Patio Party Anyone?

THE VIEW FROM OAK PARK
The Official Krisztina Blogsite

I’m feeling that summer has arrived (finally) and so thought it would be appropriate to talk a little about backyard patios – particularly since our Oak Park neighbourhood design gives most Oak Parkers a unique little backyard enclave. With careful planning and consideration, a backyard patio can be the perfect extra living space for the summer without building walls! OASIS. PARADISE. SANCTUARY. MEDITATION ROOM. HAVEN. If any of these words sound appealing to you, then that’s the first step in designing your open-air room! Everyone should have a space that provides an escape from the daily grind as well as a peaceful setting for hosting family and friends. Outdoor spaces have come a long way in recent years. Fade resistant and waterproof furniture, gazebos, outdoor fireplaces (check your local by-laws), ornate planter boxes, patio heaters, outdoor wireless speakers, speakers disguised as rocks and tin fence art (check out Winners/Homesense) are just some of your considerations. Start with a great foundation. Whether it’s brick, stone, concrete or wood, having a dream patio can be achieved by anyone! And if your patio consists of a hot tub or outdoor grilling area, you may want to consider different levels for your patio. Give some thought to your colour scheme. It seems the Romans knew a thing or two when it came to outdoor rooms and colour. Their surviving frescoes consistently use soothing water and earth tones. Although we may have more choices today when choosing furniture and accessories, aim for a uniform look that evokes a serene feel. If you want to create a cozy atmosphere for long evening conversations, lighting matters. Consider solar powered lamps in your flowerbeds and wall lanterns. Even small spaces can be split – think about creating an eating area and a sitting area (or as I like to call it, a cocktail area!!). One of my neighbours has done both, covering her eating area with a gazebo strung with lights and it looks stunning. Little things make a difference. Think about accessory pillows, planters and matching tableware and glassware. The more you love your space, the more you’ll use it. In this current economic environment, we’ll all be spending more time at home, so we deserve a great outdoor space. For more inspiration, invite friends over, try a new recipe on the grill, create a specialty drink for the evening and put a fun summer music mix on your iPod dock.

If you’re not currently in a position to upgrade your home with a move, then upgrading your home with a great outdoor living space is the next best thing this summer. And if you’re considering selling, finishing off your backyard space will increase the visual appeal, and ultimately the value of your home. Home Real Estate prices have been quickly returning to their pre-recession levels according to the latest data from the Canadian Real Estate Association (although number of transactions as well as number of homes on the market are down). This means that committed buyers and motivated sellers are the ones currently moving properties. And I can testify to that – all my listings have been moving quickly!

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Doomsday? No Way!!

THE VIEW FROM OAK PARK
The Official Krisztina Blogsite

On the front page of The Globe & Mail recently was a headline: “Spring brings sales thaw as brokers see new signs of life in housing market (Hints of recovery as volume of existing home sales up 7 per cent in March)” Month after month, housing activity continues to demonstrate that market fundamentals in Canada are different than those of the housing market recession under way in the United States. Inevitably some markets will be softer than others, but Oakville is proving to be quite resilient.

The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) provides a monthly overview of the housing market in Canada. They compile statistics of properties sold through MLS and tracks market trends for prices and properties sold. The average selling price of a home in Canada is still trending upwards, although volume sold is down. In February 2009, CREA declared that home activity is expected to decline in 2009 before rebounding in 2010. National MLS sales activity declined 17.1% in 2008 and sales activity is forecast to fall an additional 16.9% in 2009. This would be Canada’s lowest level since 2000. (Note – BC, AB and ON lead the decline.) The CREA then expects home sales to rebound by 9.9% in 2010.

We are caught in a cycle where consumer confidence has been eroded because of job losses. The essential selling ingredients in today’s market are: realistic pricing, marketing and preparation – the holy trinity of real estate, which I consider to be my best strengths. Supply will take time to adjust to lower demand, but sellers unwilling to accept offers below their expectations will remove their home from the market. Fewer active listings reduces buyer choice and, in time, puts a floor under prices.

The plus for us? Buyers are drawn in as Bank of Canada cuts interest rates. (And word is, another cut is on the way.) This allows improved affordability in most markets, especially from first time home buyers.

Despite the doom and gloom, there are multiple offers on some properties. My home sales movement has remained on the upswing and I am as busy as ever. My keys to maintaining sales in this tougher economy – consummate professionalism, looking at the big picture before I put a house on the market (back to the holy trinity – pricing, marketing and preparation) and always, of course, working my butt off!!!

