Why maintain my house if a developer is just going to tear it down anyway?

There is a common misperception out there that if you own an older home in one of the hotter parts of town where there is a lot of development going on , and put it up for sale, it will be bought and torn down automatically by a developer.

That just isn’t the case.

Now, if the home actually is  a tear down, then the highest and best value probably is the  lot value. But not all homes are tear downs. And nice homes that people can live in have a value all their own. Put it this way: lot value is the minimum value. But a property with a lovely updated, well-maintained home, regardless of age, has a much greater value than a lot alone.

What’s the difference in price between a well-maintained home and a tear down, with similar lot sizes? Well, here’s one example from my street in Westboro.

An  older home that was built in the 1950s sold for $ 910K last year, to a family. I see the kids playing outside every time I go for my daily walk. They love the big yard and the mature trees.

But another house several doors down, same lot size, sold to a developer for $ 710K around the same time. It really was a tear down, and there was a $ 200K difference in value because of it.

So, if you have an older home, don’t stop fixing it up because you assume it will be torn down eventually just because you see construction all around. You could be sabotaging your chances of getting the highest and best price for your property!

Not sure what to do? Talk to your realtor! They can tell you what lots in your area sell for, compared to homes in similar condition to yours.

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More CMHC rule changes July 1st — bad news for buyers

So, CMHC is once again making it harder for buyers to borrow money. My guess is that this is due to fear of buyers not being able to manage debt because of the pandemic, but it strikes me as a very dumb move. It will offset the economic stimulus packages, because housing is an economic driver. The last thing the country needs as it tries to recover is an even  slower housing market.

National sales volumes are down dramatically. That’s because the number of listings are down, due to the pandemic. Making it harder for buyers will just slow things down further in expensive cities like Toronto. But regionally, in more affordable cities like Ottawa, it will have an opposite effect when it comes to lower priced homes, and make them more expensive. Here’s why.

In Ottawa, where the market has been super-heated due to low inventory, the new rules will force first time buyers to rent longer while they try to save up that 20% down payment. Rents will go up as the rental market tightens. For investors, the lower priced properties become cash flow positive because they can be rented at a profit. And remember, a lot of investors are foreign cash buyers. Meanwhile, buyers who need to buy will adjust their expectations and start to look more seriously at lower priced properties. All that activity at the lower end of the market drives up prices.

We’ve seen that in Ottawa over the past two years after CMHC tightened the mortgage stress test for a second time, applying stricter borrowing rules not just to first time buyers, but all buyers. Townhouses that were priced under $ 400K  have jumped to the high 400s and even over $ 500K this year, despite the pandemic. We are still seeing multiple offers in that price point. And a lot of smaller condos that were selling below $200K  have jumped to over $ 300K — again, with multiple offers.

Here is a précis of the new rules as set out in an email I got from Cathy Macdonald, an Ottawa mortgage broker:

As you have probably already heard, CMHC announced some changes that will be coming into effect on July 1st.  These changes apply only to CMHC insured mortgages at this point. The other two insurers have not indicated whether they will follow, and the new rules don’t apply to borrowers with 20% or more for a down payment.

CMHC is reducing the maximum debt ratios and increasing the minimum credit score requirement for borrowers with less than 20% down.  These changes are most likely to affect first time buyers, lower income earners, or self employed (where we use net income), the most since they are usually trying to maximize their purchasing power.

The debt ratio changes will impact the maximum mortgage/purchase price significantly.  For example, I’m currently working with buyers who are pre-approved for a purchase price up to $600,000 (with the minimum down payment).  Under CMHC’s new debt ratios, they would qualify for a purchase price up to $535,000.

Current pre-approval amounts are still in effect until the end of June, and if the other two insurers don’t change their rules, the pre-approvals will still be valid beyond that date, but purchasers should be prepared for lower pre-approval amounts after July 1st.   If all of the insurers follow CMHC, in order to qualify under the current rules, a purchaser would have to have an accepted offer on a property that has been submitted to the lender and insurer before the end of June.

Bottom line: if you are a seller, regardless of price point, the very best time to list in Ottawa is right now, while buyers can still borrow money under the old rules. If you own an expensive home, your pool of buyers is really going to take a hit. A drop from being able to afford $ 600K to $ 535K is a huge price reduction.

