5 Energy-Efficient Features that Buyers Love Right Now

General Robyn McLean 25 Aug

Learn what home seekers are after in a modern, eco-friendly home from our friends at REW

By Justin Kerby Aug 7, 2020

Sustainability has been on the mind of Canadian homebuyers for years. Now that so many people are working from home (and will be for the foreseeable future), buyer demands have shifted, and energy-efficient homes and features have become an even higher priority. If you’re spending all of your time in the house, you’ll want to be comfortable. You will also want to make sure that your utility bill isn’t breaking the bank.

New technologies and certifications hitting the Canadian market have ensured that buyers in every budget range, looking at any style of home, have the opportunity to seek out energy-efficient features. Here are five features that buyers are loving right now.


1. Double-pane, triple-pane, or even better, Low-E windows

A few low-tech features that buyers of all budgets are paying attention to are double-pane windows, and properly sealed doors, windows and skylights. So much heat escapes through thin windows and door gaps! It makes a noticeable difference both on the utility usage and the home’s comfort level when the home is airtight.

Focusing specifically on windows, double-pane windows are a relatively affordable way to help with insulation. Plus, in many parts of the country, triple-pane windows are becoming the norm to meet the often extreme demands of Canadian winters.

Another trend in the window game is called Low-E. These are windows with a low-emissivity coating. There are a few different types of Low-E coatings to choose from, depending on which direction the windows face and with a few other differences. This new technology is trending up with buyers today for a very good reason: it works.

When buyers are eyeing modern-style homes with a lot of windows, it’s even more appealing to have energy-efficient windows already installed. This removes the need to take on that expense as a new homeowner later on, a major bonus when energy efficiency is a priority.


2. Programmable and smart thermostats

The technology in smart thermostats is incredible these days. Some include geofencing features that automatically sense when you leave the home and therefore don’t need your heating or cooling systems running as much. Many are wi-fi enabled so you can control them with your smartphone, even when you’re out of the house. These smart thermostats allow homeowners detailed control over the heating and cooling systems in the house, making it easy to save energy and noticeably decrease your utility bill.

Programmable, but not smart, thermostats are also popular with buyers these days. These let you pre-schedule home, away, and vacation modes, again allowing close control of your home’s heating or cooling system. Both programmable and smart thermostats are great energy-efficient features to look for when buying a new home. If they don’t come pre-installed, you can find these thermostat styles in a variety of budget ranges anywhere from your local department store to Amazon and other e-retailers. Keep in mind your budget and the features that will actually make a difference based on your needs and lifestyle as you shop.


3. Appliances, but most importantly, the washer, dryer and refrigerator

The draw towards energy-efficient appliances is not necessarily new – the clout that Energy Star holds in the appliance game is huge and has been for years. But if homes aren’t 100% upgraded to energy-efficient appliances, buyers today are specifically paying attention to the washer and dryer, followed by the refrigerator, as those are the units that take the most power to run. This also appeals to buyers of all budgets. Those with lower budgets may only look at the energy efficiency of one or two appliances, whereas those with higher budgets are looking to make sure all appliances are energy efficient.


4. Energy Star Certified homes

Buyers who are in the market for new or newer homes are starting to look at whether the entire home is Energy Star Certified. These homes are constructed by certified Energy Star builders and are energy-efficient from the roof to the foundation. They include advanced heating and cooling systems, more and better insulation than the building code requires, airtight windows and doors, Energy Star appliances, and more. All of this combined can save homeowners up to 20% on their utility bills, making Energy Star Certified homes very appealing to many buyers in today’s market. If you’re building a new home or doing some serious renovations, you should look into this certification now and see if it’s right for you.


5. Net-zero energy homes

Taking it a few steps further, buyers looking at the higher end of the market are leading the trend of seeking out net-zero homes – homes that produce as much energy as they use. These have many of the same features as Energy Star Certified homes which reduce energy usage, but they also have means of producing energy. The Canadian Home Builders Association has launched a net-zero labelling program that guides and standardizes how these types of homes should be built.

According to an interview with GreenEnergyFutures, the first home certified with this labelling was built in Victoria and included solar panels, solar thermal water heating, an electric vehicle charger, ductless dryer, and more. Pairing these energy-efficient features with the stunning aesthetic of the home, it’s no surprise these homes are in higher and higher demand.

In British Columbia, there’s a goal for all new buildings (including homes) to be net-zero energy ready by 2032, meaning this is going to move from a trend to the new normal in the not-so-distant future.

