All posts by Dave Gray

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Condo Market: Valuable neighbourhoods offer Valuable new Choices

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Condo Market: Valuable neighbourhoods offer Valuable new Choices

‘Housing prices are often the truest testament to where values are best’

The city continues to explode with new opportunities popping up everywhere. We are into year 16 of the 7-year cycle, and it seems as though it will never stop. New mortgage rules are offering us all a good opportunity to pause and make sure we can finish what we started, i.e. close the 30,000 plus new homes that we continue to buy annually.

Condos still remain the lion’s share of the market, building up remains an option whereas the freehold opportunities remain scarce and pricy in many cases. It’s amazing how little $I million buys these days, and just how far away it is from the centre of town. But as a great city of neighbourhoods, places far away are no longer alternative choices for many; they continue to be places of choice. Access to transit and highways remains key, and has helped ensure that builders can get their prices so that they can make a living building in what used to be the ‘outskirts’.

But a few in town opportunities grabbed my attention in recent weeks. Wycliffe Homes, a huge contributor to the makeup of our city for over 65 years, has recently launched two projects in areas where we thought there was no room to grow. Steps from the Promenade Mall, they are just introducing a stunning collection of 82 modern yet classic townhomes in the 2,500 to 3,000 square foot range, two floors of sleeping space, rooftop terraces, huge decks and backyards, two-car indoor parking and a whole range of options allowing you to choose, at no additional cost, anywhere from two to six bedrooms with all the fixings, i.e. the best in finishes and brand name accompaniments. The same week, they introduced an 84-suite collection of urban townhomes situated within five small buildings steps from the Lawrence West subway station, offering entry into a housing market for a fraction of what it would cost to buy new freehold product. Non highrise opportunities are relatively scare in (416), a testament to so many years of developing new housing wherever we could in the core of our city.

Look for more established areas with valuable housing to offer infill options and mixed use opportunities; places like the Kingsway and greater Mississauga, where we thought there was little left to develop. New opportunities arise on the waterfront to the east as much of what existed downtown in the core has been consumed in recent years. Look for new large scale projects in Durham, a region I’m very familiar with, having sold thousands of new homes there. Now, with the maturity of those locales, people who have grown to love the area are downsizing and moving into new condos and other housing forms that didn’t exist there not so long ago.

Significant new communites , many condominium in nature, will start to appear in Milton to the west, again a reflection of the maturity of that region and the huge volume of new homes built there over the years. As Miton fills up, look for the next divide in Guelph, an area that will offer small town charm, yet relatively close proximity to the GTA and favourable pricing. Perhaps the Durham of the west, an area that will fill in nicely in the immediate future and provide an alternative commute to those who work in our great city. Expect the same to the southwest, all the way to the Niagara region, with significant new opportunities all along the way. Expansion will continue as it must, but don’t overlook some of the rare opportunities to stay in town where you always were or always wanted to be.

Some great new choices are now out there for the taking. Slide open the sun roof and take a drive in your neighbourhoods of choice. There are some great opportunities out there!

Mark Cohen is a founding partner of The Condo Store Marketing Systems, a firm specializing in the design, marketing and sales of condo and new home communities in and outside of the GTA. condostorecanada.com mark@condostorecanada.com

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Consumer Protection: Protecting Your Rights When Signing on the Dotted Line

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Consumer Protection: Protecting Your Rights When Signing on the Dotted Line

While our attention spans are shrinking, the legal documents that we have to sign to participate in an activity, access a service or purchase a product seem to be getting longer. Who among us hasn’t scrolled down to the ‘Agree’ button or signed on the dotted line without reading all the fine print?

When it comes to buying a pre-construction condo, however, it’s important to understand exactly what both parties – buyer and seller – are committing to and under what conditions that agreement can be terminated. Over the past few months, there have been situations in which developers have cancelled condominium projects leaving buyers disappointed and wondering why they were allowed to do it.

Mirabella Condos by Diamante.

A decade ago, there weren’t a lot of rules on what conditions vendors or builders of condominium projects could put into purchase agreements and the conditions themselves could be scattered throughout the document, making them difficult to find.

In 2008 however, Tarion introduced an addendum to be included with every purchase agreement for both homes and condominiums. The purpose of the addendum is to not only restrict the conditions under which builders can terminate agreements early but require them to take ‘all commercially reasonable steps’ to satisfy those conditions. For example, if one of the conditions is zoning approval, the builder would need to have completed all the steps necessary to try to obtain those approvals in a timely manner.

