Increase resale value with new countertops

Want a quick way to boost what your home is worth? According to a recent survey conducted by Houzz, countertops are the top upgraded feature in most homes and the material most likely to be splurged on.

There are several materials to consider when replacing your countertop. Here, The Home Depot shares insights that will help you decide which style is the best for your lifestyle. Consider these tips not only when you are looking to sell your house, but also when you are searching for a new one.

Quartz. Over the past few years, quartz has become the product of choice for many consumers. When preparing to sell your house, consider quartz as a durable material that buyers will pay extra for. There are a variety of colours to choose from, but if you’re selling you’ll want to stick to neutral tones like whites and greys.

When buying a house, ask what material the countertops are made from. One of the main benefits of quartz is that it is resistant to chips and cracks. It’s also easy to clean because of its non-porous surface.

Natural stone. Another popular option to consider is natural stone. When selling your house, you may not want to spend a great deal on refreshing and some natural stone costs less than quartz while still offering a beautiful look that will last forever.

The material resists staining and cracking under high temperatures and requires little-to-no maintenance, making it an ideal option for those who love to cook and entertain. You won’t need to worry if guests spill their glass of Shiraz or put a hot serving plate on your counter by accident.

Achieve your long-term financial goals with your home equity

Achieve your long-term financial goals with your home equityYour home has the potential to build your personal wealth over the long term. If used prudently, a home equity line of credit (HELOC) can help you reach your financial goals.

But with a HELOC, you might be tempted to use your home as an ATM. You need a plan to use this line of credit wisely, and be aware of potential risks.

Home ownership can be a great long-term investment strategy, especially if housing prices rise. Your mortgage debt goes down, because you make regular payments against both the interest and the principal borrowed. This increases your home’s equity — the difference between what you still owe and the value of your home. A HELOC lets you borrow against this growing equity. With this form of debt, you can delay repaying the principal balance as long as you cover the interest each month. However, this short-term credit advantage can mean a long-term debt problem.

Ask yourself if a low interest rate and easy access to credit may encourage you to spend more than you can afford to pay back and jeopardize your long-term financial security. For example, if interest rates continue to rise, will you have trouble keeping up with your payments?

Avoid a debt spiral where you could find yourself using additional home equity just to stay current on your mortgage. Here are some tips:

Establish a repayment plan. Try setting aside a portion of your HELOC in a sub-account with a fixed-term repayment schedule, so you pay more than just the monthly interest.

Develop a plan for how you will use a HELOC. This includes making a realistic budget for any home renovation projects you are funding.

Create an emergency savings fund. Using a HELOC for an unexpected circumstance, like job loss, carries risks if you need to use it to cover your monthly bills for an extended period of time. What you need is an emergency cache.

Learn more about HELOCs and find useful financial planning tools online at canada.ca/it-pays-to-know.

5 rooms you can brighten with a skylight

5 rooms you can brighten with a skylightAdding a skylight can enhance any space, making it lighter, brighter, fresher and more cheerful. A skylight can also improve our experience indoors, where we spend 90 percent of our time but the air quality is three to five times worse than outdoors.

In addition to the health benefits of more natural light, skylights reduce the need for artificial light and can lower electricity costs delivering twice the amount of light as vertical windows allowing for daylight to penetrate the center of the home. Here are five rooms that would be even better with one of these light solutions.

Bathroom. By adding a venting skylight, you can allow in an abundance of natural daylight while also letting the steam out after a hot bath or shower. Plus, did you know that the best lighting for make-up application is natural light? A skylight can let you enjoy privacy, an unobstructed view and a sophisticated design touch in your bathroom.

Kitchen. Programmable skylights from Velux will let in natural light and they give you the control to properly air out your home and keep your kitchen fresh during and after cooking. By opening your skylight, gases like hot air, cooking odours and toxins escape through the roof.

Living room. Make this popular space feel bigger with a skylight — you can even combine multiple units to create an architectural statement. Add a solar-powered blind to reduce the glare on your television and other screens.

Home office. Incorporate more natural light into your home office or studio to increase productivity, minimize mistakes and improve your mood. Working in natural light will also lessen eyestrain, which can help reduce headaches.

Attic/loft conversion. By converting your attic into a functional loft, you can add more usable square footage, increasing the value of your home. Keep the space bright, airy and open by including a skylight in your new design, leaving you with views of the sky and not your neighbour’s roof, exterior side wall or bathroom. This will allow you to transform your dark attic space into a practical bright space flooded with natural light.

Find more inspiration online at moredaylight.ca/5rooms.

What do rising interest rates mean for your home?

What do rising interest rates mean for your home?There has been a lot of buzz about rising interest rates, which have increased since last summer after remaining quite low for seven years. If you’re like many Canadians, you may be facing staggering levels of household debt.

If some of your credit products carry variable interest rates, you have cause for concern. For instance, home equity lines of credit (HELOC) typically offer relatively low, variable interest rates. According to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, HELOCs represent a significantly larger portion of household debt than credit cards. If you’re already living paycheque to paycheque, even a small increase in your HELOC interest rate could make it tough to make your payments.

