Blog › November 2013

Designing a Stunning Mantelpiece

Nothing says home sweet home more than the hearth. 

The fireplace is most often the focal point of your living room or great room. Done right, it’s what commands our attention and sets the mood of the room. The mantelpiece can be a stunning feature in which to display the story of you and your family. And it can make a big statement about your individual style, (especially this time of year, when you spruce it up with candles, boughs and lights).

An updated mantelpiece can be an inexpensive improvement that can actually raise the value of  a home.

Celia Dawson, senior vice-president of interior design at Polygon, says, “Today, the mantel can be a work of art. The true defining element of a mantel is in its design and craftsmanship.”

If your fireplace mantel is in need of a facelift, your choices are endless. We often think of mantels as made of wood, such as cherry, cedar and fir, but they can be made of brick, tiles, glass, polished stone, river rocks or metal.

“Updating your mantel by adding or changing the tiles or changing the colour can also be a great way to add personality,” says Dawson. “You can also use decorative shelves as mantels.”

Styles run the gamut. From the stately, including Edwardian, Victorian and Georgian designs, to traditional and rustic, all the way to sleek and ultramodern, home owners have endless choices.

However, Dawson cautions against simply going with what’s trending.

Bill Mercer, owner of Hazelmere Mantel agrees. He’s been selling mantels for three decades now, and he’s seen many trends come and go.

“For a few years mantels were either really ornate or modern, modern, modern; but we’ve gone back to traditional some new elements mixed in.”

How to choose the right style 

“Whether your taste is casual or formal, minimalist or not, express your individual style, but make sure it incorporates well with your room,” says Dawson.

When the veteran interior designer works with clients to decide what type of mantel to install, she’ll ask them to look at their décor, the furniture and style of home, and then choose a mantel that is “in keeping with your décor.”

“For example, in a Whistler cabin, I might opt for a square, hammered piece of timber, whereas in a really modern home, perhaps a stone ledge rock or a straight simple mantel,” she says, adding that some ultramodern fireplaces don’t even have mantels.

Before choosing your mantelpiece, look at your room with a critical eye and think of the following: Are your colours soft neutrals or bold and bright? Do you want a rustic texture or something more modern and sleek? What is the size of the room?

“Scale is very important, so choose the size of a mantel that won’t overwhelm the room,” says Dawson. “It should match the size of the room as well as the fireplace opening.

“In larger rooms, we sometimes design a non-traditional mantel with space for a television, which we incorporate right into the mantel.”

Besides, the aesthetics of your room, Mercer says there are key factors to consider when figuring out the size of mantel.

“First off, to build the mantel you’ll be asked the opening width and height as there needs to be adequate clearance from the edge of the fireplace to the mantel,” adds Mercer. “In addition, your builder or fireplace supplier needs to know where the switches, fixtures and windows are to avoid covering them.”

Considering the characteristics of the room that you would like to focus on or complement will make shopping much easier. You can also narrow down your choices by knowing what your budget is before you start shopping. An oak or brick might be less expensive than natural stone or mahogany.

By taking the time to select the right materials and design for your mantel, both Dawson and Mercer agree that you will enhance your room and add value to your home.

For your mantel makeover, find inspiration from the Internet, Pinterest and magazines and you are sure to find just the right one for your home—not to mention that you’ll have the perfect place to hang your Christmas stockings this year!

For inspirational photos of festive fireplaces… and other places. Click below.


Holiday Home Decor Pinterest Board

Recently Sold Listing 2588 W 33RD AV, Vancouver, British Columbia

V1026304 - 2588 W 33RD AV, Vancouver, British Columbia, CANADAI have just recently sold this listing at 2588 W 33RD AV, Vancouver.

Vancouver New Home Market Forecast

crystal ballLow interest rates, steady immigration levels, and an undiminished desire for home ownership are predicted to remain three of the top drivers in 2014's residential building industry according to experts at two recent real estate forecast events in Vancouver. And that means positive news for home buyers and developers.

Interest rates

Speaking recently to a sellout crowd of builders and developers at the Urban Development Institute, Michael Ferreira, managing principal of Urban Analytics made several bold predictions for 2014. A continued low interest rate was at the top of the list.

