What is the Beckwith Plume?

Until I got into real estate, I had never heard of the Beckwith Plume, and then I saw it mentioned in a listing. That got me doing a little research. What I found out came as a  surprise. I’ve lived in Ottawa since 1990 and I had never heard of it.

The Beckwith Plume is a 45 square kilometre area of contaminated groundwater running from Carleton Place to Black’s Corners.

Trichloroethylene (TCE), a volatile compound used in metal degreasing, was detected in private wells in Black’s Corners in March, 2000 after extensive testing was conducted for a development proposal. TCE is designated as a  “toxic substance” under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and is considered  carcinogenic. Vinyl chloride, another toxin linked to kidney and liver damage, and TCE degraded compounds were also detected in the water.

Over 250 households and businesses, as well as a public school fell within the contaminated area, which became known as the Beckwith Plume.  The chemicals  are believed to have leached into groundwater from  a former landfill site and a privately owned scrap yard on Tenth Line Road. This private dump had accepted waste from the Town of Carleton Place and Beckwith Township between 1966 and 1973. (In 1998, a private well had tested positive for TCE but that was wrongly assumed to be an isolated incident.)

Primarily due to jurisdictional issues over who would have to pay, it was several years before a concerted strategy was developed to ensure the affected residents had potable water. Individual water treatment systems were installed in homes within the area starting in 2008, but these were done voluntarily. Periodic monitoring is still required to determine to determine when the filters  in these systems need to be replaced and to confirm that water meets the  Ontario Safe Drinking Water Standard.

The Ontario government also conducts an annual groundwater sampling program of the plume boundary. Their most recent report ndicates,“The volatile organic compound plume condition is best described as steady state (not shrinking, not expanding). So, while some but not all homes have treatment systems, the contamination remains, not getting worse, but not getting better either.

Here’s a map of the Beckwith Plume area:

Contaminated groundwater is a latent defect that should be disclosed by the sellers, but I have found that disclosure is not always forthcoming. Sometimes the sellers don’t know, or haven’t informed their agent. I was surprised when I threw out a call on social media to discover that most people had never heard of the Beckwith Plume and had no idea what the term meant.

If you are thinking of buying a house within the Beckwith Plume area, make sure to find out if the sellers have installed the necessary treatment equipment and if those systems have been monitored regularly.  Tests for TCE are not part of standard well water testing, which was why it took so long to discover the Beckwith Plume. Do not in any circumstances buy a home in this area without first verifying the potability of the water. Be sure to get a well water inspection; this is not a condition to waive for sure. Buyer beware!

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SOLD FIRM!!!! Beautiful new listing – 1819 Lorraine Avenue!

I have just listed a four bedroom hi-ranch bungalow  in Guildwood Estates within the Canterbury School catchment area, close to Herongate Mall and CHEO. The address is 1819 Lorraine Avenue, MLS 1173155 and it is listed for $ 449,900.00 with offers to be presented on Wednesday at 7PM. The identical property in original condition with no garage, no fireplace, and an oil furnace sold for $ 465,500 just last week so this is great value!

The kitchen and the main bath have been recently and tastefully updated and the owners have kept the home extremely well maintained with new A/C, new interlock, and a number of  other updates (see me for details).  The open concept living and dining room has a gorgeous wood burning fireplace. Three bedrooms are on the main level, and one is in the lower level, which also has a huge rec room and a two piece bath.

Here are some pictures of this lovely home, and thanks to Eric Ritterath from my office for helping me to stage it!


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My favourite condo townhouses in Ottawa for under $ 400K

Right now, if you have a budget under $ 400K, it’s hard to find a freehold townhouse. But you can find a beautiful condo townhouse (often called a “row unit”)  in a beautifully managed complex for well under $ 400K. Generally, you will get a lot more bang for your buck in terms of space. Your lawyer can tell you if there are any red flags and what is included in the condo fees (this varies from complex to complex).

Some of my favourite condo townhouses are as follows (I’ve bought and sold in all of them):

Esterlawn Private, near Carlingwood. Great location, just off Fairlawn, steps to shopping. These three bedroom condo townhouses have single garages, small private back yards, and there is a child’s playground in the centre of the complex. Many have finished basements. The condo fees cover almost all  exterior maintenance. These units have jumped in price over the last year or two from well below $ 300K up to almost $ 400K and they get snapped up fast because of the location.

3205 Uplands Drive, Hunt Club. These are huge three bedroom units with big basements. They have single garages and most have decks that open off the second bedroom. Some of the units back onto protected greenspace and they all have private back yards. They are currently selling in the low $300K range. The condo corporation does not cover much in terms of exterior maintenance but has been taking on more responsibility in recent years, so be sure to check with your lawyer to see what’s in and what’s out.

