What’s all the noise about new Mortgage Rules?

Thu, 06 Oct by Scott Baker
house in human hands on the blue

house in human hands on the blue

There are no shortage of news articles regarding the Canadian Finance Dept’s rather significant changes to the rules surrounding insured mortgages and how buyers will qualify after October 17th. I should start by saying that I am not a mortgage expert. We work with some of the best in the business, so if you have specific questions, I would strongly recommend you contact our residential mortgage expert Sam Iaquinta, here. You can still qualify under the current rules until October 17th.So what are the highlights that will affect buyers? Anyone buying an insured mortgage (less than 20% down) will now have to qualify at the posted Benchmark interest rate, currently about 4.74%, rather than the actual approved rate of the lender (whichever is higher). Depending on the scenario, that means in real dollars that you will lose anywhere from 20-30% of your buying power. Or to put it another way, that $400,000 home you thought you could buy might become a $320,000 townhouse. That’s big. The other effect of this change is that because they are squeezing primarily first time homebuyers, prices will drop to find buyers that can afford lower prices. All in all, not good news for current homeowner’ equity situation in the short run. I urge you to read this article, that covers the changes as well as their implications.

Without getting political, this was directed at overheated markets in Vancouver and Toronto, with little regard to how it affects virtually everyone else in Canada, and it will, in a big way.  The people I feel bad most for though are the new buyers who were very close to having enough saved to buy their first home. That rug has been pulled out from under them. It may stimulate the rental market in some regions, but that’s little consolation to someone with a dream of owning their first home.

Stampede Breakfasts in Calgary’s Deep South

Tue, 05 Jul by Scott Baker

PancakesThe Calgary Stampede kicks off on July 8th this year. No Stampede would be complete without the pancake breakfast experience. Many communities around Calgary hold free breakfasts and BBQ’s during Stampede. Here’s a list of the scheduled Deep South community events for 2016. If you’re new to Calgary, these go rain or shine, and it’s a great way to meet your neighbours. Most are free and open to the public, but read on for details. If you would like to see a calendar of all available Stampede breakfasts around Calgary, click here to see if there is a breakfast on the day and in the area you are close to.

Happy Stampeding!


Cranston’s Annual Stampede Breakfast


Date: Saturday, July 9, 2016

Time: 9:00 – 11:30

Location:  Century Hall Park

Face painting, petting zoo, bouncy castles, line dancing, professional ropers, music, and of course an unlimited number of pancakes! This event is free of charge and is open to the public. RSVP is not required,  Food lines will be cut off at 11am.

McKenzie Towne Stampede Breakfast


Date: Thursday, July 14, 2016

Time: 9:00 – 11:00

Location: High St. SE, McKenzie Towne

Live music, activities, pancakes. Free


Auburn Bay Community Association Stampede Pancake Breakfast


 Date: Saturday, July 9, 2016

Time: 9:00

Location: 800 Auburn Bay Blvd SE

**Open to all Auburn Bay residents.** This year is better than ever, there will be a Kid’s bike parade at 11:00 am, games and activities, bouncy castle, and visits from the A&W Root Bear.   Food sponsored by A&W


 McKenzie Lake Residents Association Family Fun Day!


 Date: Friday, July 8, 2016

Time: 12:00 to 4:00 (BBQ)

Join us on Friday, July 8th from noon to 4pm. We will be selling hamburgers, ice cream and snacks. There will also be an assortment of free activities for kids of all ages – Inflatables, climbing wall, wagon rides, petting zoo and a balloon ride. McKenzie Lake Residents and guests.


Douglas Square Stampede Caravan


Date: Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Time: 9:00 – 11:00

Location: 11520 24 Street S.E.

Free pancake breakfast! A live western band, visiting marching bands, traditional Native dancers, Stampede Royalty, petting zoo, pony rides, games and air brush tattoos for the kids.


New Brighton’s Annual Stampede Breakfast


Date: Saturday, July 16, 2016

Time: 9:00 – 12:00

Location:  The New Brighton Club

Join us Saturday, July 16th and enjoy breakfast on us with pancakes, country line dancing, petting zoo, bouncers, photo booths, a live band and fun western games!

Please note this event is open to the public and RSVP is not required.



