Wednesday, May 28, 2014


As mortgage rates fall, realtors anticipate boost to an already strong market
By Mario Toneguzzi 
Calgary Herald May 28, 2014 

CALGARY - Calgary’s hot housing market has received another incentive that could boost sales activity even more in the coming days.

Mortgage rates are starting to come down again right during the busy time of the year for the industry.

Ann-Marie Lurie, chief economist with the Calgary Real Estate Board, said lower mortgage rates will help affordability in the local housing market.

“It can actually help mitigate some of the increases in pricing that we’ve seen in Calgary’s market,” she said. “We’ve had that price growth. We’re still more affordable than we have been for some time so that’s not really the issue per se. But when you have the mortgage rates come down, that can help especially as we’re facing rising pricing.

“We’re not in any concern of overheating our market but with new listings starting to improve this can actually help some of those people who were really on that cusp. They can get into the market.”

Scotiabank announced this week it was lowering its fixed five-year mortgage rate to 2.97 per cent and its five-year variable rate to 2.47 per cent. The rate is effective until June 7.

Investors Group recently offered a 1.99 per cent rate for a 36-month closed, variable-rate mortgage, but Scotiabank is the first of the big banks to push its fixed rate down below three per cent in recent months.

According to CREB, year-to-date until May 27, there have been 10,805 MLS sales in the city, up 13.38 per cent from the same period last year. The median price has risen by 7.03 per cent to $428,000 while the average sale price is up 5.85 per cent to $480,416.

“Housing activity in Calgary has been fairly robust supported by a variety of factors. Along with employment growth, rising incomes and strong net migration, relatively low mortgage rates has also contributed to the demand for housing,” said Richard Cho, senior market analyst in Calgary with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. “Mortgage rates have been low for a couple of years and this has helped people, such as first-time home buyers, purchase a home.

“A decline in mortgage rates alone will not necessarily lead to an increase in sales. The decision to purchase a home often involves both personal and financial considerations.”

So far in May, MLS monthly sales in Calgary are up 17.74 per cent compared with a year ago to 2,489 transactions. New listings have also risen by 17.82 per cent to 3,756 but as of Tuesday active listings were down 5.76 per cent from the same time last year to 4,481. The median price in May of $435,000 has increased by 7.41 per cent and the average sale price is up by 5.40 per cent to $485,866.

“Will this (lower mortgage rates) affect the market in Alberta? Absolutely not. The market already is strong, the sales moving well, supply is an issue and Calgary is poised to be the hottest market in the country again this year,” said Don Campbell, senior analyst with the Real Estate Investment Network. “These lower rates will have a lot of people talking, but little or no measurable effect in this part of the world. Out East, it will as that market needs stimulus.”

Campbell said the biggest problem with some mortgages is hidden in the restrictive terms. These low rates will spark increased traffic to the banks, but consumers must be wary before signing asthe penalties and restrictions are often prohibitive, he added.

“Spring is prime fishing season in Calgary, and not just for trout. With the recent surge of new listings, I think we’re seeing a little fishing from sellers, too,” said Scott Bollinger, broker with ComFree Commonsense Network. “Sellers are recognizing the main market factors — good economy, strong housing price gains, tight inventory, seriously low average-days-on-market — and some seem to be fishing for their price rather than settling for market price. They’re trolling the waters for motivated buyers, and my advice to these buyers is: do your homework and stick to a neighbourhood’s comparable numbers to avoid taking the bait.

“Calgary buyers are smart. They know when cheap money is cheap money. And sub-three per cent five-year fixed rates are cheap. It’ll only add fuel to the hot housing market. The open question is: how much and for how long? Will Calgarians see this as a temporary phenomenon, flock to the banks, and boost the market in the short term? Or will they see it a longer-term trend and bide their time, which would reduce the urgency and the immediate impact on the market? Either way, the rates give motivated and qualified Calgarians more purchasing power in what’s still a relatively affordable market. I think that points to steady price gains throughout 2014.”

Thursday, May 8, 2014


8 Of The World’s Most Spectacular Abandoned Mansions
Heather Billington

The history of the mansion is a rich one, in both senses of the word. The word ‘mansion’ was first commonly used in the English language in the mid-fourteenth century and meant ‘chief residence of a lord’. It stems from the Latin ‘mansio’, ‘dwelling’. The idea of a mansion being a ‘large and stately house’ comes from the 1510s. Of course, the owners of such impressive homes tend to be wealthy. Perhaps this is why mansions hold such fascination for the public at large; they are sprawling, awe-inspiring, ostentatious displays of wealth that are a delight to behold.

Something about an historic mansion is mysterious and haunting. The walls contain the ghostly memories of people who lived in the spectacular, privileged environment of a hierarchical society that no longer exists. Mansions are imposing enough buildings in their heyday but their level of appeal and intrigue tends to increase with age. There are few buildings more awe-inspiring than old, crumbling or dilapidated mansions.