With flexible repayment terms and a credit limit that may increase automatically as you pay down your term mortgage, a HELOC can be part of an effective strategy to pay off other, higher-interest debt. But if you opt for this route, know that banks may approve you for a higher limit than you need, making it tempting to overspend. Consider negotiating a lower credit limit that does not increase as you pay down your mortgage.

Lower your risk of finding yourself in over your head and create a plan to pay down the principal amount borrowed on your HELOC over a fixed period. Aim to pay more than the minimum payment or interest every month. With a HELOC, there is usually no penalty to pay back as much as you can at any time.

If you think your spending habits are the cause of your existing debt, follow a budget and avoid using your home like an ATM.

Learn more about how to manage your HELOC wisely online at canada.ca/it-pays-to-know.

Top 5 tips for first-time homeowners

Top 5 tips for first-time homeownersBuying your first home can be exciting, but it is important to realize the slew of new responsibilities that come with owning property. Tasks that a landlord would take care of are now on your plate. Here are some to keep in mind:

  1. Neighbourhood by-laws. Many communities maintain regulations, such as maximum heights for fences, hedges and trees; building permits for decks; and rules for the construction of fire pits. To avoid an accidental misstep, check out the neighbourhood by-laws when you are moving.
  2. Maintain smoke alarms. According to the Canadian regulations, smoke alarms must be installed outside of each sleeping area and on each level. Maintenance of these devices include testing them every month, cleaning and changing their batteries as directed by the manufacturer, and replacing any that are over 10 years old.
  3. Check seldomly used bathrooms. Grime and dirt build-up can cause your faucets and toilets to malfunction or get damaged. Avoid this by running the taps and flushing the toilets of guest bathrooms occasionally.
  4. Curb appeal. Don’t forget to maintain your outdoor property as well. Take pride in your new home with a well-manicured yard. This may not be everyone’s favourite chore, but Stihl’s Lithium-Ion Homescaper Series can help in easing the load with lightweight and powerful tools making the job much easier.
  5. Emergency fund. Now that you own your home, you are solely responsible for any and all repairs. These can be costly, and often come by surprise. Avoid an unplanned financial burden by keeping an emergency fund for household maintenance and repairs.

Find more information about helpful tools online at stihl.ca.

How to avoid real estate fraud

How to avoid real estate fraudAs housing prices climb in many markets across the country, real estate fraud can become a much more enticing prospect for scammers. While it’s one of the lesser known kinds of fraud in Canada, its impact can be devastating.

There are two types of real estate fraud that may result in financial losses — title fraud and foreclosure fraud.

Title fraud happens when a fraudster steals the title to a home — usually after stealing the owner’s identity — then sells the home or applies for a new mortgage against it.

Foreclosure fraud happens when homeowners having difficulty making their payments mistakenly turn to a fraudster, who convinces them to transfer their property title in return for a loan. Often, the fraudster keeps their loan payments and resells or remortgages the victim’s home.

Protect yourself from becoming a victim of real estate fraud with these simple tips:

Safeguard your personal financial information.

Contact your mortgage lender first if you are having difficulty making your mortgage payments.

Consult your lawyer before giving another person a right to deal with your home or other assets.

Research the company or individual who is offering you a loan.

Do a land title search with your provincial or territorial land registry office. This search will show the name of the property owner and any mortgages or liens registered on the title.

Consider buying title insurance to protect against title fraud.

Find more information online at canada.ca/money.

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Modern plumbing makes renovations easier

Modern plumbing makes renovations easierWater supply pipes aren’t what they used to be — and that’s a good thing. Innovations have made water supply systems easier to install and more durable because of something called PEX pipe.

PEX is easier to install because it’s flexible. This lets your plumber install water supply lines where it would otherwise be impractical or highly disruptive to do with rigid pipe.

Flexible pipe connected to manifolds also makes it easier to control everything from a central location. Instead of shut-off valves at each fixture, a manifold installation puts all your shut-offs in one handy and easily accessible spot.

Finally, PEX won’t crack if it freezes with water in it. While you’ll still want to drain water from cottage pipes that will drop below freezing temperatures over the winter, if some water remains, it won’t mean a plumbing disaster in the spring.

When you hire a plumbing contractor to work on your home, make sure they do business the right way with a full written contract or work order that covers the work to be done, its cost and the warranty. The Canadian Home Builder’s Association offers free, unbiased information on how to hire a contractor the smart and safe way. Find more information at www.getitinwriting.ca.

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Buying a home? 5 forms you need to understand

Buying a home? 5 forms you need to understandIf you’re house hunting this season, you want the process of finding and buying your dream home to be an enjoyable, stress-free experience. To help, we’ve made a list of five essential forms that you’ll encounter along the way.

