Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"Yes, but ..." : Toronto Life edition, part 1 (of several, I suspect)

I'm back. Again.  Sorry about that.  As of the last post we were preparing to move.  Work busy-ness, the move and a pair of truly nasty summer colds put the blog on the black blurner for a while.

But as I was pondering the next post, along came the September 2012 issue of Toronto Life with the cover story "House Wars".  Under the headline ... "Too many buyers. Not enough houses. Extreme tales from the real estate market"

Weeeeellllll, this ought to be good for a whole string of posts.

Sure enough, here I go.  And I haven't even read the article yet.  The "Editor's Letter" lays out the tale of a couple who bought a house in 1972 and just sold it for over $1.4 million (and yeah, a whole bunch over list price).  Bandits.  Baby boomers cash in. Young'uns can't afford a cardboard box under the Gardiner.

I'm not saying these folks didn't do well.  They did.

But let's come at it a little differently and maybe suggest they did just that ... "well".  Not outrageously, or insanely. Just "well".

In the example, the buyers picked up a dump in a very untrendy neighbourhood.

So, their location means they took a risk.  Risk-takers deserve a little higher return when their risks work out (because they will get creamed when they don't).  Just keep that in mind.

And they have spent piles of cash restoring, renovating to bring the place up to snuff.  Without knowing what they did or when, I have just pretended they paid $50,000 in the first place.

Their annual rate of return on their investment: 8.5%.  That may still sound pretty awesome, but don't forget that this is an average and includes periods where inflation was double-digit (and mortgages were going at 18%).  One source I checked (actually I googled it and only checked one source that looked pretty credible) suggested a representative stock market purchase would have returned over 11% for that 40 year run.

Actually, that's a good idea. Let's take inflation out.  If I've done the math right, their "real" return after inflation now comes out to a little over 4%.

Finally, I note that the editor says the sale discussed will "play a big part in funding their retirement".  Probably true ... IF they rent or downsize or move to a lower-priced market (good deals in Welland these days).

I'm not suggesting the market hasn't been nerve-tingly hot.  For quite a few years, many wise folk have been wondering when it will slow, settle, correct, crash, whatever.  It hasn't done it yet. It may. It may not.  But I'll also bet that when I post this and head back to the actual article I'm going to find stories that are a whole lot less dramatic than their headlines (and our resulting emotions and outbursts) initially suggest.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Moving. We are. Are you? About movers...

We have heard an amazing array of mover stories over the years.  Some good.  Many not.  Our own advice has always been to get in-house estimates, never assume the estimate is the gospel with respect to what you will actually end up paying, and try very hard to determine what will REALLY happen if (when) there is a problem.

A caveat:  There are ads in the right hand column of this blog.  Since this post will have "movers" etc as tags/labels as well as other keywords, I'll bet you a buck that google drops an ad or two for "acme movers" et al in there.  We don't know who will be advertised and we have nothing to do with it.  Do not assume the ad is in any way a positive or negative endorsement from us.  Now, back to our post...

There are any number of legitimate reasons for variation from estimate to actual (you decide you will move the piano after all, or find a bunch of "little stuff" you forgot about, etc). However, there are any number of ways to lowball an estimate in order to get the deal, too.  Some classics include simply underestimating weight or the number and type of boxes required (where these are part of an estimate).

A reference is extremely important, but there is rarely a guarantee that you will get the same estimator and crew as the positive-experience referring person. 

A referral that may be even more valuable than "they did a great job" is one about how a company handled a damage claim.  A good mover will almost always do less damage than you would if you did it yourself (be honest!).  The key is how the company handles the problems.

The article below (after the "jump" or "read more" link) came to us from OREA (Ontario Real Estate Association) and we thought it good enough to pass on.  The comment about not taking the lowest estimate may seem self-serving.  Maybe it it, but it is also very true.

Do you have a great mover?  Or a tip?  Or a horror story that you can laugh at now (don't want you to relive the ones that still make you curl up in the corner and cry).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

We're Moving! (part 13) SOLD!

So, here we are.  It's Wednesday evening and we have three offers. Enough competition that we should see proper market value, but not one of the feeding frenzies you read about in the papers.  With three, especially since one is being delivered and not presented, we can do it at the house where everyone is likely more comfortable.  One or two more and I probably would have moved it to a meeting room at our office.

As it turns out, a health issue means only one offer is actually being "presented".  This is unusual, even though more and more offers are just faxed or otherwise delivered.  There are special circumstances -- for example, an estate sale with the lawyer as executor -- where just sending in the offers makes sense.  There are also lots of not-so-good reasons for this happening, ranging from lazy to devious.  But most agents in most cases prefer to come to the presentation with their offer.  They can give some insight into their clients, answer questions and get a better sense of the sellers' situation and preferences.

