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The Italian job, inspirational ancient architecture in Rome, Tuscany, and Venice

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The Italian job, inspirational ancient architecture in Rome, Tuscany, and Venice

Anyone with even a passing interest in construction and architecture can’t help but be blown away by the magnificent, gorgeous structures built by the ancient Romans and then later during the Renaissance. So join us on a photo tour of Rome, Florence, Venice, and the Tuscan countryside.

Rome

1) Colosseum Interior

Covering six acres of prime Roman real estate, the tiered seating area was originally shaded with awnings. At 50 metres high, it’s equivalent to a modern 16-storey building. The word “arena” is Latin for sand, a convenient floor covering to soak up all the blood and sweat from the gladiators. The sandcovered wooden floor could be removed and the arena flooded to stage naval battles. Much of the original metal and stone building materials were later pilfered and used in nearby medieval building projects, including churches and palaces. An earthquake in 1349 caused much of the southern wall to collapse.

2) Pantheon Exterior

By far, one of the most imposing and impressive buildings in Rome has to be the Pantheon. Originally built as a Roman temple in 27 BC to honour all (“pan”) the gods (“theos”), it was rebuilt during the reign of Emperor Hadrian in 120 AD. The brick exterior shell is filled with poured concrete – a Roman invention.

3) Vatican Mosaics

While the Vatican houses some of the world’s greatest art treasures – including Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam as part of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling – I was (pardon the pun) floored by the vibrant, three-dimensional effects on these ancient mosaics.

4) Egyptian Obelisks

There are 13 Egyptian obelisks scattered around Rome, brought from Egypt by various Italian leaders over the centuries. They’re typically mounted on top of a sculpture or fountain, and capped with a Christian cross. This one, in Piazza del Minerva just behind the Pantheon, was erected by Pope Alexander VII in 1667.

5) Pantheon Dome

The jaw-dropping domed ceiling is precisely 142′-wide from side to side and 142′-high from floor to ceiling. At the base, the walls are a 20′-thick mix of concrete and stone. The ceiling is thinner, less than five-feet thick, and includes lightweight volcanic pumice in the mix. The 30′-diameter opening at the top, the “oculus,” is the building’s only natural light source. The floors are sloped down towards drain holes for rainy days.

6) Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine

All that remains of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine today are three vaulted arches that formed the north end of an enormous building that was originally more than 300′-long and 200′-feet wide, with a ceiling more than 100′-high in the central knave. This government office is where homebuilders of the day would have lined up to apply for building permits.

7) Colosseum Exterior

Of all the ancient marvels remaining around the world, the partially ruined Colosseum in Rome is probably the most instantly identifiable. Completed in 80 AD, it was originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre. The stadium built for epic gladiator battles – and using early Christians as lion food – could hold up to 50,000 spectators. The more recognized name is thought to come from a colossal statue of Emperor Nero that once stood on the site.

8) Construction Hoarding

While under renovation, this Roman building – and many others undergoing repair – was draped in a screened hoarding harking back to the structure’s glory days.

Florence and Tuscany

1) Agriturismo Farmhouse

Our home base in Tuscany was Podera la Castellina, an agriturismo or farm property that rents out rooms. The building was first constructed as a convent in the 13th century. In 1504, the property was converted to a farm by a wealthy local family. At one point, the two-storey structure was used as a barn, with the farmers’ family living upstairs and the animals penned on the lower level.

2) Ponte Vecchio

The Romans were the first to build a bridge at this narrow stretch of the Arno River, and there are records of several subsequent bridges built, then washed away by flooding over the centuries. The original Ponte Vecchio was built around 1000 AD. It’s somewhat unique in that it is lined with storefronts, housing butchers in medieval times, jewellers selling to well-heeled tourists today.

3) Roman Ruins in Voltera

Of course Italy is literally littered with Roman ruins, including this theatre at the base of the wall around Voltera in the Pisa region.

4) Orvieto Cathedral

While the Vatican in the most-sought out church on an Italian holiday – though Vatican City is technically an independent City State wholly within Rome – there are countless other postcard-worthy churches to visit in the country, including the cathedral in Orvieto, constructed between 1290 and 1607.

5) Laneway in Sienna

One of my favourite things to do when visiting olde European cities is to aimlessly wander along the narrow laneways. The only thing slowing you down is the urge to constantly stop and take photos. At the end of a T-junction in Siena, I looked right to see these charming stone archways, the left as I headed uphill under this exposed beam walkway.

6) Florence Cathedral

The cathedral in Florence, clad in green, pink, and white marble, is better known as the Duomo for its impressive domed ceiling. The dome’s architect, Filippo Brunelleschi, studied the Pantheon in Rome to understand how to cover the opening at the top of the church.