There are many reasons that a mansion might be left to go to ruin, such as war, repossession or simply total abandonment as a result of lack of money. The following are six of the world’s most impressive derelict mansions, and some of the fascinating histories behind each one.

8. Lake Elsinore Naval and Military Academy

The Elsinore Naval and Military Academy was built in Southern California in the late 1920s, but never opened due to the impending Depression which compounded pre-existing financial troubles. In 1933, however, the building was opened as a military school for boys, which thrived and managed to survive until 1977. Since the Academy closed there has been a fire in the main lobby, and numerous classrooms burned down altogether in the 1980s. These days, the building is frequently home to squatters and often the site of vandalism, a real shame for such a spectacular structure.

7. Haddo House, Inverkeithny, Scotland

At number seven is the ruin of Haddo House in Inverkeithny, Scotland. Not to be confused with the popular wedding venue Haddo House in the wider area of Aberdeenshire, Inverkeithny’s version is deemed to have been empty for over seventy years. It was abandoned when the owner didn’t return from war, at which time his wife simply picked up and left.

John Smith and Archibald Simpson are both frequently credited for the architecture of the mansion, which dates from the early- to mid-nineteenth century. The mansion is both spectacular and sprawling: it includes a tower, a dome, and a surprisingly decadent interior, with echoes of Grecian influence evident in the wallpaper design. The mansion is currently owned by the Durno family who have no plans to sell, so sadly the mansion looks set to deteriorate further.

6. Mansion, Taichung, Taiwan

This truly spectacular Taiwanese mansion is number six on the list. Reportedly the former home of a Chinese poet with the surname Chen, the mansion was originally built circa 1930.  The building is predominantly built in the Baroque style, which would have signified in Japanese colonial Taiwan a move towards Western culture. In opposition, however, the symmetry of the mansion’s exterior — a main building, or hall, with wings on either side of the courtyard — was traditionally designed, with a view to optimising the Feng Shui of the building. This meeting of Western and Eastern cultures serves to make the deserted mansion especially interesting.

5. Wyndclyffe Ruins, Rhinebeck, New York

At number five is the ruin of a mansion situated in Dutchess County, New York. The mansion was built in 1853 in Norman style, and was originally named ‘Rhinecliff’. The building functioned as a holiday home for original owner, Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones, should she fancy a weekend or summer break (incidentally, the phrase ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ is said to have originated from these particular Joneses and their ownership of the Wyndclyffe estate).

The mansion underwent several name changes before being left to ruin for good around 1950. Until the 1980s the building had stayed mainly intact, but over the last thirty years has succumbed to decay, and several parts of the building have collapsed. In 2003 a new owner purchased the ruins with an apparent view to rebuilding them, but as of yet the mansion remains unaltered.

4. Tyrone House, Co. Galway, Ireland

Number four is Tyrone House, located in County Galway in Ireland. The house was built in 1779 by Christopher French St. George, a member of a well-connected family in terms of land ownership, the ties of which were mainly forged, in somewhat sinister fashion, by well-placed marriages. The architect John Roberts designed the building, which is built in the Palladian style. The mansion was, rather nicely, built in such a way as to optimise the views of the sea and sunsets offered by Co. Galway. The interior of the mansion was evidently meticulously well-decorated with no expense spared, an example of which is its life-size marble replica of the second Lord St. George. The statue takes pride of place in the front hall, sporting the attire of a Roman emperor, which makes it both an extravagant and fantastic sight in an Irish mansion.

3. The Mansion of Mr. H, Japan

The home belonging to the mysterious Mr. H is at number three. The mansion was built in 1928 by a Mr. H, a Japanese politician in the late nineteenth-/early twentieth-century.  Mr. H held a position within the Freedom and People’s Rights movement, a group which was in part credited with the establishment of Japan’s first constitution in 1889. As such, Mr. H could doubtless afford such a spectacular home; unfortunately, the mansion was constructed in 1928, a mere two years before his death. It seems likely that he did not live there much, and it is unclear as to who may have inhabited the house for any length of time. There is no indication as to how long the mansion has been derelict for, but it has remarkably retained the charm and grandeur it must have had in its heyday — of particular note aesthetically is the remains of the ballroom, a well-lit and airy space which is a far cry from the dingy and dark stereotype of a ruin.

2. Villa de Vecchi, Cortenova, Italy

At number two is the striking Villa de Vecchi, located on the shores of Lake Como, Italy. Conceived by the Count Felix de Vecchi, the Villa was built by architect Alessandro Sidoli. The mansion has a particularly creepy history; Sidoli died the year before the mansion was completed and never saw his finished project, the import of which is compounded by the far more sinister demises of the de Vecchi family. On one horrific day in 1862, the Count returned home to find his wife murdered and her face horribly disfigured, and their daughter missing. The Count searched the surrounding forests for weeks to no avail, and eventually killed himself. Upon de Vecchi’s death, the villa passed to his brother, whose family lived in the building til the 1940s. The mansion has been derelict since then, and tends to be known — fairly understandably — as the Ghost Mansion, with all sorts of supernatural goings-on reported from time to time. Whether or not the sheer spectacle of the building will cancel out the potential terror it may inspire is a matter of personal preference.