We encourage our sellers to make the "rules" simple and clear and in writing.  By stating up front that we will take the best acceptable offer if it is at least $5,000 (equivalent) better than the next offer, we make it clear that we are not going to "game" anyone.  Our reputation -- and putting it in writing -- means that agents can more often bring their buyers' best offer right away.

The result should be the best chance for the buyer, the best price for the seller and less stress and running around (and theatrics) for all concerned.

In this case, our sellers -- us -- were easy sells for this approach.

So, if you haven't been through it, here's how this goes.

Assuming everybody shows up on time, the first agent comes in ... introductions ... can I get you some water, etc. ... blah, blah ... and hands the offer to the listing agent.

When that listing agent is one of us, we have already explained the process to our clients.  Said process begins by reading through the offer silently, making notes if one wishes.  Most importantly, do not either start whooping and dancing ... or make gagging sounds and insult the parentage of the bidders.

With the first offer, we will go through it pretty thoroughly -- even the standard clauses that will be in every offer.

We then find a little out about the potential buyers, clarify any issues, say thanks and send the agent away -- maybe to their car, maybe to the basement, not usually to eternal damnation.

[By the way, sitting in your car on a Sunday evening in mid-winter, waiting for the phone call saying you just "lost" may be the most common setting for agents questioning their career choices.]

With the buyers' agent gone, we can discuss the merits and issues of the offer.

Rinse and repeat.  It gets faster with subsequent offers as the standard stuff need not be reviewed and explained in the same detail.

Then it's done.  All the agents are stashed away and it's time for a decision.  This can be obvious, or obvious with a question (can you move your closing date a week later?).  Or it can be so close that the written rules mean you have to ask those poor agents to go back and see if their clients wish to improve -- everybody's evening gets a lot longer.

Or it can just be tough.  The classic would be one high offer that has a loose condition (say, home inspection) and a firm offer for less money.  How much is "firm" worth? (The answer: "a lot").

In our case, it was pretty straight forward.  All three offers were firm and in the range we expected.  One was higher.  A lovely couple (we met at the open house and a later showing) will be taking over our home and garden on June 14.

An amazing number of little details, signatures, initials and phone calls later, we had that odd feeling that comes with selling your home of 21 years, albeit successfully.  We, and the buyers' agent also had that exhilaration of a successful deal.

Two other agents had that unpleasant, but not uncommon these days, of not getting the deal and not getting the home that their clients wanted enough to bid on.

Saddest, are the two families who probably spent a lot of time stressing over what to offer for a house they must have liked and wanted and didn't get it.  In this market, those couples may "lose" several times before they get their home.  It is tougher than almost anyone can understand until they go through it.  A good trusted, empathetic supportive, agent is very important here.

One more phone call to Florida: "Honey, I sold the house", a celebratory dram, and off to bed.

As I begin to drift off, my eyes pop open as I think:  "Wait a minute.  Where the heck are we going to live?"

Monday, March 19, 2012

We're Moving! (part 12) We're listed...Less work, More stress

This post should close the gap between blog-writing and actual event by quite a bit.

Once the house is listed, the work level can actually drop quite a bit.  After all, the house is so freaking staged you CAN'T do anything in it even if you were allowed to.  To the extent that you are getting good showing, you can't even be IN the house.

This may not apply if you have 3 rugrats, a dog, two cats and a slob for a spouse.  In our case it's a bit hairy because my office is/was at home.  So yes, that was probably me and not some terrorist hacker sitting in a van with a laptop with some weird antenna thing attached to it.

Also, even if the physical work slows down, your mind gets pretty busy... Why isn't the phone ringing? ... What if we priced wrong? ... Please don't let it snow ... Why did the dishwasher just make that noise ... What if nobody comes? ... Why are we doing this? ... What if we can't find a place to live?

By the way, we are holding off offers until Wed. evening.  No doubt, holding off offers is designed to allow for a bidding war.  But in a hot market where things sell quickly, it also allows buyers to find out about the property, see it, and make a decision and plans before somebody jumps in and nabs it.

Alex from videolistings.ca shows up right on time as Gord is returning from delivering the paperwork to the office and does his usual efficient job.  We will find out tonight that it was also his usual gorgeous job.  He beautifully incorporated our seasonal garden pics and some local scenery into the house video. (I mentioned it before, but the old place really looks good: www.videolistings.ca/video/35anndale)

As he walks out the door, the agents start appearing for the Agent Open House.  While everything else we do helps, the major marketing tool is the tens of thousands of agents of the Toronto Real Estate Board who see the listing.  If you can make it convenient for them to physically see the house, better still.  And that is the Agent Open House.