The addendum also requires builders to give buyers information about zoning and construction as well as occupancy dates and conditions under which these dates could be changed. An added benefit to homebuyers is that the addendum collects all this information, and the conditions governing the agreement, in one place so they are easier to review.

Although it cannot eliminate all the risks involved in purchasing a pre-construction condo, the limitations and level of disclosure that the addendum requires helps protect condo buyers and inform them of the risks. But this doesn’t replace the importance of having your purchase agreement reviewed by an experienced real estate lawyer.

A new home is one of life’s biggest investments. The more you know before you enter into the deal, the better equipped you’ll be to protect your rights or at least understand the risks associated with signing on the dotted line.

HOWARD BOGACH is president and CEO of Tarion Warranty Corp., a private corporation established to protect the rights of new homebuyers and to regulate new home builders. Tarion.com

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Video: RoboCarp

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Video: RoboCarp

If you’re already a bit worried about your long-term job stability, you might now want to watch this video of robots building custom furniture.

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Finance: Getting Ready to Manage Your Money in Retirement

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Finance: Getting Ready to Manage Your Money in Retirement

For anyone getting close to retirement the anticipation can be incredible. This is the time your focus shifts to enjoying life to its fullest, rather than how we are going to make enough to pay all the bills. If you organize your finances, retirement can be wonderful. If you’re lucky enough to have a work pension and enough money saved in your RRSP this is the time to start making some real plans about your retirement. But starting the process to manage your nest egg can be tough. Here’s how to get started.

Calculate Your Income

At this stage you should have a good idea of what you’re retirement income will look like. Based on what you will be getting each month, start planning a retirement that you can afford. If you’re feeling stretched, think of ways you can cut back to enjoy all the things you want to do. Consider downsizing your home or moving to a less expensive town. Also consider getting rid of one car if you’re a two-car couple.

Talk to Your Older (Wiser) Friends

One of you best resources are your slightly older friends, the ones who are going through right now what you will be experience in five to ten years’ time. Ask them about what you should do with your finances, whether there are any mistakes you can easily avoid? This helps you plan better for the unexpected. Make sure you talk to people who are living a lifestyle you admire and can afford. Don’t talk to seniors with more wealth than you, as you will be setting yourself up for a financial let down.

Move Money to Safety

The time to start spending your retirement savings is here. Make sure you have at least five years of expenses saved in the safest of investments. Remember retirement will hopefully last for many decades so leaving some money in higher risk investments is okay, as long as you don’t plan to use it for at least 20 years. The key at this age is having the best asset mix — enough money in safe investments to spend now, and the rest in slightly riskier investments that you don’t need until later.

Decide When to Retire

Not everyone retires at age 65. Some wait to retire later, others take early retirement. By taking a look at your work pension, see what your monthly income would be if you decided to leave work early. How much more would you get if you waited until 65 or even 70 to retire. It’s important to know that Old Age Security (OAS) and Canada Pension Plan (unless you take that early) don’t start until you turn 65, so make sure you are calculating your income carefully.

Be Tax Efficient

Government benefits like OAS start to get clawed back after a certain income threshold. For 2018 it’s $75,910. Once your income starts to go over that your benefits start to decline and is completely gone when your income is more than $123,019. Make sure you’re setting up a withdrawal plan that will keep as much OAS in your pocket as possible. If you’re still saving, use your Tax Free Saving Account. Also, you can voluntarily defer OAS for up to five years. This will result in higher benefits when you do start to receive it.

Finally, this could be the most relaxing time in your life. Now you can start to enjoy your savings. Feel proud of getting to this point and start planning for the most enjoyable retirement possible.

Rubina Ahmed-Haq is a journalist and personal finance expert. She is HPG’s Finance Editor. She regularly appears on CBC Radio and TV. She is a contributor on CTV Your Morning and Global Toronto. She has a BA from York University, received her post graduate journalism diploma from Humber College and has completed the CSC. Follow her on Twitter @alwayssavemoney

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Correction course?

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Correction course?

After years of steady price escalation across the country, government efforts to curtail the risk of a real estate bubble seem to be putting the brakes on things. In March, total home sales nationally were down nearly 23 percent compared to March 2017, and average prices dropped 10 percent. Toronto alone was responsible for much of the decline with detached houses down 15 percent (albeit, still at an average of $1.3 million).

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Health and Safety: High Times

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Health and Safety: High Times

How to handle legal and medicinal weed on the jobsite.

A death on the jobsite is always tragic. But the timing of the December 24, 2009, accident that took the lives of four construction workers was particularly heartbreaking.