"There’s been a lot of talk about how our current low mortgage rates can't be the norm. But despite a rise of 50 to 70 basis points over the last few months, my expectation is that low interest rates will prevail through 2014 and possibly well into 2015.'

Many others agree. Carol Frketich, CMHC BC Regional Economist, is one. At the recent CMHC Housing Outlook Conference she also pointed out that five years ago the posted one-year rate was more than double what it is today. That number becomes even more significant in light of the fact that prices of newly built homes in the suburbs - particularly townhouses - have dropped in some areas. Low interest rates and lower prices mean added appeal for younger buyers.

Neil Chrystal, president and CEO of Polygon Homes was this year’s CMHC keynote speaker. He added that earlier this year, discounted mortgages dipped as low as 2.7% - a rate he described as "unbelievable".

Chrystal also drew spontaneous applause when he suggested the time is right to re-introduce the defunct 30-year amortization because fears of an overheated market creating a housing bubble are unfounded.

He also believes that in Canada, unlike the United States, the desire to own a home will never go out of style. But while he sees current prices as fair and representing excellent value, he also cautioned that many first-time buyers will need to reset their expectations.

"More often than not," he said, "the first-time buyer is a young couple paying very high rents to live in an area they can’t afford to buy in. The bulk of their income goes to lifestyle, leaving very little extra cash for a down payment. But for the same money, the same couple who’s renting in Yaletown could actually afford to buy in Richmond, and they’d still be only 20 minutes away from their friends and favourite restaurants via the Canada Line."

Ferreira did caution that BC is losing young people, who are going to other provinces to find jobs and lower-priced homes. Those are the first-time or move-up buyers who would normally buy in the Fraser Valley, and he said this was a trend to watch carefully.


All speakers believe immigration, especially from Asian Pacific countries, will remain strong far into the foreseeable future, with most of those immigrants settling in Metro Vancouver. Why? "Because Vancouver is consistently ranked one of top cities in world, it’s a beautiful city, and it’s a safe city with excellent social infrastructure, health care and education," Chrystal said.

Michael Ferreira noted that Metro Vancouver is now home to one of the largest Chinese populations outside China. He said it's no surprise considering  approximately 130 direct overseas flights every week and a culturally friendly environment where newcomers can find the food, entertainment, and media they want.

He stressed that it's a common misconception to think the many investor class immigrants are all high-net-worth individuals. "A lot are middle income: people like ship captains, bus drivers, technicians. And not all of them are buying homes in West Vancouver - they’re buying in places like North Delta, Coquitlam, and Burnaby as well."

Supply and demand

Ferreira and Chrystal both anticipate that supply will remain somewhat constrained in 2014. Ferreira cautioned there may be more protests over rezoning in established neighbourhoods like Marpole. He suggested that it would be harder to get approval for developments because no one wants to anger residents before the upcoming municipal elections. The coming year, he said, could be "another grinder" for developers, but a good time for buyers.

Like many, he predicts Metro Vancouver’s infatuation with urban master-planned communities will continue. He singled out the redevelopment of the Oakridge and Brentwood malls as two to watch. He’s also keeping a close eye on Trump Tower, which he predicted will be half sold by the end of year, even at $1,500 per square foot.

Other good news for consumers: as more projects continue coming to market, consumers will have greater choice, less pressure to "hurry up and buy" and increasing opportunity to take advantage of enticing incentives offered by developers who are looking to stand out in the marketplace.