HST Hysteria

THE VIEW FROM OAK PARK
The Official Krisztina Blogsite

Announced in our last fiscal budget, starting in June 2010 and creating quite a stir, Ontario will soon join Quebec and the Atlantic provinces in harmonizing the 5% GST and the 8% PST into a 13% HST. The move is getting mixed reviews, particularly in the housing sector, with headlines reading “Yet another demand on Ontario’s already overtaxed homeowners.” On a single detached house priced at $360,000, HST could add $2325.25 in new taxes to closing costs. Or it could add $1731 to the price of new homes. But let’s be realistic here. Is this really making resale less affordable? I say NO! Agreed, services currently only charging 5% GST (Home Inspections, Real Estate Commissions, Mortgage Insurance Premiums and Legal Fees) will now have to charge 13% in HST. But my position is three-fold. First, with the drop in mortgage rates, and the current environment of giving credit-worthy homeowners opportunities to renegotiate and shop their mortgages, inclusive of penalties, housing is already much more affordable. Secondly, housing demand and supply are equalizing – meaning those that really want to, or need to sell, are pricing their homes appropriately and fairly in order to attract buyers. Sellers who were looking for the quick investment turnaround are rethinking their positions. Thirdly (and probably most importantly), service pricing will adjust. Real Estate Agents will negotiate for a selling price that reflects the HST. Many lawyers will offer (or are currently offering) flat service fees. And so on down the line. The bottom line is that the harmonization of the taxes mean that small business owners will benefit and can pass on that savings. Take my own situation: I currently pay PST on a number of things for my business – gas, car maintenance, office supplies etc. Prior to harmonization, that 8% was considered a cost of doing business. It was an unrecoupable cost. With the harmonization, although I will have to cash flow the outgoing HST, I will be able to balance that with the incoming HST and recoup any difference. I feel that this is good for manufacturers, good for big business and good for small business. The Atlantic Provinces harmonized in 1997, and not much happened. The only issue was cash flow for paying the tax. Yes, businesses will have to change their accounting systems and Point of Sale systems to accommodate the new tax, but the government is offering up to $1,000 in Small Business Transition Credits (for those businesses with less than $2M in revenue). On an even more personal note, my husband works in the film industry where one project can be on the hook for thousands of dollars in unrecoupable PST. They pay it on rental cars, gas, service, props, set decorating pieces, wardrobe etc. The harmonization would allow a film to actually hire an extra person or two with the cost savings!

So in closing, I do not see this as a poison pill for the Real Estate industry. In the end it will be…as Shakespeare once said, ‘Much ado about nothing!!’

Oak Park Moms & Tots Fundraiser

THE VIEW FROM OAK PARK

THE VIEW FROM OAK PARK
The Official Krisztina Blogsite
Suddenly Sick of Susan

Alright, alright, I know I said it. Mesmerized. Inspired. Heartwarming. Well, I still believe in passionately following your dreams and I still believe in a world of no limitations, but I have to say, I’ve had enough of the Susan Boyle story. The worldwide media saturation has taken a good thing (and now there’s even some question as to the authenticity of the judges’ surprise) and made it boring, repetitive, tedious, dull, mind-numbing, uninteresting…okay, I better stop. Wait. Tiresome. Okay, now I’m done! The exposure of this story as the exception, just goes to prove the rule – we are a look-obsessed, media-frenzied world. We, the general audience, have all patted ourselves on the back a little as we watch the Susan Boyle audition. We ‘tut-tut’ the rolling eyes of the audience and the judges even though we would have done the exact same thing had we been sitting there. And now the big dilemma – should Susan Boyle get a makeover? Has she already? Isn’t that a new leather jacket? Has she ever worn pumps before? Aren’t the eyebrows a little less bushy? Couldn’t she do with a hair stylist? We are still a world heavily invested in ‘lookism’ and ‘sexism’ in our celebrities. We want our singers and movie stars to be attractive. The Susan Boyle story is sadly, just a blip, making us feel a little better about ourselves for cheering her on. Don’t get me wrong, I love sharing in her dream come true. I just hate being bombarded with it.

Despite the advances in feminism, we have escalating levels of sexism and violence in our society. It can be a ‘girl-poisoning’ environment. One that stifles creative spirits and natural impulses, ultimately destroying fragile young self-esteems. When young girls are trading oral sex for just about anything and playing down their smarts in school, something is wrong. When primary school girls are so worried about their body image that they are becoming anorexic, something is wrong. I applaud Dove for their focus on real women as well as their girls’ self-esteem workshops. But they are not the norm. Our tabloid society still wants to judge Jessica Simpson for being a little too heavy, and Lindsay Lohan for being a little too skinny. A number of years ago, I attempted to start up a company aimed at nurturing creativity in teenage girls – the premise being that all girls are creative, they just need the opportunity to explore what they’re good at. This was way before Dove, and a little ahead of its time at the time, but my feelings on the subject haven’t changed. It is refreshing to see Ellen DeGeneres declaring, tongue-in-cheek (sort of!!) for the Oil of Olay campaign that “Inner beauty is important. But not nearly as important as outer beauty.” Funny? Yes. True? Sadly, probably yes. So in deference to Susan Boyle, once again my call to action is this: stoke the flames of someone’s dream. And if you can nurture the creativity of a young girl, even better!!