The feedback is good, though we pick up a niggly little theme: "Great house, you'll do well, a little small for my people".  We believed we had factored this in.  The house is about three times the size that a good friend grew up in with his 5 siblings.  But that was then.  Young families looking for their second home in a perfect location are thinking dream home even if they are a little short of dream budget.  We'll get back to this little issue later.

We have showings Friday afternoon and evening.  Good start.

Saturday and Sunday
Public Open Houses both days.  Not a zoo, but busy and steady.  More than the usual number of clients WITH their agents -- as opposed to agents SENDING clients.  That should be positive.

Friday, March 16, 2012

We're Moving! (part 11) Gentlemen...Start Your Engines

Part 9 left us with less than 24 hours to get everything finished and ready and the listing up on the TREB site.  And Lee packing for a week in Florida.

We always tell clients how we need a few days lead time, once the house is 99% ready in order to get all the marketing materials designed, written, printed etc.  The clients always understand and then reality happens and we are taking pictures while they paint and Lee is up at midnight writing a listing while Gord stays up until after 1am working on the feature sheet, etc.

And now we've done it to ourselves.

But we get it done.

Listing hits the computer Thursday afternoon, with decent photos by Gord.

This means it should be uploaded to realtor.ca by Friday, Saturday latest.

Sign ordered.

Just Listed postcards get designed and uploaded to the printer Thursday afternoon.

The feature sheet, window sheet, open house datasheets, etc get done in the wee hours Thursday night.

VideoTour and agent open house are scheduled for Friday morning. (www.videolistings.ca/video/35anndale)

Public Open Houses scheduled/uploaded to various sites for Saturday and Sunday.

Custom website designed and published Friday. (not our best, but better than most IMHO ... www.LeadingTheWayHome.com/anndale)

Sign rider prepared, printed laminated (rider has a QR code and the website address)

Janine brings in her accents to complete the staging ... last load to the locker ...


Make that 3am. ... Bed is already made, so I sleep on the couch.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

We're Moving! (part 10) You Want How Much for That Dump?

Given that we are going to list this thing in the next day or so and people generally like to know how much they should write the cheque for, perhaps we should settle on a price.

Given, further, that it's our own house and some bias could sneak in, we hauled in three of our trusted local colleagues for a group think and sanity check on our best efforts at market evaluation.

Their estimates landed pretty much on top of ours.  Market value homed in on a range from something over $850,000 to a about $885.  One had us over $900k for a while and one had us initially quite a bit lower, but came to the pack after a short discussion.

Two things.  First, note that even five really good experienced agents, in a non-competitive environment, giving their best shots produced a range of almost $40,000.  There is complexity, art and gut involved in the process as well as the system and science.

Second, market value is what you should expect to get once the dust has settled.  List price is a tactical decision to help you get there.

Right now, we remain in a hot sellers' market.  Some of what follows would be dramatically different if that were not the case.

A critical rule is "Don't price too high or you will be punished".
For whatever deep psychological reasons, buyers are resistant to offer lower prices on over-priced listings.  They just go elsewhere.  When they go elsewhere, the listing doesn't sell; when the listing doesn't sell, it gets stale; stale listings get forgotten...quickly. You don't want to be quickly forgotten.  Don't overprice.

When this happens you move quickly from dreaming of insane bidding wars to price reductions and praying for an offer.
So that seemingly clever approach:  "Let's try it at $xxx and if it doesn't go we can always reduce it later."?
Nice thought.  Doesn't work.  Don't do it.  You typically end up with less money and more time taking 45 minutes to make the bed and trying to find where you hid your toothbrush and toaster before the last showing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

We're Moving! (part 5A) Oh yeah, the Home Inspection

oops, forgot to have a little chat about the Home Inspection.

In this market, many sellers -- e.g. us -- would like to see and early "firm" offer.

Firm means without conditions.

A typical offer in a "normal" market will have one or both of these conditions: Financing and Inspection.
Both are what we call "loopholes you can drive a truck through".

We'll leave financing for now, but the issues aree very similar.

The standard wording of the Inspection clause gives the buyer a few days to arrange and conduct a home inspection with a licensed inspector and to receive a report to their satisfaction.  The intent of the condition is to identify significant maintenance and structural issues that the buyers were not aware of.

Unfortunately, if the "structural issue" is waking up in the middle of the night screaming "OMG ... What have we done?!?!?!", the clause can generally be used to get out of the deal.

We're Moving! (part 9) Timing is Everything

We are professionals.
We understand the market cycles.
Clarification: We know enough and are experienced enough to know what we don't know.  Which means we know that we don't know what is going to happen to the market in the next few years.  We think  it's just going to stabilize, maybe soften a bit, maybe not.  But the guys who think it's going to keep chugging may be right.  More worrisome, the guys who see a significant correction may be right too.

