Alaina Burnett

Honesty and Integrity--Don't Settle for Less

My clients just got a great price for their condo in Port Moody, and they have themselves to thank!  

 

When we spoke about listing their property for sale, we talked about de-cluttering and de-personalizing the suite, so it would show well for our upcoming open houses.

 

I loaned my Sellers 10 plastic rubbermaid boxes, and told them their home would hit the market in two weeks.  With that motivation, they began the task of removing knick knacks and kids toys, doing painting touch ups, painting the fireplace surround (which was a mismatched color to the rest of the room) and cleaning the home, top to bottom.  The reward was several interested parties bidding on their home, and a sale price they are happy with.  

 

Keep these tips in mind when you're listing your home for sale:

 

1. Paint is the least-expensive renovation material you can buy.  Nothing freshens a home like new paint.  Is yours chipping, marked, dirty or outdated?  A good paint job is well worth the time (to do it yourself) or money (to get a professional) you put into it.  

 

2. No dirt is more gross than someone else's dirt.  Keep first impressions positive by cleaning your home thoroughly for your showings, and trying to keep it that way throughout the sales process.  If you have carpeting, consider getting the floors professionally cleaned--or consider replacing the carpets with hardwood or laminate.  It will pay dividends.

 

3. As mentioned above, decluttering is very important.  Take personal photos of your family down and create a warm atmosphere that will make potential Buyers imagine themselves as the new owners of the home. Go to a pre-sale showhome to get an idea of how local developers get buyers to fall in love with the thought of living in a space.....that doesn't even exist yet!  

 

4. Stage your home. Consider getting a few new pillows, throws, and other coordinated accessories that compliment your various rooms.  Less is more. 

 

5. Smell is important, too!  If you have pets or smelly teenagers, consider using candles, a plug-in scent warmer, or baking cookies prior to the open house.  

 

6. Curb appeal can mean the difference between a Buyer simply driving by and an actual visitt.  If you are selling a house, show prospective Buyers that it has been well cared for.  Consider tidying the garden, powerwashing the concrete, putting out flowers (if it's not snowing!), pruning overgrown trees, and making the home look as good as it can.  Selling your home is a numbers game--you want as many people to want to see the home as possible to result in a quick sale. 

 

Thinking of selling your home soon?  Give me a call!

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I've been working with a few clients recently who are looking for renovated properties, since they'd prefer something move-in-ready, as opposed to a fixer upper.  I can relate--renovating can be stressful, budgets can be over-run, and it is time consuming. 

 

Whether you’re browsing open houses, or touring with your Realtor®, you will probably notice that renovations in Vancouver range from high-end to “lipstick on a pig”. One Seller will spend a fortune to renovate professionally (presumably originally intended for his own enjoyment), while another is a weekend warrior who has managed to make some decent updates—until you put on your glasses.Then there are the “flippers”. How do you know that a Seller hasn’t just laid flooring over asbestos tiles, instead of remediating, or that water ingress was dealt with before putting in new tiles in a bathroom, for example?

 

Get the Sales History of the property from your Realtor®. In hot markets, people tend to buy, renovate, and flip homes quickly at a higher price for a lucrative profit.Flipped properties may have “cheap and cheerful” updates which can feature cheaper materials, or compromised workmanship.

 

Get an Inspection: When you offer on a property, one of the subjects that your Realtor® should recommend in order to protect your interests is an inspection.Unfortunately, inspections tend to fall by the wayside in multiple offer situations, but they are a great way to get some additional information on a recently-renovated property. Inspections can reveal shoddy workmanship, lack of insulation behind walls, water ingress or inferior waterproofing, and other issues. 


Ask for a detailed accounting of updates done by the current or past owners. Sometimes, updates were done two or 3 Owners ago. Try to have a record, so that you have information for when you decide to sell in the future. 


Ask to see permits, if possible. A substantial renovation would require permits to be pulled at City Hall. 


