Friday, June 29, 2012


Need immediate garden impact? Buy larger plants
By Donna Balzer
Calgary Herald June 28, 2012

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER - The spring garden frolic for serious gardeners is over, and dabbling gardeners are buying now for parties, garden events or real estate open houses. Instead of tenderly planting promising seeds or tiny fragile annuals, latecomers to the garden party buy their fully-grown plants in big pots. This allows a wow effect without the early work. One 14-inch (35 cm) hanging basket will comfortably fill one 18-inch (45 cm) decorative pot. Where five bare-root hostas may have suited dormant planting in March, one large three-gallon pot will fill the space now for instant beauty and summer balcony or patio enjoyment.

The long days of summer are upon us and this means it’s outdoor patio season. If your spring garden efforts failed to launch, it’s time now to fluff your space with green and blooming plants. Donna says at this time of year, you’re better to start with bigger plants, set them up with watering systems and finish your weeding before the seasonal parties begin.


Better Late than Never

The spring garden frolic for serious gardeners is over, and dabbling gardeners are buying now for parties, garden events or real estate open houses. Instead of tenderly planting promising seeds or tiny fragile annuals, latecomers to the garden party buy their fully-grown plants in big pots. This allows a wow effect without the early work. One 14-inch (35 cm) hanging basket will comfortably fill one 18-inch (45 cm) decorative pot. Where five bare-root hostas may have suited dormant planting in March, one large three-gallon pot will fill the space now for instant beauty and summer balcony or patio enjoyment.


SIPs For Summer Homes

Like good gossip at work, the news about self-irrigated pots (SIPs) is spreading from gardeners to the retail world. These pots hold water and don’t dry out on balconies the way conventional pots do. YouTube videos have fanned the flame for homemade SIPs: plastic bins and recycled pails, adapted from third-world designs. These SIPs are ideal for low budget hippie-style gardens. Better-looking commercial self-watering pots are available now for patio-grown annuals and vegetables. If you are away and unable to water longer than a few days, a better choice is an automatic irrigation system for pots. Connect a splitter, timer, control valve and individual bubblers on pots to keep them evenly moist.



The worst weedy offenders in older neighbourhoods are seeds falling from overhanging trees. Dry propeller seeds from maples and ash sail to the ground in fall and winter and sprout in spring. Birds drop the remains of berries all winter in eavestroughs or sidewalk cracks, where they sprout and become permanent fixtures if left in place. New gardens with more recently farmed soil are likely to have weeds like thistle, stinkweed and stinging nettle. Pull or cut these before they go to seed. A new crop of chickweed will appear with every soil rotation, so cover the soil with newspaper and bark to stop existing chickweed seed from germinating.


Infographic: Nature of Calgary neighbourhoods changing, new census results reveal
 'Smart growth' emerges in city centre
By Jason Markusoff,
Calgary Herald June 29, 2012

Although the 2012 census shows the same story on all Calgary's suburban edges - grow, grow, grow - a blend of dynamics are reshaping the city's existing neighbourhoods.

In older, inner-city neighbourhoods such as the Beltline, Chinatown and Inglewood, new condo projects are spiking community populations. In the past year, 42 per cent of new homes have sprung up within the built-up part of Calgary - the sort of redevelopment pattern Calgary's "smart growth" blueprints urge.

"If we're maximizing the infrastructure we've already built, that helps accommodate the growth and put less pressure on the edges," said Rollin Stanley, the city's new general manager of planning.

In other communities like Parkdale and Spruce Cliff, population growth is being triggered by some densification, but more so by an influx of new families moving into homes that empty nesters have vacated.

Bowness, which has in the past been marred by population decline, gained 312 residents last year but only five dwelling units.

"Those houses will turn over. We have to track very closely how this changes," Stanley said, recalling in his former neighbourhood in Washington's suburbs, five houses occupied by octogenarians flipped to families with kids, a trend that would put new pressure on once-lagging schools.

The flip side of the Calgary trend is the population decline of communities in a middle ring of Calgary suburbia. Deer Run, Sundance, Scenic Acres, Edgemont and MacEwan all share two things in common: they have lost a sizable chunk of their population in the last four years, and were all developed between 1978 and 1982. A similar generational dip has previously hit communities of a different vintage.

Photo By: John Ostrom

Monday, June 25, 2012


Ottawa tightens mortgage rules to avert household debt crisis
By Jason Fekete
Postmedia News Jun 21, 2012

OTTAWA — The federal government is moving once again to tighten mortgage-lending rules amid lingering concerns about an overheated housing market and rising household debt levels.

In a decision called for by some of the big banks — and one that’s expected to soften housing prices — Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced Thursday the federal government is reducing the maximum amortization period for a government-insured mortgage to 25 years from 30 years.

It’s the third time the Harper government has reduced the maximum amortization period in the last four years, after it initially increased the lengths of mortgage terms to make it easier for Canadians to purchase homes.

The government has since ratcheted it back from 40 years to 35 in 2008, and then further reduced it to 30 years in 2011.