What Really Matters When Choosing a Real Estate Agent

Tue, 21 Jun by Scott Baker

Choosing an agent to represent you in either the sale or purchase of a home (we’ll include condos in the generic term of home) is an important part, perhaps THE most important part, of beginning your quest to sell or buy a property. Unfortunately, many people mistakenly put too much emphasis on things that they only think are most important. Home improvement and real estate shows have put predictably edited-for television versions of the truth into our psyches, so we associate reality TV shows with actual reality. ( You are allowed to look at more than three homes). So if you don’t want to end up with this guy, read on.bigstock-Pushy-salesman-with-an-oversiz-21273605

If you read much of what agents use in their marketing, words such as ‘Integrity’, ‘Trust’, and ‘ Experience’ are used extensively. Those are all admirable qualities in people, but I would opine that saying you have integrity should be a given. “I drive on the right side of the road’ is a nice trait as well, but we all should do that. So then, what should the average person put on their list when searching for someone to represent them in a very major event in their life? Sometimes, those of us in the industry forget that most people don’t pay much attention to real estate until they need to. Sort of like when you get a new vehicle and suddenly you notice every other one that looks just like yours. Perhaps it’s easier to start with factors that you should not base your decision on:

Someone tells you that they have a buyer for your home. This probably one of the most misunderstood aspects of selling a home. The odds of this happening is incredibly small. Why? Well, you are counting on a buyer wanting your home, on your street, in that size and style, with your amenities and features, approved for the price you want, at the time you want to sell, who is ready to buy it at the price you want. It’s the proverbial needle in the haystack. That is not to say that we can’t find you the buyer once we begin marketing your property, but at that point we have started to filter out those who don’t meet some of the criteria I just referred to. Don’t believe it, its a bait and switch technique. Those ‘buyers’ somehow magically disappear after the contract gets signed.

Commission. Ah yes, the elephant in the interview room. Many new real estate agents are petrified of this question. By law, commissions are negotiable, but offices and agents can set their own fees and stick to them if they choose. My point on this topic is that you choose someone based on what their skills are, their reputation, and their plan to accomplish what you set out to do. Savings can be real, or they can disappear in the blink of an eye, when you consider that agents are paid anywhere from one to three percent (per side) of the total price of the property. With Calgary homes selling currently at around 97% of list price ( my average is over 98%), it’s a very small piece of the overall pie, and can get absorbed pretty quickly in the sale of a home that went for much less than you were assured you could get. Put that down the list, not at the top. (Also true for lawyers, plumbers, electricians, dentists….)

‘I see their open house signs all the time’. Let me just say that open houses are not a bad thing. They can be a useful tool for getting feedback from buyers. But to be honest, they are fishing tools for agents to gain new clients. This relates to our first topic, having a ready buyer. The odds of someone coming in and wanting that exact house for that price, etc, etc are very, very slim. We sit open houses as part of our overall exposure, but we don’t do them week after week, as that isn’t marketing, and many do it because all it costs them is time. ‘Hope and a prayer’ isn’t marketing. I have NEVER sold a listing off of an open house.

‘I get recipes and a free pumpkin every year’. Everyone loves soft, warm and fuzzy touches in their life. That has nothing to do with how knowledgeable or proven an agent is in your market. Like having integrity, being a nice person is a fine attribute, but that’s one item of a long list that should be important when you’ve finally sold your home or purchased your dream home. Ok, so what should you be looking for?

Rapport. Does the person you are considering share some of your values, seem to understand what you are trying to accomplish, and have some ideas that you hadn’t considered? Does he or she tell you the ABSOLUTE truth, or do they sugar coat things in order to get your approval. As I tell every client, the truth is always there. It just takes time for it to reveal itself, and you don’t want to choose someone based on what you want to hear. Good or bad, you need someone who will tell it like it is.

A Plan. If you’re selling your home, you need a comprehensive marketing plan. What does it include, how long does it last, who are they targeting? More than a sign and an MLS® posting, you need to be found by the most people that could be interested in your home. I tell my clients that I have one adage to marketing; ‘Tell everyone’. This comes under the category of getting what you pay for. Keep in mind, if you’re selling you don’t pay if you don’t sell. These are my costs. If you are on the buying side of the equation, the plan comes down to filtering your wish list to find the right home without seeing every listing. It also means being prepared financially and discussing term and conditions to make it the right one. Which brings us to…

Communication. Seems simple enough, but as we all know, common sense isn’t very common, and communication skills didn’t seem to stick to everyone after high school. It’s very important to stay in touch, in whatever manner is most useful to you, as I can stay in touch by email, text, phone, and of course, in person. What matters is that you are getting valuable information on what is happening, what is selling, new listings, your competitiveness (if you’re selling), and either a broad perspective or narrower focus on what will help us accomplish your goal. Understanding and managing expectations is a key element to our ongoing communication.

