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With today's low interest rates, deciding to buy a home is one of the best decisions anyone can make. Financing such a big purchase, however, often means combining savings with money borrowed through a financial arrangement, commonly referred to as a mortgage.

Mortgages allow you to pay back the principal, or amount borrowed, plus interest, in regular installments. The taxes on your home can also be added to the mortgage payments. Most mortgages are amortized over 25 years - that's the length of time it takes for you to pay the debt off in full.

For most home buyers, paying off the mortgage is a long-term commitment. That's why it's important to begin looking at options before buying, or before renegotiating your existing mortgage. When home buying, your Realtor can help you calculate how much mortgage you can afford and provide advice on the many options available.

But even if you find yourself locked into a long-term mortgage you can afford, there may still be ways to pay it down and be mortgage-free sooner.

Pre-payment options

Most financial institutions now offer generous pre-payment options. Although many limit how often you can use an option, it is well checking into them and comparing what one lender offers over another. Many lenders now permit an annual lump sum payment on your mortgage with the amount going directly to reducing your principal. A lump sum payment of $2,000 a year on an $80,000 mortgage, for example, can significantly cut years off your mortgage.

Other pre-payment privileges include doubling up payments whenever you have extra cash. Some lenders allow additional payments against the mortgage balance up to the equivalent of a full monthly payment on every payment date or several times throughout the year. Accelerating payments by paying every two weeks instead of monthly, for example, can also result in substantial savings over the life of a mortgage.

While taking advantage of pre-payment privileges can save you thousands of dollars in interest costs over the life of your mortgage, it also pays to consider all your options. You may be reducing the principal, but you are not reducing your existing payment obligations. You still must make your regular payments.

Pre-payment critics also say that if your interest rate is reasonably low, you may be able to put the extra money to better use. When you pre-pay $2,000 a year, you reduce your principal, but you get no tax benefit. Put the same amount of money into a registered retirement plan and you get a tax break. If you invest this amount in a mutual fund at 10 per cent and your mortgage rate is seven per cent, you're making three per cent more on your investment.

Lower your amortization period

The average mortgage must be paid off in 25 years. By selecting a shorter amortization period you can cut years off your mortgage. The shorter the period, the larger the payments, but the more you save on interest and the long-term cost of the loan. Shortening the amortization period is a great idea when interest rates are low and you can afford the larger monthly payments.

Re-finance your mortgage

This is only a good idea if you have a fixed, long-term mortgage and rates have fallen more than two per cent. But the cost of refinancing a loan to get a better rate can be very high. To have your closed mortgage discharged, you will usually have to pay either a three-month interest penalty or an "interest differential", which can cost considerably more.

You can reduce the penalty, which is based on the outstanding principal, by exercising a prepayment privilege and reducing the principal first. This can be done using your own money or by arranging with another lender to borrow enough to discharge your mortgage and pay the discharge penalty. Whatever you decide, seek expert advice before re-financing, or you may end up paying more than if you stayed the course.

Article Provided by: David Pusey Personal Real Estate Corporation

Source: OREA

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Arranging your mortgage doesn't have to be a baffling experience

Buying a home today is an extremely attractive proposition. Interest rates are at their lowest in decades and the housing market is full of homes to suit just about any budget or family requirement. Still, you'll inevitably have to deal with financing and this will mean taking on a mortgage.

Sorting through the numerous mortgage options available to today's home buyers can be intimidating for everyone from first-time purchasers to long-time owners. The rules seem to change constantly and there's a smorgasbord of terminologies to learn.

Fear not--the basics are fairly simple and there are a host of real estate professionals more than willing to help, with your Realtor and bank's mortgage specialist at the top of the list.

Nonetheless, you'll want to at least familiarize yourself with the mortgage process, how to arrange one and the different financing strategies involved.

First, it's necessary to know exactly which kinds of institutions will lend you money. Banks and trust companies lead the pack, but credit unions and private lenders also offer funds.

There's also an option to consult a mortgage broker. Brokers have access to a wide variety of lending sources, including domestic banks and trust companies, but they can also employ other alternatives such as pension funds, real estate syndicates and foreign banks.