How Spring markets and Fall markets and the things in between work, that we know.
Location, location, location ... and timing.
Any house can be sold in any market.  But if you want the best price in the shortest time ... that is a different story.

The market in December is near-dead. Why? Because we are at our condo in Florida.  Wait.  Lee is telling me that we are in Florida because the market is dead in December.  Learn something every day.

July and August aren't so good either.  Why? Because the weather is good for golf and the cottage. Wait.  Lee is yelling at me again.

The so-called "Spring Market" doesn't exactly start in what a Canadian would consider Spring.  The actual closing dates of spring-market sales are Springier than the days the deals are agreed to.  In the recent hot market, Spring starts in January, and picks up speed in February and March.  Somewhere in June, the world decides it's summer and things slow down ... a bit ... usually.

As mentioned in (part 1), the Buyers show up first because the Sellers who decide at Christmas to sell, need some time to get ready (see parts 1 through 8!).  We know/knew all this but we still decided over Christmas and needed time to get ready.

One more thing about the Spring Market ... Spring Break is pretty dead.  But we still have a few weeks until ... What?  Spring Break starts in 10 days !!!!!!! Oh sh**.  Gotta go.  We have to get this listed tomorrow, materials, agent open house, public open houses, signs, website, oh sh**, oh sh**  ... sorry, gotta go ... LEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE !

[Lee doesn't answer.  She can't hear me. She's upstairs packing because she leaves for a week in Florida ... tonight!  Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear]

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Globe Article may be "insider-out"

This morning's Globe (March 13, 2012) included a featured article on choosing a Realtor ( http://ow.ly/9D8Xk).  They pushed it pretty hard:  the top banner on the front page ("Pick the Right Real Estate Agent ... an inside look at the first - and most crucial - step in selling your home"); then an illustration and teaser taking up almost half of the front page of the Globe Life section ("Looking Beyond the Sign ... Don't get snowed by your agent...inside the industry ... what you need to know to make sure you get the best price..."); and finally the article itself.  This is going to attract some attention.

There are good points throughout the article but I feel that overall it is more "outsider" than "insider" and misrepresents a number of aspects of the overall process and the motivations of various players.  I'm not just sticking up for the industry here -- I'm afraid there are lots of reasons to be very careful when selecting a real estate agent.

But I would like to add some alternative, maybe deeper, perspective to a few of Fabrice Taylor's points.

[But first ... if you can't bear to read this whole ramble, at least scroll down or search for the "NO NO NO NO!" heading.  There is one suggestion in the Globe article that I strongly advise against.]

"Don't Hire A Friend" she says.  Often good advice, but perhaps a better idea is "Don't Hire an Agent Just Because They are a Friend".  Also, as the article suggests, it isn't even a friend: it's a friend's daughter who just got her license, or a cousin, or ...  Fabrice mentioned someone hiring a childhood friend who "pressed him for the listing".  Awkward.  But "pressing" implies quite a bit more than just offering your service and explaining what you can provide.  There are lots of "pressers" out there.  I wouldn't hire them, personally; I would be looking for a trusted consultant more than an aggressive salesman.  But different strokes ...

We have had friends go elsewhere because they are uncomfortable or worried about "doing business with friends".  It's disappointing, but we understand.  We have also done a lot of business with friends that was very successful.  Our relationship meant they knew they were getting an agent they could trust and who cared about them and the business.

Ms. Taylor's "takeaway tip" is right on: "Make your agent earn your business, whether you know him or not."

"A Quick Sale Benefits the Agent".  True in the short term.  And there is no doubt that quite a few agents have a pretty short term focus. To oversimplify, there are two basic kinds of agents:: those focused on the deal, and those focused on the client.

Monday, March 12, 2012

We're Moving! (part 8) That's real purty.

What a beautiful house we have.  We're pretty much ready to go.
Which again brings up the question: Why would we go?

Because (part 2) of this series is still true.  But the place looks great.  Some of the stuff is just us falling for the staging (see part 7), but a lot of it is getting all those things done that we planned to do ... for years.

We have shared the joke with many clients in the past: "It looks so nice we don't want to sell anymore."  Perhaps surprisingly, it has only actually happened once.  Unfortunately it was a case where we (Lee especially) were intimately involved in advising, supporting, calming and even doing -- Lee was off to Winners a couple of time to buy, for example, the perfect towel rack she had been trying to describe. A planned listing date had passed because the work wasn't quite done and the sellers were somewhat fried.  And then ... "We've changed our minds ... we love the place now that we've done all this and we can't bear to leave it until we enjoy it a while longer".

