Benefits of Reduced Debt

If you’ve set a goal to pay down your debt this year, you’re not alone. According to a recent study, more than half of Canadians have set a goal to pay off debt in 2018. Strategically reducing or paying off debt benefits your finances tremendously, but can positively impact other areas of your life as well.

Reduce Stress. Finances are a top source of stress for many Canadians. When you make the commitment to pay off your debt, you’re also making a commitment to your overall health and well-being by minimizing a large cause of your stress.

Improve your credit score. Although credit cards and lines of credit may help establish your score, maintaining low balances positively impacts it overall. Additionally, if you plan to finance a large purchase, such as a car or home, keeping your outstanding balances low may classify you as a lower credit risk and qualify you for reduced interest rates.

Easily pay an unexpected bill. If your debts are low, you’ll be able to save more in an emergency fund to handle financial surprises, such as an unexpected home repair bill.

Increase your expendable income. Many Canadians live paycheque-to-paycheque; their hard-earned money is already earmarked to pay off debts and bills before it’s even deposited in a bank account. However, the less debt you are in, the more expendable income you will have available to enjoy now or save for later.

Boost your retirement income. If you want to maintain your lifestyle long after retirement, the time to save is now. Unfortunately, one of the biggest impediments to building a retirement nest egg is existing debt. The good news is, when you pay down or pay off your debt, you can choose to contribute additional funds to existing retirement accounts for enjoyment in your golden years.

Model good financial habits for others. If you want others to cultivate good financial habits, be the example they can follow. People, especially children, mimic the behaviours they see. Explain how to cultivate good financial habits and why it is important to do so. Additionally, provide reasons why it is best to avoid unnecessary debt.

Become more generous. The less debt we have, the more generous we may feel with our money. Whether its tithing more, donating to local school or sports programs or giving money to a cause dear to us, we may feel like we can give more.

Hire the Right Contractor

Hiring a contractor can be stressful, especially if you’re planning a major renovation. Use the following guidelines to help you hire the right person for your next home project. These tips also apply if you’re hiring a tradesperson or service professional to tackle any project around the home.

Get referrals. Ask your family, friends and neighbours for the name of contractors or trades professionals they’ve used and make a list of companies that serve your area. I work with reputable contracts and other professionals in our local area, so give me a call for a referral.

Get in touch. Once you have a list of companies, call them and ask if they specialize in your type of project. If you’re renovating the kitchen, you’ll want a company that has completed several similar kitchen renovations; they’ll know the applicable regulations and codes that pertain to your project. Ask how many other projects they’re managing at the moment, as this may impact when they can begin working on your renovation.

Research your options. Contact your province’s consumer protection agency to review the reputation of the companies on your list. Check online consumer review sites. If possible, call previous clients and ask specific questions pertaining to their experience working with the company. Schedule times with the companies to see completed projects so you can get an idea of the level of quality to expect.

Also, verify that all companies under consideration are licensed and check for any past judgements against them from prior jobs. In most provinces, all major remodelling projects must be done by a licensed contractor. Be aware that if you use an unlicensed contractor, you may be responsible for any work that is not to code or injuries your worker incurs on the job.

Meet the contractors in person. Meeting face-to-face not only allows you to ask more questions, it also provides insight into their character and attention to detail in the way they present themselves and their company. Since you’ll be working closely with the contractor and team, you’ll want to make sure you trust them.

Sort out the details before work begins.

Payment: If your project is large, you may pay 10% upon signing the contract, followed by three milestone payments of 25% over the duration of the project. The final 15% is often due upon completion of the project. Use the milestone payments as a time to review the project’s status and ensure your expectations and the contract standards are being met.

Time: If you’d like the work to be done during a particular window of time or have other requests, discuss them with the contractor beforehand.

Expectations: Understand what the contractor expects from you. For example, do you need to clear the room before work begins? Will you need to board your pet?

Get everything in writing: The contract should include a payment schedule, proof of insurance, start and completion dates and lien releases from all subcontractors and suppliers, which is obtained by the contractor. The contract should also include:

  • A detailed description of the project, explaining the materials to be used and what is being subcontracted. Keep in mind, the description will not cover any unexpected work uncovered during the renovation.
  • All building permits that will be obtained by the contractor and reassurance that the work will be compliant with current building codes.
  • A statement of warranties, including what is covered and for how long.
  • A statement of contractor’s liability and property damage insurance.
  • Price and terms of payment.

Be on the lookout. Beware of doing business with contractors who do the following:

  • Give you a quote before seeing the job.
  • Demand a large deposit upfront to purchase materials. Most contractors will have a charge account with suppliers.
  • Insist you sign a contract on the first visit. Once you’ve discussed the project with a contractor, they’ll likely come back with a plan or drawings and a written estimate of the project.