Monterey Drive, Leslie Park.  This is NOT a condo townhouse complex (the units were converted to freehold some years back) but is located close to the Queensway Carleton Hospital, and IKEA, just south of Baseline Road. These are two to three bedroom units that are very spacious with large eat-in kitchens and patio doors to the private back yards. Sometimes they have surface parking right in front and sometimes it is off to the side. Occasionally a unit with two parking spots will pop up. They have large basements.  There is an association fee than ranges from around $ 100 to $ 150/month for snow removal, grass cutting and parking lot maintenance. These units  have rapidly increased in value — they used to sell in the mid-$ 200Ks a few years ago but are now selling for well over $ 300K . Even so, these are great value.

Nuggett Drive, Orleans. These are condo townhouses with extremely low condo fees in a nice quiet part of town close to shopping and parks. The condo corporation does not cover exterior maintenance. The units are quite large with fenced backyards and single garages. These can vary in terms of interior finishes, and some had foundation issues that the condo corporation has taken responsibility for addressing (although that responsibility is time-limited: contact your lawyer for details). They are selling in the mid to high $ 200K range right now.

Briston Private, Hunt Club, near Conroy Pit. These are not technically row units but stacked condo units. All the units on Briston Private are two levels but there are newer ones that have forced air furnaces/ natural gas heating and central air (as opposed to baseboard heating in the other units in this complex). They are much larger than the others and feel more like townhouses. Parking is out front and there is a ton of visitor parking. The condo corporation handles all exterior maintenance, right down to eavestroughs and front railings. All have separate family rooms with gas fireplaces as well as eat-in kitchens and living rooms. The lower units have access to a small unfenced but private yard where BBQs are allowed. The most recent sale was over $ 300K.

There are pros and cons to buying a condo vs. buying a freehold but these are complexes I always keep an eye out because they are such great value. Happy to answer your questions!






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Cala Custom Woodworks – and some suggestions for Christmas!

Yes, I know: the Hallowe’en decorations aren’t even up yet and here I am talking about Christmas. But that’s because I ran into a really nice bunch of people in Stittsville making some great products that are perfect for gift giving.

Cala Custom Woodworking does a whole range of things, from custom cabinetry to building porches, to renovations, but they also have a laser cutter that allows them to make amazing 3D puzzles and etched woodwork.

Here’s a little train they had just made today when I dropped by: it’s only around 3″ but it’s lovely — check out the tiny little wreath! (Apparently there will be other cars as well.) Isn’t it charming?

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These are 3D puzzles – aren’t they amazing? Perfect gifts  any time of year! (I know exactly who I would give that unicorn to!)



Or how about a little Christmas tree? These are about 5″ high, and completely adorable. (They even have one that comes with a tiny little red bird.)

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And then there are the customized Christmas ornaments. You can have one laser cut with someone’s name, or give them a photograph and look what they can do!

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They also make charcuterie boards.

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And finally, on the home renovation front, they have made this gorgeous laminate door – I definitely want one in my next project!

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This is a very friendly little showroom with lots of wonderful stuff to browse, so drop on by and say hi to Felicia, Paul, Antonio and Kyle!

1564 Stittsville Main Street

Tel: 613-836-8192

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Why is the Ottawa real estate market so hot right now?

I’m reblogging this because the correlation  between the mortgage stress test and higher house prices in Ottawa is pretty clear now. The stress test was introduced in October 2017 to first time buyers and was extended to all buyers in January 2018. Here’s the Home Price Index for that time period:

Kiss and Sell

The Ottawa real estate market has always kind of marched to the beat of its own drummer. We are insulated from the highs and lows of markets like Toronto and Vancouver because of the steady presence of the public service, universities and increasingly, the high tech sector. But the difference between the Ottawa market and those markets is stunning right now: while Toronto and Vancouver house sales are down – Ottawa’s are up. Wayyy up.

I had a fixer-upper on the market two weeks ago: we had fifty showings (50!!!) in two days and 16 offers. (I believe that’s an office record but one that, in this market, will soon be beat.) It sold for $ 40K over asking, firm, no home inspection, no financing clause. And we’re seeing more and more of those. Almost nothing is selling without multiple offers. Buyers are getting frustrated as they lose out on…

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Dealing with Difficult Condo Boards

A friend of mine wants to know how to deal with condo boards. The question itself implies that he isn’t happy with his own board, so I’m going to assume that his board is difficult.

This is a common complaint, and it doesn’t seem to manage how big or small the condo building is. There are often issues that arise that are frustrating for owners who feel the board isn’t listening to their concerns. I’ll address a couple of common scenarios and what you might do to address them.

I have a friend who lives in a condo where a number of the row units experienced seepage a few years ago. The condo board brought in an expert who came up with a very expensive quote that would have seen owners paying a huge special assessment. She didn’t know what to do and was getting pretty stressed out. I suggested she get a second opinion and gave her the names of two experts I highly recommended.