7) Gratuitous Family Selfie

The Britnell-Malik family, posing in front of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. The upper level includes part of passageway known as the Vasari Corridor that the powerful Medicis would use to cross the Arno from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti without having to mix with the peasants crossing the bridge.

Venice

1) Venice Rooftop Deck

With no backyards to speak of in most Venetian homes, if you want a deck, you put it on the roof. While they look a little precarious, they’d certainly offer spectacular views.

2)Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute overlooks the eastern end of the Grand Canal. There are more than 170 Gothic, Baroque, Rococo, and Renaissance-era buildings lining the two-mile long canal, constructed between the 13th and 18th centuries.

3) Da Vinci Museum

There’s a unique museum in Venice that houses working models of 60 different machines designed by Leonardo Da Vinci, including wooden ball bearings, the first flywheel, a self-supporting bridge, a parachute, glider, and various pieces of military equipment.

4) Venice by Gondola

Yes, taking a gondola ride is a clichéd touristy thing to do. It’s also not cheap – about $120 for a half-hour tour. But you know what they say: When in Rome. Er, Venice. Travel tip: Avoid the traffic-clogged Grand Canal. Instead, find a gondolier who’ll serenade you on a route through some of the narrower waterways.

5) Rialto Bridge

The Rialto Bridge is the oldest and most famous of four bridges that span the Grand Canal. The stone bridge was completed in 1591, permanently replacing earlier wooden structures. Today, it’s lined with shops catering to the hordes of tourists.

6) Laundry Day in Venice

Electricity is prohibitively expense in Italy and only the largest palaces in Venice have enclosed yards, so clotheslines are strung across the narrow streets.

7) St. Mark’s Square

The Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square, covers about three acres, all built on top of wooden pilings driven deep into the soil below. It’s barely above sea level so the square is frequently flooded. The original bell tower collapsed in 1902, but was rebuilt 10 years later.

8) DHL Delivery

While Venice’s 118 islands are all linked by more than 400 bridges, everything has to be brought in – and out – of the city by boat, including garbage and recycling. The city has a fleet of floating buses for residents and tourists to get around.

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Got a ton of dough? Mrs. Fields cookie ranch is for sale, and you won’t believe the price

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Got a ton of dough? Mrs. Fields cookie ranch is for sale, and you won’t believe the price

It’s the ranch that attracts foodies – specifically cookies and chocolate candy at the humongous home built by Debbi Fields of Mrs. Fields Cookies, and now owned by chocolatier Jeanette Brooks. Sited on a 200,683-acre ranch, Brooks is ready to turn over the keys to the next rancher with furnishings, cattle and equipment included – for US$45 million.

Um, that’s a lot of cake. Who knew the cookie business could be that lucrative?

Debbie and Randy Fields opened their first Mrs. Fields Cookies store in 1977 in Palo Alto, Calif. with their homemade-style cookies. Quickly becoming very popular with their customers, they opened a series of kiosks in airports and shopping centres, currently expanded to more than 650 bakeries in the U.S. and more than 80 in 11 countries. By 1982, they had moved their headquarters to Park City, Utah and built their European chateau-style mansion on the ranch. In the early 1990s, the Fields sold the company to an investment firm ,and it is currently owned by Famous Brands International with Debbie as the spokesperson. In 2011, the ranch was sold to Jeanette Brooks, founder of Xocal Healthy Chocolate.

The Cookie Mansion is sited on 271 acres with a mile of Provo River frontage with additional leased grazing acreage and water sources to sustain a thousand-head herd that spreads into four counties. The main house of 17,000 sq. ft. has 10 ensuite bedrooms, lots of formal and casual spaces and US$1.5 million in decorator furnishings which will convey with the home. The overall design includes 11 fireplaces, copper-and-wood-coffered ceilings, stained-glass and black-walnut paneling and ceilings in the Great Room. Fields made purchases in Europe for the house such as a bar from Ireland, a stained-glass window of Mary Magdalene in the entry above the stairs imported from Scotland and wood from a royal residence in England.

Mrs. Field’s Cookie Ranch is selling turnkey with mansion, acreage, 650 cow-calf Angus pairs, approximately 50 bulls, furnishings, ranch equipment and machinery, permits, water rights, hunting and mineral rights and even Shorty Williams, the ranch manager who will be happy to stay on for the next owner.

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GTA condo sales and prices surge in the third quarter

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GTA condo sales and prices surge in the third quarter

GTA condo sales and prices both surged in the third quarter of 2019, according to the latest figures from the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB). There were 6,407 condominium unit sales in the third quarter, up 11.1 per cent compared to Q3 2018, while average prices rose 5.8 per cent to $584,564.

