One decorating trend worth following – encaustic tile!

Yesterday, I blogged about a few trends to avoid, but here’s a current trend I love: encaustic tile. These are ceramic tiles where the colours are embedded as layers rather than glazed or painted patterns, and they can have two colours or be multi-coloured, although you don’t tend to see more than four or five colours, including white.

Encaustic tile can come in sheets with a pattern embedded into it, or be composed of individual tiles that are installed to form a pattern. They are made of ceramic or porcelain and are often hand made or hand printed.

Originally, I saw these tiles on-line and loved them, but I didn’t see them in person until Euro Tile started stocking them this year. Now many of the big box stores are carrying a good variety as you’ll see below.

This first one is the one I installed in my investment condo and one of the first patterns I saw, back in May: Burnside - encaustic

These particular tiles were in  large sheets that required a water saw to cut, so they were finicky, and super thick so great for a foyer. They have a slightly worn look that I really liked as well. The tiles, without installation, worked out to about $ 325 for this space.

A less expensive option (or options) can be found at Lowes. I helped a client pick out this tile for the ensuite bathroom in her new home: they are individual ceramic tiles and much easier to install. I think they looked gorgeous, and I know she’s very happy. I suggested a light grout so as not to detract from the pattern.

These Merola tiles from Home Depot show the variety of tiles, and the range of prices in just one line (black, grey and white).

encaustic 4

They have others, also by Merola, in other colours: these three coloured blue and white ones are gorgeous:

encaustic 6

And here’s a four colour example carried by Home Depot (white being the fourth colour):

encaustic 5

And here’s a five colour one I bought at Euro Tile that’s just waiting for my next renovation! This is one that I can see working equally well at a cottage — I love the rich colours.

encaustic 3

These are tiles that can be used in a front foyer, a bathroom, or a laundry room, to add a graphic touch or an old world feel. Tiles like these have been around in Europe for hundreds of years and are still gorgeous, so it’s a trend I think we can live with for a long time.

When I was at Euro Tile picking up mine, every single contractor in the lineup was buying them, too. The nice thing is that there is so much variety in colour and pattern that nothing is cookie cutter. Just lovely!




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Three current decorating trends to avoid!

I do a lot of renovations each  year, helping clients get their homes ready for sale, so I am always seeing homes that are dated and homes that are timeless. Here are some of my thoughts on current trends that I think will date your homes very quickly.

Glass strip mosaic tile backsplashes.  I’m already seeing glass mosaic tile backplashes that look dated. Be careful with this one: there are some glass mosaic tiles that will look good ten years from now but those narrow strip mixes of glass and coloured tiles really date your house. trend 1


Blue kitchen cupboards. Cabinets are big investments. Stick with neutrals or you’ll find yourself paying to have them re-painted in a couple of years. If you really want that pop of colour, put it on an island, not on all your cabinets. It will have a more timeless quality and if you do decide to switch it out down the road, it will be a lot less expensive!

trend 5


Giant hexagonal tiles. Don’t get me wrong; I love hexagonal tiles. In an entry way or bathroom, they can be gorgeous. But the current trend of cutting them into hardwood? Uh, not so much. I think the novelty will wear thin pretty quick.

trend 4


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I want to buy a house that’s for sale by owner. What do I need to know?

The first thing you should do is contact your realtor so that they can do up a proper offer. A lot of times, an owner will hand you an Agreement of Purchase and Sale (the offer) which they’ve completed for you and ask you to sign it. That’s a mistake!

It’s not just a matter of putting in a price and closing date. There are conditions that should apply in almost all cases: financing and home inspection are two but they can vary depending on all kinds of factors. Is there a pool? What if it’s winter – how would you know if it’s working? Is there a septic system? A well? Depending on the age of the house, there may be aluminum wiring or asbestos concerns that could affect your financing or your insurability. Your offer should have clauses that protect you in all kinds of contingencies.

Realtors deal with offers daily; we know what clauses to put in to protect you. Real estate lawyers review offers but rarely are asked to draft them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a lawyer contact me and ask me my advice – so contact your realtor for help on this one!

