Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Creating curb appeal

They say you can't judge a book by its cover. But when it comes to houses, the exterior can be just as important as the interior if selling or buying.

When selling, it is the outside, or the home's curb appeal that often determines whether the inside is ever seen. How a house 'shows' from the street can tell a potential buyer a lot about what it may be like inside. Even if the inside is the sparkling, charming, structurally sound dream home they've been searching for, a buyer is not going to forget a cracked driveway, fallen shutters, overgrown grass and flower beds.

That's why most REALTORS® recommend a house not be seen for the first time at night. If you have no choice but to view homes at night, always be sure to drive past them during the daytime before making any final decisions.

For sellers, there are many ways to enhance the exterior of a home to achieve the curb appeal necessary to attract prospective buyers. Start by taking a close, objective look at your home from the curb. Be sure to view it from different angles. Ask friends and neighbors for their unbiased opinions. What are the appealing features? What's not so appealing? What can you do to improve its appearance?

Are the shrubs untrimmed? Are there broken doors and windows, loose screens and railings? Does the exterior trim, or entire surface, need a paint job?

The interior may be clean, without a leaky faucet, cracked floor or loose door hinge in sight. But if the exterior roof, gutter, walls, driveway, garage and yard look dirty and untidy, chances are you're not going to get a lot of potential buyers knocking at the door.

Creating curb appeal is making your home inviting from the outside -- where first impressions begin. This doesn't mean spending a great deal of money remodeling and renovating. Adding a new front verandah might add a lot of curb appeal, but so will a couple of wicker chairs and potted flowers by the front door - at a lot less cost.

Here are some more tips for making the outside of your home attractive and inviting:

Clean up the yard
Mow the lawn, trim the hedges, weed the flower beds, get rid of dead trees and shrubs; get rid of any broken lawn furniture; shovel the walk and driveway in winter; rake the yard in the fall.

Repair any problems
If the roof is damaged, repair it. Also repair any doors and windows that have loose hinges or other damage; fix storm doors and window screens; caulk window exteriors; clean and repair sidings and other structural flaws.

Eliminate clutter
If you have yard and construction debris piled up along the side of the house, or elsewhere, get rid of it. The exterior of your home should be as uncluttered in appearance as the interior. This includes cleaning out the garage - a major breeder of clutter. Be ruthless. If you haven't used something in a year, give it to charity or recycle it.

Give siding a fresh new look
Cleaning the exterior surface is all your home may need for a fresh new face. Before rushing to paint siding, try washing it. For painted wood siding and aluminum siding, use a solution of one cup strong detergent and one quart chlorine bleach in three gallons of water. Be sure to wear rubber gloves, goggles and other protective garments. Work from the bottom up and rinse thoroughly.

To spruce up vinyl siding, hose it down, sponge it with a mild liquid detergent and rinse.

Use paint to brighten, re-proportion exterior
A paint job can do wonders for the exterior of a home. A low house can look more graceful and tall from the curb by emphasizing its vertical features. Paint elements such as doors, shutters and corner trim in a color that contrasts with the siding material or color. On a high home, emphasize horizontal by using a contrasting paint color on window sills and fascia boards. You can also make a tall house look lower by painting it a dark color, provided that the roof is dark too. Conversely, a light color will make a home look larger.

Co-ordinate the exterior 'look'
The more co-ordinated your house looks from the outside, the more appealing it will be. Co-ordinate the 'look' of your home by painting the garage, tool shed, playhouse and other outdoor structures with the same color schemes as the house. If your house is a mixture of conflicting textures - vertical siding, shingles and brick, for instance - try painting them all the same color, or in two related shades of the same color, to create a harmonious look. Dark tones work best when working with conflicting textures.

Use flower power
Well-placed flowers, trees and shrubs can really make the outside of a home look inviting. Not only does attractive landscaping invite buyers, it can increase the value of a home. Even without major landscaping, flowers can make a yard look colorful and pleasant. Plant them in garden beds, hang them from railings and porch ceilings, add flower boxes to window sills. There is no limit to the power of flowers.