In order to qualify under the old rules, buyers need to have an accepted deal in place by June 30. (Conditions of offer like financing and home inspections can be fulfilled later from the looks of it, and still allow a buyer to take advantage of the old rules.)

So here are my thoughts on how to stick-handle this situation. If you are a buyer with more than 20% down payment in cash, and are looking for something over $ 600K, it’s probably best to wait until after July 1. The pool of buyers will be greatly diminished and the new rules won’t apply to you when it comes to getting financing.

But if you are a buyer looking for something priced more affordably, and you don’t have 20% down, there’s no good strategy.

After July 1, when it becomes harder to borrow, even more buyers will be flocking to those properties.  But if you try to buy now, you’re going to be competing with a lot of other buyers who are also going to be trying to beat the deadline.

Either way, expect multiple offers on lower priced properties. And that will drive up prices, making previously affordable homes  even less affordable than ever. I’m shaking my head.


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Planning a post-pandemic wine cellar? More great wines to consider! (Part 2)

I’m planning what the contents of my post-pandemic wine cellar should look like (can’t hang on to wine long enough right now to cellar it).

Yesterday I posted most of the great wines that my Twitter pals recommended but I wanted to give the wines recommended by my friend, Ross Macfarlane, an entire post. Ross is a lawyer (and former student of mine!) who lives in Niagara, and he is a member of Les Marmitons of Niagara, a gourmet cooking club, so I knew he would have some great suggestions. (Here’s a great story about the club, and how Ross actually created this chapter of it: he’s now the International President of Les Marmitons.)

Ross posts on Twitter as @niagaramarmiton and in response to my request for his help in choosing wines for a wine cellar, he writes:

“It’s a great time to start stocking your cellar, because most of the wineries are offering free shipping in Ontario with a minimum purchase. My favourite varietals in Niagara are Pinot Noir and Riesling. That said, we make some great wines across the board. You have already mentioned @Rosewoodwine and @CaveSpring which are two of my favourites.

“For great Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, I love Domaine Queylus and @Bachelder_wines. The dry riesling from @VinelandEstates is one of the best value whites around. @back10cellars does great sparkling, chardonnay, and cab franc. @StratusWines is known for their blends, and both reds and whites are great. Also love @BigHeadWine reds. I’m a big fan of the rose from @goodearthtweets and I’m on the board for the @NCTWinery so I would be remiss not to mention the fantastic wines made there! This is not an exhaustive list, and there are lots of others making dynamite wines here.”

Okay, so I had mentioned Rosewood Wines and Cave Spring as my starting points on Twitter. Rosewood is a new discovery of mine, thanks to my daughter, who sent me a box of their wines for Mother’s Day. So far I’ve only tried White Rabbit but it’s fabulous! This vineyard is also a beekeeping operation, and I adore their packaging.

This one was so good, I ordered more and I now have Rosewood’s Looking Glass and Riesling in my collection.

I had never heard of Domaine Queylus before, but they are located in St. Anns. Their Pinot Noir, Tradition, is priced at $ 31.95/bottle.

Bachelder is another Niagara vineyard. Their Pinot Noir is  priced at $ 240/ six bottles and their three terroir Chardonnay is priced at $ 248.10/six bottles.  Here’s a blog post about their Chardonnays I came across; these sound terrific!

Vineland Estates is having free shipping if you buy six or more bottles. Their restaurant is currently offering take out as well with curbside pickup. A lot of their wines are priced at $ 14.95, which is very reasonable! You can check them out here. But best of all, the dry Riesling that Ross recommends is one of them.

Back10Cellars is another interesting looking pick. They have a wine club as well as online orders.  Their sparkling wine (Smitten) is $24.95/bottle, the Chardonnay is $ 27.95/bottle,  and the  Cabernet Franc is $ 28.95/bottle.

Stratus, which Ross recommends for reds and whites, is offering free shipping for orders over $ 100 with a product code that you’ll see when you visit their website.

I wasn’t able to log in to Big Head Wines: I entered my birthdate and it didn’t want to recognize me for some reason (that’s when you know you’re getting old. I don’t want to recognize it either). But you may have better luck.