How to Boost Curb Appeal

If you’re thinking of selling this year, I would be happy to help you decide which of these projects would net the best value. Even if you’re not planning to sell any time soon, updating and maintaining your home regularly shows you take pride in owning it.

Wash the exterior. Over the years, dirt, grime and cobwebs can collect on your home’s exterior. A pressure washer can remove this buildup and give your home a fresh look, while at the same time adding value. Also, wash the windows (inside and out) and clean the gutters, downspouts and all doors, including garage doors.

Paint. Paint is a sure-fire way to boost the curb appeal of your home and make it the envy of your neighbourhood. Update your home with a coat of paint or two of the same colour, scrape a small swatch and bring it to the paint store to match it. Specialized paint store may retain the name of the colour you choose to use again for touch ups. Also paint the door, trim and shutters in a shade that compliments the rest of your home. Remember to prep the surface area before you start painting to help the paint last longer.

If you’re planning to sell soon, avoid unusual colours. Homes painted unusual shades may be appraised lower if they don’t fit in with the comparable homes on the market.

Install vinyl siding. Protect the exterior of your home with vinyl siding. Vinyl and premium vinyl siding are offered in a wide range of colours and are durable and low-maintenance. Premium vinyl lasts longer and may also integrate insulation. To keep it looking like new, clean it with a power washer periodically.

Although vinyl siding tends to be low-maintenance, you may have to replace your siding if you notice moisture or damage from hail, wildlife or extreme weather.

Repair or replace the roof. If your roof is in good shape, hire a professional to clean it and remove moss and dirt that have built up. If your roof is due for a replacement, it may be best to do so before you list it. If you aren’t planning to sell your home soon, maintaining it may help you avoid expensive repairs in the future.

Pay attention to the details. These details include door hardware and handles, light fixtures and house numbers. Polish the hardware or replace it with a style that compliments the home, such as oiled bronze for traditional styles and brushed nickel for contemporary styles. Purchase new numbers with the same finish as your hardware or purchase an address plaque to affix to your home or place in your yard. Update the style of your exterior lighting. If you’re replacing lights, look for ones that have the same mounting system as your current ones. Add more lighting to increase the safety of your entryway by adding an overhead fixture or wall sconces.

Nurture your landscape. A well-maintained landscape and lawn add to the home’s appeal, creating colourful dimensions and attractive lines. Mow the lawn regularly, mulch and weed the garden beds and prune any overgrown shrubs. Also, clear away any overgrown vines or invasive weeds that have crept into your landscape. In addition to mowing the lawn, add seed or sod to any bare spots you see. Add colour to your landscape with a few potted plants and flowers. If you have window boxes, be sure to maintain them throughout the growing season.

Build a fence. A fence not only increases privacy for homeowners, it may add value to your property as long as it fits with the style of the home and neighbourhood. If you already have a fence, keep it well maintained, and replace any broken gates, latches or planks.

Stay on top of maintenance. Performing regular maintenance not only helps prevent costly damage, it can also augment the value of your home. Studies show deferred maintenance may decrease your home’s value by as much as 10%. Tasks such as replacing missing mortar between bricks, resealing cracked asphalt and touching up faded or cracked paint may seem insignificant; however, these small imperfections may stand out to potential buyers and leave a negative impression, especially in competitive markets.

The Benefits of Great Credit

Whether you want a loan to make a large purchase or you’re applying for a job, a high credit score may give you an advantage. It not only helps you secure a lower interest rate and save money over the life of your loans, it also demonstrates to lenders and potential employers that you’re financially responsible, and likely responsible in other areas of your life. Financial institutions and employers put their trust in this score and are more inclined to trust you if you’re a low-risk candidate.

1.Lower interest rates on loans and credit cards. Lenders consider people with great credit a good risk, meaning they’re confident the borrower will pay back the money. If you’re applying for a mortgage, good credit may get you a wider range of mortgage offers. One of two percentage points in interest may save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.

2. Leverage to negotiate lower credit card interest rates. They higher your score, the more bargaining power you may have when negotiating interest rates. Why? Your credit card company does not want to lose your business and they will often lower your finance rate. You need to ask! Additionally, you may be able to cite other offers you’ve received from companies based on your score, which may help you negotiate a better deal and save money.

3. Qualify for lines of credit. If you need to make a large purchase, such as new appliances or furniture, good credit helps you qualify for a line of credit to buy them.

