A relative has died in another city and I’m the executor. What do I do?

I was asked this question on Twitter recently and thought it was a good one to dedicate a blog post to. My parents have already passed away, but lots of people my age are finding themselves having to deal with a family member’s property, and often they lived in another city or province. It can be overwhelming trying to figure out how to go about selling a home when you don’t live nearby, and even more so if the property needs to be emptied.

First of all, you need to be the executor of the will to list the property for sale, or have a court appointment. You can’t just go in and start removing items or listing things for sale when you’re not the owner. This applies even if you are the sole beneficiary. So be sure to get legal advice if you’re not sure what this means: it’s more complicated if there is no will at all and if your family member died intestate. But assuming you have the legal authority to act, there are ways to make the process less stressful.

There are financial institutions like TD Wealth that have estate divisions that can help you. I have worked with their trust officers many times; they are terrific. They can pretty much take care of everything for you. They will go into the house, check for the tax returns and financial statements and monthly bills so that bills are paid and estate returns are filed. If there is a house full of contents to clear, they can arrange for that to happen too.

Here in Ottawa, the two trust officers I’ve worked with most closely (Heather Richardson and Dilia Ayotte-Mayost) usually arrange for an inventory to be taken of furniture by a local company  that specializes in this kind of thing  (they most often use MacLean and Associates) to determine what is of value and should be sold at auction and what should be disposed of or donated. MacLean and Associates are auctioneers and appraisers and deal with a lot of estates: they are excellent.

Sometimes a “remove junk” company is called in to take things away if MacLeans is too busy. These companies are amazing though: in a matter of days, they can clear even a hoarder’s house.

It is usually one of the TD trust officers who contacts me to ask for a letter of opinion of the value of the property; they also get an independent appraisal done. That sets the parameters for what price the property should be listed at. Once again, they can take care of all the steps required to get the house on the market, and depending on whether they are advising the beneficiaries, or acting directly under a delegated authority from the estate, they can select a realtor and sign the listing paperwork too. Working with beneficiaries every step of the way, they look after everything that is needed from managing insurance (insurance can lapse if a property is vacant for more than six months), arranging for the home to be checked daily, changing locks etc.

Sometimes, they have asked me to find trades to fix things that are broken or that might impede a sale; for example, getting an electrician in to pigtail aluminum wiring so that we won’t run into issues with buyers getting insurance. We often paint the property and do small things, like install new lighting, to make sure the property shows at its best.

I am not sure what their fee arrangements are, but I do know that TD has offices everywhere, so that’s where I’d start: I have found their trust officers to be professional, dedicated, and a pleasure to work with. The two trust officers I mentioned, Heather and Dilia,  travel to different parts of Ontario too, even though they are Ottawa-based: I know they handle business around  Kingston and North Bay and go as far north as Thunder Bay on occasion.

Feel free to contact me for details on how to reach them.


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Buying an investment property – what’s involved?

We have a hot, hot, hot rental market in Ottawa, so a lot of people are turning their minds to investing. Rents are high; so is demand. What’s involved in buying an investment property? Well, that depends on how many units, what type of property, and how much money you have. (I’ve blogged before with tips on  how to find and keep good quality tenants  and how to identify a great prospect so I won’t repeat myself: you can find those links here):



This is a complicated topic, so all I can do is give some general advice.

If you don’t plan on making an all cash offer, you will have to get financing. In most situations, the lender will want an appraisal to make sure the property is worth what you have offered but also to find out what the fair market value of rent would be from the property. The appraisal and financing are two of the clauses we would write into a deal as “conditions” to be satisfied before the deal firms up. That way, if there are any issues, you can back out and get your deposit back. (There can be other conditions too. We might also want an inspection as one of the conditions, or a WETT inspection for a wood burning fireplace. We may want a fire retrofit inspection as a condition if the property is a duplex; each deal has individualized clauses.)

Investors have different reasons for investing. I am working with a client right now who bought her investment property because she thought the underlying value of properties in the area would go up. It has: now she is ready to sell. So for her, the amount of rent she would get from the unit was less important than where she bought. I have other clients currently who bought a unit to use as a principal residence down the road. For them as well, having a great tenant who would care for the property was more important than the amount of rent they would get for it.

But in both cases, they had to get financing, and when you are financing an investment property, you need to have at least 20% in cash to put towards the purchase (the “down payment”). Some alternative lenders will let you use 15% but they will charge higher interest rates and often have stiff penalties.

You will need to figure out your ROI, or return on investment when you start looking around to see if the property you’re interested in is worth it. This requires taking into account the costs of purchase, including the costs of financing, the carrying costs, annual costs, and rents. I’ve  blogged about how to calculate the ROI so I won’t repeat it: here’s the link.