Good Earth Food and Wines, another Beamsville vineyard,  is offering free shipping on orders of over $ 120. Their prices range from $ 17.95/bottle to around $30/bottle with most varieties falling in between.

And finally, as Ross mentions, he sits on the board of the Niagara College Teaching Winery. I had problems logging in to their website as well but they sent me some pictures on Twitter of their menu:


They are offering 15% off if you buy 12 or more bottles! Free Province wide shipping and you can order online at or call them at 905.641.2252 ext 4070.

So, all great suggestions and thanks so much, Ross! Looking forward to trying all of them and creating a great wine cellar!



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Planning a Wine Cellar? Here are some great wines to consider (Part 1)!

Okay, so  I am planning my post-pandemic wine cellar. I don’t have one currently.

I’m going to put in Rosewood’s White Rabbit and Cave Spring’s Dry Riesling, and  Three Dog Winery Doghouse Red. My daughter sent me four bottles of Rosewood’s wines for Mother’s Day and White Rabbit was amazing — it tastes like honey, which isn’t surprising since this is a beekeeping operation that makes mead. I’ve already ordered four more.

Note that many Ontario wineries, including Rosewood, have free shipping on orders over a certain limit right now so it’s a great time to stock up. Here’s the Rosewood link: they are offering free shipping if you buy four bottles and 10% off!

I’ve always loved Picton’s  Three Dog Wines:  I’ve served, and sold,  their Doghouse Red and White at various fundraisers for animal welfare and they’ve been very generous in supporting those as well.

As for Niagara’s  Cave Spring, their Dry Riesling is available at the LCBO or you can pick up the Riesling at Metro. Both are my favourite whites, served very chilled. They are also offering free delivery right now on purchases of over $ 100.

BUT, a wine cellar needs more than a few labels. I went on Twitter and asked my Twitter pals to help me out and asked: What are your favourite wines? And wow, did I ever get a great response! I’m going to have to do several posts because of the volume: here’s the first one!

Journalist Tina Pittaway @tinapittaway recommended the Familia Zuccardi Vida Organica Mendoza 2019 available through the SAQ  at $ 16.00 and also De Chanceny Cremant De Loire Rose Brut, which is available at the LCBO for $ 19.75.

Lawyer John MacNab @jpmacnab ( John is a fabulous cook; I am always looking in awe at the pictures he posts of  his family meals) recommends “Louis Jadot Beaujolais Village and Chardonnay Killermans Run,  19 Crimes Trius Santa Duc (if you can find it).”

Deb Abbott of Parkdale Food Centre @deborahjoan56 (another amazing cook) responded with a long list of Ontario vineywards: “@RavineVineyard @13thStreetWines @wineaffair @HiddenBench @MegalomaniacJHC @organizedcrimew #DiProfio @back10cellars Just a few of our favourites We usually make a trip a year to stock our cellar.”

I have actually seen Megalomaniac at the LCBO all the time; never thought to pick up a bottle. There is a Riesling under that label at $ 14.95 as well as some reds, including this Cabernet Sauvignon at $ 14.95. Here are links to the vineyards Deb mentioned:

Ravine Vineyard: Most wines look to be in the $ 20-40 range, and that rose looks amazing!

13th Street Winery is in St. Catherines: if you live in the area, they also have bakery and menu items for curbside pick up. And fabulous gift baskets!

@wineaffair is actually the Foreign Affair Winery in Vineland: free shipping right now on orders over $ 100.

Hidden Bench is in Beamsville: free shipping and a small gift if you buy six or more bottles:

Also in Beamsville, the Organized Crime Winery (as a mystery author, I love that!):

And finally, Back 10 Cellars Winery has a wine club with free delivery.

@kelans27 recommended “Rogue’s Lot by Strewn Vineyards in Niagara. It is reasonably priced.” I actually found this wine today at the Metro grocery store and decided to give it a shot: it’s a Cabernet Franc, priced at $ 14.95; you can also pick it up at LCBO.