Ask who the owner is. Sometimes, the answer can be telling. Often, but not always, professional renovators will show up as a company name. If this is the case, research the company or owner, and find out if there are any lawsuits or judgments. Inquire about other projects they have done. 


Ask for the names of trades. Even if permits were not pulled, if you are purchasing a renovated property, ask for the names of any professional trades that worked on the updates.Was a plumber, carpenter, or electrician used? 

 

Look at the PDS (Property Disclosure Statement). Has it been crossed out because the “owner never lived there”? Be wary when a Seller makes no representations about a property, especially if they just renovated it. If they just opened everything up to make improvements, they SHOULD be able to tell you about it!

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My greatest regret about home ownership is that I didn’t start sooner. I bought my first apartment when I was 26, and if I had been nudged by property-savvy family or friends, I probably could have started in my earlier 20s. One of my motivations for purchasing was that I had just started a career in real estate, and I thought it would look hypocritical if I was selling clients condos in Yaletown and I didn’t own something myself, or know what my clients were going through. I still am wary of Realtors® who can advise clients to buy or sell real estate without being personally invested in the market. 

 

Lately, all I hear about in the news is how hard it is to purchase a home in Vancouver, and how most people in their 20s will not be able to own a property until they get an inheritance (or a down payment gifted from mom and dad, which is happening more often). I will admit, it’s not always easy for people to get into home ownership. And I firmly believe that not everyone is cut out for home ownership. Those in minimum wage jobs, those who plan to move around a lot for work (or who are afflicted with wanderlust), and those who are spenders instead of savers may find ownership too onerous. But for those who want a home of their own, and are dedicated to it, I still very much believe that homeownership is an attainable goal, that will build wealth over time. If you’re reading this and you’re in your late teens or 20s, this would be my advice to you:

 

SAVE YOUR MONEY. As someone once said, “if it’s on your ass, it’s not an asset”. The first thing you need to do is stop spending all of the money you earn. My first home was purchased with a loan to myself (through my RRSP, which I had been squirrelling away through my early 20s) in the amount of $17,500 to purchase a condo for $252,000. I took advantage of the CRA’s Home Buyer’s Plan, which allows you to withdraw up to $25,000 from your RRSP account to use as a down payment towards the purchase of a home they plan to live in as a principle residence. Find out if you’re eligible here: http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/hbp/ More recently, the Province is now helping home owners by giving them interest-free and payment-free loans through the BC Home Owner Mortgage and Equity Partnership Program, https://housingaction.gov.bc.ca/tile/home-owner-mortgage-and-equity-partnership/, although I recommend to my clients that they be wary of the program.

 

TALK TO YOUR BANK. The first step to home ownership is speaking with your bank or mortgage broker about your ability to qualify for a mortgage. With that information, you will be better equipped to know what you can afford, and where—and even IF. Once you have qualified for a mortgage, it’s time to get started looking for a home. 


TALK TO YOUR REALTOR®. If you think that you are looking for a home by perusing homes on websites like Realtor.ca or REW.ca, and just hitting an open house or two every week, you are not doing it right. After getting pre-approved, get out in the car and take a tour of 5 or 6 homes at once with a good Real Estate professional that can walk you through the process of finding and securing your home! This is more time effective, and far more likely to result in a positive purchasing experience. 

 

ADJUST YOUR EXPECTATIONS. Vancouver is expensive, no doubt about it. When I purchased, I “splurged” on a small one bedroom and den suite with gross carpeting. I thought it was very expensive, but I saw the value in NOT paying a landlord every month. Did I want a 2 bedroom suite? Of course. But baby steps. Just get your foot into the market. My parents thought I was crazy. The place was a shoe-box, but it had a great view, and was walking distance to everything. I owned it for two years, and then sold it for a profit to purchase a suite 200 square feet larger. My biggest regret is that I didn’t keep it!