But we, despite our emotional state at this point, are ready.

So, for posterity, bragging and marketing it's time to capture our beautiful home .

Video tours and photos.
[A little history, a rant or two and all credit to Alex.]

Not so many years ago, there was a single photo attached to a given listing.  Even after MLS listings could be loaded electronically, the photo had to be sent to TREB, who took a day or so to add it to the listing.  So, the first day or so, the top left corner of the listing said "Photo Not Available".  One option to speed the process a touch was to use the TREB file photo of the property.  Unfortunately, sometimes the staff photo guy didn't seem to have stopped the car, let alone get out of it, to snap the shot.
You may have guessed that the Google StreetView vehicles and their technology did not arrive for quite a while.

A technology that did arrive was digital video and the video tour.  Treating potential buyers to a movie of the whole home on their computer was pretty snazzy and useful.  But time consuming and expensive -- the first vid tour companies showed up at the house with a high tech van and a crew!

Next came "efficiency".  A fisheye lens, tripod and motor allowed a single tech to stick the tripod in the middle of each room, start the motor, try to stay out of the frame, and stitch all the room pans together the next day.

Unfortunately, this technology made all the rooms look like bowls with bowed walls and seconds-long pans of blank wall before you got to the good stuff.

About the same time TREB caught up a bit and started allowing 9 photos to be attached to a listing.  By now, we could directly upload the photos at the same time as the listing itself.

So we stopped using video tours.  They not only distorted, but they disappointed buyers by making the places look bigger than reality.  We prefer to under-promise by a hair, and over-deliver by a lot.

But then came Alex Morias of  www.videolistings.ca.  He was more advanced in the technology, but he regressed appropriately in technique.  Armed with a video camera and a still camera, he took pans of the good stuff and key elements, put them together with stock footage, music and captions.  And it was beautiful.  An excellent representation of the property and a wonderful souvenir for buyers and sellers.  Turned around the same day!

So, with all that available, how is it possible that there are still listings that, for the first two days, still have "Photo Not Available" in the top left corner?!  It boggles the mind.  You can almost here the internet generation (of buyer and agent) clicking "next" and I think I can also here the memory of that listing clattering down a dusty corridor of the mind, to be never heard from again.

Here's what Alex did for us: www.videolistings.ca/video/35anndale.  Neat, eh?

Did you read the last blog post? (This one).  Then you know what to do.  Those "like" buttons are right here...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

We're Moving! (part 7) Staging ... spawn of the devil

Before we start, a personal note to you.
Go to the end of the post and click on all the social media buttons (facebook, twitter, google+) for which you have accounts.  If you don't do that right now, you have to read the next paragraph.

Are you enjoying these? Make a comment and say so. Hate them? Make a comment and say so. Are you on facebook, twitter, google+?  There are handy little buttons at the end of each post.  Click on them whether you like this or not.  Why?  Because, as much fun as this is, it's also part of our business.  It also fits nicely with one of our basics:  When we do something with a marketing objective, we try to do it in a way that adds value.  For example, when we send out self-promoting postcards, we put a frameable photograph by a local artist on the front.  Same here.  This is supposed to be entertaining and informative ... and it's marketing.  If you "like" us, make comments, etc., we show up higher in searches, more people see us, read us, and occasionally call us for help with their real estate needs.  And I don't feel like I'm writing this thing into a void.
Thanks in anticipation.

Now back to our regular programming.
"Staging" is stupid, deceptive and drives me nuts.  We used a great stager and I know it helped sell our house. So, that about sums it up.

A little more detail ...
First, the rant.
Even before staging, there was the pretty kitchen syndrome.  Two similar houses. One with new and updated wiring, roof, furnace, plumbing, beautifully maintained; not a lot of kitchen/bath/decor upgrades but whatever had to be done was done and done well.  It has a "lived in" look as a result of raising a family and collecting a couple of decades of memories.

The other house has older systems and a bit of a musty smell in the basement, but the old carpets have been pulled and the floors stripped and urethaned, a few gallons of taupe applied, and a shiny new IKEA kitchen installed.

Guess which house sells first for more money.

Picking up on this syndrome, an entire "staging" industry developed.
Early on, we had the perfect house for staging.  A young and handy couple with a family spent every last penny doing an outstanding job of reno'ing a house in a good solid middle-of-the-road neighbourhood.  Unfortunately, the reno'd a little past the top end of the neighbourhood and all their money went to the reno and the kids.  We had toys and tools, but no furniture.  The house needed to be furnished and decorated in a manner befitting the budget of a buyer for this high quality renovated property.  Enter the stager and a van load of rented furniture, art, bedding, pillows, etc.  Perfect.