I personally won’t invest unless I am getting a minimum of 5% ROI on a hundred per cent cash purchase because I can do better elsewhere. I’m getting 5.6% on one investment and 7.2% on another, and the underlying value of my investments is going way up each year. I have great tenants who look after my properties as if they were their own, so I’m happy.

Anyway, let’s assume you have your financing in place and you are only looking for one rental property with one set of tenants and you have a budget in mind and a good idea of what to expect in terms of net rent and ROI. (Life is more complicated for financing when you get into triplexes or fourplexes; I will blog about those later).

You first have to decide whether you want to buy a freehold property, eg. a townhouse,  or a condo property, like a townhouse or apartment.

If you buy a freehold property, you are going to have to act as your own property manager or hire someone to do this. Expect to pay about 10% of rent for this service.

By contrast, in an apartment style condo building the condo corporation hires property managers who take care of much of this. There will be a set of condo rules governing things like where the tenants are to put garbage, noise restrictions, pet restrictions etc. I personally prefer to invest in a good, well-run condo because while I have to pay monthly condo fees, the property management company takes care of a lot of things I would otherwise have to be concerned with.

If you go with a freehold townhouse or detached house, you will be responsible for exterior maintenance and repairs. If you buy a condo, most of these are covered by the condo corporation, depending on the complex: there are no blanket rules when it comes to condos; each is a little different. Who is going to mow the lawn in a freehold – you or the tenants? Who will handle snow removal? These are things that are handled by the condo usually, so that’s another chore I don’t have to worry about not getting done, or not getting done properly, by investing in a condo instead of freehold.

Whether you buy freehold or a condo, in each case, you will be required to deal with interior maintenance like leaky dishwashers, toilet leaks, broken appliances, electrical issues inside the unit, etc., so make sure you have a roster of good plumbers and electricians who are able to fix things quickly. (Once you find a tenant, if it is a condo, be sure to take out landlord’s insurance on top of the condo insurance. In both cases, be sure to require that your tenants carry liability insurance and insurance over tenant’s belongings including coverage for water damage: that’s important.)

When you find a property you like, if it’s tenanted, you cannot remove the tenant even if you think the rent is too low. You have to take the property subject to the tenancy, whether the tenant is month-to-month or on lease. So make sure you know what the terms of the existing tenancy are and what the current rent is, because you will be stuck with that rent with only modest annual increases (as set by the province) until the tenant decides they are ready to leave. If it’s a lease, you will want to have a copy of the lease. These are things your realtor can make sure are provided as part of the deal.

If the rent is too low, you may never get to fair market value for rents: that tenant may decide they want to stay forever because they have such a great deal.

The only way you can terminate the tenancy is if you plan to occupy the property or if a member of your immediate family wants to move in. So don’t think you can buy an investment property, get rid of the existing tenants, and/or increase the rent: that’s not going to happen (and if it does, and you get caught, the penalties are huge).

I think the posts I’ve linked to have most of my tips on what else you need, but feel free to reach out if you have any questions! Investing in a rental property can be a great experience or a horrible one. My experience (I’ve owned three investment properties) has been terrific and it’s great to have that passive income, but you need to know what you are doing. I hear horror stories of people who waded in to the rental market and have had nothing but trouble. And as I mentioned, it gets much more complicated the more units are involved. Talk to a realtor!




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President’s Gold Award, 2019!

Super happy to announce that I was awarded President’s Gold for 2019! It was a tough year with inventory so low throughout the year, so this one really meant something. A big shout-out to all my wonderful clients for making it happen!

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Best Real Estate Bloopers of 2019!

As always, 2019 saw a bumper crop of bloopers. Here are the best of the bunch!

Homes came with a lot of moving parts this year: “The single garage drives right into the lower level.” And this one, in “clean and moving condition.” In one listing blooper, I wondered how you’d even find the house: “Thoroughly removed in 2018.”

Some howlers this year involved unwanted neighbours, like this one that came “With north east exposer.” Or this one: “landlord controls thermostat and must be included in rent.” Like seriously: find your own place.

There was this unintentional giggle: “Geo Warehouse shows [name] as one of the owners, however, she has passed away and will be removed at time of closing.” Thank God.

Speaking of the dearly departed, there was this gem: “Home has been almost totally renovated … widows, flooring, wiring. ” And this one: “New roof (2018), New Widows (2011)”

One of my all time favourites was this blooper, found in  salesperson remarks:  “Seller not present but can be turned on for building inspections.” Made me wonder if the seller was the north east exposer.