Buyer Representation Agreement. If you’re being represented by a brokerage then you’re considered their client and this form outlines the legal agreement between you and your brokerage. It contains an explanation of the many items, including the services the brokerage will provide to you, fees for those services, the obligations you have as a client and the expiry date of the agreement.

Customer Service Agreement. If you prefer not to enter into a client contract with a brokerage, then you may choose to be a customer and will receive a different service than if you were a client. As a customer, you will be treated fairly & ethically and will be provided honest information while your Realtor takes care not to misrepresent any facts.

Confirmation of Co-operation and Representation. This form confirms representation or customer relationships between the brokerages and the buyers and sellers. This form also details remuneration to be paid. You’ll be asked to sign a CCR before making an offer or any negotiations on a property.

Agreement of Purchase and Sale. This form is used initially by a buyer when making an offer on a property. Once the offer is made and accepted, the offer becomes a legally binding contract. Be sure you understand what’s in your offer before you sign it. Agreeing on a price is important, but make sure you speak to your Realtor about other details like the possession date, conditional terms, and which chattels or fixtures will be included or excluded with the home.

Listing Agreement. This form is the agreement between a seller and their real estate brokerage. The Listing Agreement forms the basis for drafting an offer on a home and includes directions about negotiations.

Find more information about essential forms and using a Realtor by visiting www.orea.com.

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What millennials want in a home

What millennials want in a homeWhen entering the residential market, it’s important to appeal to as many people as possible, especially young, first-time homebuyers. They’re one of Canada’s fastest-growing markets, but their tastes and priorities are quite different.

“The next generation of first-time homebuyers knows exactly what they want in their first major investment,” explains Christopher Alexander, regional director at Re/Max Integra. “Sellers need to be strategic before putting their home on the market to appeal to these needs.”

Here are the top three factors influencing millennials’ purchasing behaviour:

Location, location, location. It’s widely known that finding a home in the right neighbourhood can significantly increase ROI long-term, and millennials are taking extra note. But homes in communities where new schools and amenities are being built are attracting young buyers looking for “what’s next,” rather than what’s hot now. Up-and-coming neighbourhoods that are slated to receive investment from the city or are under redevelopment are prime for real estate investments as smart millennial buyers realize their value will only continue to rise. If the neighbourhood is walkable, that’s a bonus.

Smarter living. With exciting advancements in the ever-growing tech industry, preparing your home to appeal to a hyper-connected millennial market is easier than ever. From installing fridges that text you when you’re low on milk to wireless light switches, sellers who make even a small investment in a smarter home will instantly attract tech-savvy first-time buyers. Adding innovations such as a programmable thermostat will not only make your home appealing to the eco-conscious young buyer — the remotely adjustable tech can also help lower your utilities bills as you wait for your closing date.

Looking ahead. As a home is typically the first major investment most millennials make, it needs to be able to suit their growing list of needs. While young buyers may not have children now, many are already considering multi-bedroom homes and properties with backyards in anticipation of a soon-to-be expanding family. Investing in backyard landscaping and clearing out clutter to make space for a possible play area or nursery is a great way to appeal to young families looking for a home they can see themselves grow in.

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Questions every homeowner should ask about their property

Questions every homeowner should ask about their propertyDid you know that homeowners are responsible for the maintenance and replacement of service lines on their property when they fail? The costs associated with digging up, repairing or replacing service lines can run into thousands of dollars. More than that, any damages to trees, shrubs and driveways due to repairs must be paid out-of-pocket by homeowners.

Alarmingly, many homeowners are not aware that service line failures — including water, sewer, septic, electrical and telecommunications lines — are not covered by most home insurance policies.

“Every homeowner needs to be knowledgeable on what they’re covered for and what they’re not,” advises Isabelle Bientz, insurance expert from Aviva. “Most service lines run underground, making it easy to forget the importance of getting them checked for repairs. A lot of homeowners are also not aware that they own the outdoor service lines from their property line to their house, and behind their house to a well, septic tank or out-building.”

Before the unexpected break, leak, tear, rupture or collapse occurs, homeowners need to ask themselves these questions about their service lines:

1. How old are your pipes? The average lifespan of water pipes is 25 years, but the average age of pipes in many areas in Canada is over 50 years old, and several municipalities have water systems of comparable age. Knowing the age of your own water pipes will help you determine whether they’re due for a repair or replacement.

2. What are your pipes made of? Depending on what your pipes are made of, the life expectancy will differ. It’s important that you check the material of your sewer and water pipes in order to make an educated assessment, or consult an expert to see when they’re due for a repair or in need of a replacement.

3. Do you have mature trees near your property? If you own a home with mature trees on or near your property, the roots could cause serious damage to your service lines. Clay pipes, which are most commonly used to build water and sewer lines in older homes, can be easily penetrated and damaged by tree roots. If you suspect a tree root problem, contact a professional to investigate before the situation worsens.

Not sure if you need coverage for your service lines? Find more information from your insurance broker or online at www.avivacanada.com.

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