But then almost everybody started doing it.  Houses didn't just have to be clean and solid.  They had to be "decluttered" to the point of "unliveable".  And it worked.  The house that looked like magazine photo shoots of houses where no-one ever reads a magazine or uses a towel sold.  The house that looked like real people lived in it just sat there.

With time, we thought it might get better.  As people saw more and more staging and the media picked up on the trend, we thought clients were learn to see through staging and to see potential.
What happened? (go ahead, click)http://www.leadingthewayhome.com/Files/buzzer.wav
Instead it got worse.  Now we could show clients 5 houses.  4 might be staged, one not.  Previously, the 4 would sell first.  Suddenly it was hard to even get your clients to go through the unstaged one.

It went from a reward for the staged to being a penalty for the unstaged.  Buyers were even suspicious of why a seller wasn't staged.  It all reminds me of what has happened to hitchhiking.  In our youth, there were occasional hitching issues, but it was nonetheless quite common and positive.  Now, I won't pick anybody up -- "what kind of person would be hitching?", and I would never hitch -- "what kind of person would pick me up?"

Saturday, March 10, 2012

We're Moving! (part 6) How long has that been like that?

Yes, you!
Well, I guess we'll have to do a little touch up here and there.  At least a few baseboards where a former resident tended to sleep on her back while pawing the baseboards.  And where the cleaning ladies have bounced and dragged things (stereotype alert: Portuguese cleaning ladies tend to be a little aggressive; on the other hand they do a great job, reliably, for a decent price, and often sing while cleaning).

In spots, we even get a peek at the goat-puke green semi-gloss the place was covered in when we bought.

And Lee says: "We have to paint the bedroom".  But Gord says: "It's fine".  Lee: "I hate yellow". Gord: "But it's fine and it goes with the bedding".  Lee says ... well, nothing really, but we're painting the bedroom.

Oh, jeez look at those nicks on the wall corners ... how are we going to deal with those?  Paint the wall.  Which is connected to another wall.  Which is connected to a stairwell.  etc.

You know those two drawer pulls that came apart and that you can't get anymore so you have to replace all the pulls in both bathrooms?  Well, they only make screws that are 1/4 in. too short or 1/4 in. too long for the way the vanities were built.

I guess we never got around to framing that bathroom mirror, did we? It really would look better framed.

Lee: "We're painting the bathrooms, too" ... Gord: "Aw c'mon, they're great ... Those are 'treatments' and just the way the guy said that (with a certain trill and hand wave) I think cost us an extra $500" ... Lee: "I hate it. It's dated. I'm* painting the bathroom"
[update: an actual compromise ... with a little support from the painter, we agreed that only one washroom needed de-treatmenting.  Which brings us to the asterisk. "I'm painting" means "someone other than me is painting"]

And so on.
With Gord's amazing handyman skills, this should only take a couple of days.
[pause for hysterical laughter]
Without even applying the standard rule of thumb for Gord projects (double the estimate and take it to the next order of time ... 2 days = 4 weeks)

Simultaneously, we still have jobs, Gord is about 2 years behind on paperwork (courtesy of a very easy Quicken update that smoothly obliterated nearly a year of financial data just in time for the approaching tax season),  and as our own agents we have a ton of work to do for our own listing.

Enter John Peirson of Inside Job (jrpeirson@gmail.com ... 647-864-4464), painter handyman and saviour ... good, nice, calm, quick and reasonable.

The lesson of course is that all that stuff that you never got around to because you were busy and it wasn't that big a deal or you barely noticed -- is the same stuff that you would notice in someone else's house and everyone will notice in yours and wonder if it reflects your careless general approach to home maintenance.

Next up: a vitriolic staging rant ... sort of

Friday, March 9, 2012

We're Moving! Part 5 ... Oh, the Horror

We're starting to look pretty good.  We've filled up our garbage and recycling bins a few times, along with those of a neighbour or two.  Bags of clothes have gone to good homes from Toronto to Mumbai and Africa.  The locker is still navigable but starting to look like it's doing its job.

The sprucing up is on track (there will be a post on this), I guess I'd best deal with the home office.

Ask me how I feel about this?

I'm sorry.  Can't talk any more. Must lay down.  Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. The thing is a room-size junk drawer. Breathe.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

We're Moving! (part 4) "Lock and Load"

The last episode mentioned "The Locker".
The phrase fills me with fear and trepidation.  I've lost count of the number of clients who have rented a locker "just for the move".  Years later ... still there, still full, still costing you money every month.

If this is you, go back to part 3 and listen to George Carlin again.  No, wait, I'll make it even easier ... here's the link again:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvgN5gCuLac

The best plan is to get rid of what you're getting rid of well before you list and before you get the temptress of a locker.  But you won't. We didn't.  Time sneaks up.

