an idea of current comparable real mortgage rates.  I quite like how straight forward they are about their independence and how they make money (see the "About Us" tab on their site).

How do they make money? Advertising and referrals.  The advertising is clearly identified as such.  And the referrals come only if you ask.

I looked at them a little more closely today because they announced an iPhone app connected to their service.  It seems pretty straight forward.  You could be looking at a home and start to feel that "what if I bought this" tingle.  Out comes the app and tells you who wants what rate today for whatever type and term you ask about.  It also has a mortgage calculator to check the actual payments.  Could be handy.  You don't have to actually talk to anybody or give out your information to anybody to get a solid idea of what would be involved mortgage-wise. 

All that said, if you know you are house-hunting you should get pre-approved.  Find a good mortgage broker (we know several) and go through the process.  You will know what you can afford, you can lock in a rate, and you will be stronger at the negotiation table.  It's all good.

If you're interested in real-estate related apps, you might want to have a peek at a series of earlier posts on the subject: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Death, Cars and not a thing to do with real estate

An article on US traffic deaths came buzzing by me (at moderate speed) from two different directions yesterday and today that had my head spinning so fast I could barely scratch it.

Here's the basic item, via the Globe and Mail: 

In summary, traffic fatalities in the US are falling.  Increased speeds, volume and distractions (phones, etc) are being more than compensated by improved technology, enforcement and education.  Seat belts, airbags, anti-lock brakes, crumple zones, and engines that fall out in a crash instead of landing in your lap seem to be helping.  Then there's radar, breathalyzers, and the surrounding information and awareness campaigns.  Kids are still generally as stupid as we were on a lot of things.  But a whole lot more of them are smart enough not to drive hammered.

All interesting and straight-forward.  But here are the bits that snuck in and got my "Wow" attention.

. There were still about 33,000 people killed in the US in 2010 in traffic accidents.  The multiplier to account for injuries is probably significant.  That's a lot of death.

. The Globe notes that there are now over five times as many vehicles on the road as in 1949.  Those vehicles are travelling 13 times as many miles, and they are doing it at higher speeds with much greater congestion.  The population of the US has doubled.  Just under 33,000 deaths in 2010 ... how many in 1949? (Think for a second, before you peek)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Run Forest Run !

Just a heads up that the Beach Spring Sprint is just around the corner. Great event that raises funds for the Rec Centre programs.

You can't just show up on run/walk day (April 2), and there are only 3 registration days left: March 28, 29, 30 7-9pm at the Beaches Rec Centre, 6 Williamson Road / 416-392-0740.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What should you do?

A (not so much fun) day in an agent’s life.

1.    The seller paid to have the knob and tube wiring removed when a kitchen reno was being done.  But the home inspector finds that the knob and tube is still extensive on both the first and second floors.  What do you do?

2.    A sale is firm, but on the same day as a buyer visit there is a substantial winter rainfall and the basement floods.  What do you do?

3.    There is a verbal agreement on a sale.  As both parties are out of town there is a 24 hour delay to get it all in writing.  The buyer’s wife wakes up with very cold feet and they want out of the deal.  What do you do?

Going back to bed and pulling the covers over your head is not an option.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

App – ropriate. Part 3: Zoocasa, Zillow and others.

This series of posts concerns what I think I know about smartphone apps and their kin as it relates to real estate.  We had a go at the new CIBC app in part 1, and looked at the mobile version of in part2.
Zoocasa, Zillow and others are websites with accompanying mobile apps that are supposed to represent the future for access to real estate information.

Maybe they do, but they aren’t there yet. 

Zoocasa is supposedly backed by Rogers and committed to developing its content and presence over the long haul.  We, and quite a few other agents in our community, have committed to a presence with them.  (Translated: they can include our listings and our advertising appears on the site).

In our case, we weren’t expecting them to “take off” instantly.  But given their apparent level of commitment and sophistication they seemed to have the best chance.  And we liked “being there” with the ad presence if and when take-off happened.

Advertising and promotion OF Zoocasa has disappointed us somewhat.  As a result we are not sensing that many people are using the site.  Are you?  If you are, tell us about it.

Again, the site and the app will map an area you select and “pin” listings in the area.  You can then call up the details for any listing – photos, room info, listing agent, etc.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Prices: Up? Down? Sideways?

I know. I'm always writing "expert" opinions that amount to "Beats me".  In these times, that seems to be what our expertise amounts to: "We know enough to know that we don't know".  Might make that our new slogan.