4. Qualify for higher limits. Since you have a strong history of repaying your debt on time, banks may be willing to lend you more money and, if asked will often increase your credit limit.

5. Rental approval. If you’re renting a home or apartment, a good credit score increases your chances of securing your ideal location. Landlords use credit scores to screen their tenants’ payment history, delinquencies and charge offs. This is also try if you’re renting a vacation home. Many agencies will run a credit check and, if your credit is good, you may be able to negotiate fees and lower rates.

6. Gain employment. Many employers are checking the credit of their applicants. If you have good credit, you are seen as more responsible than applicants with lower credit scores.

7. Avoid security deposits. Utilities and cell phone providers often require a security deposit when you sign up for service. With good credit, you may not have to pay a deposit when you sign up for service or, in the case of utilities, transfer to another location.

Why Learning About the Real Estate Market Matters

(even if you’re not currently in the market for a home)

1. The health of the local market influences the value of your home. Higher home prices in your local area mean that your home may also be worth more. Since real estate is local and can vary from city to city—even from neighbourhood to neighbourhood in some cases—the more you know about the market, the better equipped you are to understand the value of your home.

2. Make the right decision if you’re thinking about buying or selling later in the year. People move for many reasons; one of the most common is a change in family situation, such as the birth of a child, aging parents moving in or adult children moving out. Staying up-to-date on the local market will help you better understand if it’s the right time to buy or sell. Also, if you find yourself wanting to upsize or downsize sometime in the future, it’ll help you decide whether you should turn your property into a rental.

3. Get the full economic picture. It’s no secret that real estate plays an important role in the health of the overall economy, but national statistics only give you a portion of the story. While staying up-to-date on national housing statistics is helpful for learning about overall market trends, learning more about the local market will help you understand the economic and market trends we’re experiencing here. We can tell you if we’re experiencing a buyers’ market or sellers’ market, what local economic trends may impact future housing prices, and how your home compares to similar homes in the area.

What do Canadians think of the housing market?

We’ve heard from the experts; now, what do Canadians think about the housing market?

When will housing prices fall?

54% Never; prices will continue to rise

20% In 3 to 5 years

16% In 1 to 2 years

When do Canadian homeowners plan to sell their homes?

27% Never, I don’t plan to sell my home

25% 0-5 years

21% 5-10 years

19% More than 10 years

Three financial reasons Canadians plan to sell:

23% To invest in a larger home

22% To cash out on the high price of their home before the prices fall

21% To finance retirement

 

 

 

Source:CIBC

 

Market Insights 2018

What’s in store for the market in 2018? While it’s impossible to know for sure, experts analyze current trends to predict what may happen.

The market should continue to moderate.

Home prices are expected to make very modest gains in 2018. Experts are predicting an increase of 1.2 percent, the smallest increase since 2009. Comparatively, home prices increased an average of 9.6 percent in 2016. The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) predicts the national average sales price will be $535,400.

At the provincial level, both Ontario and British Columbia, which have seen impressive price gains over the last few years, will experience price increases around one percent in 2018. Alberta and Quebec will also experience modest price gains: prices in Alberta are expected to grow 0.6 percent and prices in Quebec are expected to increase 3.2 percent in the same period.

Nationally, experts predict home sales may fall throughout 2018. CREA adjusted its sales forecast due to slowing sales activity across the country. However, there are bright spots: affordability remains favourable in the Prairie and Atlantic Provinces and is improving in Quebec.

What’s responsible for the levelling off of the market?

There’s no simple answer. In fact, several factors working together have contributed to a levelling in the market. These factors include the housing regulations that have been enacted over the last few years (including taxes on foreign homebuyers), decreased affordability in many areas and increased interest rates. Although interest rates have been relatively low compared to past trends, the Bank of Canada is expected to increase its key interest rate by the end of 2018.

Although all of these factors have played a role in moderating the Canadian housing market, it’s important to keep in mind that real estate is cyclical and the red-hot market was expected to level off eventually. While Canadians have consistently viewed a home as a good investment, many potential buyers have been delaying purchasing a home in hopes that prices will come down and become more affordable. A moderate housing market is not only more stable; it may help potential buyers who have been eager to purchase a home, but may have been priced out of their markets.

What does this mean for the Canadian economy?

The Canadian housing market has been hot for the last few years, especially in Ontario and British Columbia. The boost in the market has driven employment and economic growth across the nation, particularly over the past year. A levelling in the market may have an impact on the overall economy, which may be felt gradually over the next two years. However, experts don’t predict a sharp correction; instead, they expect a transitioning of the housing market into more moderate territory.