You may also find yourself in a situation where you can 'assume' an existing mortgage held by the seller. Advantages of assuming a mortgage are that you can speed the buying process due to reduced paperwork and save money in lower legal fees and closing costs. A disadvantage is that the current lending rate may be less than that of the assumed mortgage.

Now that you have an idea who will lend you money, you'll need to know the different kinds of mortgages that are offered. The most common by far is the 'conventional mortgage.' Lenders will loan you up to 75 per cent of the appraised value or purchase price of the property (whichever is lower), and you must come up with the remaining 25 per cent yourself. Many people save specifically for this purpose, but in some cases, alternate or 'secondary' financing maybe available.

A 'high-ratio' mortgage is one alternative if you don't have the 25 per cent down payment. These are available for up to 95 per cent of the appraised value or purchase price of the property (whichever is lower) to a maximum set by government regulation. The proviso is that high-ratio mortgages must be insured, and the cost, from one to three percent of the mortgage amount, falls to you.

'Variable-rate' mortgages are usually offered for both conventional and high-ratio mortgages. Typically, your monthly payments remain fixed for the term, while the interest rate fluctuates with economic conditions. This means that if interest rates climb, you'll be paying more per month in interest. If rates drop, you'll then be paying more off your principal. Conversely, 'fixed rate' mortgages maintain the same rate of interest over the entire negotiated term.

There are some other concepts to become familiar with that will impact your mortgage and financial well-being.

Amortization refers to the time period in which the mortgage is assumed to be paid. A common amortization period is 25 years. This means interest and principal payments are set as if you were paying the amount borrowed over a 25 year payment schedule. Obviously, the shorter the amortization period, the less interest you will pay.

Prepayment privileges are very important for borrowers to consider. These arrangements allow you to pay money against the principal, reducing the total amount of interest you'll ultimately pay.

Open mortgages generally denote those that allow prepayment with few restrictions, while closed mortgages carry no prepayment options.

Don't be daunted by the many concepts and terms regarding mortgages. Arranging one isn't that difficult--all it takes is a little brushing up on your part and the experience and advice of a good Realtor or mortgage professional.

Article Provided by: David Pusey Personal Real Estate Corporation

Source: OREA

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Don't forget closing costs when buying a home

Despite the low cost of carrying a mortgage these days, you should keep in mind "closing costs" in addition to your down payment for that dream home.

These various charges can add up, and for the most part they are all legally required payments in buying a property. Here is a list of most of your major "closing costs."

  • Legal fees: Since a lawyer is an essential part of your home-buying team, the work provided involves fees. Most legal fees include searching the title of the property, arranging a mortgage if necessary and handling other disbursements as required.
  • Mortgage insurance and application fee: For any high ratio mortgage, which is any mortgage in which 75 or more per cent of the house's purchase price is covered by the mortgage, the lender requires mortgage insurance.
  • Home Inspections: A Home/Property inspection is highly recommended for any purchase. This information may be critical in negotiations for items such as heating, electrical, roofing or moren that may result from the inspection not to mention piece of mind. Waiving this option is a big risk. Also some banks and lending institutions may require it.  the cost for such is in the 400-600 range for an average home and may be higher for larger homes and acreages as well as commercial properties.
  • Surveys: A Survey is highly recommended and will tell you what the property boundaries are  insure you know what you are buying and where fences, pools, hedges, driveways, right-of-ways, easments etc are located. Without a survey of the property, it's anyone's guess where things are.
  • Appraisal: A 3rd party Appraisal may be required by the lender and can cost anywhere from $300-600 for a basic home and go up from there. Make sure you ask your lender what the fee is and if it is included in the Mortgage for free or if there is a charge for it. Also some Buyers may find it a good idea to obtain one prior to removing Subjects as a confirmation of value.
  • Mortgage broker's fee: A mortgage broker may charge a fee to set up a mortgage for you. In some cases the fee may be included with the legal fees if your lawyer arranges the mortgage, or included in the lender's fees if you deal directly with a lender such as a bank.
  • Property insurance: This insurance covers the replacement value of your home and its contents. Most mortgage lenders will require proof that you have this insurance before processing a mortgage.
  • Land transfer tax: Anyone buying property in BC must pay a land transfer tax called property Purcahe Tax or PPT. It usually runs at 1% of the first $200,000 and 2% for evey dollar thereafter, depending on that price.
  • GST: GST  may be payable on the purchase price of properties, although  in many cases a resale residential home may be exempt from GST. Various other closing fees, however, do involve payment of GST and as we are not accountants or experts, we insist that you get tax advice from an accountant before you make any decisions to move forward on the purchase of a property.
  • Extra charges: You may also be required to pay the costs of such things as heating oil in the tank, septic pump0-out or other costs incurred by the seller, but included with the house, prior to the closing day.
  • Hook-ups: There may be hook-up charges required for appliances and services such as telephone, TV cable, hydro and other utilities.
  • Moving costs: Don't forget the basic costs involved in moving from your old place into your new home, particularly if you use a professional moving company.