This Globe and Mail piece, despite the headline, seems to capture it well.  The Royal Bank report triggering the article takes an "on balance everything nets out and we're ok" position.  If I had to pick, this is probably the position I would take. 

But there remains a part of me that worries that I am just be averaging out more extreme possibilities.  If one doctor says you're fine and will live to 100, and another says you are terminally ill and will be gone at 50, it is not smart to decide that it all means you will live to 75 ... "on average".

The article leads with the Royal report.  But it also notes other predictions that are all currently on the table from knowledgable experts.  One group predicts a 25% slide in housing prices due to bubble indicators, rising rates and high personal debt. (disturbingly, our own financial advisor loiters around some of this thinking)

Another industry group predicts continued price increases in a healthy market and economy.

The Royal decides that an improving economy will balance rising rates and we just chug along about where we are now.  What do you think?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Have you seen the ads on TV for "comFree"?

I first thought this was a new entry in the flat-rate listing segment.  Given the timing -- with the recent news items around opening up the MLS® system, etc -- it made sense that somebody would start some heavy promotion.

Early in my initial investigation, I started getting agitated counting up how many Board and  rules they were breaking on their site.  Then I figured it out!

It seems that this is NOT an MLS® listing service.  It is, in fact, a juiced-up "For Sale By Owner" package.  You get photos, signs and some other support.  You also get on their website and in a "magazine" they publish. Even the market comparison to determine price appears largely do-it-yourself.

The packages list from around $500-900, though they are currently heavily discounted.  You can also buy additional ads in their magazine.

As I read it, you DO NOT get listed on any MLS® system. It would not surprise me if their representatives did offer some sort of listing service or referrals while signing you up for the basic stuff -- but I don't know this and don't see anything on the site that suggests it.  Anyone out there know the answer to this one?

You may have seen "By The Owner" signs in the past, with a traffic light logo.  This is in fact the same company, renamed.and relaunched.


Friday, February 4, 2011

App – ropriate. Part 2:

Triggered by a new real estate/mortgage app for your iPhone/Blackberry and an article about real estate and mobile apps, we began a little review of a few of them, starting yesterday with the new CIBC product.  If you missed it, scan down the blog or go HERE.

Today we have a peek at the mobile coulsin of -- the website familiar to many.  It’s the official public site for the MLS® system.  There is an iPhone app and a WindowsPhone7 app by the same name, with Blackberry en route.

The iPhone app reviews are pretty uniformly negative.  People like the idea but find the app buggy.  I think they are being a little harsh.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

App - ropriate?

Real estate apps (and more) for your smartphones.

An ad ran in the Globe this week for a real-estate app for the iPhone and Blackberry. The next day there was an article titled “Bungalow hunting? There’s an app for that”.

They mention a couple of mobile apps and suggest more are coming. They are probably right. So we’re going to give you our take on a few that we have seen.

Let’s start with the new kid. The CIBC product is called CIBC Home Advisor.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

This Old House: Famous? Infamous? Historic?

An interesting article via blogTO gives some tips on researching your home's history. Some of it looks like a fair bit of work ... but interesting if you have a little time, a place worth researching, and are ready to explore your inner geekiness.

The blogTO article is HERE.

One of the things they refer to is a "how-to" article by the Toronto Archives. You can get that through their link or HERE.

New Year, Newish Blog ... New Listing!

Welcome to 2011, a new start on this blog, and a new listing.

The listing is on Kingsmount Park Road. It's a lovely large 3BR semi on a tree-lined family street. TTC, school, park, community centre, shops, the Beach and more are within easy easy reach.

Lots has been done, including new hardwood, a big modern eat-in kitchen, and a finished basement.

If you wish to renovate further, you live here happily while you personalize at your own pace.

Lots of information right HERE Oh yes, ... $479,000.

Now about the "new" in this stale old blog.We are determined to get this blog rolling and keep it rolling this time.

We originally tried to keep it pure: informative, objective, largely non-promotional real estate info. A few people paid attention. But our interpretation of the polite feedback was: "good, interesting stuff ... but BORING".

So the heck with it. This is now going to mix the boring and informative with the (hopefully) interesting and fun. Gord is going to let his sense of humour run on a little longer leash. And Lee is going to worry about that.

If a little golf, music, even political opinions sneak in ... so be it. Comments and discussion are always welcome.

We are also going to try to integrate all the "social network" stuff -- if only to see how and if it "works". It has to "work" for you AND us and, to be honest, I'm not yet convinced. I am convinced it will take a little trial and error to get it right and in balance.

Come along for the ride and let us know how we're doing