Your realtor will first check with the seller to make sure they are “cooperating” i.e. that they are willing to work with your realtor’s brokerage and pay a commission. If the seller is willing to cooperate, the seller pays all commission fees so there is no cost to you. If not, then your only options are to pay your realtor’s commission yourself (whatever you can agree to) or  work with your lawyer on preparing an offer, but be prepared to pay for their time. You can’t expect this kind of work to be done for free.

Lawyers are busy people as well: it may take them some time to prepare the offer and review it with you, whereas a realtor can have it ready quickly to go over it with you, usually in a matter of hours.

If the seller agrees to pay the commission, your realtor can take charge. They will likely make arrangements to view the property with you in person first so they know what they are dealing with. They will let you know if they see any issues with the condition of the property or other issues that might affect value.

They will make note of various things that need to be reflected in the offer and confirmed with the seller.  These can be things you might think are obvious: Are appliances included?  Is there an automatic garage door opener? Is there a community mailbox?  Is anything under warranty?

These are a few examples of things we want to mention in the offer so that you don’t move in and discover the seller took the fridge with them, or removed the dining room chandalier without your knowledge, or left you with a garage you can’t open, or without any way to access your mail.

In a sale by owner, we have to verify pretty much everything as we can’t rely on what the owner tells us. I recall seeing one property where the owner told me on the phone that the furnace was brand new. When I got there with my buyer and took a look, it was easily twenty years old. New to that owner, maybe, who was elderly, but definitely not new! It’s not uncommon for sellers to think their properties are wider or deeper than they actually are, or misremember taxes, or other information.

Your realtor will look up the legal description, lot size, sales history on that property, MPAC assessment for taxes, and verify that the owner really is the owner. I had one situation where the person we were dealing with in a sale by owner turned out not to have any interest in the property at all. He  had no authority to enter into negotiations, so that one’s important! If it’s an estate sale, your realtor may ask the seller for a copy of the probate; if it’s a corporate owner, they may ask for signing authority to be confirmed as well.

Your realtor will check comparables in the neighbourhood. They will let you know what the sellers paid for the property and when, and if it’s been listed before and how long it’s been on the market. They’ll advise you on price. Most private sellers over-estimate the value of their properties, in my experience, so you need to have that kind of input. The price should at least be in the range of what’s fair and your realtor is in the very best position to let you know what’s reasonable.

If you still want to put in an offer once you have that input, your realtor will draft up the paperwork that makes it clear to the seller they are representing your interests and not those of the seller. They will prepare documentation to confirm the commission that will be paid by the seller, and then prepare the actual offer itself.

Most times, the seller will want to review all of this with their lawyer before responding with a counter-offer or acceptance. This is absolutely fair, but that also means the negotiations are likely to take longer than usual, as normally it’s the seller’s realtor who reviews the offer with their client and they are more readily available on weeknights and most weekends than most lawyers.

The problem this poses in a hot market with that kind of delay is that another offer could come in in the meantime. Be aware that the seller is not bound by the same ethical considerations as realtors. There is nothing to require them to tell you if they have other offers, or how many; they might tell you they have received offers when they haven’t, and they can even tell  another buyer what you offered to pay: we can’t.

If you do reach a deal with the seller, your realtor will stickhandle the deposit. We prefer that these be payable to our brokerage rather the seller’s lawyer, as if the deal falls apart, the seller can instruct their lawyer not to return the deposit to you, and then you’re in a bit of a pickle. (We have a bit more control if the deposit is being held on our end. If the deal doesn’t go ahead, we will do up the mutual release and termination documents.)

We will arrange for a home inspection, if that was a term of the deal (as it should be most times), and will send the documentation off to your financial institution or mortgage broker, and from there on, things will proceed pretty well as normal. We will be there with you for the home inspection, negotiate any necessary amendments if anything shows up in the inspection that’s a problem, remove the conditions as appropriate and get the deal firmed up or advise you if it looks like this is one to walk away from.

