Thursday, 30 June 2011

dinos for a strong community

Community is one of those wishy washy words that I don't like to throw around. It means different things to different people. For some, a good community is a lawful place where there's no crime, a certain bland consistency and a sameness that can feel great for insiders, and lousy for the outsiders.

I prefer community to be a place where different kinds of people have a common thread, a desire make a particular neighbourhood feel more friendly. People care about their  homes. They want to have distinct local business. And they want to bump into friends at the coffee shop.  Whether you crave community or not, it's a key ingredient for an emerging neighbourhood. Good coffee shops, restaurants, parks, local events, like farmer's markets or a music or art festival, are the usual markers of a neighbourhood that is building a stronger  community.

But sometimes community can grow out of some thing quite small, and unintentional. I have a friend, Amanda, who lives in Dufferin Grove. Amanda's been around. And by that I mean she has lived in a lot of cities. She was born in England, moved to Boston and now lives in Toronto. Each place she goes, she and her husband have to build a new group of friends and tap into their local community. She has two sons now. And recently, for her sons, Amanda put 2 toy dinosaurs in the front garden. She told her sons that the front garden was going to be their new home. The hostas will provide shade, and protect them from extinction-sized comets.  They became part of the flora and fanua of the garden. 

Then one morning, Amanda noticed there were more than two dinosaurs in her garden. There were four. And from there, it grew. Every one from the neighbourhood began adding dinosaurs to the garden.  If I mention the dinosaur garden to any one I know in Dufferin Grove, they all know exactly what I'm taking about. In fact, they light up with a kind of pride that their neigbhourhood contains this unique and unusual place. 

Now maybe you don't want dinos in your garden, but personally,  I think that says something quite nice about community. With absolutely no intention or committees or budget, a local dinosaur garden was formed from the creativity of a group of neighbours who may or may not even know one another. 

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

bigger is not always better

You know, ever once in awhile, an article comes along to say how big a house you can get if you move away to a smaller market like Windsor where houses are cheap and plentiful. What they never seem to mention: You better be staying in Windsor because you won't be able to afford to get in any where else. There are a few places that are still inexpensive, like Hamilton, that i think will be worth more some day, but unless you're retiring, more is not always better from an investment perspective. If you buy a hugh house in Windsor for 300K or a tiny condo in Toronto for 300K, you would have more space and a better standard of living in Windsor, but the appreciation on your asset will be much better in Toronto.

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Lake Effect

People like lakes. And so do I - especially ones that you can swim in during the summer. Mimico and Long Branch are a pretty unique part of Toronto in that both neighbourhood border the lake, though I don't know about the swimming option for Lake Ontario in these parts. As far as lakeside communities go, they're fairly well priced. Of course the closer to the lake you are, the more it's gonna cost you, but even this is relatively new in south Etobicoke.

I remember celebrating my sister birthday at her friend's home about 7 or 8 years ago, a simple, but well-maintained bunglow on the lake with a humble row boat at the end of the yard. Even then I was shocked that any one can just live on the water like that so close to the city. It felt like a mistake. You couldn't go swimming in it, and the ugly view of Hamilton was not very inspiring, but it just felt nice to be near the water. I felt calmer somehow. Since then, my sister's friend sold her place for a healthy profit and the whole house was knocked down to make a far fancier home. I don't think it would be easy to find a lakefront property in Toronto these days, even in more affordable Mimico and parts of Long Branch.

But still a strange divide has happened. I have a listing, not even a block from Lakeshore Blvd. A great place, but you can't see the lake at all. Even south of lakeshore, you can't really see the lake from most properties. Still, I've had a few calls where I was told that interested buyers want to be near the lake, and for whatever reason, south of Lakeshore has been the dividing line that determines what is close enough to the lake and what isn't. You can still access the lake quite easily in a short walk from north of Lakeshore, but somehow this two lane commercial portion of Lakeshore determines what is near the lake and what isn't.

Is that crazy or is that just me?

Monday, 13 June 2011

Fool for Pools

When I was a kid, I didn't have a pool, but I had friends with pools, and on hot summer days I would give them a call to see what they were doing. I would never ask if I could come over for a swim, but I would hint. "Wow, it's hot out," and hope they would take the bait and open the gate for me and my towel. Pools reigned supreme in the 70s and 80s. At one point, it was a bit of a status symbol to have a backyard pool. You can be the nerdiest kid on the block, but if you had a pool, you would be the coolest and most sought-after friend. At least until the end of the summer. 

 Then some thing happened. The tides turned - at least as far as adults are concerned. Many homebuyers began to develop a distaste for pools. Why? Because it cost money to maintain, they take  up too much back yard space, and you only use them for 4 months of the year. Fair enough, I guess.

I currently have a listing coming up with a pool. Luckily, the pool is above ground and could be easily removed, and it does not dominate the entire backyard, which has been landscaped so that the pool is not the only thing interesting behind the house.  In a sense, you could have your cake and eat it too in this home. 

Regardless, I think the pool may actually scare off a few people when they see word "pool" mentioned in the listing, even though the house is well priced - in my biased opinion. 

I have to admit that if I was selling this house in March with the dead leaves and the sunken cover over the pool, I would think it was a real eyesore, an unfortunate thing to have in your backyard. But it's different in the June. It's blue and swirling and just so inviting on a hot day.  I think of the entertainment potential. Though pools may be far less in numbers than decades ago, a summertime pool  still gives you the power to create the fun in your own backyard. People will come to you. And though you can't use the pool year round, I ask you: how many months do you actually spend in the backyard any way?