Six men were repairing the balconies of a highrise in Toronto’s west end, but the swing stage they were working on was only designed to carry two. The scaffold collapsed, sending four of the men plummeting 13 stories to their death, while a fifth survived but sustained serious injuries. The sixth man was the only one wearing proper fall-arrest equipment.

Toxicology reports released during subsequent court hearings revealed that all four victims had marijuana in their systems. Marijuana can remain detectable in the body up to a month after consumption so it’s impossible to say if the dead men had consumed on the job but, if they had, the impaired judgement, dulled reflexes, and the potential for dizziness or altered depth perception that can result from consuming weed could certainly have been a factor in their deaths. Ultimately, the company they were working for was fined $750,000 and the onsite manager received a 3.5-year jail sentence for unsafe practices.

A 2016 Alberta Health Services report found that 16 per cent of construction workers had used “illicit drugs” (primarily marijuana) in the previous year.

Sometime later this summer the recreational use of marijuana will become legal across the country, and a growing number of Canadians already have the legal right to consume it for medical reasons. The implications of legal weed have lead many to ask important questions, including employers looking to ensure a safe jobsite for themselves and their employees.

STATISTICAL IMPLICATIONS
A 2016 Alberta Health Services report found that 16 per cent of construction workers had used “illicit drugs” (primarily marijuana) in the previous year. Respondents also said “that street drug use is socially acceptable among their coworkers” and that “drug use had a serious impact on the job performance of their coworkers.”

In a 2017 Health Canada survey of 2,650 pot smokers across the country, nearly 20 percent admitted to consuming marijuana during or just before starting work, including 8 percent who said they did so on a weekly to daily basis.

Most experts agree that with the legalization – and de-stigmatization – of the drug, usage will likely go up, so if pot isn’t being used on your jobsite now, it’s increasingly likely to.

Slowed reaction times, inability to focus on detailed tasks, dizziness, and other side effects can have serious consequences on a jobsite. In addition to the risk of accidents while driving or using power tools and heavy equipment, impairment can lead to damage to customer’s property or company equipment and materials.

Then there are the health impacts on the user. Long-term, or “chronic,” users can experience impaired memory retention and difficulty maintaining focus even when not high, particularly if they started smoking in their early teens. Heavy use can also trigger depression, anxiety, or even psychotic episodes, not to mention the negative impacts on the respiratory system.

And, as a business owner, you don’t want your clients or their neighbours raising a stink about skunky odours wafting through the jobsite.


RED EYES AT MORN… There are a few tell tale signs that someone might have snuck off for more than a smoke break, including:

  • Red eyes and diluted pupils
  • A skunky aroma on hair or clothing
  • Yellow stains on fingers
  • Frequent use of Visine and/ or mouthwash
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Lack of coordination
  • Difficulty completing routine tasks

POLICY STATEMENT
“The single most important thing is to create a written drug and alcohol policy for employees, if you haven’t already,” says lawyer Alan Riddell, who will be speaking about the jobsite implications of legalized marijuana at a Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association event in April. “The angst that many employers are feeling is overblown,” he adds. “[Employers] are free to insist that employees are not using drugs in the workplace and are free to terminate anyone who does.” That “anyone” does come with a couple of caveats: addicts and medicinal users.

“I’m not a big fan of zero tolerance policies,” says Baldev Gill, chief operating and financial officer of the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources of British Columbia and Yukon. “It opens you up to a liability issue if someone has an addiction.” Addiction is recognized as a mental health issue and employees with addictions are protected under human rights law.

“I think it’s better to have a nonimpairment policy stating that you can’t show up under the influence of anything that will impair your judgement, including fatigue,” says Gill.

As the co-owner of a development company, Gill has had plenty of firsthand experience dealing with drug use on the jobsite. One time he says, “our backhoe guy was stoned out of his mind. I could smell it on him, his eyes were red and glossy, and he was jittery. I sent him home for the day. He came back the next day and all was good.” In another case, he terminated a framing contract after catching some of the subs high for the fourth time. “The contractor said, ‘I’m going to sue you for breach of contract.’ Ultimately, I’m responsible for workplace safety. I have to be seen doing the right thing,” says Gill. The contractor never did sue.

Riddell suggests that your employment contract should “require advanced disclosure of an addiction, and spell out the reasonable consequences in the event of disclosure or non-disclosure.”

You can’t fire someone for disclosing an addiction, but you can require them to successfully complete a treatment program as a consideration for continued employment. “Addiction is considered a chronic brain disorder. It’s not a moral failing,” says Stacey Petersen, executive director of the non-profit Fresh Start Recovery Centre in Calgary. “Treat addiction as you would any other chronic illness.” Many healthcare plans cover the cost of addiction treatment. Even with a 40,000-sq.ft., 50-bed facility that includes a gym and movie theatre, there’s a waiting list for Fresh Start’s 12- to 16-week program.