One thing to be aware of is that in a private sale, the bank or whoever you are using for financing will insist on an appraisal, even where the property has been listed on MLS as a “mere posting.” I’ve seen sales by owner where the frontage or lot depth was incorrect; where condo fees were wrong, and even one where a semi-detached home was described as detached. (This is why we go to take a look ourselves; we have to verify information in a private sale beyond the steps we’d take in a normal listing.)

A final point: while the law requires a seller to disclose latent defects, i.e. defects that would not be obvious to a buyer or that wouldn’t show up in a home inspection, you can’t assume that they have made full disclosure of anything. A private sale is no time to give up your right to a home inspection ; in fact, it may be the time where you want to exercise your right to have other inspections done by those with specific expertise, like plumbers and electricians.

A private sale is one situation where it really is “buyer beware” so you are best advised to play it smart, and use a realtor, even if the seller has chosen not to.

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Easements and Right-of-Ways – why are they important in row units?

Well, I just had an interesting experience. I was looking at making an offer on a row unit which is the middle unit of three. It is fully fenced and backs onto NCC bike paths. The NCC’s metal fence that runs along the bike path forms the back fence of this unit.

There is a gate in the shared back yard fence between this unit and one of the units beside it. A gate usually connotes an easement or right of way, permitting the middle unit owner reasonable access through the neighbouring property when they need it.

This could mean the middle unit owner bringing around a lawn mower from time to time, for example, that is stored in a garage or shed at the front of the house, and is too inconvenient or too big to bring through the house.

It can mean letting trades have access to bring in their materials and equipment when installing new roofing or siding or windows at the back of the house. Landscaping would be another reasonable access use, as it is impossible to bring wheelbarrows of sand or dirt through the front door.

But just because there’s a gate and a registered easement or right of way, it doesn’t mean you can use it for anything.  Your kids can’t decide to use it to play hide and seek in the neighbour’s back yard without the neighbour’s express permission; that’s not reasonable.

Anyway, I did up the offer and I checked the legal description of  this property and the ones on either side of it. No easements or right of ways appeared in the legal descriptions, which meant that access rests on the goodwill of the adjacent owner.

I contacted the listing agent who said that the same neighbour owned both the adjacent units and was a pretty genial  guy, but he suggested I do my due diligence, and I agreed.

I decided to go take a look at the back of the property from the vantage point of the NCC bike path  before I went any further. Standing on the bike path, I could see that the gate in the fence between the two units was actually blocked on the neighbour’s side by a cable.

So I tracked down the neighbour and told him I was planning to put in an offer, and the kinds of things I would be doing, which included  some much-needed siding repairs, but down the road could include replacing the back deck and maybe a window. I asked if he would be comfortable with my trades using his yard to gain access for that work.

He was very polite but also very definite that he would  not give that permission. In fact, he told me he plans to block the gate altogether to make it clear there is no implied consent to its use.

And he has the absolute right to do so, because there is no right of way or easement requiring him to provide access. If you don’t have that legal obligation, access rests on goodwill alone, and in this case, there is no goodwill, even though I agree with the listing agent that the neighbour seems like a very nice guy.

So, the person who buys this property is going to have a big problem when it comes time to tear out the deck, or replace the windows or roof, or do the siding repairs,  because they will have to bring all their equipment and materials  through the front door to get to the back yard. The front entrance to this unit is very tiny, so forget being able to bring  a ladder through, much less siding, or deck boards. It’s going to be a nightmare.

I was very happy I did my homework, as I won’t be putting in an offer after all, but I wonder how many prospective buyers think to check into things like that when they get caught up in the emotion of multiple offer situations?

A home inspector might have recognized there was an access issue, but most home inspectors don’t talk to the neighbours to find out what kind of goodwill they’ll extend when repairs might be needed. And even if this owner had said “no problem,” the next one might not. If there is not a registered easement or right of way on title, you have no protection and no recourse if access is denied.

Take a good look at access, then,  before you buy. Make sure if there is a gate, that it hasn’t been blocked by an adjacent neighbour. Sometimes easements extend through more than one property; make sure the end unit hasn’t blocked the entry point either.