See More

10 Terrible Mistakes Buyers Make When Purchasing a Home

  1. Making an offer on a home without being prequalified. Prequalification will make your life easier - so take the time to speak with a lender or a Mortgage Broker. Their specific questions in regard to income, debt, etc., will help you determine the price range you can afford. It is an important step on the path to home ownership.
  2. Not having a home inspection. Trying to save money today can end up costing you tomorrow. A qualified home inspector will detect issues that many buyers can overlook.
  3. Limiting your search to open houses, ads or the internet. Many homes listed in magazines or on the internet have already been sold. Your best course of action is to contact me. I have up-to-date information that is unavailable to the general public and the best resource to help you find the home you want.
  4. Choosing a Real Estate agent who is not committed to forming a strong business relationship with you. Making a connection with the right Realtor is crucial. Choose a professional who is dedicated to serving your needs - before, during and after the sale.
  5. Thinking there is only one perfect house out thereBuying a home is a process of elimination, not selection. New properties arrive on the market daily, so be open to all possibilities. Ask me for a comparative market analysis. This compares similar homes that have recently sold, or are still for sale.
  6. Not considering long-term needsIt is important to think ahead. Will the home suit your needs 3-5 years from now?
  7. Not examining insurance issuesPurchase adequate insurance. Advice from an insurance agent can provide you with answers to any concerns you may have.
  8. Not buying a home protection planThis is essentially a mini insurance policy that usually lasts one year from the close of escrow. It usually covers basic repairs you may encounter and can be purchased for a nominal fee. Talk to me to help you find the protection plan you need.
  9. Not knowing total costs involvedEarly in the buying process, ask me or your lender for an estimate of closing costs. Title company and attorney fees should be considered. Pre-pay responsibilities such as Homeowner Association fees and insurance must also be taken into account. Remember to examine your settlement statement prior to closing.
  10. Not following through on due diligenceBuyers should make a list of any concerns they have relating to issues such as; crime rates, schools, power lines, neighbors, environmental conditions, etc. Ask the important questions before you make an offer on a home. Be diligent so that you can have confidence in your purchase.

Greater Vancouver Real Estate Market: October 2013

The Greater Vancouver MLS real estate market continues to chug along. Sales have recovered from last year's lows and are now closely following 10 year averages. Listings have trended downward most of the year and continue to do so, and prices remain pretty much where they were a year ago.

We continue to see fairly typical activity when it comes to monthly home sale and listing totals. Today's activity is helping to keep us in balanced market territory, which means that prices tend to experience minimal fluctuation.

But don't stop reading. To alleviate the yawn factor of this month’s REBGV residential real estate stats, we'll sprinkle in some interesting observations and predictions from the CMHC's latest Housing Outlook.

Sales and Listings

A total of 4,315 residential properties hit the market in October, 14.2 per cent fewer new listings than in September. Active listings stood at 15,257 homes at month's end, which was also down, by 5.3 per cent, from September. There were 7.2 per cent more sales than in September, with 2,661 homes sold. Of those, 1,067 were detached houses, 496 were townhouses and other attached homes and 1,098 were apartments.

What's Up, What's Down – At a Glance
 Oct 2013 / Sept 2013 Oct  2013 / Oct 2012
Overall Sales +7.2% +37.8%
- Detached +4.5% +35.1%
- Townhome +12.2% +46.7%
- Apartment +7.9% +36.7%
New Listings -14.2% -0.2%
Current Listings -5.3% -12.2%








 Take a look at how Greater Vancouver sales have been clinging to the 10 year average for four months. October sales beat the average by 2.8 per cent and beat last October's sales by 37.8 per cent.

Greater Vancouver MLS Home Sales

According to CMHC senior market analyst Lance Jakubec, the 2013 increase in sales has been driven by single-detached houses in just a few locations: Vancouver, Richmond, the North Shore, Port Moody and Burnaby. Year-to-date house sales actually dropped in all other Greater Vancouver areas compared to the first three quarters of 2012.

YTD condo sales in Greater Vancouver are up only 1 per cent for the region, led by Richmond and Burnaby, with minor increases in West Side Vancouver, Port Moody and Delta. Everywhere else, YTD condo sales have dropped compared to the same period in 2012.

However, those year-to-date numbers include the slow start we experienced early in 2013. Looking at the REBGV sales numbers that compare just the last three months, we see across the board improvements over the August to October period of 2012, and that goes for houses and condos in all markets.

Meanwhile new listings were just 1.9 per cent below the 10 year average. Both new and active listings have declined continuously since May, except for an uptick in September. This chart from the CMHC's latest Vancouver Housing Outlook shows how active listings (dark blue) have recently been going down as sales (light blue) have gone up. It’s clear that actual number of listings is much higher than it was in the seller's market years leading up to the 2008 recession. (Note that this chart only covers the first half of 2013.)

Listings Edge Down

We're currently at a sales-to-active-listings ratio of 17.4 per cent, considered a balanced market.