Speaking of building inspections, I came across this reference in a home inspection uploaded to the MLS listing as an attachment: “”Noticeable slop on second floor balcony.” Good for pigs!

When it came to farm animals, as usual, I saw a lot of fowl (word)play in listings,  like this one that featured a“NEW natural gas furnace including all duck work. ”  Poor overworked ducks.

Then there was this listing with a  “Large duck in the rear for entertaining.” (Years ago, when I was writing the blooper column for REM Magazine, a Vancouver agent sent me a listing for a property with a “large d*ck in the rear” which I thought was quite a selling point.)

When it comes to entertaining, this new listing made me laugh out loud: “Big deck and storage shed perfect for your friends and family!” (Reading listings is like watching an episode of 90 Day Fiance sometimes, with poor old Syngin stuck in the converted She-Shed while Tania goes off to Costa Rica to become a witch doctor. But I digress.)

Back yards are important features to buyers and realtors took the opportunity to highlight them. As in this unintentional gem:  “Kitchen overlooks backyard with lots of cupboard space.” It’s always good to have extra storage outside, and I’m sure the family members and friends living in that storage shed will really appreciate it. As would Syngin.

This listing could offer a solution to the storage problem: “comes with fish stacked private pods.”

A colleague listed a property ” with beautiful curve appeal, ” which I confess does seem quite enticing.

This listing made me snort:  “Don’t forget to check out the laundry shoot.” Or how about this one? “Beautiful all brick 3 bedroom bungalow on a raving lot.” I dunno about that. It just seems like there could be a lot of tension.

One of my favourite bloopers of 2019 was: “Galley kitchen resigned in 2003.”I can just see it: “ I’ve had enough being shot at by the goddamn laundry, that lot is nuts,  cook your own damn lunch, I’m outta here.”

The sellers clearly struggled to get their house ready for sale:  “freshly pained & move in ready!” I much preferred this seller’s approach to painting: “Mostly freshly pinted.” That’s my idea of renos: a paint brush and a nice cold beer.

Then there was this new listing with a “specious kitchen,” which I thought was a little misleading. Baddaboom.

One listing featured a home with “plenty of natural lightening,” which could make it hard to insure.  I suspect  insurance companies would love this feature, though: “thermo plane windows throughout.” A little over-built perhaps.

Bathrooms sell houses, although I’m not sure the “hummus type toilet” in a cottage listing was much of a selling point unless you really love Lebanese food.

This new listing was “within waking distance of many amenities.” I sure hope those amenities included a coffee shop.

There were other typos in listings that made me laugh this year, like this  personal favourite: a listing with an  “elevator for sinvenience.” I don’t even want to know the Freudian slip behind that one, but it reminded me of another listing indicating that the lockbox was “located in the connivence store.”

This one concerned me a little when it came to privacy: “”stunning views overlooking waterfront and 1.5 bathrooms.”

I had two big favourites in 2019. As a negotiator trained at Harvard (I used to teach Negotiation Skills at Queens), I had to hand it to this seller: “Seller will also negotiate with the lawn tractor and snow blower.” Well done, sir. I couldn’t do that myself.

But my all time favourite was this one: “Overgrown vegetarian needs to be cut back!”At the end of 2019, with all that food we consumed over the holidays, don’t we all? Happy New Year!!!

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#SockittoChristmas Drop off Locations!

It’s the third annual Sock it to Christmas sock drive! We have five drop off bins in Ottawa this year. These are located as follows:

Royal LePage Team Realty, at 1335 Carling, Suite 200 (my office!)

Royal LePage Team Realty, 3101 Strandherd Drive, Barrhaven

Catherine McKenna’s constituency office, 107 Catherine Street (downtown)

St. James Anglican Church (Bank and Leitrim), and

Churchill Seniors Recreation Centre, Richmond Road (enter from Churchill).

I took this picture of the bin at my office on Sunday: it’s almost full now!

We can only accept new socks but we encourage donors to consider donating women’s and children’s socks as well as men’s socks. The men’s socks will go to the Ottawa Mission. Women’s and children’s socks will go to the Parkdale Food Centre Soup and Socks program.

If you drop off a donation at my office (200, 1335 Carling), your name will be entered in a draw for this fabulous gift basket, donated by Proof Strategies, and for a framed photograph by local photographer, Nancy Mooney (best known on Twitter as @NancyFromCanada!).

nancy photograph for socks.jpg

Last year we collected almost 2100 pairs of socks – so help us give the gift of warm this year and Sock it to Christmas!

