Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Financial Benefits of Happy Neighbours

Last week, I was staging a  house I had coming to the market. When I was done, I stepped outside to see about 20 neighbours waiting for me. As I walked passed them en route to my car, they closed in around me like a swarm of zombies. As most people know, it's not unusual to have nosy neighbours. If I was not working in real estate myself, I would be curious to know what my neighbour's house was selling for.  It's a natural state to be curious.  These particular neighbours asked the usual questions about prices on their street, but what I was noticing about them: They were a very united and diverse group who all seem to be buddies. It wasn't like some burbs where all the people with kids live in this area and all the people who are old live in that area. They were a mix of young and old, parents of kids and parents of dogs, singles and couples, the tres cool and the uncool.

Now, don't worry...This isn't a riff on how diverse Toronto can be, but I warn you that it does have a warm and fuzzy feel, with a financial benefit.

For me, it is very important to have a sense of community where you live, whether it's a condo building or a street that you bought your house.  I believe that a community needs to have a healthy mix of many kinds of Torontonians.

The listing I had coming up was in Cabbagetown.  It's in an established neighbourhood where walking down the street on a warm day can be a pleasure.  You have a great local butcher, long-time local pet store, and a diverse population. Plus, it's quiet and green. People take care of their properties. You know you are getting a ready-made community with a walkable main street nearby.

Emerging neighbourhoods are different from established ones like Cabbagetown. They are still forming. So in an emerging area like the Junction, you have the excitement of being one of the makers of a community. There's a group there now trying to turn an old police station into a community space for every one in the neighbourhood. In recent years, The Junction residents have formed a farmer's market and a flea market. This particular flea market was recently mentioned in Toronto Life as one of those things that makes Toronto so great.

But maybe you are not one who really wants to take part in the community, wherever it is. You may cower in fear at being invited to a neighbourhood potluck. And that's fine. But if you consider your big investment, a good community makes for a desired location, and an increase in the value of you home.

Buyers who are not as familiar with Toronto or a certain area want to feel welcome, and if they see nice neighbourly things happening, they will more likely want to buy there, even if they are not the friendly type themselves. They often carry around a certain amount of anxiety, and a little happy puts them at ease, and leaves them with a good feeling when they go home to consider what to buy. Even on the elevator ride up to a condo unit, you can get a sense of your neighbourhood. Happy condo people usually say hello or smile. Otherwise, no eye contact can make you feel like you're in a crabby office building.

I can say that those buildings or neighbourhoods that lack community involvement and are not near a vibrant main street where locals can bump into the locals, don't sell as easily.

Basically, there's really no way you can lose with a cohesive, well-mixed and involved community. If you are the neighbourly sort, then you will be happy in an area or building where things are happening and people are interacting. And if you would prefer to keep to yourself, then you can, and just reap the benefits of your neighbours doing neighbourly things. The better and stronger and more diverse your community, the better resale value for your house and condo.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Is There Such A Thing As An Age Appropriate Condo?

For a long time, there have been certain undeclared turf rules about condominiums in Toronto. Rules that have to do with the age of the condo owners. Buying a condo, like every day life, has a certain level of age appropriateness. Just what do I mean by that? Well, it's not a judgement like: Any one who is above the age of 18 should not be riding a skateboard. But, there are certain condos that attract different age groups. 

In Toronto, there are neighbourhoods that are younger. Liberty Village seems to be largely for those in there 20s and 30s. If you have a dog, in addition to your youngness, even better. Any older, and you may feel like the adult chaperone at a high school dance, though I do know many 40 plus Torontonians who are happy clients in these parts.

It is true that young people are more likely to buy condos since they are overwhelmingly first time buyers, and  houses are increasingly getting out of their price range. Condos seems like a natural fit for the young. This trend will continue in Toronto in the years to come. There are still some houses for sale for first time buyers, but there will be fewer and fewer as the years pass.

The younger set also like condos because they can live right in the city as a first time buyer. One young client, who is selling his condo, said to me this past weekend: "Me and my girlfriend are moving to Oakville. Toronto was for fun." So, there is a view out there that Toronto is a kind of playground for the young and the single. A place to have fun and be all Sex In the City. Then, you go the burbs to have kids or get a bigger place.

On the flip side of that, you have the older people condos. Traditionally, these buildings were built in the 80s, have huge maintenance fees and are prone to having a fussy condo board.  The upside is that they are quiet, and the units are enormous. The young may be easy going and light, but wow, they sure like to party. At least that's the commonly held belief. Seniors like condos because they are easier to maintain and there's no stairs.