A Realtor can explain further details on closing costs. Just remember to add them to your financial plan when saving to buy a home.

Article Provided by: David Pusey Personal Real Estate Corporation

Source: OREA

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Owning your own home has a lot of payoffs, especially these days when mortgage rates are still among the lowest in 30 years. There are also many housing options available in a wide range of prices.

Simply put, you can carry a home of your own for no more than what you would pay in rent. And, unlike renting, your payments go toward increasing the equity in your home.

So, what's stopping you? For most people who have never owned a home before, it's the initial down payment and the ability to keep up with the monthly financial obligations (mortgage payment, insurance, utilities, maintenance).

The effort to save for and buy a home may require you to make significant changes in your way of life. For most people, it means changing their spending and lifestyle habits to support the additional costs of saving for, paying for, and maintaining a home.

One of the best ways of saving for a down payment is to take advantage of government programs available to first-time home buyers. A real estate professional can help you understand how these programs work and ensure that you get the maximum benefit possible.

RRSP Home Buyers' Plan

Contribute to a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) regularly and to the maximum allowed. The federal government's RRSP Home Buyers' Plan enables eligible taxpayers to withdraw up to $20,000 tax free from their plan to buy or build a qualifying home. The amount of money withdrawn must be repaid within 15 years.

If you buy the qualifying home together with your spouse or other individuals, each person can withdraw up to $20,000 tax free. A government form must be completed for each withdrawal.

Generally, an RRSP holder can participate in the Home Buyers' Plan only once in a lifetime. The pamphlet, Home Buyers' Plan (HBP) - For 1998 Participants, is available from Revenue Canada and will help you determine if you are considered a first-time home buyer.

A qualifying home is a housing unit located in Canada. Those participating in 1998 have to buy or build a home before Oct. 1, 1999. You must also agree to occupy the home as your principle residence no later than one year after buying or building it. Once you occupy the home, there is no minimum period of time that you have to live there.

Ontario Home Ownership Savings Plan

(OHOSP) OHOSP is a provincial program where participants receive interest on the money they deposit and may receive a tax credit. If you earn less than $40,000 a year, or if you and your spouse have a combined income of less than $80,000, you can benefit from the program. To be eligible, you must be an Ontario resident over 18 years of age with a social insurance number and have never owned a home.

While there is no limit to the amount of money you may deposit in your OHOSP, you can only receive OHOSP tax credits on annual contributions of $2,000 ($4,000 per couple) or less. Depending on your annual income and the amount of money you invest, you can earn up to $500 individually or $1,000 a couple in OHOSP tax credits. Participants are eligible for tax credits for five consecutive years and must close the plan and use the funds to purchase a home by the end of the seventh year. Otherwise, OHOSP tax credits must be repaid with interest.

An OHOSP plan, with interest earned at competitive rates, may be opened at any participating financial institution. To qualify, a home must be located in Ontario and be suitable for year-round residential occupancy. In addition, you must live in the home for at least 30 consecutive days within two years of the date of purchase.

CMHC five per cent down

While Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's (CMHC) five per cent down option program doesn't help you save for the down payment, it sure eases the way to home ownership.

With as little as five per cent down, all home owners now have access to CMHC mortgage insurance. This means CMHC may insure the mortgage on your home (against default in payments) for up to 95 per cent of the lending value of the home. This helps make home ownership a reality for many Canadians who can afford monthly mortgage payments but would have trouble saving for a larger down payment.

