Wednesday, July 6, 2011


City's housing market blooms in June
Condo market posts first gain of the year
By Mario Toneguzzi, Calgary Herald
July 5, 2011

Calgary's residential real estate market experienced a significant late spring upswing.

Single-family MLS sales last month finished up 32 per cent, to 1,398 homes, from June 2010's 1,059 transactions, according to data released Monday by the Calgary Real Estate Board.

Condo sales -up almost 31 per cent -were up year-overyear for the first time since April 2010. The real estate board recorded 581 sales last month, compared to 445 in June 2010.

While sale prices continue to lag and 2011 sales are up only two per cent over the first six months of 2010, the late spring swoon has brought tempered optimism of a continued turnaround.

"We had a late spring maret this year. It's all starting to come together in June," said Sano Stante, president of the Calgary Real Estate Board.

"Last year we had an exuberant market early on and it died in June.

"So to draw comparisons year-to-year for that month shows an exaggeration of the trend."

The average sale price for a single-family home in June remained almost flat, falling to $479,580 from $481,960 a year ago.

Condominium prices, on average, rose to $296,501, the highest since May 2010, from $292,182.

On a year-to-date basis, single-family home sales for the first six months are up more than 5.5 per cent, while condo sales are down almost five per cent.

"Strong monthly increases does not imply a housing boom, as it is important to put into perspective that sales activity remains below longterm averages," the real estate board said in a statement.

However, there are signs the local housing market is starting to find its footing, said Stante.

"This gradual levelling has been fuelled by growth in employment, and in particular growth in full-time jobs," he said.

Improved job prospects, combined with an increase in the number of people moving to Calgary, will give lift to our housing market for the remainder of this year and into the next."

Dan Sumner, an economist with ATB Financial in Calgary, said a year-over-year comparison may be misleading as to the strength of the Calgary housing market given that June is often one of the busiest months for sales, even though the same month last year was abnormally slow.

"Fuelling sales is a stronger economy specifically in Alberta, which feeds through into consumer confidence and that's making Albertans more comfortable with home purchases again," he said, adding low interest rates are also luring buyers.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


The common cents of strata fees
Keeping costs low may put future building maintenance, repairs at risk
By Tony Gioventu, The Province
June 19, 2011

Q: Our strata council is under a lot of pressure from our owners to keep our strata fees down, but it means we are going to have to reduce maintenance and services to our building.

We have been checking out strata fees in the Abbotsford area, and while we are a bit on the higher side, we do have some additional services that other apartment complexes do not.

Is there some way to compare our strata fee rates in a 61-unit woodframe building with other regions of the province? It would be helpful if there was some way of knowing whether our fees are in line or not.

We had a real estate agent at our AGM in May who recommended we keep our fees low and simply have special levies when we needed them for repairs, but that appears to us to be self-serving for the agents and not realistic for the strata corporations to be able to operate; and if we maintain strata fees at exactly the same rate as last year, we will likely be facing a

A: Comparing your fees to another strata corporation will only establish a comparison of the amount, but will not take into consideration any of the services, amenities, maintenance or operational functions, geographic variations, landscaping functions, or even the basic building construction and durability of each of the properties.

Strata fees are set by approving the annual budget. The annual budget is proposed by the strata council to the owners at the annual general meeting, and based upon the amount approved in the annual budget and the contribution to the contingency reserve fund, that amount is used to calculate the monthly contribution of each strata lot.

We did a research comparison in 2008 between two almost identical properties in Richmond and Nanaimo.

Both were approximately the same age, design, number of units, basic construction, and offered the same services. Both had central heating and hot water which were included in the monthly strata fees and had a comparable history of operations. The one main difference was that strata fees were almost 50-per-cent higher historically in the Nanaimo strata, and the main influence was an integrated maintenance and operations plan in their annual budget.

At the time, the Nanaimo strata was not facing any special levies for major repairs, while the Richmond strata was facing two levies for roofing and balconies.

The process of annual budgeting really has little benefit if a strata corporation has not created a maintenance and operations plan and simply agrees that last year's budget seemed to work because it balanced at year end.

What you should really assess is: "What did we leave out last year?" A basic inventory of your major building components and an understanding of the maintenance and inspection requirements each year will have an overwhelming benefit to your strata corporation if you provide enough funding to meet those obligations.

With an aging strata inventory, the grim reality of neglected maintenance and repairs is rapidly setting in. Much of that problem is caused by underfunded budgets and low strata fees, the genesis of which was often created by the development industry showing artificially low budgets to make new housing more affordable and attractive.

Consumers are now faced with rising special levies for the replacement and renewal of major building systems that have not served out their full life expectancy, often due to neglect; and that neglect is usually linked to lack of funding with no planned maintenance and operations plan.