Be sure, then, to do your due diligence and if you’re not sure, ask your realtor put a clause in the offer giving you and your lawyer enough time to determine whether  access is going to be an issue.  Believe me, I’ll sleep well tonight knowing I dodged a bullet.

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Best Easy-to-Make Cottage Desserts (and thanks, Twitter!)

We do an annual Buck Lake get together at my cottage where I meet up with my neighbours at the lake for a pot-luck. This year, however, my neighbour is hosting. She plans to serve BBQ ribs and corn, and I’m to provide dessert for ten or so people.

I was at a loss for what to make, so I turned to Twitter. My Twitter pals responded instantly with all kinds of wonderful suggestions including some desserts I’d never heard of before (Eton Mess?).  I thought I’d post them up for those of you looking for great (and simple to make) cottage desserts. There were so many great ideas that  I am sure I missed a few, but thanks again to everyone who participated!

Most people recommended using seasonal fruit somehow, and I agree it would be a shame not to.  My old pal and fellow foodie Ross Macfarlane says this recipe for peach pie is his absolute favourite, and provided a link to the recipe  which claims to have a fool proof pastry.  The nice thing about pie, of course, if like me you aren’t good at pastry making, is that you can buy pre-made pastry shells. A lot of my Twitter pals provided suggestions that involved using pre-made tart shells or meringues, and I certainly like serving things that are quick to make but look like I slaved over a hot stove for hours!

David Allison suggested I grill pitted peaches or plums on the BBQ, served with Greek yoghurt or creme fraiche, and said I should chuck handfuls of chiffonade (finely shredded mint leaves) on top. “Trust me,” he added, “grind black pepper on the top.” I am sure the heat would bring out the sweetness in that fruit, and I’m intrigued with the notion of adding black pepper. Super easy!

Speaking of easy, this was a combination I would never have thought of. Allan Pollock suggested serving vanilla ice cream drizzled with honey and whiskey, which he had discovered in Cinque Terra, Rio Maggiore, Italy. Here’s a picture of where he first had it: how beautiful is that!

baking 1

Fellow mystery author Elizabeth Duncan suggested a no-bake cheesecake. I got a lot of recommendations along those lines, and I do love cheesecake. Pearl Pirie, a local food columnist (and Ottawa poet) suggested making one from cool whip mixed with cream cheese and topped with cherry or blueberry filling.

Former Deputy Chief of Police Jill Skinner recommended cheesecake too as being “simple but decadent”, also with either blueberry or cherry topping, although she doesn’t use fresh. (She will send me her favourite recipe; I’ll post it when I get it.)

A lot of people favoured fresh blueberries, which are in season right now and packed with flavour. @Ivriniel provided me with a recipe for a blueberry buckle with a vanilla lemon sauce that sounds delectable: she says the sauce is to die for. The recipe comes from Vegetable Heaven by Mollie Katzen: click to enlarge.



Fellow realtor Bob Blake suggested a blueberry crumble with vanilla yoghurt or whipping cream. His wife Gail  made one for an island picnic and it served 12. They bought the blueberries at the Brockville Farmers Market a two minute walk from their condo and an hour later, it was ready. Now that’s fresh!

Norma Graham suggested a zucchini cake, baked in a bundt cake pan. Here’s her recipe:

1/4 cup softened butter

1/2 cup oil (I use sunflower but any will do)

1 3/4 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup buttermilk (or milk soured with a bit of vinegar)

Beat together until smooth. In a separate bowl combine:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup cocoa

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

Mix and stir into the wet ingredients.

Add 2 cups grated zucchini and 1/2 cup chocolate chips. Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan. Bake at 350 until it rebounds when poked, about 40 minutes. Let cool and remove carefully from pan. Drizzle a thin chocolate icing over the top.


Alexandra Macqueen put forward a trifle, while Nick Neuheimer, who I worked with years ago at Canadian Medical Association, suggested Cherries Jubilee. Those are a bit out of my wheelhouse, but I can see how a flaming pan of cherries at a BBQ would be pretty spectacular!