Previously available only to first-time home buyers, the program was expanded earlier this year to include all home buyers. Eligible borrowers include anyone who buys a home in Canada and occupies it as a principle residence. The mortgage insurance premium in 1998 is about 3.75 per cent of the mortgage loan and can be added to the mortgage or paid on a monthly basis.

Article Provided by: David Pusey Personal Real Estate Corporation

Source: OREA

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How to match the home you buy to your pocketbook

So, you've decided to take the big leap and purchase your first home. Most of us have a "dream home" tucked away at the back of our minds -- complete with six bedrooms, two fireplaces and a panoramic view. Before setting off to view properties you likely can't afford, step back and take a reality check.

Your "dream home" can easily become a nightmare when most of your money goes to pay the mortgage and there's little left over for anything else. Overextending yourself financially is the quickest way to destroy the excitement of home ownership and add stress to your life.

Smart home-buying means knowing what you can afford and being practical about it. Most first-time buyers, in particular, lack the funds needed to buy a home without assistance from a bank or financial institution. Buying a home means combining savings with money borrowed through a special arrangement called a mortgage.

To keep mortgage payments within their means, most first-time buyers purchase what is commonly known as a "starter home." A starter home is just that -- a way of getting started in long-term real estate investment.

To match the home you buy to your pocketbook you have to realistically assess your needs, determine what you can afford and, usually, lower your expectations. Begin by enlisting the services of a real estate representative. This individual will help you target your home ownership dreams and provide valuable information on mortgage options, interest rates and incentives, such as government programs, for first-time buyers.

In the meantime, here are some ways to determine how much you can afford.

Set a maximum price range

To determine your "affordability" price range, you must calculate two amounts: the amount of cash you can afford to put towards the purchase (down payment) and the maximum amount of loan (mortgage) you can comfortably carry. Typically, household expenses should not exceed 35 per cent of your gross income.

Put down as much as you can

The key to getting started for most first-time buyers is the initial down payment. This is the part of the purchase price you have to put down as cash. You may be able to buy a home for as little as five per cent down. But remember that the larger the down payment, the easier it will be to manage the other expenses (mortgage, utilities and property taxes).

An ideal down payment is 25 per cent of the purchase price. Keep some cash in reserve though for unexpected expenses related to a home purchase and typical expenses such as land transfer tax, legal fees and moving expenses.

Know how much to borrow

To establish your maximum mortgage limit, a financial institution will determine the monthly payment you can afford by calculating your debt-service ratio. List all your loans (car, personal loans, monthly credit card balances). The sum of these and your mortgage payment, including principal, interest and taxes, should not exceed about 40 per cent of your gross income. The mortgage payment and taxes should not exceed about 30 per cent of your gross income.

Understand interest rates

The size of the mortgage you can arrange, based on payments you can afford, depends on interest rates. The lower the rates, the larger the possible mortgage and the more affordable home-buying will be.

However, there are other variables to consider: How open is the mortgage? Is it portable? Would prepayment be allowed? Discuss your mortgage options with your Realtor, banker or financial advisor. Decide what's best for you, establish a limit and stick to it.

Look at other sources of funds

If you have been contributing regularly to a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), you may have to look no further for your down payment. The federal government's RRSP Home Buyers' Plan allows eligible taxpayers to withdraw up to $20,000 per person ($40,000 per couple) tax free from their plan to buy a qualifying home. However, you have to pay back every year at least 1/15th of the amount taken out until it is all paid back, or there will be a tax penalty.

The BC Government may have a provincial program which provides tax credits on annual contributions to a resident who has never owned a home.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's (CHMC) five per cent down mortgage program is available to both first-time buyers and those who have already owned a home. This benefits buyers who can afford the monthly payments, but would have trouble saving for a larger down payment. Under the program, CMHC may insure the mortgage on your home (against default in payments) for up to 95 per cent of the lending value. An insurance premium of about 3.75 per cent of the mortgage loan is charged. This amount can be added to the mortgage or paid on a monthly basis.

Other sources of funds you can tap into for a down payment include savings and investments and loans or gifts from your family or relatives. If you're already a homeowner and moving up, you can use money that you get from the sale of your present home.