In addition, rising energy costs are absorbing the desperately needed increases for maintenance and renewals.

If you show a simple graph of a building aging and the costs to operate, both lines should run on a rising parallel.

For every year a property increases in age, the life of the roof, windows, balconies, plumbing, elevators, proportionally decreases until they are renewed. The more important question ever yone should ask: " Are our strata fees high enough?"

Tony Gioventu is executive director of the Condominium Home Owners' Association.


Pocket-(Sized) Listings: Homes Under 550 Square Feet for Sale

Jun. 17 2011

Size is not everything, especially if you ask a small, but mighty movement of people who prefer 400 square feet of real estate over 4,000. People who choose to live in smaller-sized homes cut down on living costs and since the recession and housing bust, the trend is really catching on, says Kent Griswold author of

These small homes can encompass a range of sizes, all the way down to a 84-sq ft home in Olympia, WA that was featured in NPR’s “tiny house movement” video.

"People are trying to downsize their lives, get rid of debt,” Griswold said. “Your cost of living is lower, your utilities don’t cost nearly as much. It changes your whole attitude — you’re in a small space, you only have room for so many items, it’s a lifestyle change.”

While some people purchase land and build their own small homes through kits, like, Cusato Cottages, others just choose to buy or rent homes that are smaller in size. Interested in downsizing your life? We rounded up a few small homes for sale, each with dimensions around 550 square feet or below:

6559 Beach Dr. SW Seattle, WA
For Sale: $335,000
Square Footage: 460

This romantic and private bungalow is nestled on prime Seattle real estate along the Puget Sound in the West Seattle neighborhood of Seaview. Built in 1926, the log cabin has original leaded windows, a claw-foot tub, stone fireplace and darling nook-sized bedroom.

15 Napier Ln San Francisco, CA
For Sale: $1,230,000
Square Footage: 550

Own a piece of San Francisco history by purchasing this piece of Telegraph Hill real estate. Built around 1884, this home is one of the few Telegraph Hill homes that survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. The two-story cottage was remodeled in 2002 and 2003. The 2-bedroom, 2-bath home has partial views of the bay and an open floor plan that makes it feel more spacious than its 550 square feet.

741 Wilcox Ave Los Angeles, CA
For Sale: $549,000
Square Footage: 528

It’s no secret that Hollywood real estate is pricey and this 2-bedroom, 1-bath bungalow is one prime example. Despite the home’s small size, it boasts a variety of amenities that up its home value, including a large entertainment-sized deck with hot tub and pergola, as well as a gated courtyard at the entrance of the home and hardwood floors throughout. Built in 1921, this little house was last sold in 2009 for $265,000.

9 Lincoln Ave Hampton Bays NY
For Sale: $599,000
Square Footage: 488

This updated piece of Hampton Bays real estate is a tiny alternative to a vacation condo. Set on Tiana Bay, the cottage has 50 feet of private beach access. Built in 1991, the home has undergone a complete remodel with updates to the kitchen, bath, electric and plumbing systems. With an open floor plan and high ceilings, the 1-bedroom, 1-bath house is a perfect summer hideaway.

7 S Maine St Kennebunkport, ME
For Sale: $385,000
Square Footage: 280

With only 280 square feet of living space, this piece of Kennebunkport real estate makes some New York studios look spacious. A part of Cabot Cove, a cottage beach community, this cottage has been professionally landscaped and furnished. The cottage has views of the cove and river and can be used as a primary residence, or summer rental.

527 Berkley St Berkley, MA
For Sale: $67,600
Square Footage: 478

Built in 1921, this 1-bedroom home is listed on the Berkley real estate market as a “great condo alternative.” The 478-square-foot cottage sits on a wooded lot just over half an acre just four minutes from Berkley’s city center, and about an hour’s drive from Boston.

507 N 21st St Wilmington, NC
For Sale: $119,900
Square Footage: 500

Sitting at 500 square feet, this World War II-era bungalow is within minutes of downtown and a local beach. The “move-in ready” 2-bedroom, 1-bath home was previously listed for $127,000 on the Wilmington real estate market.

2702 N. Ardmore Ave Manhattan Beach, CA
For Sale: $685,000
Square Footage: 498

Listed on the prestigious Manhattan Beach real estate market, this 2-bedroom, 1-bath home has been completely updated since its construction in 1954. The 498-square-foot cottage has a slate fireplace and brand new kitchen and bath. The house includes a breakfast nook, extra room, and gated front yard.


Hawaii's house prices grab Canadians' attention
Foreclosures driving the market
By Grania Litwin, Postmedia News
July 2, 2011

Snorkelling, swimming, surfing and suntanning aren't the only reasons Canadians visit Hawaii these days.