“As economic conditions continue to be favourable for job growth in the Greater Toronto Area, people have continued to come to the city for work,” says TREB President Michael Collins. “Homeownership is important to many Canadians, and, as a relatively affordable housing option, condos in the GTA offer prospective buyers the chance to achieve their dreams of owning property.”

Year-over-year price growth in Toronto, which accounted for nearly 70 per cent of transactions, was slightly lower at 5.6 per cent, with an average price of $628,074.

Strong price growth above the rate of inflation was driven by tightening market conditions, with sales up and listings down relative to last year. One factor underpinning the dip in listings may be the fact that, according to CMHC data, new condominium apartment completions were down year-to-date through August relative to the same time frame in 2018. This may have translated into fewer investor-owned units being listed for sale in Q3 2019 compared to Q3 2018, TREB says.

“Condominium apartments are obviously a popular choice amongst first-time home-buyers,” says Jason Mercer, TREB’s chief market analyst. “Moreover, it is also important to remember that condominium apartments owned by investors represent a huge component of the GTA rental stock and certainly account for most additions to the rental stock, on net, over the past decade. With this in mind, a well-supplied condo segment will be important moving forward to ensure that we can keep up with population growth driven by a strong and diverse regional economy.”

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Cannabis industry a boon to local economies

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Cannabis industry a boon to local economies

Canada’s largest cannabis producers are being credited with micro-booms in some local economies, and the trickle-down effects are visible in nearby housing sales and price increases, according to realty firm ReMax. The trend is more pronounced in eastern Canada, where there’s a greater number of large-scale cannabis producers.

Smiths Falls, Ont. is one such market transformed by Canopy Growth, the largest cannabis producer in the world. After taking over the abandoned Hershey factory, the Ottawa-area production facility now employs 1,300 people and has a market value of more than $11 billion.

“The impact of Canopy Growth on Smiths Falls cannot be understated, and it’s growing,” says Christopher Alexander, executive vice-president and regional director, ReMax of Ontario-Atlantic Canada. “The economy in the Rideau-St. Lawrence area is experiencing a boom, which is triggering home sales, which rose by 27.1 per cent year-over-year, and average prices increased 10.5 per cent. Demand is up and there’s a housing shortage in the region. We expect to see similar cannabis industry-related growth in other regions, as well.”

Markets to watch include Windsor-Essex, where Aphria has set up shop in nearby Leamington and employs 1,000 people. The region saw September 2019 home sales increase 7.82 per cent and average prices rise 9.10 per cent year-over-year. In Atlantic Canada, the area surrounding Wentworth, NS will be of interest, where Breathing Green Solutions operates. Similarly, Atholville, NB is also experiencing a renaissance, thanks to Zenabis Global Inc., employing more than 420 people from the town and neighbouring communities ReMax says.

“The legal cannabis industry is already being credited with invigorating some lagging economies and as a result, those housing markets could soon see a flurry of activity,” Alexander adds.

While eastern Canada appears to be a hot spot for cannabis producers, and western Canada has some large-scale facilities, the west is seeing a much heavier influx of cannabis retailers compared to Ontario and Atlantic Canada. Calgary alone has more than 50 retail locations and Greater Vancouver has 23, whereas Toronto has only six. None of these markets have seen a meaningful impact on real estate activity or values. This is despite the results of a ReMax consumer survey, which found that 65 per cent of Canadians would not like to live near cannabis retail stores.

“It appears that there were a lot of anticipated reservations surrounding cannabis retail and the negative impacts on local property values that did not come to pass,” says Alexander. “We have not seen a decrease in home sales or prices that can be attributed to legal cannabis. In fact, the opposite may be true. As the retail footprint grows and diversifies into edibles and other formats, buyers and sellers may start to feel less resigned.”

A ReMax consumer survey found that two in 10 Canadians already live in proximity to a cannabis retailer, and 72 per cent of respondents say living near one is not a factor in their decision to move.

“The increasing number of retail cannabis stores in Calgary shows no signs of stopping, with city officials having approved more than 200 since legalization,” says Elton Ash, regional executive vice-president, ReMax of Western Canada. “The presence of more stores may influence how home buyers approach certain neighbourhoods.”

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The top 4 international property investment markets

The top 4 international property investment markets

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The top 4 international property investment markets

If you’re looking to invest in offshore real estate – that is, markets outside of North America – there are four key markets you should look at first.

Lief Simon, international real estate investor and co-founder of Live and Invest Overseas, says he’s all in on overseas markets. And he has shortlisted four countries to help build your investment portfolio and personal freedom plan.