While some of the energy-efficient features mentioned above may be pricey, a steady demand for them is driving prices down, making them more affordable for the average consumer. Even when compared to just a few years ago, there’s a notable difference in cost and a wider selection of price options. There is a range of low, medium and higher-end technologies, appealing to buyers with varying budgets. No matter which direction is right for you, it’s both good for the environment and your wallet to start thinking about some of these energy-efficient features as you shop for your new home.

8 DIY Home Improvements Anyone Can Do

General Robyn McLean 25 Aug

Great ideas from our friends at REW.

These low-impact upgrades are perfect for any renter or homeowner.
By Justin Kerby Aug 21, 2020

The key to falling in love with a home, whether it’s a rental or purchase, is to bring your own personal style and flair to the space. There are plenty of ways for renters to remodel without losing their security deposit, and these do it yourself projects make for great, quick updgrades to any home. Really, easy decorating options for rentals are endless once you start looking for inspiration. We’ve rounded up eight home improvement ideas, all DIY, that anybody can choose to tackle. Here’s where to get started.

1. Get crafty with cup hooks

If you can’t put holes in your walls or cabinets, command hooks are a fantastic, removable alternative. However, if your landlord does permit nails in the walls, then you can use cup hooks for a ton of great design updates.

These small and inexpensive pieces of hardware are incredibly versatile. Use them around your home to put up string lights. Screw them into the bottom of a kitchen cabinet and hang your favourite mugs. Or use them on a kitchen wall to hang utensils, colanders, pots and pans. They’re a great (and affordable) way to put your favourite items on display.

2. Upgrade your outlet and light switch covers

This home improvement project is often overlooked, but it’s one of our favourite DIY projects for several reasons. Most notably, the amount of effort it takes is next to nothing, and it can have a huge impact. Change all of the covers to a black or bronze to add a stark contrast to your white walls. Or, for even more character, go for a bright and bold pattern.

If you don’t want to buy new covers (as you’ll need to store the originals somewhere), then go for contact paper. It will be more time consuming since you’ll have to wrap each one individually, but start with one room, see what you like, and go from there. Just don’t forget to remove the contact paper or swap back to the original covers before you move out.


3. Change your light bulbs

This is another simple project that anyone can – and should – do. We recommend swapping out the lightbulbs in all of the rooms with energy-efficient LEDs, then customize the feel of your room for brightness and temperature. You may want a warm light in the bedroom and living room, but cool lighting in the bathroom and kitchen. This quick swap can really enhance the ambiance of your home, as well as decrease your electrical bill.


4. Use the space above the cabinets

Some homes don’t have bulkheads, leaving an awkward space above the kitchen cabinets. Instead of using it as a vase graveyard, you can make this a sleek extension of your cabinets. Decorate it with carefully curated décor, or add storage boxes, such as wooden milk crates for easy storage. If the space above your cabinets is quite large, add floating shelves or shelf risers to make it even more functional. This would also be a fun place to play with removable wallpaper.


5. Customize drawers and shelves for optimal storage

Customizing the inside of your drawers is a great way to stay organized. While you could buy some cheap, plastic containers from the dollar store, why not DIY-it? Check out these instructions for an inexpensive, home-made kitchen drawer organizer.

Also, take a look inside your cabinets. Are your shelves far apart, to the point where there’s wasted vertical space? Shelf risers are a great solution to make the cabinets in your rental unit work for you. You can purchase inexpensive risers from stores like Ikea, or make your own. Shelf risers also work great in fridges and freezers!


6. Disguise or transform your radiator 

If you’re renting in an older building or house, you’re likely familiar with the hot, clunky, metal radiators that we’re talking about. The good news is you don’t need to just ignore this equipment. Instead, disguise it and make it functional. For a quick fix, put a floating shelf an inch or two above the radiator, and line up some books or other trinkets. If you’re handy and have the time, build a complete radiator cover.


7. Make a portable garden

Many renters are lucky enough to have gardens at their homes. Some apartment buildings are even offering community garden spaces these days. But, if that isn’t the case at your rental, raised planter boxes are a great temporary garden solution – and they can even be packed up and moved when it’s time to go. If you have power tools and a workshop, YouTube has plenty of detailed tutorials for DIY raised planter boxes. If you don’t have the time, skill, or patience, most big-box hardware stores have pre-fab versions in a variety of sizes that you can paint and decorate to fit your style.