The Price. This one is for sellers, and it is the most important part in listing your home. I tell clients that this is 80% of our marketing. This is done with a comprehensive evaluation, not a dart board or rainbows and unicorns. We want a price that will draw buyers, based on the current market, so that we get you the highest price the market will bear. This is a topic for another day, but it is largely why my sales to listing price ratio is higher than average, and why my selling clients are pretty darn happy at the end. I can create fist fights in the driveway if we price a property too low, and you’ll sell fast, but it may not be what you wanted to accomplish. On the flip side, I’m not in the business of listing, but rather selling homes. Getting it right, (or making it right if the competition changes) is paramount to success.

The Devil is in the Details. Preparing a home for sale, ( I use professional home staging as part of my service) writing good ad copy to accentuate the selling features, professional photography, and making sure everyone living there is ready to be part of the ‘team’ when selling is vital to the final price and a successful sale. For buyers, that means knowing what you have to do to get out of where you currently live (notice to a landlord, selling your current property to align with a purchase), getting a pre-approval for a mortgage, and making a list of wants and needs so that you don’t become overwhelmed with viewing properties. My average number of homes shown before writing an offer is twelve, which comes from listening, filtering and suggesting options as we go.

Knowledge of a Geographic area. This one can be misleading, as many good agents don’t necessarily know much about a community. Not as big of a deal if you’re buying, but much more important when selling. The caveat here (for me anyway) is that I was born and raised in Calgary, so I have a pretty good idea of most communities. Someone who came to Calgary in the last three years and started in the industry may not have that same comfort or knowledge of every quadrant of the city. If they call themselves ‘area specialists’, they better know a lot about what makes a community tick, the school names, HOA fees, peculiarities of certain streets, etc. I once had to tell an agent that the offer he brought was way off, as he hadn’t factored in that his comparisons were for homes that didn’t include lake privileges. What you don’t know can hurt you.

I have to constantly remind myself that clients don’t know what they don’t know. It’s easy to assume that everyone knows how to sell or buy a home, but in almost every deal I handle a question that gives me pause, and I realize that I bring value to them by having answers to questions that I may have answered many times. it’s just new to them. If you focus on these factors, your experience in buying or selling should be much more positive. We do this every day. You shouldn’t have to know it all.

How Important is a Walk Score?

Sat, 28 May by Scott Baker

IMG_1363Many real estate websites (including ours) use Walk Score to provide consumers with a metric to compare a community’s walkability. According to Walk Score’s own website, a one point increase in a community’s score can equal as much as a $3,000 increase in value to a property. While there is little argument that being able to walk to various amenities has value, it can be a rather subjective number that may have little to do with a community being able to deliver the quality of life a family or individual may desire.

Here is an example: My own deep south community of Cranston ranks 157th in Calgary for walk score. In other words, the scoring indicates that a vehicle is required for most things you would need to shop for or attend to, including work. We are a five mounts walk to one school, another three minutes to another, and about 3 minutes to one under construction. Unless you want to walk to high school, we’ve got it covered. We have a grocery store, pub, a few fast food places, doctors, dentists, a coffee shop, two gas stations, a bank, a vet, hair salon, dry cleaner and convenience stores within easy walking distance (5-10 minutes, depending on the street you might live on). We are next to the largest connected pathway system in North America, and the South Health Campus is a short drive (eek, a car!) over Deerfoot Trail. So why the low rating?

A walk score calculates the distance to downtown, as well as other amenities like theatres, restaurants, etc. So what if you work in Foothills industrial park, or perhaps at the hospital? We are admittedly about a 30 minute bus trip to downtown, and the new LRT line that is still a few years away will only cut a few minutes off of that time. Calgary planners have spent a great deal of time and money in the newest communities to build ‘work, live, play’ communities, so that traveling to downtown or across town to work isn’t necessary. How about if you have a home office or work virtually?