1. The Ruins, Talisay City, Philippines

At number one is the skeleton of this imposing building in Talisay City, Negros Occidental, known as The Ruins.  The mansion was originally built by Don Mariano Lacson, in memory of his first wife, Maria Braga, and is of Italianate architecture. The design includes an homage to the owner’s wife in the inclusion of their initials, which are moulded onto the mansion. The mansion fell from its former to glory to its fascinating skeletal form during World War II, when the United States Armed Forces in the Far East allegedly set the building on fire to prevent it from being used as headquarters for the Japanese. The house’s foundations miraculously endured, due to their composition of concrete and steel bars. The mansion remains a large tourist attraction to this day, and is a popular venue for wedding photos, which the guidebook Travel Philippines seems mysteriously to attribute to the pull of the mansion’s surrounding flower beds.


Province’s condo law to get an overhaul
Bill 13 includes new process to resolve disputes

A proposed overhaul of Alberta’s condominium law, including a way to better resolve disputes, is being hailed as long overdue for the province’s booming condo market.

“The original condominium act was introduced in 1969, and it’s had a couple of minor amendments, but really the condominium developments that are being built and the complexity of the relationships has far exceeded the legislation written in 1969,” Service Alberta Minister Doug Griffiths said Wednesday in outlining the changes.

“It was time to update and modernize it.”

After years of consultations with industry and condo groups, the government tabled Bill 13, the Condominium Property Amendment Act, in the legislature for first reading on Tuesday. The bill, which must still undergo scrutiny from MLAs before being voted on, contains 50 amendments.

These include the creation of a new condo dispute tribunal; clearer and expanded disclosure to buyers of initial condo fees and other information by developers; improved governance for condo corporations and harsher penalties for “particularly unfair actions by developers.”

Griffiths said the current condominium law lacks enough tools to deal with challenges, such as disputes that arise between owners, condo corporations, builders and other stakeholders and is needed in Alberta, where there are more than 8,000 condo corporations, accounting for about 20 per cent of homes sold annually.

“We’re going to incorporate the dispute resolution process, a new mechanism that means that people don’t have to resolve things in court, which is a costly, lengthy, confrontational process,” Griffiths said.

Work on the regulations, which will include details about the dispute tribunal and clarification of insurance obligations for corporations and owners, will begin shortly.

June Donaldson, co-founder of the Alberta Condominium Owners Association, said the amendments are desperately needed.

“The fact that there’s going to be a tribunal where the average condo owner can go, and in a very constructive and collaborative way, hopefully remedy it in a way that addresses the issues that are causing them worry, money or stress … is so big,” Donaldson said.

“Condominium living in Alberta has changed so dramatically over the past 10, 15 years and the legislation has not kept up with the market,” said lawyer Robert Noce, a partner at Miller Thomson, who handles condo legal matters.

The amendments will help protect consumers, offer a way to deal with issues more swiftly and give owners and corporations a clearer understanding of their roles and obligations, he said.

Jim Rivait, CEO of the Alberta Chapter of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, said most builders and developers are reputable and won’t have to change their practices. However, the new legislation will offer added protection to buyers, he said.

“It’s quite a complex piece of legislation, and only part of it really affects the building part of it,” he said. “A lot of it is the management and how they run the condo board, answering a lot of the issues.

“There’s some transparency things that they want to build in as people get into the whole condo business, so that people are aware. And we’re all for that.”

Condos, often more affordable than single-detached homes, are a growing sector, with 55 per cent of housing starts classed as multi-family in the first three months of 2014, Rivait said.

“From an industry standpoint, it’s becoming more and more important, not less important, because affordability causes people to enter into the market through condos as their first homes and that’s usually their first experience.”

Calgary Real Estate Board president Bill Kirk said realtors welcome the new condo legislation because added consumer protection will make condo ownership a more attractive option.

“If it’s good news for condo owners, it’s good news for the real estate industry because they’re our clients, and if it’s clearer for them how they’re going to operate, it’s just great news for us,” he said.

CREB data show 1,611 MLS sales of condo apartments in the city through Tuesday, a 20 per cent increase from the same period a year ago.

In the condo townhouse category, sales are up about 18 per cent to 1,245 units.

“The condominium review and act revisions will increase disclosure to the consumer and remove some of the uncertainty in the market,” said Matthew Boukall, director of residential advisory services for Altus Group.

“Condominium development is still a relatively new and growing housing option in our market and many consumers may be unfamiliar with the concept.

“Changes that improve disclosure and provide consumers with more information, and remove some of the hidden risks to condominium ownership should improve confidence in the built form, and may attract more consumers who were uncertain about buying a condo in the past.”