At night, highlight garden features with spotlights and floodlights. Well-lit paths and entrances promote safety, discourage burglars and are an added feature to any home. A pretty wreath on the door and a welcome mat will finish things off.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Insurance Coverage Issues Affecting Older Homes

Buying an Older Home -- If you are looking to purchase an older home that has galvanized steel plumbing, 60-amp electrical service, knob and tube electrical wiring, a wood-burning stove or a fuel oil tank, make sure to factor the cost of necessary upgrades into your offering price! Your insurance representative will be able to advise you on what upgrades may need to be completed prior to obtaining homeowners insurance coverage.

Your insurance company's concerns with Galvanized Steel Plumbing -- Galvanized steel pipes, commonly installed in homes prior to 1950, have an average life expectancy of 40-50 years. Over time, the galvanized steel pipes begin to rust or corrode from the inside out, resulting in reduced water pressure and restricted water flow. This presents an increased risk of leaks or ruptures occurring in the pipes and the potential for flood damage. Your insurance company may require you to replace galvanized steel piping with copper and plastic piping before providing you with insurance coverage.

The dangers associated with 60-amp Electrical Service -- Insurance companies are concerned that the 60-amp electrical service, common in homes built prior to 1950, poses the threat of overuse and overheating, potentially increasing the risk of an electrical fire and a subsequent claim. Before providing you with insurance coverage, your insurance company may require you to upgrade your 60-amp electrical service to 100 amps (the standard for new home construction) or install a switching device that allows for the operation of only one major appliance at a time.

The problem with Knob and Tube Wiring -- Knob and tube wiring, also commonly found in homes over 50 years of age, consists of parallel hot (black) and neutral (white) wires, separated by knobs (or insulators) and ceramic tubes. Knob and tube wiring is considered a higher risk than contemporary wiring installations mainly because

*There is no ground wire (in contrast to contemporary wiring).

*Given their age, the wires are highly susceptible to wearing and exposure, presenting a serious safety hazard.

*The unintentional contact of the hot and neutral wires may potentially cause an electrical fire. As a result, you may be required to replace all exposed knob and tube wiring with approved permanent wiring material before an insurance company will provide you with homeowners insurance coverage.

Note: Some insurers may consider covering homes with wiring issues if they are inspected by the Electrical Safety Authority in Ontario and deemed safe. It's best to speak to your insurance representative about your specific situation.

Wood-burning Stoves can be a hazard -- If they are not installed and used properly, wood-burning stoves can pose a serious fire hazard. To reduce potential risk, your insurance company may require that your wood-burning stove be inspected by a certified Wood Energy Technical Training (WETT) technician and certified by the Underwriters' Laboratories of Canada (ULC), Canadian Standard Association (CSA) before agreeing to provide you with homeowners insurance coverage. Similarly, your insurance company may request that you have your wood-burning stove thoroughly cleaned and inspected by a professional sweep or technician at least once each year, prior to renewing your policy.

Why your insurance company is asking you to replace your Fuel Oil Tank -- Tanks 25 years or older are highly susceptible to rusting, deterioration and leakage and are considered environmental hazards. If a fuel oil leak occurs and goes undetected, the environmental cleanup for such a situation can be immense. A pinhole leak can spill 750 litre of oil in eight hours and have cleanup costs ranging from $5,000 to $15,000. However, it only cost $700 to $1500 to replace an oil tank. If your oil tank is 25 years or older, your insurance company may require that you remove and replace it with a gas or electrical furnace, prior to providing you with homeowners insurance coverage.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

July Resale Market Figures

Greater Toronto REALTORS® reported 7,922 transactions through the TorontoMLS® system in July 2011, representing a 23 per cent increase over July 2010. Total sales through the first seven months of this year amounted to 55,863 – down by 1.3 per cent compared to the same period in 2010. After adjusting for seasonal fluctuations, the July figure continued to point to an annual sales result close to 90,000 – in line with results from the previous six months.

"Strong home sales continued in July, with a substantial rebound over last summer’s slow-down brought about by higher mortgage rates, new lending guidelines and misconceptions about the HST. The greatest rebound was seen in the condominium apartment segment in the City of Toronto," said Toronto Real Estate Board President Richard Silver. "If the current pace of sales holds up, we could see the second best year on record under the current TREB market area."

The average selling price in July was $459,122 – up by almost ten per cent compared to the July 2010 average of $418,675.

“Tight market conditions have boosted the annual rate of price growth this year. However, the listings situation is starting to improve. A better supplied market later this year and into 2012 would lead to a more sustainable rate of price growth,” said Jason Mercer, TREB’s Senior Manager of Market Analysis.

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