Benchmark Price (MLS Home Price Index)

With sales and listings in balance, there's very little action on the price front. Even the REBGV’s detailed benchmark price statistics - broken down by sub-area and housing type - reveal minimal price changes. Here's the gist…

Greater Vancouver MLS Benchmark Prices % Change
 Oct 2013Sept  2013Oct 2012
Detached $922,600 0.0% -0.5%
Townhome $458,000 -0.1% +0.1%
Apartment $365,600 -0.33% -0.9%





 So once again, we turn to the CMHC for a bit of excitement. One stat we don’t see in the REBGV monthly reports is how actual selling prices compare to asking. How much are sellers willing to come down from their asking price to sell their home?

CMHC looked at single-family detached sales in the City of Vancouver and discovered that the biggest discounts were in the pricey West Side (darker blue indicates bigger discount).

Single Detatched


Shaughnessy, had the biggest difference between asking and selling. The average asking price is $5.2 million, and the average discount was 7 per cent. True, at those prices there's more flexibility, but the difference - about $364,000 - would be enough to get you the average apartment in North Vancouver, with change.

This map makes a handy guide for buyers. Check out what neighbourhoods tend to have the most room for negotiation and make your offers accordingly. In the hot neighbourhoods of Main and Fraser, shown in white, house sellers seem to be getting their asking prices, while the pale blue areas indicate that sellers will move a bit, but not much.

Overall, the Greater Vancouver real estate market has made a good recovery from the lows of 2012. The CMHC’s forecasts:

  • Moderate increases in new construction for 2014
  • Continued gains in sales and prices for the resale market
  • Existing inventory of condominium apartments, and the future supply currently under construction, will keep prices stable


Buying Your First Home - What You Need To Know

Buying Your First Home – CONGRATULATIONS!

Did you know that two out of three Canadian families own a house? That is one of the highest rates of home ownership in the world. And for good reason; Real estate is a great investment.

And with increasing housing prices, it's all the more important for first-time buyers to get a foot on the first rung of the property ladder. If you want to make it big, about 80 per cent of millionaires made their first million in real estate!

So what are some of the advantages of becoming a homeowner today?

  1. Home ownership is the single largest source of savings for Canadian households.
  2. Your payments build equity (as opposed to renting, where your money goes to the building owner).
  3. Unlike other investments that can be volatile, when you buy a home the increase in its value is relatively steady. The average price of a house for sale on the Canadian real estate market has increased every year since 1998.
  4. The return on investment for a house can be substantial. In Canada, there has not been a recorded 10-year period where average house prices have not increased.
  5. Homeowners can use the equity in their homes as security for other loans.
  6. Buying a home and building equity is the first step on the property ladder. It gets you into the housing market, keeps you in touch with increasing house prices, and puts you in a good position to trade up to bigger and better homes as your circumstances allow.

Before you begin searching for a home, it is important not to waste your or your realtor's time searching for homes you can't afford. Never mind the heartbreak of falling in love with a home that is unfortunately out of reach at the time.

The first step in buying a new home should be to take a look at what you can afford and how you are going to pay for it. If you're like the majority of home buyers, you will have to finance your purchase with a mortgage loan. So what exactly is a mortgage?

A mortgage is a loan that uses the home you buy as security. This loan is registered as a legal document against the title of your property. Below is a quick overview of some of the most common terms and aspects of a mortgage that you should understand.

  • The principal is the amount of the loan that is actually borrowed.
  • The interest is the amount the lender charges for the use of funds borrowed. Interest rates vary according to a number of factors including terms and conditions of the mortgage and the borrower's credit history. Payments are usually comprised of both principal and interest.
  • The amortization period is the number of years that it will take to repay the entire mortgage loan in full. A longer amortization period will result in lower payments but will take longer to pay off the loan which means you will pay more in interest. Amortizations typically range from 15-30 years.
  • The term is the length of time for which a mortgage agreement exists between you and your lender. A longer term means you will keep the interest rate agreed upon for a longer length of time. Rates and therefore payments vary with the length of the term. Terms usually range from 1-10 years with a five-year term being the most common. Generally a longer term, because of the added security, will be at a higher rate than a shorter term.
  • The maturity date marks the end of the term, when you can repay the balance of the principal or renegotiate the mortgage at interest rates in effect at that time. If you choose to repay or renegotiate the mortgage before this time, penalties may be charged. Once your mortgage matures you are free to renew with your current lender or shop around to other lenders for the best rate.
  • The payment schedule is the frequency at which you will make your mortgage payments. These can occur monthly, semi-monthly (twice a month), bi-weekly (every other week) or weekly. Generally, more frequent payments result in lower interest costs over the life of your mortgage as more principal will be paid down per year.