Lockers.  Our first obvious rule was to be nearby.  You can get better deals at Uncle Bo's Country Storage and Sheep Farm.  But it'll cost you the difference in gas alone.  And time is money.  The exchange rate on "time" rises dramatically as listing day approaches.

Oddly enough, prices vary significantly among storage companies even within the same area and even after allowing for variables.

Variables?...it's a freaking closet! We mentioned location.  Some are multilevel so you need to know about the loading dock, where the elevator is, what sort equipment you can use, etc.  Heated or unheated.  Security.  Hours of access.

Another complication is "the deal".  They all have a deal, sometimes several.  A lot tend to be like the convert-your-credit-card scam.  You know .... Huge print: "diddly squat interest rate" ... Little teeny tiny tiny print: "for the first 3 months" ... not printed at all: "then we screw you good".  You need to figure out the real cost for a realistic time frame.  Despite heeding my warning above and my claim in the last episode, I'll bet you should assume you'll have the thing  a few months longer than you think.

Our winner.  Advantage Self Storage's Toronto location on Warden Ave.  Tracey was nice (most of the time, unless she thought you weren't paying attention), really knew her stuff, was very competitive and the place is five minutes from the house.
only just begun...

Our new home??

We ended up with a 10x10 foot locker, despite my pitch for a pair of 5x5's.  I can justify a longer hold on one small locker for our work files and seasonal things if we end up in a storage-challenged condo.  But price and availability convinced me.  We can switch later if need be.

By the way, if you need a locker -- or some stuff to put in it -- give us a call.  As Advantage tenants, we get a realtor discount for clients.  We have discount cards.

Before I go, I'm going to yell at you about one more thing.  GET A SYSTEM AND LABEL THE BOXES CAREFULLY.
There are spiffy computer apps out there to help with this, but I found them all problematic or clunky.  We just started a list on our iPhones, numbered the boxes, and came up with a system for marking them for access ... some stuff we need easy and regular access to, some we hope to never look at until we empty the thing for good.

Where the hell did the dog's ashes go?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

We're Moving! (Part 3) Too...Much...Stuff...A Lot

In the immortal words of George Carlin, "Have you noticed that their stuff is sh*t, but your sh*t is stuff?" For the rest of this classic bit, including a nice slam at our infatuation with homes, have a boo hear (language warning: he doesn't use asterisks) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvgN5gCuLac

Both of our parents were packrats.  Think entire closets full of knitting wool (Lee's Mom) and 6 full sets of Pyrex measuring cups (my mom).  So we've been fighting the gene our whole lives.

But now it's time.  Yes there will be a locker for the inevitable staging and for the interim period.  A small one may even be needed longer term for records and seasonal stuff.  But we are NOT keeping a 10x10 locker for more than a month after we move unless we're living in it.

So as well as the staging-decluttering, there is some true lose-it-never-to-be-seen-again decluttering.

The mantra has to be that stuff is just stuff.  Only the memories are important.  Need a memory jog? Take a pic and stash it in the computer's "locker", which is much smaller physically and easier to access than box 7, locker H112, second floor, Advantage Storage on Warden Ave.

The mantra is much easier to follow when you can find a good home, use ... or price for the stuff.

A great help here was Kathy Zaremba of  Felicity Moving (www.felicitymoving.com).  If the whole process is a little overwhelming, she can help with many aspects.  As a result of her work, she also has a great knowledge of places where you can get rid of or sell various kinds of stuff.

My mother's wedding lingerie, however, I believe had her stumped.  I mean, nobody wants it.  Including me.  But it's gorgeous, silk, 64 years old, and my Mom's.  And the only solutions seem to be the garbage bin or torn up for rags. The mantra, the mantra, the mantra.

The dinky toy collection has been dramatically reduced.  And I let go of the awesome white-handled six shooter with the actual bullets that take round caps ... Santa contacted me directly by letter one year to suggest that it was new and very cool and might be preferable the boring old standard two-gun capshooter I had requested.  Interestingly, my father also thought it was very cool.

Also, there is a teddy bear dressed in some of my toddler duds that still seems to be with us (recall my mother kept everything)

For our current clothing, the canadian diabetes folks will come and get it.  Value Village is pretty good and there are legit charity bins at their store sites.  Beware the bins in most places.  Most have minimal or zero charity components -- they are just moneymaking ventures.

Goodwill is OK, but they are bugging me lately.  Used to be they would take stuff and employ down-on-their-luck or challenged folks to repair, learn etc. Now, at least at one location that I will never enter again (Eglinton East), a very aggressive lady comes out, looks in the van and says "Can't sell that ... Don't want that ... That's no good, don't want it".