Why? International property stands out more than ever among investment options because it is both a hard asset and one of the best opportunities for generating cash flow while building real, long-term, even legacy wealth.

What makes these countries star performers? He says they are the world’s best options for diversifying across markets, currencies and asset types for both value appreciation and cash flow of up to 17 per cent per year that can continue for decades. In some cases, you can invest with as little as US$35,000.

1. Panama

Rental apartments and agricultural opportunities are the two key target areas here. Panama City, where resale transactions have slowed, is and will continue to be a buyers’ market in the short term. This year is a chance to buy on a dip, because, long term, Simon remains very bullish on the Panama City rentals market.

Yields continue to be strong, though not as strong as they were a couple of years ago, primarily because rents have softened.

Argentine, Colombian, and Venezuelan buyers have helped to keep the Panama City market stable and growing over the last dozen years, while other markets in this region have struggled or even collapsed.

Today, North Americans and Europeans continue to invest, but it’s Panama’s new relationship with China Simon predicts will fuel this economy through its next stage of growth. Chinese are arriving in Panama in volume and bringing lots of investment capital with them, just like they did in Vancouver in the 1990s. He foresees spikes in property values to new levels.

The second big opportunity for making money from real estate in Panama in 2019 is productive land. This country’s interior is a fertile breadbasket. Individual investors can even participate in organic plantations for turnkey agro-profits.

2. Brazil

Brazil is a large country with many different property markets, some more interesting than others.

“I recommend focusing on the Fortaleza area,” Simon says. “This coastal region is a top destination among Brazilian tourists. Rentals targeting the local holiday market can earn better than eight per cent net yield reliably.”

The Brazilian real remains stable against the U.S. dollar (at around 4.09 reais to US$1) and has been historically weak relative to the rate of 1.6 reais to the dollar of a decade ago.

Good yields and a weak currency make this country a very strong buy.

3. Thailand

Thailand appeals primarily for its agriculture, but it also deserves attention for its strong economy and expanding tourism industry.

The challenge in Thailand is that restrictions are placed on how foreigners can own property. Foreigners are able to own land only on leasehold.

A foreigner can hold freehold title to the construction on the land, but, unless the house is portable, you might not take comfort from that. Foreigners are also permitted to own condos freehold as long as they don’t own more than 49 per cent of the total area of the condo building. For this reason, the condo market is where most foreign investors focus their attention. A condo is also cheaper and easier to manage as a rental than an individual property.

Bangkok was the number-one visited city in the world in 2017 and last year received more visitors than London or Paris. Again, that’s worth the attention of would-be property investors, says Simon.

4. Portugal

Property markets in Portugal have been on the move since 2015. Some neighborhoods in Lisbon, for example, are now priced beyond what Simon believes is reasonable for an investment property. Other areas of this city, however, continue to offer good value and opportunity, especially if you’re up for a renovation project.

In this, the fourth quarter of 2019, Simon recommends focusing on the lesser-visited areas along the country’s Algarve coast and the Porto region north of Lisbon. And in Portugal, it’s possible for a non-resident to obtain a mortgage for the purchase of a property.


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6 steps to becoming a successful landlord

6 steps to becoming a successful landlord

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6 steps to becoming a successful landlord

Buying a condo to rent out for investment purposes is a great idea. But, for many, especially first-timers, it’s much easier said than done. So many questions, tons of details and plenty that can go wrong.

This is exactly why many owner-investors turn to Del Condominium Rentals, one of the largest professional condo management firms in Canada, with a portfolio of more than 2,500 condos in more than 280 GTA communities.

With experience like that behind you, you’re one step closer toward your goal of becoming a successful rental condo landlord.

Here, then, are six important steps to get you started in hiring a professional condo management company.

1. The initial meeting

Find a reputable property management company – such as Del Condominium Rentals in Toronto – and schedule the first meeting with one of its associates.

In this meeting, it’s important to review the details of what the property management company can offer. Describe your property, share your plans for the property and your goals, and ask as many questions as you think of.

Your property manager should be able to help you make all the important decisions on when and how to proceed.

2. Sign an agreement

Once you have selected a professional property management company and discussed all the important details, it’s time to sign an agreement. This contract will detail everything you have agreed upon and is the last step before the firm gets to work on your behalf.

3. Market your property

In the first two steps, you’ve hammered out all of the details, and you and the property management company have been agreed on a contract. Now it’s time for them to begin marketing your property – to help it stand out from the crowd.

This is where a quality property management company shows its mettle. Using its experience in the industry, it can now list your property in places potential tenants will see it – and to now only find but also screen prospective tenants. Finding the right tenant can make or break the success of you investment condo.