Home Maintenance Made Easy

A home is the largest investment that most people will make in their lives. Make sure that it stays in tip-top shape by staying on top of its maintenance. Here are some great tips to follow for each season!

In the winter:

Cover your central air conditioning unit or remove your window air conditioners.

Change/clean furnace filters.

Clean your kitchen appliances.

Clean your drains.

Close crawl space vents.

In the spring:

Clear gutters of debris.

Inspect your roof and chimney.

Wash your windows, and check the window screens.

Thoroughly clean your home, and clear any clutter.

Paint your home’s exterior.

Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Change the batteries in them, if necessary.

In the summer:

Install window air conditioners.

Clean the filters in your home’s HVAC system.

Drain/flush your water heater.

Open crawl space vents.

Look for insect problems, especially termite damage.

In the fall:

Clear gutters of debris before the weather changes.

Inspect your roof.

Have your chimney cleaned and inspected, if you didn’t do it in the spring.

Check for leaks and drafts, and repair them.

Get your furnace inspected and repaired.

Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Change the batteries in them, if necessary.

3 Benefits of Maintaining Your Home

Prevent costly repairs. Home repairs can be expensive if they’re not caught in time. Maintaining your home can help you find and correct potential problems before they take a chunk out of your wallet.

Keep your home and its systems humming. Staying on top of home maintenance ensures that your home and its systems work well when you need them.

Improve salability of the home. Most buyers want a home that’s been well taken care of, and will pay closer to list price for it.

 

Holiday Travel Tips

Since many people take time off to visit family and friends in other places, the holidays are the busiest time of year to travel. It’s also one of the most taxing times to travel, with people reporting it was as stressful as moving. Take the stress out of holiday travel with these tips!

Do your research. Whether you’re planning weeks in advance or you’re trying to get a last-minute deal, it helps to do your research. Choose flexible travel dates to help you pinpoint the best deal. Also, consider flying into an alternate airport nearby that may not be as busy.

Plan carefully. Flying in the winter may increase the chances of flight delays due to inclement weather. Avoid narrow layover times to reduce the chances of missing connecting flights or choose destinations in warmer cities, if possible.

Pack light. More airlines are charging to check bags. Save money by packing lighters or sending items to your destination instead of bringing them on the plane. Send gifts to their destination, or if you must bring them with you, don’t wrap them.

Leave early, whether you’re flying or driving. This will allow you the buffer time necessary to deal with traffic jams, parking and security. If you live in an area with a light-rail transit system that stops near the airport, use it to avoid traffic and airport parking.

Stay up-to-date on flight changes. Download your airline’s app to get alerts about gate changes and delays.

Stay Healthy While You Travel. In addition to being the holiday season, it’s also cold and flu season. Travelling in close proximity to others may increase your chances of getting sick during your vacation. Keep germs and viruses at bay with these tips:

Stay hydrated. Bring a water bottle and fill it at a water fountain once you pass through security, or purchase water from a vendor in the secured area. Since the pressurized cabin of the airplane tends to dry the eyes and nasal passages, increase your water intake to keep germs away. Water may also help prevent blood clots.

Bring your own blanket and pillow. While some airlines still provide these amenities, most do not. Plus, carrying a small, foldable blanket and a neck pillow will reduce the number of germs you’re exposed to.

Bring healthy snacks, including nuts, dried fruit and other easily portable food items.

Move around to avoid blood clots. Blood clots are a major concern when flying, especially if you are flying cross-country or overseas. Get up and walk around the cabin, if possible. While seated, tap your feet or do  seated calf raises to improve blood circulation.

If You’re Driving:

Get your car ready. Take your car in for a tuneup and address any potential issues beforehand. Have the mechanic check fluid levels and check your tires as well.

Plan your route ahead of time. Whether you’re driving a few hours of a few days, it helps to know the route you’re taking. If you’re taking a long trip, plan where you want to stop for the night and make a reservation at a nearby hotel so you can be sure you’ll have somewhere to stay overnight.

Keep roadside assistance information on hand. Having this information readily available will help you think clearly and act quickly in the event of car issues.

Store a cell phone charger in the car. Using your phone to navigate or play music can drain the battery. Keep a charger in the glove compartment or centre console to keep it charged in case of an emergency.

Pack a winter safety kit. The kit should include an ice scraper, a small snow shovel, tow rope, jumper cables, a blanket, flashlights, a first-aid kit and a portable radio.

Safe travels & happy holidays to you and your families!

 

Make Moving Easier

Although many people look forward to having a fresh start in a new place, feeling stressed about the transition and the moving process itself is very common. Here are a few tips to help make it easier.