PLAN TO LIVE NEAR TRANSIT AND YOUR WORK.
 Commuting sucks. And over the course of your life, it’s an extra year or two spent sitting in a car. Did you know that research shows that driving to and from your home in the suburbs can cost the same as a mortgage, when you spread those car costs over 25 years (like a mortgage?). Read about it here: https://thetyee.ca/News/2016/12/21/Million-Dollar-Commute/ My advice would be to live close to where you work, and reconsider car ownership in favor of car co-ops and transit.

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It may not be a safe time in history to mention this, but I worked briefly for a real estate marketing company that handled the pre-sales at the TRUMP building in Vancouver. While at that time he was not a Presidential Candidate, he was still a rich, egotistical man with bad hair and a polarizing effect on the public—even in Canada. But one good idea came out of my time touring Buyers around the swanky TRUMP Presentation Centre: my bathroom design.

The TRUMP site was the first time I saw a “wet room” bathroom, with the bathtub built INSIDE the shower. It’s a bathroom style that is gaining a lot of popularity because, while it’s a bit more work to install and waterproof, it is actually a very practical and space efficient way to build a bathroom. When we were trained on the details and specs of the bathroom, we were told residents could fill the bathtub with cold water, and alternate between a hot shower and a cold plunge, if they were so inclined. My heritage is Swedish, but you won’t see me in an icy plunge pool!

 

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We began thinking about the design of our main upstairs bathroom in the autumn of 2015. We were removing a huge jetted bathtub, a single sink with a long vanity, and a dated, stained toilet—essentially a gut job. My husband is handy, and I helped where I could with demolition in early 2016. Upon removing all the components of the bathroom, and dealing with some minor moisture ingress from shoddy maintenance, we found that the bathroom had not been properly insulated at all, and the vapor barrier was thin and not up to current building codes.

We knew we wanted a shower enclosure for this bathroom, since it is the largest and most used on our second floor (our ensuite is disappointingly small). Yet, for re-sale in the future, we knew that for families, a bathtub was essential. So we measured and found that we could squeeze a bathtub and standup shower into the void left by the jetted tub. My vote was for an elegant claw-foot tub (sigh!!), but this couldn’t be achieved without extra plumbing, and re-opening our living room ceiling below. So we opted for a soaker tub with a recessed wooden skirt edge for tiling, and a shower beyond to maximize space. Instead of a traditional shower door, we would use one large pane of glass. It’s a great idea for a family bathroom, where there’s a lot of splashing going on!

 

A few details to achieve this look:
Consider systems that will waterproof the entire space, like Wedi Board and Schluter Board, which are often sold in tile stores. Stick with a central color scheme or matching tiles to make the room appear larger Use sleek insert shelves (also part of the waterproofing system) and a dramatic laser cut tile pattern to make a statement.   
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There are lots of reasons to use a Licensed Realtor® to sell your home, regardless of the current market conditions–but as with all professionals, we are not all created equal. You are paying for a service, and you get what you pay for. Would you represent yourself in court, or hire a lawyer, if big money were on the line? What about a pro bono or discount Lawyer vs a full price one?

 

Many Sellers who are in the news recently and upset about their homes being “shadow flipped”, or sold in a way they find unfair or shady, did so WITHOUT a Realtor® representing their interests. They wanted to save commission, so when an “Agent’ (or sometimes an unlicensed Wholesaler….do you know the difference?) knocked on their door and said “I have a Buyer willing to pay cash for your home, and you can save the selling commission” they jumped at the chance. But as we have seen, their financial losses are far greater than the commission to a professional Realtor® representing them would have been. 

 

One of the most important reasons to use a Realtor® is for his or her Errors and Omissions Insurance. We pay for this–it’s part of being a professional. List as a “For Sale By Owner” and risk being sued, should you misrepresent information about your home. For that reason, Realtors® are not encouraged to list their own homes or investment properties for sale. Insurance will not cover them if they are sued by the public.