Article Provided by: David Pusey Personal Real Estate Corporation

Source: OREA

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Just like you take a car for regular tune ups to ensure it continues to run smoothly, your home also needs some special attention. There's a lot more to keeping up a house than cutting the grass and clearing snow from the driveway. Ensuring your home "looks" good and is in proper working order, not only makes it more attractive and comfortable, but it can also increase the market value of the property.

Homeowners who plan to move within a few years are often reluctant to invest time and money on improvement projects that may not pay them back. But unless these improvements are very specialized, any project you choose - from fixing leaky faucets to installing new energy efficient windows - will start to pay you back in energy savings and comfort long before you sell.

The wisest improvements you can make to any home are those that keep it running smoothly and bring it up to the standards of other homes in the immediate area. And these don't need to break your budget.

Easy maintenance, repairs

Start with simple repairs that don't cost a lot and you can do yourself: securing loose tiles, adjusting a door, installing a lock, repairing a leaky faucet or pipe, and so on.

It's also a good idea to locate and read your gas, electricity and water meters on a weekly or monthly basis. This will help you gain an understanding of seasonal increases and decreases in consumption and enable you to take measures to become more energy and water efficient. The savings could be substantial.

You should have your furnace inspected and serviced annually to ensure there are no problems and change or clean the filter regularly. Also, inspect the smoke and carbon dioxide detectors around your home. You want to be certain that these will work in the event of a fire or other emergency.

Bigger upgrades

While replacing leaky faucets can drastically improve a bathroom's appearance and cut down on water usage, sometimes it takes a lot more than that to bring an old bathroom, for example, to an acceptable standard.

A bathroom tune up can pay big dividends. The first items to replace should be the fixtures -- the sink, faucets, vanity, bathtub, shower, and toilet. This is where you will add value and save money by opting for a water-efficient fixtures and energy-saving devices.

The floors, walls and accessories are not an essential part of a bathroom tune-up, but you can save time and money when you do the complete overhaul at once, rather than one piece at a time.

If the decor in your home is bothering you, don't decide right away to rip everything out. All it may take to make your home look more attractive and in better repair are small improvements such as: refacing cabinets and counter tops, changing the colour scheme, repainting, hanging new wall coverings and installing new lighting.

Other good major home improvements include replacing old carpets and flooring with new, more durable products; adding a garage or a carport if your home does not have one; installing central air conditioning; repairing or adding a fireplace; upgrading your basement space; replacing old windows with new energy-efficient ones; adding terraces, wooden decks and fences that add privacy; and investing in landscaping that adds value and is easy to maintain.

 

Article Provided by: David Pusey Personal Real Estate Corporation

Source: OREA

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For most people the ideal closet is the size of a room with ample space to hang clothing, lots of shelves to tuck and stash away things -- a place where you can walk around and assess all your personal belongings.

In reality, most people's closets fall well short of this ideal. And few of us stop to consider the full potential of the closets we do have -- tiny as they may be. To understand their true potential, take a good objective look inside the closets you already have -- and the empty spaces that could be turned into closets or cupboards.

Closets are not the sort of thing most of us like to face. By their very nature, they invite us to avoid them. As long as the living space looks good, what's inside the closets doesn't really matter. It is said that both home and self improvement often start with your closets. The more effective and organized your closets are, the more effective and organized you feel.

The main things to consider when organizing your closets are budget, space and lifestyle. Even the tiniest closet can be maximized, and not necessarily at a high price.

Also, the contents of a closet don't necessarily have to fit the contents of a room. A hall broom closet can be turned into a pantry; a kitchen nook can be turned into a place to hang a wardrobe.

And you don't have to just hang things in closets. You can add shelf units, baskets, bins, or whatever fits, to store things in. Consider an air plane, a boat or a mobile home, where space is at a premium. Storage spaces are found above, below and to all sides of furnishings.