1. Lighten up. Whether you’re hiring movers or renting a truck and getting help with the heavy lifting, it pays to lighten the load of stuff you plan to move. Now is the time to go through your belongings and be intentional about your goal– if it’s broken, underused or you don’t see yourself needing it in the future, it’s time to donate it. If you don’t use it now, chances are you won’t use it at all in your new home.

Sell or donate unused items that are still in good condition. Sites like Kijiji allow you to sell your items easily. Start the process at least a month before your moving date. Similarly, look into local charities that accept donations and be sure to get a receipt if you plan to write it off on your taxes.

Recycle items that are broken or worn out. Call a junk removal service to responsibly dispose of items that should not end up in our landfills.

2. Take breaks. One of the reasons people find moving so stressful is they’re overwhelmed by all the tasks that need to get done. While trying to stay on top of everything, it’s easy to forget to take breaks and eat. Taking a break will give you the energy you need to recharge before you tackle the next room or task.

Pack a bag of snacks to munch on during the day, and don’t forget to stay hydrated by drinking lots of water.

Set an alarm halfway through the day to take a meal break. Order pizza or sandwiches, especially if you have others helping out.

If you find yourself getting anxious, take a few minutes to breathe. Repeat a mantra that helps you focus and calms your spirit.

3. Pack smart. Be mindful of what you are packing and when you pack it to ensure your valuables are not lost or broken.

Start early. The earlier you start packing, the better you’ll be able to organize and prioritize your items. If you know you’re not going to use it until after you move, pack it away.

Pack by room and number your boxes. In a notebook or app, write what’s in each box (e.g., Box 5 Kitchen: utensils, blender, crock pot). Take it a step further and pick up coloured stickers from an office store to colour-code each box by room.

Pack valuable items yourself. After all, only you can give them the extra care they need to survive the move in one piece. Use bubble wrap or wrap the items in soft linens or clothing, such as pillow cases and bedding, towels and t-shirts.

Will you need certain items right away, such as toiletries, work clothes or home office items? Pack them in clear plastic bins. This saves you from having to open all of your boxes to find what you need.

 

 

Top 3 Landscaping Trends

Refresh your landscape with these top trends.

1.Livable Outdoor Spaces.

Many homeowners are treating their patios and backyards like another room of the house by adding outdoor kitchens with pizza ovens and using decorative planters and garden art to put their unique stamp on the space. How can you make your space more livable?

Add a deck or Patio. Great for entertaining or for lounging during your free time, a deck or patio is a must-have feature. If natural stone or brick patio pavers are out of your budget, concrete pavers are a budget-friendly alternative.

Enhance your lighting. Set the mood and enjoy your patio into the evening with the right lighting. LED and solar are becoming increasingly popular. Use strings of lights, torches or LED glass pavers that can be incorporated into the hardscape.

Think comfort. Homeowners are turning their patios into outdoor living rooms. Out with the plastic patio furniture; in with the oversized sofas, armchairs and tables made for the outdoors.

2. Low-Maintenance Landscapes.

Water Conservation efforts in many areas of the country are prompting homeowners to make their landscapes drought-tolerant. One of the benefits of these landscapes: they’re lower maintenance. Make your landscape more low-key.

Plant natives. Plants that are normally found in your area have adapted to the soil, water and weather patterns of your area. This makes them easier to care for than non-native species.

Practice xeriscaping. Ideal for areas that don’t naturally get a lot of water, xeriscaping utilizes low-water-use plants, native grasses, mulch and other elements to create a low-water, low-maintenance landscape.

Install artificial turf. It looks like grass but requires less maintenance and water. Many municipalities, particularly in the West, offer incentives to replace grass with artificial turf.

3. Gardening for Wellness

It’s no secret that whole foods are the keys to good health. Many people have turned their own yards to grow the fruits and vegetables required for good nutrition. Not only are you able to see the fruits of your labor grow and flourish, but gardening can also burn up to 400 calories an hour. Get growing!

Prepare your soil. Healthy fertile, well drained soils yields healthy plants. To see if your soil is healthy, dig a hole and look for earthworms. The more worms you see, the healthier your soil is. or, send a sample away to a lab for a complete analysis of the nutrients in your soil.

Plant what you love. Make a list of the fruits and vegetables that you love before you shop for seedlings. This will help to ensure that most of what you grow is consumed. Some popular plants to start with include pole beans, squash, tomatoes, peppers, salad greens, collards, herbs and strawberries.

No yard, no problem! If you don’t have the yard to grow a garden, grow what you love in containers instead. Find a sunny spot on your deck or patio, and arrange your portable garden for optimal light.