Fellow realtor Liz Vittorini @rltr recommended Barolo, writing: “It’s a red wine from the Piemonte region of Italy. “It’s the king of grapes and the wine of kings”. I found it at the LCBO for $ 31.95 a bottle, where it was described as “deep and complex.”

Paula “Constantly Cooking” Roy @paulajroy is another fabulous cook: she posts her recipes on Twitter so if you are not following her, you should. She wrote:  “Our house red is Silk and Spice – a Portuguese blend that offers great value.” At 12.95 bottle, I’ll say! Found it at LCBO.

Author Geoff Gander wrote: “@FionaTheCarver and I wholly endorse anything made by Three Dog, but we also suggest Chadsey’s Cairns’ White Horse, Riesling, Gamay Noir, and 3-Point Hitch. Any of Hinterlands’ sparkling wines is perfect.”

I had not heard of By Chadsey’s Cairns before, but they are a Prince Edward County vineyard (like Three Dog). Sadly, from their website, it looks like their winery is for sale,not just their wines: Of course, that’s not sad at all if you are looking for a lifestyle change! Here’s a link for more information: http://bychadseyscairns.com/winery-for-sale/

@CPercySearle provided a long list of her favourites: many of which I also enjoy:

“Oyster Bay Pinot Grigio, Two Oceans from South Africa Sauv Blanc & Pinot Grigio are both good, Mezzacorona Pino Grigio, Stoneleigh Sauv Blanc, Monkey Bay Sauv Blanc, Ruffino Pinot Grigio, Kim Crawford’s Sauv Blanc. These are in my cellar now! Totally depends on your personal taste. I find Two Oceans the fruitiest ever of many but I love a powerful fruit flavour!”

SG ‘wear a mask’ Abbott‏ @Mspundit wrote: “White Cliff Sauvignon blanc is very well priced relative to its quality, so please don’t share this around. Oyster Bay chardonnay is lovely, perfect for guests. note that you want to drink sauvignon relatively fresh.”

Sorry to be a blabbermouth, SG, but yes, White Cliff Sauvignon blanc is VERY well priced. It’s usually $ 14.95 a bottle but right now, it’s on sale at LCBO for $ 12.95! Oyster Bay is a New Zealand winery: you can find their wines at the LCBO too.

@MJPatchouli wrote: “ Love Kim Crawford’s rose, and also was really happy to find Mateus, that popular old Portuguese wine, is available again. It’s delicious, slightly frizzante — a favourite of Queen Elizabeth II!” ( remember drinking Mateus when I was in university years ago: we used to stick a candle in the bottle, the unique shape of which has always made this wine very recognizable!)

@kvallevand agreed that Kim Crawford wines were worth a taste: “Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc and J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon are my favourite white and red!” Kim Crawford wines got a lot of votes in my twitter feed: it’s another New Zealand winery, sold through LCBO.

Finally, @elizamil52  wrote that “LCBO has Jost Tidal Bay from Nova Scotia right now. Don’t buy a case, but it’s a great summer wine, add a couple of bottles to the cellar….”

I don’t think I’ve every had a Nova Scotia wine, so that’s one to add to the list for sure! I couldn’t find it on the LCBO list, but I did find out more information about it, right here.

Tomorrow, I’m going to list all the great Niagara wines that my friend Ross Macfarlane shared with me!

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What kinds of homes will people want to live in post COVID-19?

I had a Mother’s Day chat with my daughter and we talked about how people may change the way they think about homes when this pandemic is over.

For one thing, if you don’t have to do it, who would want to send their parents to a long-term care centre now? I  expect to see an increase in multi-generational homes being built or current homes being adapted to have in-law suites. Duplexes, which have never been super popular common may become very popular now so that families can share space without climbing all over each other. Maybe even triplexes!

We both felt that people are probably spending a lot of time right now in isolation thinking about who they want to live with and how they want to live in the future

I live next door to a family that has small children but moved into one of those three storey semi-detached units in Westboro that has no yard. Their children are playing in the driveway. I’m sure they are re-thinking their choices now too.

I imagine that when this is all over we will see a number of people splitting up and a higher number of divorces, but also a higher number of pregnancies. Personally, I expect to see a return to homes with yards.