 

INTERVIEW potential Listing Realtors®, get to know what they stand for, find out who makes you and your gut feel at ease, and ask these questions before signing on the dotted line:


1. Will my home be on a lock box? (Meaning another Realtor can access your home without the Listing Realtor® present.)
You are paying for a Realtor® to show your home and protect your largest asset.

2. Will my home be professionally photographed?
Your home needs to look good on MLS. Dark, fuzzy photos with unmade beds and upturned toilet seats will not make anyone say “I’ve got to see this property!” 

3. Will my home be professionally measured, if necessary, so people know what they are buying? What about a virtual tour? 2D or 3D renderings? 

4. Will you, as my Realtor®, protect me from controversial practices like shadow flipping, and ensure I get the best price for my home? Do you know what clauses to look for? 

5. Will you, as my Realtor®, hold open houses? Keep in mind NOBODY looking for a home wants the Seller lurking around the house, eavesdropping on Buyer’s opinions of their biggest investment. It’s awkward and makes people feel uneasy. 

6. Aside from putting my home on MLS, will you use whatever forms of social and print media necessary or at your disposal to ensure my home gets the best exposure? Are you on Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? LinkedIn? Have you run print ads before? 

7. Will there be professionally designed take away flyers at the Open Houses, or will you just give prospective Buyers a plain MLS feature sheet, with one standard photo? 

8. Will the photos of my listing be Broker Loaded (meaning the photos go up online with the listing simultaneously)? If not, photos may not be loaded for hours or days after your listing hits MLS, and you are missing out of thousands of eyes on your home during the most crucial hours of its exposure. 

9. Are you a relational or a transactional Realtor®? As you can probably guess, relational Realtors® build RELATIONSHIPS and appreciate your referrals–they may become your friends, if they aren’t already. They care about you, and take their fiduciary duties to you seriously. Transactional Realtors® do what they need to do contractually, and perform their fiduciary duties, but are more cut and dried. Not better or worse–it depends on the type of Professional you prefer.

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Riding my bike through the streets of East Vancouver, I looked at the homes as I rolled by: a charming craftsman, a re-imagined Vancouver special, a peeling heritage Victorian, a new shingled Cape Cod, a modern box….a run-down “crack shack”. Outside the decrepit home, a shirtless, bearded hippie on a slackline practiced balancing between two trees. I stopped and walked by bike onto my friend’s porch. As we sat, taking in a glass of wine near Commercial Drive, she lamented: “In Vancouver neighborhoods, where home prices are soaring far above $1 million, what do you do when your neighbor is letting his home rot into the ground?”

 

I looked over to her shoulder, and immediately knew what she was referring to. Next door, the siding was falling off the side of the house, exposed clapboard showing signs of mould. The tar shingle roof was covered in moss. The garden was full of Morning Glory, which was starting to creep over the house, and under the fence and onto her property. The front of the house was almost completely obstructed by unkempt rhododendrons, and a dandelion-filled “lawn”. To the side of the yard, the remains of an upright piano sat, peeling and rotten. Which leads back to my friend’s original question: what can one do? I made a few suggestions (from worst to best):

 

WRITE AN ANONYMOUS, OR NOT SO ANONYMOUS, NOTE:

If you’re a direct person, you may consider writing a carefully worded note, suggesting that neighbors (spread the blame around!) would love to see the property tidied up. If the note is anonymous, you’re likely passive aggressive or dislike confrontation. Who can blame you? If the note is signed by you alone, be prepared for dirty looks and awkward encounters.

 

BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD

Perhaps if your neighbors see you working on your yard, or making improvements, it may serve as inspiration to keep up with the Joneses. It sounds like a stretch, but it has worked for some! However, if the property is tenanted, this likely won’t help.