4. Finding the perfect tenant

Once your condo is listed and the inquiries begin to flow in, the property manager will handle everything. They will go through all of the queries, and screen potential candidates to find the perfect tenant for you.

The firm will invite interested parties to view the condo, explain all its features and characteristics, and conduct these meetings like an interview process to get to know these potential tenants.

When a prospective tenant is serious enough, and the property manager is comfortable with them as your renter, they will perform a credit check and call their references. Are they a good fit? Will they show respect for your unit and treat it as their home? Does the property manager foresee any issues with the tenant being able to pay the rent? These are among the key questions your manager will navigate.

5. Signing the rental agreement

Once the property manager has performed all the above steps to their – and your – satisfaction, it’s time to sign the rental agreement.

Again, this is where the manager’s experience and expertise will show – having found a suitable tenant, and now creating a suitable rental agreement.

Importantly, the rental agreement is a legal document that should include everything to ensure your safety as the property owner. Remember what we said in Step 1? Ask lots of questions. If you don’t understand something, ask the manager to clarify.

And, of course, they will do the same when they review it with your tenant.

6. Tenants move in

If all five steps to this point are successful, it’s now time for your new tenants to move in. The property manager will get them settled and receive the key deposit and the first month’s rent.

After they move in, the property manager will perform routine checkups to see how things are going, as well as perform regular maintenance when needed. For any larger repairs that pop up, the property manager will handle those as well. This is again where their expertise will shine through – finding and working with credible service providers that may be needed, such as a plumber.

You won’t have to worry about a thing, but since this is your property and you are ultimately the boss, ask your property manager that you be kept in the loop, and that you receive a full report afterward.

Otherwise, sit back and watch the rent flow into your bank account, while your tenant helps pay down your mortgage and the value of the property grows.

It’s a win-win-win.

Ready to set up that initial meeting?

Del Condominium Rentals is awaiting your call, to help you complete these six important steps, so you can be well on your way to becoming successful rental condo landlord.

RELATED READING

Building or renting out a condo? Call Del Condominium Rentals

In Conversation With… Shanker Narayanan, Del Condominium Rentals


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The Davis Residences celebrates grand opening success in Newmarket

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The Davis Residences celebrates grand opening success in Newmarket

The Davis Residences at Bakerfield recently celebrated its official grand opening in Newmarket. The successful event attracted many excited potential homebuyers interested in discovering unprecedented modern urban condo living in Newmarket.

Excited crowds attend The Davis Residences’ official grand opening in Newmarket. Photo: Greg King

Rising 15 storeys, The Davis will be located on Parkside at Davis, in the heart of Uptown Newmarket’s urban centre. The Davis is the first phase of a 4.4-acre master-planned community that will consist of three towers rising above a beautifully landscaped courtyard and a new urban park. The residential community will boast approximately 500 new suites.

The Davis celebrates its official sales office grand opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Left to right: The Rose Corporation’s President Daniel Berholz; CEO Sam Reisman; Vice-President Andrew Webster; and Milborne Group’s Vice-President Brian Shew. Photo: Arthur Mola

Developed by The Rose Corporation, the modern condominium is designed by Toronto architecture firm RAW to meet LEED Silver requirements incorporating the latest in advanced energy-efficient building methods and materials. The building presents a sleek and sophisticated urban design with spacious, liveable suite layouts ranging from one- to three-bedroom configurations. The building will be surrounded by a communal 20,000 sq. ft. park with a children’s playground, which will help to enhance the public realm while at the same time provide a health-conscious and safe social space for local area residents.

Photo: Arthur Mola

The condominium will also feature outstanding indoor amenities, including a stunning designer lobby and modern lounge with a fireplace and gallery; state-of-the-art fitness centre and yoga studio; elegantly-appointed party room with kitchen; furnished guest suites; kids play room; landscaped rooftop terrace; pet spa and bike racks for those who intend to explore the many attached local bike trails.

The Davis’ future residents will be in the heart of it all placing them walking distance to a wealth of boutique shops, restaurants, galleries and local services along Main St. Centrally located along a VIVA Rapidway route, just steps to Newmarket GO station, and close to Hwys. 404 and 400, The Davis will be at the heart of this emerging region that is naturally poised for a residential density boost.

The elegant one- to three-bedroom condo residences are priced from the $400’s to more than $600,000.

For more information register at thedaviscondos.com. Those interested in ownership opportunities at The Davis should email sales@thedaviscondos.com, call 905.235.9200 or visit the sales office at 693 Davis Dr., Newmarket. Hours are Monday to Thursday, 1 to 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

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