Not just for families who have children, but because people are rediscovering the pleasure of gardening. Of growing living things including vegetables in your own backyard. Of having something to do. It’s all of a piece with bread-making and rediscovering crafts and jigsaw puzzles, playing cards.

The dining room, which had all but disappeared from open concept homes, may make a comeback as families rediscover the value of eating together. Will we see bigger kitchens given the resurgence of people discovering they like cooking and baking?

I suspect many people will be changing the homes they live in for other homes. In my case, for example, I am determined that my next home will have a view, be it of water or woods. If I am going to be stuck at home, I want to see wildlife and nature and be able to go for a kayak paddle or walk on a forested trail. I want to look out the window and see something beautiful. I no longer have any interest in down-sizing though: I see the value in space.

Those that decide to stay where they are may choose to renovate. After all, if you are confined to your home, you will want to find the experience as pleasant as possible.

On the practical side, I know I would want to have a kitchen with a huge pantry — I’ve taken over a corner of the kitchen floor for paper towels and cleaning supplies. But I can imagine  people who can afford it who would be looking at home theatres and games rooms. Maybe pools, which used to be seen as a negative by a lot of buyers, will now become assets.

I miss boxing almost more than anything else I normally do. My next home will have a heavy bag and a speed bag. My daughter would like to live somewhere that has a pool table. I suspect we’ll see more home offices, now that so many people are working remotely,  and exercise rooms, so they can work out at home too.

Another thing that I can see changing is the public demanding green space over development. Parks, pedestrian-only areas, more cycling paths, road closures, more gardens, more community gardens.

I’m not sure that high-rise condos will be as easy to sell: re-circulated air and shared elevators may scare some people off. And the first thing to close in those buildings were the pools and fitness rooms. Will people move into the cities or out to the suburbs? I expect to see the latter. In fact, I expect to see a surge in the sale of year-round cottages and new build homes on golf courses, where these kinds of things can be custom built into homes.

So what are your thoughts on this? When this is over, will you stay where you are or will you move? What things will be on your wish-list this time around that weren’t on your wish-list before or that weren’t important to you then and are now? What choices would you make to improve your home if you had to go through quarantine again?


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Ottawa’s hot housing market and COVID-19

Always nice to be interviewed by the CBC for an article about the Ottawa real estate market and thanks to Hallie Cotnam for reaching out! Glad my colleagues agree with me that with the extra-tight inventory and a smaller but serious pool of buyers, this is still a good time to sell a property.

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Predictions for the post-COVID-19 housing market! #Ottawa

It is not easy to predict the future; it’s always a lot easier to predict the past. But here are my thoughts about what is going to happen to the Ottawa real estate market, post-COVID. I thought it was worth putting them in writing and that way we can check back in a year and see whether I was right or wrong. (My daughter and I do this every New Year’s Eve: we sit down and predict the next twelve months and what we think will happen to each of us individually and then to Canada and the world. It’s always an interesting exercise!)

First of all, as you can imagine, with the pandemic, there are fewer listings on the Ottawa real estate market than ever. In a normal year, before the mortgage stress test was introduced,  we’d probably see around 250 new listings a day this time of year. It’s our busy season.

The mortgage stress test really put a kibosh on that. Initially, it applied to first time buyers only. Then it was expanded to apply to everyone, and it had the effect, paradoxically, of driving up prices in centres like Ottawa which had affordable housing.

Older sellers who couldn’t afford to buy first and then sell because of their inability to borrow (the new financing rules are based solely on income, and don’t care about equity)  stayed put. Meanwhile, foreign investors began looking more closely at Ottawa because of the foreign buyers’ taxes in BC and the GTA.

With first time buyers unable to get financing either, they had to rent longer. That meant there was more interest on the part of investors in properties under  $ 400K which suddenly became cash flow positive due to higher rents.

New listings dropped by around  40%, and we had a super-heated market.Properties sold with multiple offers all over the city and prices went a little nuts. But we could still anticipate seeing around 150 new listings a day; it’s just that they were being snapped up. Anything decent where the agent hadn’t held off on offers was selling in a matter of  hours. If they held off on offers, their listings generally sold the same day offers were presented, firm, with no conditions. It became very rare to see a conditional sale. If a property hadn’t sold in a week, there was something wrong with it.