8. Turn your balcony into an oasis

This is a fun project that will turn any balcony or patio into an Instagram-worthy space you’ll never want to leave. First, lay down some green artificial turf to get a grassy feel. Then, string up some outdoor twinkle or cantina lights, or paper lanterns (if it’s sheltered enough from the wetter elements). Then, start decorating! If you’re in an adults-only home, set up some lounge or Muskoka chairs and a cute metal table. If you’re able to screw into the ceiling, hammocks add even more comfort. Surround your sitting space with patio-friendly plants: for a woodsy vibe, choose potted cedars, or to bring the tropics up north, go for potted banana trees. Your local garden centre will be able to set you up with the best plants for your climate, sun exposure, etc.

If you have kids, turn the balcony into a play area just for them. Add a playhouse, a slide, or a little table for tea parties. You could even add a small, raised sandbox for some extra tactile play. If you have a full yard for your kiddos, check out YouTube for cool DIY outdoor play areas.

Don’t shy away from creating a personalized, cozy home that you love spending time in just because you might be in the space temporarily. You can find so many DIY projects that will bring life and character to your home, no matter your budget, skill level, or space size. Just remember to revert back to the originals before move out day!


Just delayed, not dormant

General Robyn McLean 25 Aug

Some good news….and we can all use a little good news these days!…from our friends at First National.

Just delayed, not dormant

Aug 24, 2020
First National Financial LP

Canada’s real estate market made a remarkable recovery in July and there are expectations it will continue for another couple of months.

Back in the spring real estate was heading into one of the tightest markets in the past 20 years.  Then the coronavirus pandemic was declared, governments imposed lockdowns and the economy ground to a halt, hobbling home sales.  April saw some of the lowest numbers ever recorded.  But it roared back to life in July.

“Things may have gone quiet for a few months, but ultimately the market we’re seeing right now is mostly the same one we were heading into back in March,” says Shaun Cathcart, CREA’s Senior Economist.

July sales shot up more than 30% compared to a year ago and 26% compared to June.  The average price for a home in Canada hit a new record high of $571,500 — an increase of more than 14% over July of 2019.

“COVID-19 did not destroy this year’s spring market—it mostly delayed it,” says well known market watcher, economist Robert Hogue.  He notes the busy spring market is now happening during the summer, as pent-up demand is released with the reopening of the economy.

“We expect further unwinding of pent-up demand to keep sales brisk in August and perhaps September before cooling later this year,” says Hogue.

The price increase is simple supply and demand.  CREA’s sales-to-new-listing ratio tightened to 73.9% in July, up more than 10 points from June and solidly in favour of sellers.  A ratio between 40% and 60% is considered balanced.

CREA’s Cathcart expects to see demand continuing to outpace supply.

“Some purchases will no doubt be delayed, but the new-found importance of home, lack of a daily commute for many, a desire for more outdoor and personal space, room for a home office, etc. will certainly also spur activity that otherwise would not have happened in a non-COVID-19 world,” he says.

Feds seem split on mortgage policy

General Robyn McLean 17 Aug

Great insight from our friends at First National.

Feds seem split on mortgage policy

Aug 17, 2020

Buyers, brokers and lenders can be forgiven if they see the federal government’s attitude toward mortgages heading in two different directions at once.  The federal housing agency is calling for one thing while the Bank of Canada appears to be clearing the way for the opposite.

Earlier this month the CEO of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Evan Siddall, sent a letter to banks, mortgage lenders and private mortgage insurers calling on them to tighten their requirements for borrowers.  He asked lenders to stop offering higher-risk mortgages to over-leveraged first-time buyers in the name of Canada’s future economic health and for the sake of CMHC itself.

“We are approaching a level of minimum market share that we require to be able to protect the mortgage market in times of crisis,” Siddall wrote, adding that CMHC requires the support of lenders to prevent “further erosion of our market presence.”

While CMHC is calling for stricter standards the Bank of Canada has just relaxed its mortgage stress test requirements for the third time since the pandemic started.  The qualifying rate has been dropped by 15 basis points to 4.74%.  That is about $7,500.00 more purchasing power for a well-qualified, high-ratio borrower.  It is probably not enough to clear the barriers to entry, but it would certainly help with closing costs.

Canadian Housing Market Very Strong in July

General Robyn McLean 17 Aug

Housing market update from Dr. Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist at Dominion Lending.

Today’s release of July housing data by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) showed a blockbuster July with both sales and new listings hitting their highest levels in 40 years of data. This continues the rebound in housing that began three months ago.