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Christmas Dessert Recipes! #TriedandTrue

So, every year I have a Christmas tree decorating party for a small group of clients, colleagues and friends. My last post was about some of the appetizers and entrees I’ll be serving at this year’s. But after those are done, what about dessert?

I’ll have about 20 people coming, so I like to make quite a lot of cookies and squares. First of all, I think the Christmas buffet table should look like a dinner scene at Hogwarts in a Harry Potter movie, almost groaning with the weight of delicious things to eat.  Secondly, if there’s anything left over, which does happen, I can box it up in pretty Christmas boxes and tissue the next day and drop it off at the homes of those who couldn’t make it, or as client pop-by gifts.

The key, I’ve found, is variety — I always make decorated gingerbread and sugar cookies, but also classic squares. And because I’m busy, I’m happy to take shortcuts!

One of those shortcuts is that I buy oatmeal cookie mixes (the type where you only add water), then add nuts, chocolate chips and raisins or dried cranberries and bake them according to the directions on the package. You can see these mid-left in the platter below;they are failproof and fast. I can have these in the oven while I’m working on something else.

This year, I made sugar cookies and gingerbread, and decorated them, but since I have no patience when it comes to making Royal icing, I buy the pre-made icing in tubes from SuperStore. This is the type where you can screw on the tip you want to use, which makes things a lot easier!

Not shown are the polar bears and moose because my idiot dog managed to get at the platter and ate a whole dozen of them! They were so finicky to make (because of legs and ears that so often break off) that I decided to heck with it – I don’t have the patience to make them again this year. Next year! But here are the cutters I use – they’re pretty cute. I ordered them online from a company in the U.S. and they are great.

The shortbread cookies (shown below) are based on two recipes that were shared with me by a couple of Twitter pals, Jill Skinner and Bill Oates. The two recipes are very similar. Bill’s is as follows:

1 C butter

3/4 C icing sugar

1/2 tsp. Vanilla

1-1/2 C Flour

1/2 C Corn Starch

Roll out onto plastic wrap to 1/4″ thick and refrigerate for 30 mins. Bake at 300 for 20 mins.

And Jill’s receipe is as follow:

I went for a little more flour, as per Bill’s recipe, so that the dough was a bit stiffer, because I wanted to use a press to make the design. but I used a little less icing sugar (as per Jill’s).

Before baking, I used a press to put a snowflake design on each one. These are sold at HomeSense, Southgate Mall, for about $6 and make a great stocking stuffer! I bought a bunch of them and am giving them to clients as gifts. Now I wish I’d bought them all!

Just make sure the dough has been refrigerated before you use the press as if the dough is too soft,  the press will stick and tear the cookie.

I also made mini butter tarts from a fabulous recipe given to me by another Twitter pal, Mike Vlasic, who says it was his grandmother’s. This may be my favourite new dessert recipe. Foolproof and delicious!

I used Tenderflake mini-tart shells (they come in packages of 18) and because I didn’t have corn syrup on hand, I used maple syrup instead. You can put raisins or currants in; these ones have currants. These are delicious little bites — absolutely lovely!

Another super simple recipe is for white chocolate pistachio cranberry bark. You melt two bags of white chocolate over low heat, then add dried cranberries and shelled pistachios and spread it on wax paper, then pop it in the fridge. When it’s solid again, break it up into pieces. (Photo courtesy of the Brown Eyed Baker, who gives actual measurements in their recipe!)

The two squares I made both have Kraft mini-marshmallows in them: classic Rice Krispie squares, with the white mini-marshmallows, and butterscotch confetti squares, with the coloured ones. And yes, I dyed the classic Rice Krispie squares green, to be festive! Those are the Butterscotch Confetti squares below – these are a real sugar hit, so make sure to cut them into small squares.

The Butterscotch Confetti square recipe (picture above) comes from my friend and fellow boxer,  Heather,  who posted it on Facebook. (As you can see, I rely on social media  a lot for ideas when I’m baking!)

1 cup butterscotch chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup hard butter
8 ounces coloured mini marshmallows

1 Heat the butterscotch chips, peanut butter, and butter.
2 Stir until smooth. Watch it; peanut butter burns quickly!
3 Cool a wee bit.
4 Stir in marshmallows.
5 Pat into a greased 8×8-inch pan and chill.
6 Cut into squares.


The Rice Krispie squares recipe is the same one on the box:  3 tbsp of butter, melted together with 4 cups of mini-marshmallows in a sauce pan on low heat; then stir in 6 cups of Rice Krispies.