Here are a few more ideas to consider:

  • Make your closets serve a variety of purposes. Try adding a shelving unit to a clothes closet where you can store pantry goods and other items.
  • Always try to incorporate a variety of shelving units in a closet. These give you space to store small items such as shoes, scarves, handbags and even books.
  • The ceiling space in closets is seldom used. Consider adding a shelve or a compartment to store bulkier items such as luggage or blankets.
  • Before re-organizing a closet, take everything out. Set aside anything you haven't worn or used in a year. Consider donating these items to charity. Those you no longer use but want to keep should be stored separately in the attic or some place out of the way. Clearing out a closet is the first step in creating more space.
  • Invest in a shoe rack that can be incorporated into your closet. Whether it sits on the floor or hangs from the door or is part of a shelve unit, a rack will not only keep your shoes together it will give the whole closet a more organized appearance.
  • Plan to store your out-of-season clothes out of the way in boxes or elsewhere. Use the closet only to keep those items you wear regularly during a season.
  • If you dislike the smell of mothballs but want to ensure your closets smell nice and don't attract moths, try hanging a sachet of dried rosemary flowers or a mixture of cinnamon and cloves. There are many fresh-smelling deodorizers and perfumed papers to choose from on the market as well.
  • If closet space is still tight and there are few open spaces in your home that can be turned into closets, try adding an armoire or wardrobe. This was the furniture piece used for storing clothes back when there weren't built-in closets. It's still a popular and practical item in many homes today.
  • Try turning an entire wall in a room into a storage area. There are many systems available that can be easily installed. You can close them up by adding doors, or keep them open and airy.
  • Kitchens are where you can be most creative in finding extra storage space. To get the best use of kitchen closet space, store as much as possible outside the closets. That means hanging anything that can hang from the ceilings and the walls. Custom-design closets and cupboards for the specific goods each will hold. This may include drawers for knives, shelves for different size cans, jars, etc.
  • Adding a shelving rack to the inside of a closet door can make even the shallowest closet seem deeper.
  • In a child's room, don't limit yourself to the space inside the closet. Use lots of bins, stacking baskets and shelving units throughout the room to store and toss things in.

Article Provided by: David Pusey Personal Real Estate Corporation

Source: OREA

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Today more and more homeowners are directing their energy and creativity towards redecorating the bathroom. Be it the family bath, or the master ensuite, the primary focus is on increased luxury comfort and convenience. Many homeowners are looking for new ideas to make their existing bathrooms larger.

Get the most from your space

Redecorating a small bathroom is a common design problem. If you can't expand the room, either by building an addition or by incorporating space from a nearby bedroom or closet, here are some ideas to help you get the most out of the space you have.

There are many ways to give a bathroom a facelift. You can make it visually larger by decorating with light colours. Large prints and bold stripes tend to overpower a small room. Stick to small prints whether you are painting or wallpapering. Limit your accessories. Remember, less can be more!

Try to create a sense of continuity. Bathrooms are chopped up enough by fixtures, so paint and wallpaper walls and ceiling the same colour.

When choosing a wallpaper make sure it is a good vinyl, that isn't prepasted. Wallpaper paste is water based and if the shower isn't ventilated properly, the vapour may cause the wallpaper to lift from the wall. When you paste by hand, use an oil-based glue.

Update your fixtures

Whether you are bold, colorful, soft or subtle, there are fixtures available that will reflect your persona and express your style. Everything from hand painted porcelain fixtures complete with matching gold plated faucets, to a variety of natural fixtures including granite, marble, onyx and teakwood are available. Leading manufacturers now work in harmony to create colour coordinated bath products.

If your colour fixtures are outdated, and new ones are out of the question, consider having them refinished. White is always a classic and an excellent choice.

Shower curtains can also make a room visually larger. Choose a clear shower curtain with a solid colour fabric curtain. And mirrors are another good trick to visually expand your space. A long mirror with plenty of lights increases the visual space and prevents having to jostle for mirror space when two people are using the bathroom.

Storage solutions

If you are planning to change your fixtures, you may want to consider replacing your vanity and sink with a pedestal sink. This will give you more floor space, but you will lose some storage space. Storage space problems can be solved in a variety of ways. Wall-mounted cabinets are a great way to hide bathroom clutter, without taking up valuable floor space. Units can be installed above the toilet, above the mirror or in the deck space below a raised bathtub. If you purchase a low profile toilet, there will be even more room for wall-mounted storage above. Choose cabinets that are no more than six inches deep so they don't get in the way.