National home sales rose 26% month-over-month (m-o-m) in July, which translates to a 30.5% gain from a year ago (see chart below). July’s sales activity was the strongest for any month in history. According to Shaun Cathcart, CREA’s Senior Economist,  “A big part of what we’re seeing right now is the snapback in activity that would have otherwise happened earlier this year. Recall that before the lockdowns, we were heading into the tightest spring market in almost 20 years. Things may have gone quiet for a few months, but ultimately the market we’re seeing right now is mostly the same one we were heading into back in March. That said, there are some new factors at play as well. There are listings that will come to the market because of COVID-19, but many properties are also not being listed right now due to the virus, as evidenced by inventories that are currently at a 16-year low. Some purchases will no doubt be delayed, but the new-found importance of home, lack of a daily commute for many, a desire for more outdoor and personal space, room for a home office, etc. will certainly also spur activity that otherwise would not have happened in a non-COVID-19 world.”

For the third month in a row, transactions were up on a month-over-month basis across the country. Among Canada’s largest markets, sales rose by 49.5% in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), 43.9% in Greater Vancouver, 39.1% in Montreal, 36.6% in the Fraser Valley, 31.8% in Hamilton-Burlington, 28.7% in Ottawa, 16.9% in London and St. Thomas, 15.7% in Calgary, 12.1% in Winnipeg, 9.7% in Edmonton and 5.4% in Quebec City.

New ListingsThe number of newly listed homes climbed by another 7.6% in July compared to June, to a level of 71,879–the highest level for any July in history. New supply was only up in about 60% of local markets, as the rebound in supply appears to be tapering off in many parts of the country. The national increase in July was dominated by gains in the GTA. More supply is expected to come on the market in future months, particularly once a vaccine is widely available.

With the ongoing rebound in sales activity now far outpacing the recovery in new supply, the national sales-to-new listings ratio tightened to 73.9% in July compared to 63.1% posted in June. It was one of the highest levels on record for this measure, behind just a few months back in late 2001 and early 2002.

Based on a comparison of sales-to-new listings ratios with long-term averages, only about a third of all local markets were in balanced market territory, measured as being within one standard deviation of their long-term average, in July 2020. The other two-thirds of markets were all above long-term norms, in many cases well above.

The number of months of inventory is another important measure of the balance between sales and the supply of listings. It represents how long it would take to liquidate current inventories at the current rate of sales activity.

Housing markets are very tight, especially in Ontario, as demand has far outpaced supply. There were just 2.8 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of July 2020 – the lowest reading on record for this measure. At the local market level, a number of Ontario markets shifted from months of inventory to weeks of inventory in July.

Home Prices

The Aggregate Composite MLS® Home Price Index (MLS® HPI) jumped by 2.3% m-o-m in July 2020 – the second largest increase on record (after March 2017) going back 15 years. (see Table below). Of the 20 markets currently tracked by the index, they all posted m-o-m increases in July.The biggest m-o-m gains, in the range of 3%, were recorded in the GTA outside of the city of Toronto, Guelph, Ottawa and Montreal; although, generally speaking, most markets east of Saskatchewan are seeing prices accelerate in line with strong sales numbers. Price gains were more modestly positive in B.C. and Alberta.

The non-seasonally adjusted Aggregate Composite MLS® HPI was up 7.4% on a y-o-y basis in July the biggest gain since late 2017.

The MLS® HPI provides the best way to gauge price trends because averages are strongly distorted by changes in the mix of sales activity from one month to the next.

The actual (not seasonally adjusted) national average price for homes sold in July 2020 was a record $571,500, up 14.3% from the same month last year.

The national average price is heavily influenced by sales in the Greater Vancouver and the GTA, two of Canada’s most active and expensive housing markets. Excluding these two markets from calculations cuts around $117,000 from the national average price. The extent to which sales continue to fluctuate in these two markets relative to others could have further compositional effects on the national average price, both up and down.

Bottom Line

CMHC has recently forecast that national average sales prices will fall 9%-to-18% in 2020 and not return to yearend-2019 levels until as late as 2022. I continue to believe that this forecast is overly pessimistic. Here we are in the second half of 2020, and the national average sales price has risen 14.3% year-over-year.

The good news is that the housing market is contributing to the recovery in economic activity. While the course of the virus is uncertain, Canada’s government has handled the COVID-19 situation very well from both a public health and a fiscal and monetary perspective. The future course of the economy here will depend on the virus. While no one knows what that will be, suffice it to say that Canada’s economy is en route to a full recovery, but it may well be a long and bumpy one.


6 Simple Remodel Ideas For Renters (That Won’t Cost You Your Security Deposit)

General Robyn McLean 15 Aug

Some great tips from our friends at REW.

Need to freshen up your rental home? Follow these easy ideas.
By Justin Kerby Aug 13, 2020

There are so many ways renters can remodel and redecorate their homes. It’s all about showing off your personal style in ways that can be reverted back before move out day (without risking your security deposit).