When you are ready to start looking at buying a home, you will need to first determine who you will want to work with to get financed. Traditionally most people will use either a mortgage broker or a bank. Your parents probably dealt with a bank to buy their first home, but times are changing. Over 25 per cent of Canadians used a mortgage broker for their last transaction, and about 47 per cent of all first-time home buyers used a mortgage broker. Why has there been such a shift?

First, mortgage brokering used to be primarily for "subprime" mortgages (individuals with poor credit or other unique circumstances). Since the 1990s, many major lenders including major banks and trust companies began to use mortgage brokers as an additional channel to fund their "prime" mortgages. Almost all Canadian banks have ties to the broker channel in some way, by either directly or indirectly funding mortgages.

The other big shift that has occurred over the past five years is centralization. Gone are the days of relationship banking, where a bank will help you based on your relationship and length of time you have been with them.

Now many banks base their lending criteria on quantifiable data, like income to debt ratios, credit ratings, etc.

Fitting into your bank's box is more difficult than ever before due to the credit crisis that began in 2008, and banks' boxes have shrunk considerably. Even if you do fit in their box, is their box appropriate for you?

A mortgage pre-approval is when your lender has reviewed your basic financial information (income, credit score, current debts, etc.) and has determined the maximum amount of money they will lend to you.

The pre-approval process consists of three quick and easy steps.

Once this is done, your file will be sent for a pre-approval to the lenders that offer the best rate and product to suit your needs.

Our policy is not to send in a preapproval until rates start to move up, ensuring that you get the longest rate hold period possible.

To determine how much you qualify for banks use a set of ratios that determine how much of your income will be used to pay down your current debt.

The two ratios used are Gross Debt Servicing (GDS) and Total Debt Servicing (TDS).

GDS is the percentage of your gross income that is required to cover housing costs. These costs include the following items:

  • Mortgage payment
  • Property tax payment
  • Heating expenses
  • Strata fees (if applicable)

This is a protection plan for the bank. If you default, the bank forecloses and they lose money, but the insurer will cover the bank's losses.

There are various sources available for your down payment:

  • RRSP withdrawal: You can withdraw up to $25,000 per borrower to be used toward your down payment. The funds have to be repaid within 15-years and you cannot take out RRSPs that haven't been in the account for at least 90 days.
  • Gift: A most common way for first-time homebuyers is to receive a gift from family to help with the down payment.
  • Borrowed funds: This is most common with individuals who have good incomes and have money available on a line of credit.
  • Sweat equity: Sweat equity is when you have assisted a builder in building the home you are buying.

To complete the transfer of title into your name you will need to talk to a notary or lawyer which costs $1,000 to $1,200. If you are not a first-time homebuyer you may not qualify for a property transfer tax exemption. In B.C., property transfer tax is one per cent of the first $200,000 of your purchase and two per cent of the balance. However, in B.C., if your purchase is less than $425,000 you will not have to pay PTT. If you purchase between $425,000 and $450,000, you will pay a percentage of the tax, and if you purchase a home over $450,000 the full amount is required.

The process of finding the right home can take anywhere from one day to more than a year. Take your time and know when to bite.

Writing an offer can seem scary, but if your realtor includes good "subjects" in the offer (requirements that must be met in order for you to proceed with the purchase), it doesn't have to be. Removing subjects should only take place once you are absolutely sure you want to purchase the property. Make sure to take your Realtors advice into consideration when writing your offer price. It is uncommon for the first offer to be accepted, so be prepared to face a counter offer. Sometimes multiple counter offers may go back and forth before you and the sellers have agreed to a price.

You should always at least have subject to financing in your offer. A pre-approval does not ensure that when it comes time to purchase, you are guaranteed to be approved. The lender may have issues with a property, a strata, or something else unforeseen during the pre-approval process.

You should inform your Broker as soon as you have an accepted offer so that they can get working on the financing right away. Your Broker may need to update some of your documentation and will also need documents related to the property (for more information about normal documentation requirements, see Appendix B).