Reema Faris recommended I make an Eton Mess. I’d never even heard of this dessert before but it involves filling meringues (which she suggested buying pre-made) with strawberries or a mix of berries and peaches. She too provided a recipe: again, click to enlarge.

baking 4


I got the same recommendation from @kitzfuhel who suggested buying the meringues at Loblaws  and filling them berries and cream. @OttawaMaryJ agreed that meringues, topped with fresh fruit and perhaps plain yoghurt and drizzled with melted chocolate would be delicious.

Pete Patterson liked the idea of yoghurt or ice cream or sherbet with berries;  Margaret Mitchell  suggested topping them with maple syrup. She also recommended baking a Queen Elizabeth cake which she said had lots of online recipes a good story behind it “even if the Palace denied it” which intrigued me enough to look it up. It was developed for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, apparently, when rationing was still in place so it has only a few ingredients: sugar, flour, eggs, dates and butter, with a shredded coconut topping. (When I have time to do more research, I’m going to check into that backstory!)

Catherine Morris would use Amaretto or Grand Marnier on those fresh berries with whipped cream or ice cream – I like the way her mind works!

Jody David Beeching came up with a Malva Pudding as delicious and easy to make. It reminds me of a fruit cocktail cake I used to whip up in one bowl; it was smothered in a warm caramel sauce and was always a big hit. Here’s a picture of a Malva pudding — the link will also take you to the recipe.

baking 5

(photo credit to Debbie Boere Vrou).

@NancyFromCanada thought that since it was a BBQ, I should make S’mores with either graham crackers or french biscuits covered in chocolate. Leacy O’Brian thought this recipe from Paula Roy, the Food Editor at Ottawa at Home,  for S’more Brownies would be perfect but thought I’d need two pans, it’s that good! (She says she uses the premium red cocoa from Bulk Barn when she makes them).

Paula was kind enough to provide me with a link to the recipe on her blog, Constantly Cooking, and says they are the best brownies she’s ever made!

baking 6

(Photo courtesy of Paula Roy).

One of the more unusual suggestions was from Michael Maidment, CEO of the Ottawa Food Bank. He suggested frying sliced apples and bananas in butter and serving with ice cream. Leacy O’Brian said she thought a  Cuban banana liqueur would work with that recipe and she would flambe it. That’s one I have to try for sure!

Gisele Larocque  is a wonderful baker, married to one of my favourite contractors, Richard Larocque of Vala Home Improvements. She suggested making a fruit pizza. She makes them as small tarts and serves them with strawberries, blueberries and raspberries on top – a real crowd pleaser and this recipe  serves 24!

baking 7

Stella Campbell recommended making an ice cream cake with a graham wafer bottom. “Soften 2 litres of good vanilla ice cream. Crumble 2 Skor bars in ice cream saving a bit to sprinkle over top. Pop back in freezer & voila. Perfect to follow ribs.”

And finally, Aaron Wise suggested a cobbler – easy to make, he said, and can be prepped ahead (I’ve asked him for his recipe) and Susan Abbott suggested brownies with fresh fruit on the side.

So there you go, and now you know why I spend so much time on Twitter! Thanks, everyone!


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Staging a condo – before and after pics!#160GeorgeStreetUnit505

I have a new listing — #505- 160 George — that will be on MLS tomorrow. I spent all today staging it and getting it ready for sale. It’s a 1625 sq ft two bedroom, two bathroom unit  in a great location in the Byward Market, close to Ottawa U, the new LRT, shops, restaurants and so on. It had been extensively renovated to make it barrier-free and wheel-chair friendly by the current owner. When I first saw it, however, it was vacant and looked a bit sterile.

My client agreed it should be staged, and so I ran off to SmartChoice Furniture in Vanier and rented a loveseat, sofa and end tables. The rental for a month, plus delivery, set up and removal is only $ 300 and the items were brand new, they still had tags on them! Great customer service– thanks, Sylvie!