 

DROP HINTS TO THE NEIGHBOR

If you happen to run into the problem neighbor, drop hints like “we are thinking of getting our house stuccoed/painted/re-roofed/fumigated/bulldozed, and we may be able to get a discount if we both get it done….are you interested? Can I send them over for a quote today?”. Or have your tradespeople put flyers and business cards in their mailbox. When you’re in the garden, talk loudly to passersby about how rewarding and stress relieving it is to get out in the fresh air and Dutch hoe, hoping to be overheard.

 

LEAD THE CHARGE

A friend recently conveyed the story of her widowed 85 year-old neighbor, whose home is an eyesore. Instead of complaining, a few neighbors banded together and offered to help with the garden, and powerwash her deck. She refused, so one friend took her out for lunch while the others did a quick clean-up around the yard. This is certainly a good-karma approach, although you may not feel so generous towards a slum-lord.

 

CONTACT THE CITY

Likely your best bet is to call the City. According to Vancouver.ca, the City can help with “properties in poor condition, suspected hoarding, vehicles parked in the front lawn, visible mould in rental properties, home based businesses where customers are coming on-site, overgrown yards, illegal suites and illegal uses, operating without a business licence, and fences in disrepair”. You can request a property-use inspection by calling 3-1-1.

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Further to my recent blog, Renovating on a Budget, Part 1, I thought I’d mention a few “hidden gems” in Vancouver that have budget-conscious finishing touches. I’m omitting the obvious “Big 3”: Home Depot, Rona and Lowe’s. Note that I don’t have a direct affiliation to these stores—I’m just getting the word out!

 

AMAZON
You can comparison shop the “Big 3” vs. Amazon.  Often, Amazon wins–if you can wait a day or two!  We sourced bendable baseboards (surprisingly expensive), exterior door hardware, light bulbs, electronic doorbells, video security, and VERA, (our talking smoke/carbon monoxide detectors) online at lower prices.

 

JACK’S NEW AND USED BUILDING MATERIALS
Jack’s is on Still Creek Dr. in Burnaby.  Aside from new and used doors, they carry demolition treasures–beautiful millwork and finishes from old mansions that have fallen victim to the wrecking ball in Vancouver. From chandeliers, to kitchen cabinets, to toilets and appliances, Jack’s is a scavenger’s dream.  I purchased a new fiberglass door with a large glass insert for $120 (retail: $400).  When it’s time to renovate our bathrooms, I will likely source a claw-foot bathtub here.


HABITAT FOR HUMANITY RE-STORE
Contractors and Do-it-Yourselfers will often donate leftover materials or scrapped finishes to the Re-store.  Tax receipts are available for larger donations.  The stores are volunteer-run, and raise money to build homes for deserving families.  They have kitchen cabinets, art, furniture, construction tools and fixtures. I personally bought two light fixtures and some backsplash tiles for our basement ($3 per square foot instead of $8).  Check out Habitat’s website for locations: www.habitatgv.ca.  There are locations in South Vancouver, North Vancouver, and two locations in Burnaby.  I had the best luck at the huge Enterprise St. store in Lake City.

 

DISCOUNT KITCHEN AND BATH CABINETS
This store, off of Lougheed in Burnaby, has designer-look sinks and faucets, and lots of cabinetry options, at very low prices.  They have paired with some counter-top fabricators as well, so they are a one-stop shop for kitchen and bathroom cabinets.  They are great for basement suite renovations!


UP-CYCLING WITH SELLUTION AND CONSIGNMENT CANADA

Up-cycling is the act of re-purposing or refurbishing something older instead of buying something new.  Oftentimes, this means better quality workmanship, and a better choice for the environment! Stores like Sellution on Kingsway (I believe they have moved from their original Main Street location) and Consignment Canada on Pemberton in North Van have some cool furniture and art to add character and warmth to your home.  You can even use stores like these to sell your current furniture, should you want a change! Even better, Sellution carries chalk paint by Van Gogh.  It’s an easy-to-use, locally-made product that is low VOC and great for refreshing old furniture!  I recently transformed an ugly cane coffee table into a shabby chic piece for our living room. Channel your inner Martha Stewart and see what you come up with.