Extending your counter-top over the back of the toilet is known as a "banjo top" counter. Be sure there is enough clearance space to raise the tank top should it require service. Open shelving between the toilet and vanity creates handy storage space, looks less bulky than closed storage space, and eliminates the need for clearance for a cupboard door.

A plastic coated wire mounted on a pegboard above a low profile toilet is another way to create storage space and works well as a decorative element.

If you don't have room for a shower stall, try installing a rounded shower base in the corner of a small bathroom, leaving no corners to jut out into valuable floor space. A folding door eliminates the need for clearance space between the pedestal basin and door. If your bathroom is too narrow for a standard vanity, ask your designer or contractor to build a bank of cabinets half as deep. Install a bump out sink because a regular drop in bowl won't fit in this type of cabinet. Since lower cabinets will be shallow, you won't have to reach as far for supplies.

Both light and ventilation are important in a bathroom. Light expands the space and prevents shadows. Ventilation keeps air circulating. A combination fan forced heater/ventilator/ceiling light allows all three work separately or together. This eliminates the need to buy three different fixtures.

Whatever your decorating style, there are a host of new patterns, colours and designs available that will reflect your particular tastes and serve to make your bathroom more functional.

Article Provided by: David Pusey Personal Real Estate Corporation

Source: OREA

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Whether it is aircraft overhead, traffic on the street, a neighbour practicing the saxophone, or your own kids at play, often our homes are not as quiet and peaceful as we would like them to be.

That's why taking some measures to soundproof your home has lots of pay-offs. Not only will you reduce noise and add value to your property, but you will be helping to reduce the stress that excessive noise can cause.

If you're tired of excessive noise, start by determining which areas of your home are most in need of soundproofing. Noise can be annoying when it comes into the house through windows, the basement and attic. Noise from inside your home can also be annoying to your neighbours, as well as others in your home.

But whether you are trying to keep noise from getting into your home or preventing it from getting out, if it's anything but a simple problem it may be wise to seek the help of a soundproofing expert.

First, use this handy check list to determine what your problem areas are:

Windows

Windows are the most common way for noise to get in or out. Single glass panes and wood window frames are the least resistant to noise. Double pane glass can reduce noise by about 20 per cent, while vinyl frames can reduce it by as much as 50 per cent.

If replacing the window with a double pane glass or vinyl frames is too expensive an option, consider using a "removable" plug to block the sound coming through the window. A plug will also block light, but it will make little difference if it's your bedroom window and the noise is keeping you awake at night.

And let's not forget the added benefits -- the extra insulation of a plug will keep you warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

A plug can easily be made by measuring the window frame and seeing how much depth there is to the window sill. This will determine the size and thickness of the soundproofing material you can use. Check home building stores for soundproofing materials available.

Usually, one thickness of a two inch mat will do. While sound proofing mat is relatively stiff, you may need to attach it to a lightweight wood or fiber board using contact cement. A plug should fit a window very tightly without any cracks. For easy handling, attach some handles to it.

Attic

Many attics, especially in older homes, lack insulation. Adding insulation can not only help cut down on your heating bills, but it can help to soundproof your home. Materials used to insulate your home also help reduce noise.

Extra layers of asphalt roofing can also increase your home's noise tolerance, especially to aircraft. If you live near an airport, try stapling extra asphalt sheeting on the roof rafters inside the attic. This is a cheap and effective way to reduce noise.

Entrances

In well-built homes you'll notice that doors in a hallway don't line up across from each other. This is to prevent sound from travelling across and through the open doors. Staggering entrances is one way of minimizing noise. Another, of course, is keeping doors closed.

Helpful hints

At least 25 per cent of a room should have some absorbent material, like carpeting or furniture, to reduce reverberation from footsteps.

Rooms located right over living areas should have some form of carpeting for soundproofing. Special carpet padding and floorings are available for use in soundproofing, but these tend to be more expensive. Often, a thick rubber padding and carpet are all you need.

One way of soundproofing walls is to add another layer of drywall. Double drywall on walls facing a noisy street can substantially reduce noise in many homes.

Never soundproof a garage when you can soundproof a basement. The cement foundation of a home absorbs noise. However, you'll still need to soundproof the basement ceiling.

Article Provided by: David Pusey Personal Real Estate Corporation.