Last summer, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the case of a mining machinery operator who was fired after he got into a workplace accident, then disclosed a cocaine addiction. The court ruled that his employer could legally fire him for breaching the company’s policies by failing to disclose his addiction ahead of time.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA
The other potentially problematic situation is medicinal marijuana. As of June 2017, there were a little over 200,000 registered medical marijuana users in Canada, with the vast majority of license holders in Ontario (81,522) and Alberta (68,055).

To get government approval, applicants must submitted documentation from their physician explaining the patient’s medical needs. Once approved, the user purchases their marijuana from a government-licensed facility. (There are a number of dispensaries across the country that issue “medical marijuana cards” and sell the drug, but until federal legislation is changed these are not legit – nor legal.) If an employee insists they have a legitimate medical need, ask to see government documentation.

If the paperwork stands up, you still have options. Gill feels that “impairment is impairment. As an employer you have a responsibility to all your employees. He can take his medical marijuana after hours.”

There are a number of variables that can influence the degree of impairment a user feels, including prior experience using the drug, and the level of THC in the strain consumed. Even the method of ingestion – smoked in joint, pipe, or vaporizer, or eaten – impacts the level and duration of impairment.

If the employee insists on the need to use during the day, you may be forced to reassign them to tasks that don’t require driving or using power tools. If that new job is a more menial one, Riddell says that, “in theory, you’re able to reduce their salary.”

It’s “in theory” because, to date, there hasn’t been much litigation regarding medical marijuana and the workplace. But Riddell feels it’s analogous to disabilities. He gives an example: “An employee goes on holiday and gets his arm mangled by a boat propeller. When he comes back to work he can’t operate the Bobcat anymore. The employer has an obligation to accommodate for the disability. But if the only job available pays 70 percent of his old salary, the employer has no obligation to top off the salary.”

THE FAILURE OF RANDOM TESTING

You might be tempted to consider introducing random drug testing as a way to protect yourself. There are a couple of flaws in this logic. For one, as mentioned earlier, marijuana can remain detectable in your system for up to a month after consumption. A test taken Monday can show positive for use that occurred days or even weeks earlier, with absolutely no risk of impairment on the job.

The other factor is that “the courts generally don’t look very favourably at random drug testing,” says Gill. “It has a place, but in limited circumstances.” One example would be requiring an employee who has completed an addiction treatment program to submit to testing as a condition of returning to their job.

Alberta provincial courts, under lobbying pressure from oil and mining industries for “safety sensitive positions” are a bit more open to drug testing. A study conducted in Alberta in 2002 found that construction companies cut workplace injuries in half (from 8.9 injuries per 200,000 work-hours to 4.4 injuries per 200,000 work-hours) within two years of implementing a drug-testing policy. Still, you’d want to seek legal advice before considering a testing program.

The bottom line: talk to your employees. Let them know that you’re not interested in policing their downtime activities. But, also make it very clear that on the job, safety is your number one priority.


OVERDOSING ON OPIOIDS
The death and destruction from prescription drug addiction has reached crisis level

You’ve no doubt heard about the “opioid crisis” gripping towns and cities across North America. It refers to the countless thousands who have become addicted to opium-derived painkillers. Often, sufferers were initially prescribed the painkillers for an injury only to endure much more suffering from withdrawal. All too often an addiction can be fatal.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, 13 Canadians are admitted to hospital every day for opioid poisoning. While this figure includes accidental overdoses in seniors, the rate of hospitalization in 15- to 24-year-olds is skyrocketing. In 2016, there were 2,816 opioid-related deaths in Canada. There were another 1,460 fatalities recorded between January and June of 2017.

The majority of victims are male (74 percent) in the 30- to 39-year-old range (28 percent). About one-third of the deaths in 2016 were in B.C. (985), followed by Ontario (867) and Alberta (611), but fatalities have been recorded in every province and territory.

Prescribed and administered properly, natural and synthetic opioids help suppress the pain from chronic injuries for hours at a time. Going by street nicknames such as percs, chill pills, and hillbilly heroin, illegal users feel everything from relaxation and euphoria to nausea, vomiting, and difficultly concentrating. Opioids depress the part of the brain that controls breathing, sometimes slowing it to lethal rates. One tally of fatal car crashes in Canada between 2000 and 2010 found that 5.5 percent of the drivers had opioids in their system.

Chronic users may exhibit severe mood swings, decreased sex drive, and menstrual irregularities. Withdrawal symptoms include uneasiness, yawning, watery eyes, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, goosebumps, and a runny nose.