Excuse me dear, if you only want the good stuff you aren't much use to me ... If the van doesn't go home empty, you're wasting my time.  The idea is that you decide what you can use and YOU dispose of the rest.

Same issue can pop up if you are getting rid of your skinny clothes, etc.  Really good, still in style, barely used duds should be saleable at a consignment store.  But many will have an absolute rule that they won't take anything over 2 years old.  Back to the garbage bag and the diabetes folks.

I quickly confirmed that I didn't like dealing with stuff, so I went to Arizona golfing with the boys.  What could go wrong with that approach?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

We're Moving! (Part 2) Explain this to me again.

Why are we doing this?
We absolutely love our neighbourhood and house.  The garden is outstanding and backs onto a "secret" park.  That park has done good things for my chipping game.
But ...
A bunch of good reasons and some that seemed good at the time came together.

Although I do own a recliner chair, WE ARE NOT RETIRING !!!!!
But it is probably past time for thinking about and planning for retirement.  Our parents had a fairly long list of bad moves after the nests were empty.  A few of those mistakes involved waiting a few years too long to move, then whining about why they didn't do it years earlier.  So in the usual way of parents and kids, we are probably bailing too early.

Bailing early will give us a few years to figure out what we can live with.  It's pretty unlikely we'll discover we are happiest in a basement apartment somewhere that has monthly visits from Aetna.  We hope it's unlikely that we will be knocking on our old door in two years trying to buy it back.  There is a lot of room in between.

I have a theory that smart, adaptive people will move way more often in the decades post-55 than in the decades pre-55.  It's all about focusing your energy on the stuff you want to do and a little less on the stuff you have to do.

Downsizing is quite a neat way to convince yourself that you have added to your savings nest egg... so long as you don't get distracted by the silly thought that it is just swapping one asset for another and we have no clue whether our house is smarter or dumber than our financial advisor.  Lately the house has looked pretty smart, but the financial advisor has also had his moments.  Maybe if we give him some more money to play with he'll stop phoning in the middle of the night to tell us that there's a 57% chance that the sky is falling.

We long ago realized that we know enough to know that we don't know when, if, or how much the market will correct.  Our biggest worry today is that so many "smart" people now are saying the same as what our best guess has been for a few years: growth will likely at least slow and maybe correct gently in a while, for a while.  When the analysts start to agree with each other, something else is going to happen ... when they start agreeing with us ... that's really spooky!

Lee has changed her tune.  She used to love gardening.  She still loves her garden.  There's a difference.  I am scared to death that the next phase would require me to help with the gardening.  Gotta move.
There are some gimpy body bits that have something to do with this ... could be the mangled neck vertebrae and arthritic bits can only handle mass quantities of either garening or golf.  I am thrilled that she has made the obvious and brilliant choice.  Though she still has to find time for golf and her nasty singing habit.

Our dog died.  Sounds silly, but Mallaig was one of the things that anchored us to the place.  That made us full empty-nesters.  And, of course, being dogless opens up several options.

How many properties do you really want to maintain?  We have a condo in Florida that we occasionally get to visit, and a cottage ... that we occasionally get to visit.  Maybe a condo would be a significant property management simplification.

You know, when I read this over, it's not nearly as compelling an argument as it seemed a couple of months ago .... OMG, What Have We Done !?

Next up: back to dealing with the stuff

Monday, March 5, 2012

We're Moving ! part 1

We're moving!
Sitting on the lanai with a G&T in December a whole bunch of things came into alignment. No, we aren't retiring or moving to a commune or a cabin in the woods.  But a lot of things added up to: simplify, downsize, etc.

Now, our Realtors (that's us, remember?) told us that such a decision should be made in ample time to go to market at the perfect time, if possible.
We didn't, of course.

In this market, for the past several years, the Buyers appear shortly after New Year's dinner.  Sellers, meanwhile, need some time to tune up the house.  This phenomena explains a fair chunk of the annual January/February lunacy ... lots of buyers, few sellers.

We already thought we empathized well with our clients around the stresses of a move, no matter how positive the experiences and outcomes.  We now REALLY empathize ... the tummy-tightening hit the instant we realized we had actually made a decision.

We also immediately reinforced a thought we have had before:  As stressful and inconvenient as moving is, everyone should move at least every five years just to force a decluttering and junk-clearing.  We haven't moved for 21 years.  Oh dear.

I thought a blog of our moving experience might be interesting, both for those thinking of moving themselves and for those who take a perverse joy in the misery of others.
Events seem to have passed by blog-writing, but I did manage to keep notes.  So the blog will come out in bit-size pieces.  Subscribe to be sure you don't miss an episode ... there may be violence and bad language, but probably no sex!