Here’s the  Home Price Index graph for Ottawa that shows the price increases starting with the application of the mortgage stress to first time buyers in 2017,  and then you can see how prices accelerated when it was applied across the board a year later:


Those price increases correlate to lower supply. And since COVID-19, the number of new  listings is even lower than ever. There were only 17 new listings in Ottawa today. 17! That’s a tenth of what we had following the stress test, and remember, the numbers then dropped by 40%.

No-one is really listing right now unless they have to. Which makes sense. Most people do not want strangers wandering around in their homes, even if many realtors are now using virtual tours. But there are still people who have to sell: properties are vacant, or people are splitting up, or moving, or whatever. With inventory this low, even if there aren’t as many buyers, there are still serious buyers around. So, we are still seeing multiple offers and properties are still selling above list price.

I was involved in a bidding war last Friday where a condo got 12 offers and sold, with no conditions, for $ 42K over asking. The week before that, I put another offer in on a condo unit that got 6 offers and sold for $44K over asking. Pre-COVID-19, perhaps  those properties would have sold with even more buyers putting in offers, because of the superhot nature of the Ottawa real estate market pre-pandemic, but both were record sales for their complexes.

Meaning, there are no bargains yet. Which brings me to the question: what will happen post-COVID-19? What happens when the lock down ends? What happens when the pandemic is over? Will prices drop then? Stay the same? Go up?

Okay. Here’s my crystal ball.

I think a lot of sellers are sitting on the sidelines right now, but so are a lot of buyers. Sellers are even more uncertain,  afraid that if they sell, they may not be able to find anything.   The mortgage stress test is still there and still making it hard for self-employed people and those who are semi-retired to qualify for financing. That may be even harder now because of employment disruptions and the impact on stock markets.

Older people who would like to downsize are not going to sell until they are sure they can find a new home. And with all the pressure on people’s incomes (and the banks) due to COVID-19, I don’t think finding financing to buy a new home if you haven’t already sold yours is going to get any easier.

I know some buyers who think that we may be heading into a Great Depression and that prices will have to drop. They are holding off on buying, waiting for those bargains.

To be honest, I don’t see it. This is a short term global shutdown that will start to reverse very quickly once a vaccine or therapeutic treatment is found. (Can you imagine that day, and the sigh of global relief?)There are scientists all over the world working on doing that right now. I think the 12-18 month estimates we’ve been given for how long it could take are way off. I think we’ll have a therapeutic treatment  this fall: we’ve never had this kind of money thrown at a problem before or so many brilliant people working collaboratively to find a solution.

Once they do, once this ends, I think that Canada will look like a safe haven to a lot of people, certainly a lot of Americans, because of our universal healthcare and the economic support our government has provided.  I think a lot of them will see Ottawa as an attractive place to live, so I expect to see our population grow quickly.

I also think that people are doing some hard thinking during the pandemic  about where they want to live when it’s over, who they want to live with, and how they want to live. There will be more divorces, more pregnancies, more people deciding they want to live closer to families in case this happens again, more young couples in small units realizing they want bigger yards, renters who have been cooped up in units where they have felt trapped, wanting to own their own homes.

So, I think there will be a lot of pent up demand when this pandemic ends. But we still won’t have our usual volume of listings because that mortgage stress test will still be in place (although we may see more power of sale properties). Buyers who can’t afford to buy will still have to rent, so lower priced properties will still be of interest to investors, maybe even more so with stock market upheavals. In that sense, not much will change.

Sellers who can’t get financing to buy their next home will continue to stay put, until that mortgage stress test is changed. Meanwhile, there are still lots of serious cash buyers out there and maybe even more if I’m right about foreign investment.

Those people who were hoping for bargains could end up disappointed.

My prediction? I think prices will hold and that we may see a modest increase despite the pandemic. Much of that will change if the mortgage stress test is removed, however, and it could well be, since there is no real prospect of an interest rate increase for years to come, and that’s what it was supposed to protect against: buyers getting hit with interest payments they couldn’t afford when interest rates went up.