They're saying aloha to condos and homes that have plummeted in price as much as 60 per cent since January 2008, while the Canuck buck soars. Why buy a cottage on a lake in B.C. or Alberta, when you can laze on a beach with gardenia breezes?

"What's really driving the market is foreclosures," says Re/Max Resort Realty's Howard Dinits, who lives on Maui.

"Many island properties here were bought as second homes by speculators in the States. In the economic downturn people used revenue from these holiday rentals to make payments on their main homes -then defaulted on the island properties. "In some areas prices have dropped 40 to 60 per cent and it's as bad as Phoenix."

He gets calls and emails from Canadians daily. "Some are waiting for a bell to ring that says we have hit absolute bottom," he jokes. "Others have pulled the trigger because in Maui we're having a half-off sale."

The loonie, valued at 62 cents US almost a decade ago, hit $1.05 in April. That means a million-dollar property in Hawaii, that would have cost a Canadian about $1.6 million in 2002, is now under a million.

The best values are on the big island. "In Maui, you need two wallets -on Hawaii you can survive on one," Dinits says. "You can get a nice house on Hawaii today, six blocks from the ocean, for $66,000. That would be a bank owned foreclosure, or REO (Real Estate Owned) deal."

The Hawaiian capital, Honolulu, is on Oahu, where property values declined only 7.1 per cent in the last year thanks to a more stable population and U.S. military base.

While cheaper homes sell fastest, on Maui more than 250 homes sold for over $1.8 million last year. A typical condo now sells for about $250,000, while a typical house is $480,000.

Dinits sold Ottawa businessman David Renfroe, 38, a two-bed, two-bath condo in the Maui town of Lahaina last year for his growing family. "We went over looking for a bank foreclosure," Renfroe says. "With our strong dollar it seemed like a no-brainer."

After doing his due diligence, he made a lowball offer and was shocked when he got it. "We paid $245,000 for a condo previously priced at $550,000. We were thrilled."

He has reserved several months for family and friends and rents it the rest of the time.

"Everybody here is looking at Florida, but there's hurricanes and 20 per cent unemployment there. I think the Hawaii market will come back quicker."

Dinits recently sold two oceanfront condos to a Lillooet couple: a one-bedroom for $250,000 and a two-bedroom for $300,000. Both are available for vacation rental, which is important, as strata fees can be $800 a month.

Another young Canadian family recently bought a vacation home in Lahaina for $245,000. "It's managed by a company that rents it, cleans it and had it 90 to 100 per cent rented all winter at $195 a night." The unit was worth $500,000 in 2005.

The best deal he has seen most recently was a $123,900 condo previously valued at $289,000. Located at the north end of Kihei, a block from the beach, it had a recent $40,000 renovation and features two bedrooms, two baths and two parking stalls.

"There's no pool, but it's a block from the 'big' pool. And strata fees are under $400 because of that," says Dinits, who closed 67 deals last year.

The most affordable living is in Hilo or Puna, on the lush (rainy) side of Hawaii. Here a three-bedroom, two-bath, 1,200-square-foot home, built five years ago goes for $125,000 to $175,000. Not all neighbourhoods allow vacation rentals, however.

"Raw land sold for $75,000 an acre in Puna in 2008. Today I just sold some for $19,000."

There are deals at the top end, too. A Lahaina house was just listed for $1.25 million. Completely remodelled, it has a pool, ocean views, four bedrooms and 2,600 square feet; it was $1.88 million three years ago.

Hawaii has a 10 per cent federal and five per cent state withholding tax, to force people to pay the 15 per cent tax on capital gains. It does not apply if a person sells for a loss, or reinvests in more U.S. property.

Dinits doesn't see prices strengthening any time soon.

"I don't think we'll see irrational appreciation in the next five years, although Americans do have amnesia."

Oahu real estate agent Kalama Kim agrees. Kim is with Coldwell Banker and specializes in Waikiki, where the median price for a condo is $296,000.

"Canadians now make up 15 per cent of the traffic at open houses and there's lots of inventory," says Kim, noting there are 487 condos for sale in Waikiki.

Jay MacMillan, of the MacMillan Team in Edmonton, is doing brisk business in Maui these days.

He has made three sales this year, in addition to his father, who bought a condo six months ago, and his brother, who bought two.

"All of them are cash flowing." Strata fees are steep because pools, barbecue areas and lush landscaping are expensive to maintain, "but there is money to be made.

"Prices have dropped while the rental market is still extremely good -and it is so easy to hop on WestJet and get there.

"Instead of buying recreational properties on lakes here or in B.C., people are getting places in Maui for the same price."

Photo by: Altus