It is at this stage that you want to firm up which term, amortization, down payment amount etc., which you will want to proceed with. Your Broker should be able to advise you what your options are regarding; pre-payment privileges, rates, and expected turnaround times.

Usually it is a good idea to make sure that your financing has been approved or that there is a strong chance of it happening before paying for an inspection, which usually costs $450+. However, you will still need to give the inspector ample time to arrange a time to inspect the property so make sure you discuss with your Realtor to figure a proper time frame.

It is highly recommended that either you or your Realtor is present during or after the inspection so that you have a good idea of what problems the property may have and also what is in very good shape. Some issues may arise when the inspector goes through a property so be prepared to either walk away or renegotiate your price if there are major issues like mould, evidence of a previous illegal substance operation or other dangerous items contained in the report. Not only do these issues affect your health and safety, they can make the property more difficult for finance both for you and for a potential future buyer once you sell. Once you have the report you should discuss how to move forward with your realtor.

Removing subjects happens when you decide you are 100-per-cent committed to purchasing the property. You then remove all of the subjects that protect the buyer (subject to financing, inspection, etc.). At this point, your financing should be 100 per cent settled, inspection was sufficient, appraisal was sufficient (if necessary), and strata documentation was sufficient (if applicable), as well as any other conditions you had in your purchase contract. As mentioned earlier, it is not writing the offer that you should be concerned with, it is removing subjects - there is no turning back. Upon removing subjects you will typically have 24 hours to provide a deposit cheque and you are "firm" on the deal.

Now that you are firm on the deal, you need to get prepared for the closing date that you specified on your contract. This will typically be two to four weeks after you have removed subjects, but can be longer depending on the preferences of both buyer and seller. During this time there are a few items you will need to arrange.

We know how important it is to be properly insured, so we always offer two options when discussing insurance. One product is a No Questions Asked mortgage insurance product that provides life, disability and critical illness insurance for up to $500,000.

The other option is to speak with one of our affiliated insurance advisers who can give you one on one advice to help you make your decision.

By now you should know how much money you need to bring in to your notary or lawyer to complete the transaction, and will be instructed to bring them a bank draft or certified cheque to cover the balance of the funds to close, along with proper ID.

During this meeting you will be going through a fair bit of paperwork with the lawyer or notary to complete the transfer.

Depending on which lender you use, it may be necessary for you to visit the branch to go over important mortgage details like preferred payment dates, etc. before closing.

Usually on the day of closing you will get your keys. Make sure your realtor tells you when you are able to move in, as the sellers may still be moving out the morning of the possession date. The sellers should have already cleaned the house, but another clean won't hurt!

Make sure you change your locks after closing. You don't want extra keys floating around, jeopardizing your security.

You're done! You are now a homeowner!

New Mortgage Rates Drops

Last week, the Bank of Canada dropped their usual reference to when interest rates may rise. It’s a sign that growth has been too slow to warrant ending low rate stimulus. In fact, it’s since been speculated that the Bank would have cut their Overnight Lending Rate even lower than one per cent, where it has remained since post-recession September 2010. The only reason it didn’t, according to a Nomura Securities report, is the worry that even lower rates will further fuel household debt and the heated housing market.

In the report, economist Charles St-Arnaud says that a rate drop could remain a future possibility if economic factors don’t turn around, stating, “The probability of a [rate] cut over the next six months could be as high as 20 per cent.”

The current BoC growth forecast for the last six months of 2013 is now two per cent – down from 2.5, which was already cut from the overly optimistic 3.2 per cent called for earlier in the year.

Will Prolonged Low Rates Call For New Mortgages Restrictions?

With the BoC maintaining such a low cost of borrowing and with the housing market making a voracious comeback, fears are renewed that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty may introduce new rules to restrict the mortgage market even further. He’s already done this four times in efforts to stem rapidly growing prices and debt in Canada, most recently by mandating a maximum 25-year amortization for high ratio buyers, and limiting HELOCs to 80 per cent. However, it doesn’t seem to have worked – the latest housing market data shows sales are still booming and prices still rising.

However, Flaherty has gone on the record to put concerns at ease – for now. He stated Monday that while the Bank of Canada has “basically no room to move”, he has “no intention of interfering in the market for the time being.”

He added that he plans to discuss market prices with industry developers to gain more insight to future demand. 

Mortgage Rates