Remove the mortgage stress test, or restrict it to only first time buyers, as it was initially, and I think we will see a far more balanced Ottawa market. But until it changes, I think volume of sales will be way down, but prices will continue to hold steady and increase despite the pandemic.

I’ll let you know in a  year if I was right!

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A Happy Real Estate Story!

As you may know, realtors are considered essential services in Ontario because there are still people who have to find or sell homes. In Ottawa, despite the pandemic, the market is even tighter than ever, because there are fewer listings, but lots of buyers out there.

I lost out in multiple offers on Friday with first time buyers – heartbreaking, because we had the best offer but they needed a financing condition, and the seller took a lower cash offer that was unconditional (as I had warned them might happen).

Anyway, I took them to see another spot yesterday and it was love at first sight. Exactly what I want to see with buyers: where they absolutely adore a place and are willing to accept whatever shortcomings it might have because they have a visceral, emotional reaction.

Got home, called the agent, only to discover they have already received an offer and have countered back. Again, heartbreaking. Like meeting Mr. Right and finding out he’s already engaged. And once the sellers have countered a buyer’s offer, they are bound by their counter offer, so they can’t entertain a new offer from someone else. Really frustrating! I had to tell my buyers the situation, and they were super disappointed.

BUT, if  sellers have countered back, it also means the buyer’s offer didn’t give them something they wanted — usually price, but could be closing date, whatever. So, I contacted the listing agent and said if the buyers counter back your seller’s counter-offer, PLEASE give us a chance to compete because my buyers really love this place. If the buyers counter back, that means the sellers are no longer bound: their counter-offer is now null and void, so they can deal with a new buyer.

So I prepared a draft offer JUST IN CASE that happened,  called my buyer’s mortgage broker to see what we could do if we had a chance to compete. I wasn’t really expecting anything to happen, but having done the paperwork, I sat back and had a glass of wine (okay, a few. It was Saturday night, after all!).

At 7 PM the listing agent got hold of me, said the buyers had countered back, and the seller had only two hours to make a decision. Which meant less than two hours, because if they were going to deal with that counter, they had to complete the paperwork, and communicate their acceptance by the deadline.

I put my wine glass glass down,  immediately called my buyers, we crunched numbers, had multiple discussions, and put in an offer 20 minutes before deadline.


You will never see happier buyers. They are absolutely over the moon. And this, folks, is why you need realtors!

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What’s happening with the Ottawa Real Estate Market? # COVID-19

I’m sure you are all wondering what impact COVID-19 is having on what was a super-heated real estate market. I have some buyers waiting it out, hoping for bargains.

So far we haven’t seen that. Inventory is even tighter than before (and it was lack of supply that was driving the higher prices) and there are still serious buyers out there who need to find a place to live.

What is a bit shocking is to see the change in sales volume at various price points (with thanks to Matt Richling and Jody Lavoie for sharing this on Facebook):


So, what happens next?

Some pundits are predicting the market will come roaring back once COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed. I think there will be some pent-up demand for sure, but much depends on how hard Ottawa has been hit with closures and job losses. Many of those will be temporary, and we are buffered somewhat by having the public service here as well as universities and hospitals.

But it is hard to imagine that even Ottawa could escape the impacts of a Great Depression, so a lot of this will come down to how long this lasts, if the efforts of the federal government are sufficient to mitigate the losses, and how long it takes to get back to some kind of normal.

It’s far from business as usual. Showings are continuing under strict COVID-19 protocols and restrictions. Some agents are using virtual tours in place of showings, but I can’t see that working well for most buyers. My buyers actually want to see a property before they decide whether to put in an offer;  we’ve all seen listings that looked good in pictures but not so great in person, and vice-versa.

So because there are fewer listings out there but also fewer buyers, I think we will see a continuing drop in the volume of sales. Right now, the number of new listings is about equal to the number of conditional sales/sold properties. This is a big shift from a month ago, when sales far outpaced new listings, and when you rarely saw a conditional sale, with people waiving home inspections, financing and even status certificate conditions.

We will still see some multiple offers on particularly nice properties, but we won’t see the crazy price wars we had, simply because there are fewer buyers. That means  prices should be a little more rational and I’m seeing that already: properties  selling at or slightly over or even just below list price are more common than ones selling for well over asking. Instead of someone getting twenty or thirty offers on a property, these days they might get one or two, which is a huge change!