For a long time, I found that these ages didn't mix much in condoland, but I'm starting to see a bit of a shift. 

Recently, I have seen a huge surge in the numbers of people who want to buy a condo because of the ease of owning one. I see Empty Nesters in their 50s and 60s ditching their suburban house and all the yard work that comes with it for a trendy condo near theatres and coffee shops. I am surprised at how many foodies there are, of all ages, that need to be in the city, walkable distance to good restaurants.

I've also noticed a large number of cottage owners that prefer to have an easy place to keep in the city, but a house on the lake in the warmer months that they can work on.  They want to be able to lock and leave their condo for weeks. 

And I'm also seeing a lot more young people interested in buying older condos for the bigger space and the quiet, older neighbours. Let's face it. Some younger folks work long hours and can certainly appreciate the quiet. 

Now, it's not like all the walls are coming down. Most people over 50 still ask me why a converted loft has all the pipes exposed.  "Hasn't the ceiling been finished yet?" they wonder. And young people do tend to gravitate to the places where all of their friends live. 

But I think the mixing of ages that I'm seeing is a sign that Toronto is maturing and becoming more interesting. It seems to be attracting more people who are drawn to the lifestyle of the city. Cities of the past used to imply a kind of alienated place where people can get lost, and be alone around millions, but what I see now are the formation of neighbourhoods and condo boards that foster community and interaction. And that's a good thing for any age. 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The Truth About Real Estate Flyers

Alas! It's Spring!  Flowers are bursting! Birds are tweeting!  And your mailbox is jam packed with real estate flyers. Not that real estate flyers are the sole domain of this season, but they really do seem to increase in volume during warming months, when sales volumes tend to peak.

Some neighbourhoods will receive more than others. If you're in Toronto, though, you're pretty much guaranteed to receive a lot.

My neighbourhood gets its fair share of flyers, including my very own! As far as my flyers are concerned, I do try to include some relevant information that the reader will find useful, and I write every thing for it myself. But I think I'm in the minority here. I'm pretty sure most agents use a marketing company that writes their articles and provides the stats. Nothing necessarily wrong with that. Some of the stats and articles are very well done. But I do think there is a general idea out there that agents write their own opinion pieces and stats on their flyers.

The one thing that gets under my skin a little, though, are the salespersons who claim to be the top 1%. There are far too many flyers going out with this claim. Mathematically, it just doesn't add up. But I guess you can be the top 1 % in Canada, at your brokerage, or #1 at your desk.

Then there's the awards. Such and such won the chairman award, the president's award, the gold star award. Good for you! Agents, you should be proud, but unless you're going to tell me what the award means, then don't bother to advertise with it.

The other thing I see a lot of is the complimentary free  home evaluation. While I certainly think it is decent for salespersons to offer free home evaluations, let's not pretend it's a novelty. The ones that say: "This card entitles you to a complimentary free home evaluation" is almost laughable. I don't know of many real estate salespeople who do not offer a free home evaluation. Some don't bother, but most will. So, let's not pretend it's some thing special.

Then there are those who really miss the mark. Take, for example,  the real estate salesperson from Mississauga who sent out a flyer a few weeks ago promoting that "traditional family is the best for the future of the kids" in his ad. A number of residents who received the flyer complained. And rightly so, in this day and age.  Regardless of his views, what really confuses me is why someone would think this would encourage anyone to sell their house with him. On top of that, you would think his manager, who should have approved all advertising, would have red flagged that one for its less than friendly message.  I'm left scratching my head...

At the end of the day, most folks don't pay attention to real estate flyers.  We all know that most of them that reach someone's mailbox goes straight into the recycling. And, providing your advertising isn't very offensive, it doesn't matter what your flyer says. It matters that after many years, when that one person decides to sell his or her house, he or she may wonder: Who is it that agent that sells homes in our neighbourhood again? And then, that real estate agent who has been filling their recycling for the past several years may cross their mind  -that is, if they don't already know a salesperson already. And that's why we do it.

Still, I can't help it. I critique every thing that comes to my door as if I was not a salesperson, and I am just a homeowner.  I do take the time to read it. So, if you're going to be sending me stuff, make it worth my while! Inform me or make me laugh. It doesn't have to be elaborate or even your own. Just make it worth the time, even if it's for only a minute out of my day.