 

RESTORATION HARDWARE OUTLET
Those in love with RH’s sleek style may not know that there is a Vancouver outlet at Morgan’s Crossing in South Surrey.  Until recently, Tulalip was your only option for a deal—and that location has closed down!  At the Morgan’s Crossing outlet, they oftentimes have 30% or 40% off the entire store, or they rotate the sale on certain categories of furniture.  Note that everything on the floor is for sale, and you may have to arrange for delivery (they don’t order online for you, stock is added on Tuesdays and Thursdays)!  Contrary to rumors, prices are in CANADIAN DOLLARS, and if you love something, buy it—it may not be there tomorrow.

 

 



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I recently finished renovating, top to bottom, a 25 year old home with my husband.  While the home wasn’t THAT old, the original owners had never upgraded anything unless it was a necessity or an emergency. Looking back on what we accomplished in such a short period of time, I thought I would share some renovation advice that has served us well:


DO AS MUCH DEMO WORK YOURSELF AS YOU CAN

My husband commenced renovating the night we “moved in” (just a mattress on the floor), ripping up 2 different colors of cheap laminate in the bedrooms.  I would have helped him, but I knew that from that point onward, our home would be a dusty construction zone. From there, we would remove more laminate, 400 square feet of tile, 300 feet of dirty pink carpeting, and several walls (NOTE: remove the drywall, but only remove the studs if you are sure the wall isn’t load bearing!).  Oh–and all the cabinetry and appliances.  If you have the time and a little expertise, handling at least parts of the demolition yourself saves a lot of money that you would otherwise have to pay another professional to handle.  Also, it’s gratifying to see the progress you make from day to day!


CHANGING THE PLAN? YOU MAY NEED A PERMIT

If you are removing load-bearing walls, or making major changes to plumbing and electrical, you may need to obtain permits from your local City Hall.  One benefit to doing your renovations with permits is giving reassurance to potential Buyers that your upgrades were done properly, when you decide to re-sell. 


START WITH WHAT OTHERS WILL SEE

If you plan on renovating your home in stages and on-budget, start by looking at the EXTERIOR of the home—windows, cladding, roof, gutters.  While these aren’t “romantic renovations”, upgrading and maintaining these items will protect your investment and pay dividends.   With interior renovations, start with the areas where you live and entertain first.  Create a living area that you will be proud to live in.   As a general rule, kitchen and bathroom renovations can make the most difference, and add the most re-sale value to a home, provided they are done tastefully!


PAINT MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE

Paint is probably the least-expensive upgrade you can make to your home—inside or out.  For a timeless look, choose neutral colors.  Bright, bold colors can make a statement, but they can look dated after awhile, and you may tire of them.   You can always make color statements with accents such as throw cushions, rugs, and other accessories that can be easily changed out.  Aside from the walls, paint made a huge difference to the look of our staircase, brick fireplace, front door and hot water baseboards. 


CHOOSE FINISHES THAT SUIT THE HOUSE AND CURRENT (LIKABLE) DETAILS

Our home came with some charming ceiling moldings and a white plaster and marble fireplace, which we intended to keep.  In leaving these features, modern kitchen cabinets, for example, would look out of place.  We built our vision around the elements in the home that were charming and worth keeping—which is the point of renovating, instead of starting from scratch!  Of course, if the home is an all-around dump with no redeeming qualities, then make sure you have a cohesive vision for the entire home—traditional, modern or contemporary. 


HIRE PROFESSIONALS WHERE NEEDED

Sometimes, doing something yourself versus hiring a professional can mean the difference between Mickey Mouse and Masterpiece.  Know when renovations are outside of your scope of knowledge.  Generally, plumbing, electrical and major structural renovations should be left to the experts. 






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