One of them, Chris de la Roche from Ardel Concrete, came up with a much less expensive option. When it was presented to the board, the board agreed that was the way to go. The unit owners still will have to pay a special assessment but it will be about half what they expected. So that’s one way of dealing with things: provide them with good information to help make their jobs easier.

I have often heard of condo boards where the members have lived in the complex for years, are getting on in age (and are often on fixed incomes) and don’t want to raise condo fees to pay for necessary repairs. Of course, this kind of short term thinking makes no sense at all. When things get neglected, the cost of fixing them later on is much higher and if the reserve fund isn’t large enough to cover them because of low condo fees, there will have to be special assessments.

I’ve seen condo complexes hit with $20-75K in special assessments because of this kind of attitude. Eventually, the piper has to be paid and sometimes the piper doesn’t give you much time to come up with the money.

This is a much tougher problem to solve. Meetings are usually closed (except for the Annual General Meetings) so you may not know which board members are being recalcitrant. I’ve learned over the years that people don’t change much, so unless you can get broad support from other board members to act, you may be stuck.

You can try to get on the condo board yourself but that means taking on a huge amount of work, and you may well be out-numbered when it comes to votes anyway. (I’ve seen many situations where clients sat on condo boards and quit out of frustration because they couldn’t get anything done.) You can try to requisition a meeting to have problem board members, or even the entire board replaced, but that requires support of your fellow unit owners. Changing a board is not easy, and these people are also your neighbours.

The best advice I can give in this situation is to do your due diligence  up front before you buy. Make sure you get a status certificate review done by your lawyer and that you understand what’s in it.  A good lawyer can flag concerns with reserve funds, engineering studies and pending issues, before you complete the deal and since we make the deal conditional on these clauses, that means you can get out if you’re not 100% satisfied. Ask lots of questions!Ask your realtor if they are aware of any problems.  Most of us know which property managers are good and which ones have less stellar reputations. A good board will have a good property management company working with them: that’s the first step, although even a great property management company will have problems if the board won’t accept their advice.

But if you have purchased and you are having problems with the board, be sure to read the bylaws and other documents, and know your rights.

If you are in a condo high rise, you are living in a vertical village. Noise, garbage, pets, pot, shared laundries where people don’t unload their wet clothes — other people live in your backyard and your front yard and now they’re in the attic too. The condo rules should spell out how these things are to be managed to minimize friction. There’s no point overloading your condo board members with these kinds of complaints: contact the property management company instead. It’s their job to resolve them. If they don’t, then you can complain to the board. Property management companies can be replaced, are replaced all the time if they aren’t doing a good job.

If the issue is larger, however, like my friend with the leaky basement, you may need legal or expert advice. If you absolutely can’t resolve things, and it’s affecting your quality of life, you may have to sell. A special assessment will make it harder; no question about it.

A well run condo board with a good property management company providing support and operational services is terrific. A poorly run one can be a nightmare and worse, it can devalue your property. Condo life isn’t for everyone. Sometimes we have to cut our losses and move on. The best way to avoid that situation is find out as much as you can about the condo board management before you firm up the deal.



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How does LRT affect property values?

A Twitter pal asks: “How much do you think proximity to LRT stations will affect prices in the short and long terms?” Great question!

The answer depends on the proximity of the property to the new station during and after construction, whether the neighbourhood is wealthier or poor, and also what the city plans to do in terms of housing policy near the new LRT stations.

Let’s deal with proximity first.

If your home is 500- 800 metres (800 metres is roughly half a mile) from an LRT station, your property’s value is likely to go up by quite a bit (the studies show a range from around 11% to 99% so it’s hard to predict exactly what the increase would be. My guess is 25-30%). Further than that, and it’s unaffected.

But at 400 metres or less, paradoxically, prices actually decrease, according to a BC report done by Real Estate Intelligence. And at 275 metres, the drop can be quite significant, according to US studies.  That’s due to issues around noise, crowds, and an increase in petty crime. However, even with that range,  properties in wealthy neighbourhoods see an increase in property values: the declines are more likely to impact already poorer areas. 

In the short term, close proximity to construction can depress values due to uncertainty about noise, traffic disruption during the construction phase, underground excavation and tunnelling, and so on.  The studies I read don’t examine the impact on condo prices, but I suspect those go up after the construction is over even if the buildings are within 275 metres of a light rail station, due to the greater number of residents and the sheer convenience of having public transit at the door.  

In Ottawa, realtors began advertising proximity to the LRT as part of the listings as soon as the locations of the substations were identified.

But as you can see, the impact on prices depends on a variety of factors: how close your property is to the new station during and after construction,  the type of property, and whether you live in a wealthy neighbourhood or a poor one.

There is one other consideration worth mentioning. Ottawa has announced that community housing will be built close to the new LRT stations as part of its intensification policy.  That could be a neutral or it could depress prices of nearby properties during and after construction. We just don’t have enough information yet  about size and location of these units to know.


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