I think over the short term, we won’t see much of a price adjustment simply because demand still exceeds supply. But it’s a more balanced market than the one we were in, for sure.


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COVID-19 Q and As: Why are Realtors still listing houses for sale?

The question raised by a Twitter pal is: “Why are realtors still listing houses and why are they considered ‘essential services'”?

Great question!

I confess, I didn’t think we would be exempt from the shutdown, but there was a lively debate in real estate circles as to whether we are essential services or not. Certainly, if you have purchased a new home and need to sell your current one, having a realtor is pretty crucial. Or if you have just moved to Ottawa and have to find a place to live. Or need to sell to avoid foreclosure.

Along with realtors, the government decided that real estate lawyers, moving companies and the land registry system, can continue operating.

That doesn’t mean it’s business as usual. My brokerage closed down last week to the public, then to us as well, unless we make an appointment. Initially, there was a drop box set up for deposits; now we can only process electronic payments. Our college, the Ontario Real Estate Association, is urging us to  have no face-to-face meetings, and not to have overlapping showings, and we have been told by all of them, including RECO, our regulatory body,  not to host Open Houses. In fact, the Ottawa Real Estate Board is stripping out any reference to Open Houses on MLS to try to shut these down.

Here’s what OREA said:

ALL REALTORS® should stop face-to-face business, including open houses, in-person showings, and maintaining agents and public office hours.

Makes sense to me. But note the use of the word “should.”

The problem with  these recommendations is that they are only that — recommendations. They are not enforceable. Once we were designated “essential services”, that allows us to maintain our business models, whatever those are. OREA says that we were designated essential in order to be able to complete transactions, but that’s not what the Ontario State of Emergency says: it doesn’t limit what what we can do.

Also, we are independent contractors, not employees, so our brokerages have to be careful that they don’t cross the Canada Revenue Agency’s line in telling us how to conduct our business, or they might face serious tax consequences. The more control they exercise over our activities, the less likely we can be considered independent contractors as opposed to employees.

REBBA, our governing legislation, has nothing in it that covers this kind of situation either: it doesn’t set out any kind of protocol for how to deal with a pandemic. Absent an amendment, I can’t see any way that a realtor who defies these recommendations could be disciplined. And while our Board can control the data that appears in MLS listings, it has no authority that I’m aware of  to actually shut down Open Houses if an agent wants to host one.

So at this point, the way that realtors conduct these essential services has been  left to the good faith of realtors.

The vast majority of us will restrict how we do business in keeping with best practices. I see many listings now that require agents to vet buyers before showing them a listing to make sure they are not recent travellers; to wipe down light switches before leaving a property; to refrain from touching surfaces, and so on.

The problem, again, is what happens if they don’t?

In my view, it was mistake to decide that realtors were “essential services” without placing a limit on those services, for example,  restricting them to the completion of transactions that were already underway. Or only to vacant properties. But practically speaking, under current law, we can’t avoid face-to-face meetings with new clients. We are also required to verify the identity of those who are listing by meeting them personally. (There are provisions in the FINTRAC money laundering laws  that allow us to use other forms of ID apply when the client doesn’t have adequate ID, but they don’t absolve us from our responsibility to physically meet with the client to make sure we’re not being cat-fished.)

And taking new listings requires agents to go to those properties to take measurements, because we are required to verify MLS data personally. Someone has to go there to take photos or videos, even if the plan is to restrict showings or only have virtual tours. This is not a business that we can transact only from behind our computers.

So, while I’m glad we were included as “essential services”  for selfish reasons — I have some clients anxious to rent and to sell — I think sellers and buyers would be well advised to ask their agents to detail what steps they are taking to ensure their safety and those of the people who enter their homes.

Don’t assume that because this is what is recommended that everyone will do it, or that they can be sanctioned if they don’t. I don’t see any possibility of that happening under current laws. At the moment, these best practices are recommendations only, and completely unenforceable.

This is the fifth in a series about COVID-19’s impact on the Ottawa real estate market. Keep those questions coming!

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