The only difference is that I add one tsp of vanilla and a few drops of green food dye for colour. (I have tried using red dye but it just ends up pink). I also use an 8 x 8″ pan instead of a 9 x 13″ pan, so the squares are nice and dense and I press them down using a layer of wax paper and a meat tenderizer to push them down flat. (Useful tip: To clean the saucepan, just heat some water in it and all the sticky parts will release without scrubbing.) I’ll cut these into squares just before the party.

I’m making only *one* cake – the easiest and tastiest one I know of — a Fruit Cocktail cake. You mix, in one bowl, 2 c flour, 1 c sugar, 2 tsps baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 lightly beaten eggs and one 14 oz can of fruit cocktail plus liquid. You can bake this in a Bundt pan or a 9 x 13″ baking pan, greased. Bake for at least 45  minutes at 350C — I find it usually takes closer to an hour. It should be dark brown, and pull away from the edges.


I let this one cool before flipping it out of the pan. (Use a butter knife to loosen it around the edges first, but it should come out smoothly.)

bundt 2

Just before serving I will pour a caramel sauce over the top: also super easy. It’s brown sugar, butter, and cream, heated to just bubbling in a saucepan. Might add a little brandy or rum. Either way, it’s simple and delicious!

And finally, I’ll have a fruitcake (store bought) plus a cheese plate and crackers. My friend, Viola, who goes back over 40 years with me (we lived in the same residence at Mount A in the early 70s) is going to bring some assorted cheeses with her, and fresh grapes.

This should be great! I’ve asked my guests to bring an ornament for the tree and some socks to donate to the Sock it to Christmas! sock drive, plus whatever they want to drink. I’ll do the rest!



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Christmas Party recipes! #TriedAndTrue

I hold a Christmas tree decorating party every year: I invite colleagues and friends and clients. I supply the food; I ask that they bring whatever they would like to drink and an ornament for the tree. It’s a buffet style meal. I thought I’d share some of my recipes!

For appetizers, I take a sheet of puff pastry and score it into squares, put a dollop of fig jam on top, then a slice of proscuitto, sliced shallots, and a layer of smoked or plain gouda. Top with a sprig of thyme and bake as per the puff pastry instructions. Delicious! (Adapted from a Donna Hay recipe, photo credit Style at Home.)

I also make a red onion marmalade to top Brie or Camembert on sliced baguette. For the marmalade, slice red onion finely and saute with garlic in olive oil until carmelized. Add  Balsamic vinegar, maple syrup or honey, a dash of Worcestershire sauce,  and lime juice,  and cook down until it thickens. Put a teaspoon or so on a slice of cheese on baguette slices and broil until bubbling. This is similar to a recipe for onion jam from Diverse Dinners (see their pic below) except I broil the topped baguette slices.

For entrees, salmon is always a favourite. I marinate mine overnight in a mixture of gin, molasses, garlic cloves, brown sugar, soya sauce, and lots of salt. The gin is the secret – it adds that tang of juniper berries that works so well with salmon. I bake it in a 375F oven for about 15 minutes. Do *not* let the edges turn white – better to undercook than overcook it! (Photo credit: Well Plated by Erin).

Meatballs are easy and delicious too. last year, one of my guests said they were the best ones he’d ever had. I make mine out of ground beef and pork mixed with bread soaked in milk and bake them in the oven until just cooked. For a sauce, I use cream of mushroom soup thinned with milk and add soya sauce and Worcestershire sauce to taste and then add the meatballs and simmer on low until it’s time to serve. This is another big favourite! (Photo credit: Campbells Soup: Swedish Meatballs)

The easiest dish to make is also the one I get asked for the recipe the most. I mix cooked shrimp with sliced red onion and slices of avocado, dressed with lime juice. That’s it! Colourful, bright and healthy, and it only takes seconds.

For a vegetable side dish, one of my new favourites is a recipe I tried this weekend. Slice Brussels sprouts thinly, then sautee in butter. Add maple syrup and lemon juice cook until they caramelize, then top with fried proscuitto. I’m sure bacon or pancetta would work too! I couldn’t get enough of this one — it’s terrific. Re-heats well too.

Another dish I’ve made is one that is based on a salad I had in Picton. I have had to figure out the ingredients from that tasting but I think it’s pretty close. It’s a very pretty salad, because it’s made of orzo and beets, and the beets stain the orzo red.

So: cook beets and peel; cook orzo. Meanwhile, sautee red onions with carrots sliced very thin. When everything is done, mix it together; toss in a handful of sliced black olives and a lot of parmesan cheese (about 1/2 c for every 2 cups of orso/beets) drizzle with red wine vinegar. You can serve this cold, warm or hot: it’s lovely!

I’ll share some of my dessert items with you later this week!


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