Treatment for opioid addiction can include psychological counseling and a steadily declining dosage of a drug such as methadone to help with the most severe withdrawal symptoms.

If you suspect an employee or co-worker has an opioid addiction, contact your provincial health ministry for a list of local agencies that can provide help.

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Condo Market: Summer a Great Time to Shop For a Condo

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Condo Market: Summer a Great Time to Shop For a Condo

With everything in full bloom across Ontario’s towns and cities, summer is a wonderful time of year to shop for a new condominium. Nowadays, developers spend a lot of time on landscaping buildings to add a touch of natural greenery and colour to their surroundings. In Toronto, a cosmopolitan city with an abundance of greenery, the cityscape is all that more lush with condo landscaping. Landscape architects are truly artists in their own right. They select plant material carefully so that the shrubs, trees and flowers flourish in appropriate light/shade conditions and maximize the visual effect. On a practical note, well-planned and planted landscaping at any residences enhances its value.

Landscaping takes on many forms in condos. For example, some feature ground-level courtyards with lovely garden areas. They may contain park benches, barbecues, trellises or other scenic touches or other spots where owners can enjoy a coffee and morning paper surrounded by greenery, or meet friends for a chat. Higher up in buildings, outdoor terraces are extremely popular. These landscaped areas may offer barbecues, reflecting pools, swimming pools, sunbathing decks, cabanas, hot tubs and/or or other highlights.

And let’s go up even higher. The green roof has gained tremendous appeal, especially with environmental consciousness taking on an important role in today’s real estate scene. As well as being beautiful to look at, green roofs are eco friendly and provide an inviting place to barbecue with friends and dine alfresco amid nature and fabulous city views. We are seeing a lot of developers feature fire pits on rooftop terraces as well, to extend the use of these areas past September. What a fun sight it is to see people in parkas barbecuing in the cold weather and then bringing their dishes into their suites to enjoy.

The icing on the condo landscaping cake is the effort many residents put into planting greenery and flowers on their personal balconies and terraces. Container gardening is a hot trend right now. Garden centres carry every shape, size, colour and pattern of container imaginable. Suite owners can add fresh herbs to their cuisine by stepping out onto their balconies. Some condos even feature gardening areas where residents can grow vegetables. Talk about eating close to home!

Of course, with balconies in a high-rise condo, residents must consider wind and shade conditions when choosing plant material. Of course, drought-tolerant and drought-resistant plant material is a good idea. The staff at garden centres can help with determining what will grow well and look good for as much as the season as possible. Ornamental grasses can add visual interest during the winter as well.

People are also incorporating natural materials such as rocks on their balconies to bring more of the outdoors “up.” You might want to highlight one statement plant in a container or group three or more that combine hardy and delicate flowers for effect. Fountains, living walls – the possibilities are diverse and exciting. After you move into your condo, you will have ample opportunity to enjoy the outdoors without leaving home!

BARBARA LAWLOR is president and CEO of Baker Real Estate Incorporated and an in-demand columnist and speaker. A member of the Baker team since 1993, she oversees the marketing and sales of condominium developments in the GTA and overseas. Keep current with The Baker Blog at blog.bakerrealestate.com

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Recall Roundup: The Chain Gang

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Recall Roundup: The Chain Gang

For our outdoor themed June/July 2018 issue, we’ve pulled together a two-page list of related product failures, including this item:

Kobalt and Greenworks 80-volt 18” Cordless Electric Chainsaws

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Models affected: Kobalt KCS 180B-06; Greenworks Pro GCS80450 and GCS80421

Potential Problem: A brake guard can fail in a kickback situation, allowing the chain to continue spinning.

Sold: Around 900 of the Kobalt and 1,200 Greenworks Pro models were sold between September 2016 and October 2017.

Contact: Greenworks Tools, 888-266-7096; GreenworksTools.com

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Market Report: The Dirt

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Market Report: The Dirt

Deets & Trends about the GTA New Homes and Resale Housing Market

WE ARE 

  • New Home Sales & Marketing Gurus 
  • Licensed Realtors 
  • Market Nerds

SpectrumSky.com

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Video: Boring Billboard

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Video: Boring Billboard

Swedish-based Sioo:x Wood Protection recognizes that they don’t exactly have the sexiest product in the world. So they decided to embrace it, by installing what they’ve dubbed “The World’s Most Boring Billboard.” To show how durable their finish is, they erected a three-sided billboard filled with silver-grey hued deck boards in Malmo, Sweden, that will be up for 12 years, the length of their warranty.

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