Banks will still be allowed to offer 30-year amortization periods on low-ratio mortgages that include a downpayment of 20% or more.

The changes will see the government lower the maximum Canadians can borrow against their home to 80% of its value, from 85%, in an effort to encourage them to keep more equity in their homes.

As well, under the new rules, to qualify for a mortgage loan Canadians can spend a maximum of 39% of their gross household income on home expenses such as mortgage, property taxes and heating, and a maximum 44 per cent of income on housing expenses and all other debt.

Flaherty also announced Ottawa will limit government-backed insured mortgages to home purchases of less than $1-million.

A downpayment of at least 20% will be required on mortgage loans for homes priced at or above $1-million.

Reducing the amortization period will increase monthly payments, but reduce the amount of total interest paid on a mortgage. Ottawa expects the change from a 30-year to 25-year amortization will, on a $350,000 mortgage loan at four per cent, increase the monthly payment $177 but reduce total interest costs by nearly $47,000.

The government believes less than five per cent of home buyers will be affected by the clampdown.

The new rules take effect July 9, 2012.

“We watch carefully, we monitor the market carefully. I remain concerned about parts of the Canadian residential real estate market, particularly in Toronto, but not only in Toronto, so that is why we are intervening once again,” Flaherty told reporters in Ottawa.

“It’s our job to try to be ahead of things and act in a measured way, listening to the market. And I have been listening to the market, and quite frankly, I don’t like what I hear, particularly in the condo market.”

Flaherty said the government’s moves are part of an effort to “moderate behaviour” among Canadian homeowners and make them reflect before jumping into the housing market at the high end.

Canada’s largest city is seeing continuous home building because of persistent demand, he noted, which is accelerating prices and eroding affordability.

“This concerns me because it’s distorting the market, quite frankly,” the minister added. “My judgment is that we need to calm particularly the condo market in a few Canadian cities.”

Statistics Canada reported last week that the ratio of Canadian household debt-to-income continued increasing in the first quarter, to 152 per cent from 150.6 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2011. That came on the heels of a warning from the Bank of Canada that high household debt levels remain the most important domestic risk to financial stability.

Opposition parties said Thursday the Harper government, with its changes to mortgage rules, is simply retreating from its own decision to ramp up the amortization to 40 years after taking power in 2006.

“This is Mr. Flaherty versus Mr. Flaherty. He has done all of this. He’s the guy who has let it go up and is now bringing it dramatically down again. We are now at the same situation we were — what do you know, 2006 — where we had 25-year mortgages,” said interim Liberal leader Bob Rae.

“There’s going to be a real issue as to exactly what message this is sending to markets and what impacts it will have.”

Flaherty and some of the country’s leading economists have for months been warning that they remain worried about Canada’s housing market and rising household debt.

In March, prior to delivering the federal budget, Flaherty met with 13 private-sector economists for his traditional pre-budget consultation to get their assessment of the Canadian economy.

Some of the big banks suggested at the time the federal government consider implementing “measured actions,” such as reducing the maximum amortization period for government-insured mortgages back to the traditional 25 years.

On Thursday, the banks largely welcomed the measures.

“Overall we see (Thursday’s) announcement as a much better substitute to interest rate hikes since the moves are aimed with almost surgical precision at the margins of the mortgage market,” Benjamin Tal with CIBC World Markets said in a research note.

“The combined impact of the four changes will not be large enough to derail the housing market, but are clearly significant enough to soften activity, and at the margin will act as a negative for house prices —mainly at the mid-range segment of the market.”

Frank Techar, president of personal and commercial banking at BMO Financial Group, called the changes “prudent, measured, responsible, timely.”

“Minister Flaherty has tapped the brakes at precisely the right time and his actions should help ensure Canada’s housing market experiences a soft landing,” Techar said in a statement.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Designing Outdoor Living Spaces
Canadian House & Home Magazine

Enhance your outdoor living area with seating, lighting and architecture.
A good deck plan should encompass privacy, shaded areas and how the deck will look when lit at night.


Whenever possible, try to create several seating areas instead of one large area to create the feel of a more expansive deck or patio. Carve out seating with built-in wood benches or use low rock walls as seats simply by placing cushions along the top.

Where budget is at a minimum, stick to free-standing furniture. If space allows, purchase an inexpensive, small bistro table and two chairs in addition to a larger outdoor dining table and chairs to create two sitting areas.

Large pillows covered in natural woven material or Sunbrella fabric can be used right on the deck as floor pillows or let the stairs do double-duty as makeshift seating, with or without decorative pillows.

Tip: Consider using mirrors when decorating your outdoor space — they visually expand any space and when placed outdoors, reflect natural light and greenery.


Perhaps more important in a city garden than on acreage in the country, privacy is one of the elements that will make your deck feel more like a retreat.

Fences needn’t be the only privacy solution: Create subtle barriers with architecturally interesting wood fences or use trellises covered with climbing clematis or grapevine or even a neatly trimmed low hedge for privacy. Folding screens in bamboo, metal or wood installed in strategic locations will offer privacy and add visual interest.