Before you start planning any major renovations, there are a few questions you should ask your landlord regarding what you are and are not allowed to do. Keep in mind that some landlords are much stricter than others.

Here, we’ve listed some of our favourite ways to remodel and update rental spaces, covering a range of completion times and budgets. These rental renovation ideas are temporary and easily reversible, suitable for nearly any rental unit.


Use temporary wallpaper & contact paper to brighten up any room

You can make a huge impact in rentals of any size by making removable wallpaper and contact paper your best friend. These two home décor items are similar – a vinyl front and adhesive backing that sticks to surfaces and can be removed with heat – but with slightly different functions.

Removable wallpaper tends to be more adhesive and durable, so it’s better suited for creating an accent wall or to change the colour of an entire room. Contact paper is great for lining drawers, shelves, the back of cabinets, fridges and other appliances. If you have the time (and patience), try covering your entire kitchen counter with a sleek marble-like design to really change up the look of your home.

You can find removable wallpaper at many hardware stores and online retailers. Contact paper is even more abundant, with some dollar and discount stores carrying a variety of styles. Don’t be afraid to change things up, wallpaper is officially back in style.


Glam up your kitchen with peel-and-stick backsplash

Next up in the peel-and-stick rental renovation category is the kitchen backsplash. You can find beautiful vinyl backsplashes that look like classic subway or vintage tiles, marble, and more at stores such as Home Depot, Rona, or online at Amazon and Etsy.

These types of tiles can be used in both kitchens and bathrooms, and removal is as easy as it gets. For most products, all it takes is applying some heat with a hairdryer for a no-fuss removal. No matter which style of tile you choose, this simple upgrade will provide sophistication to even the blandest of kitchens, and it can be completed in an afternoon.


Add style and function with tension rods

Tension rods are a dream for renters. You can find them online and in most hardware stores in a variety of sizes and finishes, and they can be used in so many ways (without ever leaving a mark on your walls). Plus, they tend to be inexpensive and easy to install.

Use tension rods to hang soft, breezy drapes over a drab window. Put them up in your bathroom to hang a decorative cloth shower curtain and cover up an unsightly tub. Add them to a closet to increase functionality and storage space. You can even get creative with corner-specific tension rods and create a closet! Try leaving the rod bare and hang dresses or coats, or add a curtain to hide storage bins or your vacuum. You’ll find the versatility of these affordable and functional pieces extremely valuable.


Create a new room or storage area with furniture

If you have a slightly higher budget for your rental remodel, you can get creative with a few pieces of furniture and change up your layout.

Tuck cleaning supplies in a corner and surround them with a fold-away room divider, and voila! You have another closet. If you’re tired of your open concept layout, use a large bookcase to divide your living and dining areas. These both also give you the option of rearranging your furniture again down the road, so you can regularly freshen up and optimize the space.


Swap out hardware to add instant character to your most-used rooms

A quick and easy way to spruce up your kitchen or bathroom is by replacing the cabinet and drawer hardware, with two caveats. First, make sure you keep the old hardware so you can replace it before you move out. Second, make sure your new hardware uses the same holes, so there’s no drilling required.

With that out of the way, you can find the perfect knobs and pulls that suit your style. If you’re renovating on a budget, look at thrift stores or the Habitat for Humanity ReStore for great deals and unique pieces. Just a simple swap from plastic hardware to metal or ceramic instantly adds character to your rental.


Remove cabinet and closet doors to get a modern, open and airy feel

This remodelling idea might be a bit more controversial than the rest, so depending on how strict your landlord is, it’s likely worth asking before making any changes. However, removing certain doors and cabinets can really add some life to a rental space.

If you don’t love your kitchen cupboards, remove the doors from the top cabinets, and add a bright contact paper to the inside shelves and back wall. This will give you a trendy, open-shelf space. To test things out, try this with just one or two cupboards instead of the entire kitchen to start. We recommend leaving the lower cabinets in-tact since they’re largely out of the sightline in most spaces.

You can try this same idea with other areas of your unit, such as closets or a pantry, depending on how much open shelving you want to see. No matter what you do, just be sure to store any removed doors in a very safe and secure area, as they can be very expensive to replace.

Whether you want to make a small space feel bigger or you’re simply tired of the standard beige walls surrounding you, there are many ways to remodel and decorate your rental space to make it feel cozy, inspiring and inviting, without risking your security deposit. All you need is a little bit of creativity and a few tools to make a space truly your own.

By Justin Kerby Aug 13, 2020