The unit has a good sized kitchen with a built in table. I brought in an upholstered bar stool from my storage locker at Dymon and a few odds and ends to warm it up. Here’s the before:


And here’s the after:


Here’s another before shot of the kitchen from another angle:


And here’s the after:


I’m super happy with the way the open concept living/dining  room turned out. I was scratching my head trying to figure out what to do with it, as it had a brown sofa, a tan coloured feature wall, and a bright red dining room table with navy multi-print chairs. Here’s the before:



Here’s the after. I paid the guys from SmartChoice a little extra to move the brown sofa into the MBR, and that was a great decision!  (Note that barn door in the corner; behind it is storage!):



Since I had to work with the colourful dining room table and chairs, I added  some art and a bowl of pears (my signature piece — I put a bowl of pears in all my listings!).  I tried to find art that had some red in it, without being overwhelming. Here’s the before:


And here’s the after:


Below, you’ll see a painting I often use in staging: it is by a local artist and has red, yellow, navy blue and green in it, which are the colours in the upholstered seats in the chairs, so it ties these two spaces together beautifully.


There is a second bedroom in this unit that was re-designed for use by my client’s caregivers; it has two single fold-out Murphy beds.

I thought it could look a little more inviting so I brought in some new bedding and a new lamp. (The lonely little lamp that was there looked like the one left  by the side of the road in the Ikea commercial! I felt sorry for it, but not enough to keep it, LOL.)   Here’s the before:


And here’s the after. I can see little kids loving this room, which also has a private sitting area/den separated from the living room by pocket doors.



The main bathroom also needed a little TLC (not to mention some new light bulbs!). Here’s the before:


And here’s the after:


The  master bedroom (which is absolutely huge) has the most amazing ensuite bathroom I’ve ever seen. It has a ramp leading into a walk-in shower with wall to wall tile and custom cabinetry. It’s stunning!


But the cabinetry beside the ramp needed something to perk it up. (There is built in cabinetry behind those sliding doors too, by the way.) Here’s the before:


And here’s the after (that’s a Rene Rivard print;  he’s another local artist):


This beautiful condo unit is priced at $ 499,900. Almost $ 180K was spent to redesign it in universal design, which means it is suitable for people with a wide range of disabilities, although the open concept design means anyone can enjoy it. It has gorgeous tile floors, pot lights, intercoms in each room, ensuite laundry, two storage lockers and underground parking.

There are all kinds of floor plans and design plans to show how the work that was done: I’ll upload some of them with the listing tomorrow.

160 George has incredible amenities: pool, recreation room, library, sauna, community gardens and 24/7 security. Interested or know someone who might be? Give me a call or if you have a realtor already, have them contact me for further details!

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Can a tenant be required to pay a landlord’s arrears of condo fees? You’ll be surprised by the answer!

A colleague at work showed me a form that one of her clients — a prospective tenant– had been asked to sign by a property management company. In it, the tenant agreed they could be required to pay the landlord’s arrears of condo fees. “Why would anyone in their right mind sign this?” she asked me.

But it turns out that a tenant can, in fact, be called on to pay a condo owner’s arrears.

The condominium corporation has the right to require the tenant to pay under s. 87 of the Condominium Act. Here’s what the legislation says:

Default with respect to leased unit

87 (1) If an owner who has leased a unit defaults in the obligation to contribute to the common expenses payable for the owner’s unit, the corporation may, by written notice to the lessee, require the lessee to pay to the corporation the lesser of the amount of the default and the amount of the rent due under the lease.

And if you think about it, that makes sense. If someone doesn’t pay the arrears, the condo corporation can take steps to take back the unit, which means the tenant would be evicted.

By  requiring the tenant to pay the arrears or the rent, which is ever is less, to the condo corporation, the tenant gets to stay. But in almost all cases, the rent will be more than the monthly condo fees.

If a tenant does pay the arrears, the good news is that they are  deemed to be rent, so really all that changes is that instead of paying that portion of the rent to the landlord, the tenant pays it to the condo corporation. Again, there’s what the legislation says (same section):

No default in lease

(6) The payment to the corporation shall constitute payment towards rent under the lease and the lessee shall not by reason only of the payment to the corporation be considered to be in default of an obligation in the lease.

After being served with written notice, the tenant pays the landlord’s arrears, the tenant gets to stay in the unit, the landlord doesn’t lose the unit for non-payment, and the condo corporation gets paid. It’s actually an elegant solution!

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