Source: OREA

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Spring is in the air and the busy gardening season is just around the corner. Not only can gardening be personally satisfying, but well-placed trees, shrubs, flowering plants and an attractive lawn can increase the value of your property.

While the earlier you start, the better off you'll be, don't be too eager to get things rolling. The ever-changing weather in many Ontario communities can trick even the most experienced gardeners.

One of the key elements in growing luscious vegetables and gorgeous flowers are well-cultivated garden beds, dug several times over in early spring and enriched with nutrients. Success also depends on when you do the digging. Soil should not be worked until the time is right -- that's when all frost is out of the ground and the soil is not at all waterlogged.

To see if the soil is dry enough to work, squeeze a handful into a ball and drop it from shoulder height. If it shatters, the soil is dry enough. If the soil is too dry to form a ball, moisten it before digging. This is also the time to enrich the soil with old leaves, grass clippings, straw, compost, or other forms of organic materials. Garden centres sell alternatives such as peat moss and composted manure. All of these help to retain moisture and retard weed growth, eliminating the need to use chemical fertilizers.

Digging and turning over the first 15 to 20 centimetres of soil in an established garden bed should be fairly easy. The soil should be prepared a few weeks before you plan to start planting so you can remove any weeds that germinate during that time.

By monitoring the soil in your garden beds regularly, you'll be able to dig just as soon as it's ready. While keeping an eye on soil conditions, there are other garden chores to be done. But it's best to wait until the time is right for these as well.

Winter mulch

Be sure the worst frosts have passed before you start to remove old leaves and other materials spread around plants as mulch over the winter. Some experienced gardeners will wait until the tulips show 10 centimetres of growth before removing any mulch.

Since perennials such as tulips and crocuses will be popping up, be gentle when you rake old leaves and clear all leftover debris from fall. Raking too hard or too soon may also destroy the winter homes of good insects, leaving them out in the cold.

Pruning

Early spring is also one of the best times to prune fruit trees and many other deciduous trees and hedges. It's less trauma for them and less leaf raking for you. Proper pruning not only keeps hedges and trees in shape, it also encourages new growth and crop production of fruit-bearing varieties. Coniferous trees and shrubs, however, are best pruned in the fall.

Many trees will also benefit from a fertilizer applied in the form of a tree spike in early spring. These are nailed into the soil at the outer limits around the tree. They're available at garden centres with information on how to apply them.

Lawn care

Early spring is also the time to aerate your lawn if you haven't done so in a few years. The best and easiest way to do this is by renting a gas-powered aerator for half a day and quickly punching plugs out of the soil with it. At greater expense, you can also have a lawn care company come and do it for you.

Aeration removes thousands of soil plugs from your lawn and deposits them on the surface to help break down the thatch layer. The holes allow air, water and fertilizer to penetrate and encourage new and deeper root growth. The soil expands into the holes to make it less compact. All these benefits combine to produce a thicker, greener, healthier lawn.

In early spring, your lawn also needs a good fertilizer, preferably a slow-release one with a high nitrogen content. Be sure to give your lawn a good raking first to get rid of winter's accumulation of leaves and other debris.

Planting

If you're new at gardening, think big but start small. Limit the size of your flower beds and garden to an area you can easily handle. Consider your yard as a cluster of "outdoor" rooms, some for enjoying the sun, others for growing vegetables and others for appreciating the beauty of flowers, shrubs, trees and foliage plants.

If you want continual color or growth from spring through fall, flower and vegetable beds need a lot of thought and planning. You may have to plant more than one kind of annual or vegetable in a particular location to accomplish this. Try to concentrate your garden vegetables in square or rectangular pieces of ground, rather than long rows. This will reduce the amount of time spent weeding and watering.

You'll also have to consider other factors such as sun, shade, heat, reflected light, drainage, winds and soil conditions.

Plan ahead

Garden centres and nurseries get crowded in spring. Be prepared before you get there. Draw up a plan or at least visualize what you want to see in your yard, taking into account all the factors noted above. This will help you determine, well in advance, the types and quantities of plants and shrubs needed to get your yard in gear.

Article Provided by: David Pusey Personal Real Estate Corporation

Source:OREA

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