Make sure the privacy barrier you choose suits the style of house as well as the look of the deck or patio. A wood fence will look much richer if painted the same as the house or trim and detailed with moulding.


While we all enjoy warm sunny days, the option of taking refuge from the sun is a must on a well-planned terrace. Whether you use simple umbrellas, install awnings or build a gazebo or pergolas for filtered shade, offer yourself at least one area that can become or remains shaded. Make sure to notice the direction in which your deck faces and how the sun hits the deck throughout the day so you can plan the proper type of shade. If your deck faces south or gets sun most of the day, you might want a more permanent type of shade, like an awning or roofed pergola. Always try to create a tranquil, shaded spot under which to read, relax or dine.


Too often an afterthought, good outdoor lighting can help make your deck usable at night as well as during the day.

Install lights near the door leading from the house to the deck or terrace as well as lighting to illuminate any existing path in your yard.

From vintage-looking carriage lanterns to contemporary glowing spheres, there is a wide variety of styles available; choose a type of fixture that suits the style of your house.

“Washing” the sides of the patio with flood lights installed on the ground will make it seem to float when lit.

Spot lights disguised as rocks can be subtle additions to the garden, to make the yard glow at night or to highlight a bench or path.

Finish off the lighting with more subtle touches, like hanging candle lanterns over an outdoor table for a soft ambient glow. Hurricane table lanterns, paper lanterns and string lights all lend night-time sparkle.


Architectural elements on a deck can add impact to your outdoor space. A screened-in gazebo offers shade and protection from bugs and acts as a focal point.

Pergolas and arbours offer instant interest on a terrace and can be used as a “doorway” to the outdoor living space or as an inviting spot under which to relax. Add colourful climbing plants to pergolas, arbours or fences with varying heights and texture.

Large wood or metal planters add structural interest to a space and can be used as dividers, helping to define areas for lounging, dining or cooking. A series placed along steps can create a stylish, finished look.

Photo By: Apartment Zero

Friday, June 8, 2012


Condo resale market climbs in May
By Josh Skapin
Calgary Herald, June 8, 2012

Calgary’s condo resale activity climbed 35 per cent in May, compared to the same time last year, says the Calgary Real Estate Board.

In fact, there were 675 apartment or townhouse sales last month after only 500 condo units changed hands in May 2011.

The average resale price for condo apartments last month was $280,030. For townhouses, the average price was $330,446.

High-end condo sales are also on the upswing in the city.

After the first five months of 2012, 10 townhouses priced from $900,000 were sold in the city — only three units in that price range changed hands during the same period in 2011.

For condo apartments, eight units have sold for at least $900,000 so far in 2012, compared to five units last year.

Zone C, which roughly covers southwest Calgary, paced the city in condo sales last month with 385. The zone also saw the highest average resale price at $322,204. It also paced the city in inventory with 1,016 available units.

Located in Zone C, Connaught topped all Calgary communities in May with 49 units sold. Also in Zone C, Springbank Hill had the highest average price at $571,200.

A distant second to Zone C’s sales totals in May was Zone A, which roughly corresponds to northwest Calgary. It saw 189 sales at an average resale value of $295,682.

Zone D, which roughly covers southeast Calgary was third in sales totals last month with 69 at an average resale value of $263,609.

The slowest area of the city for condo sales was Zone B, which roughly covers northeast Calgary. It had 32 sales at an average price of $170,893. The community with the lowest average price in the city was Forest Lawn at $88,000.


Demand for Calgary office space remains strong
Mario Toneguzzi
Postmedia News Jun 6, 2012

CALGARY • Demand for downtown office space is expected to remain strong through 2012, even if it’s unlikely to match last year’s frenzied pace.

“At this point, all of the economic indicators are still very, very strong,” said Todd Hirsch, senior economist with ATB Financial, who spoke Tuesday at the Calgary Real Estate Leasing Conference. “We look at that office-space vacancy and how it’s come down. We look at the building permits, they’ve been picking up. Everything at this point, the momentum is all moving in the right direction.”

The one threat, he said, is a continual slide in oil prices that could soften demand.

According to Colliers International, office space absorption was a positive 2.8 million square feet in the downtown market in 2011. The Beltline and suburban office markets accounted for about one quarter of that amount. The first quarter of this year saw about 866,000 square feet of office space fill up.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, the downtown office vacancy rate was 4.5%. It fell to 4.2% for the first three months of this year.

Randy Fennessey, president of Colliers International in Calgary, said the downtown office market is expected to remain strong given the ongoing low vacancy rate overall.

“But having said that, we’re get-ting a sense that things are starting to taper off a little bit just because commodity prices, particularly oil, have fallen recently and a series of geopolitical conditions are not conducive to rising oil prices,” said Mr. Fennessey, who spoke at the conference. “So it makes one wonder how long this level of heady demand is going to continue.”