I guess I would opine that consumers should use the walk score carefully, understanding that it’s not a one size fits all grading system. I agree that it has value to compare communities and their ability to walk to amenities, to have access to transit, and to provide biking options. Many suburbs have been created or retro-fitted to improve citizen’s daily quality of life, keeping in mind that not everyone wants to live within smelling distance of the coffee shop or within walking distance to their office, if that’s how you make a living. Take a look at the whole picture. You might be discounting some great communities that fit your lifestyle.

Buying or Selling when you need to

Fri, 29 Jan by Scott Baker

There are daily reminders in the media, through friends and family, perhaps even your friendly Realtor that the market in Calgary and surrounding areas is slow, with prices down as well. The CREB forecast is for an overall drop in prices of 3.44% this year in a broad, across the board swipe at average prices. They are also predicting lower sales volume of just over 2%. But as I have said here before, real estate is local. It’s also specific. So what if you have to make a move this year?

The 2016 real estate market in Calgary will have some opportunities for buyers. I expect inventory to rise through the spring. That means more selection, particularly in multi-family and condos, where builders are finishing projects, creating a glut of units available. First-time buyers will have the luxury of shopping for the right home, with interest rates staying low. Insured mortgage rules changed, (meaning that buyers looking at homes above $500,000 will need to have 10% down payment on the amount over $500,000) but that won’t affect the first timer.Sold Home For Sale Sign & New House

This is an excellent year to consider a move up purchase. Prices will be flat or even lower in many areas. That means you have to be able to sell your current home or condo. Despite what you may read, that will still be happening. It just takes patience and a keen eye on what’s really happening in your area.

Sellers who absolutely have to sell will experience bargain hunters out there. It’s an unfortunate aspect of higher inventory and more competition. The key is to price your home for the market we’re in, to shine from the very first day, and to remain competitive with other homes in your community. Exposing the home to as many marketing avenues as possible matters more now than ever. It’s a major reason the my real estate company’s market share goes up in tough times, as people go to someone they trust and know, who will spend the marketing dollars to have success in the market.

If you are in this category don’t despair. Selling is not only possible but likely when marketed to the right people at the right price. As John Lennon said ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’

A Great City builds Great Facilities

Wed, 19 Aug by Scott Baker

With the announcement by the Calgary Flames ownership (Calgary Sports and Entertainment) that they intend to build a multi-purpose sports and recreation facility in Calgary’s West Village area, comes a certain amount of gnashing of teeth by some, as well as the usual cry of ‘not with my tax dollars!’ My educated guess is that there is more support for new facilities than not, and that Calgarians tend to get behind exciting new ventures, at least we always have historically, whether it was the Olympics, East Village, the numerous outdoor festivals that have cropped up in recent years, etc.
CalgarynextI won’t start a debate here about who is responsible for what. My comment here is simply this; great cities understand that there are many intangible benefits to building new venues and meeting places such as the one proposed by the Flames group. We seem to be stuck in a bit of a ‘one horse town’ mentality with some projects, such as the airport tunnel or the Peace Bridge. All one has to do is travel to Europe to see the seemingly endless tunnels put through mountains to facilitate traffic and you understand how tiny our little airport project was in comparison.

I have no doubt that some of those who rail against any kind of public monies for projects such as this would also act the part of a proud parent once it was built when swapping city bragging stories on vacations elsewhere. (Ever walked across the Peace Bridge and thought, hmm, this is kind of cool?) Rather than get into the debate about that aspect, I will only say this; the sports teams (now owned in one big group) over the years have provided Calgarians with entertainment options, proud moments of success, business opportunities to host clients, bragging rights for any sports fans, and most importantly, millions of dollars in donations donated to community and charitable groups. Need player to attend an event? Just ask, and you’ll have a Flame, Stampeder, Hitmen, or Roughneck player there.

What is proposed is not unlike what most other franchises have done in North America. There is a government component to this, and rightfully so. It will bring in millions of dollars annually from property taxes, visitors, hotel rooms filled, restaurants, and retail sales. Jobs, people, a lot of jobs. Keep in mind that the money they are asking for from the City is to build amateur sports facilities that everyone seems to agree is desperately needed.

So keep an open mind, let the parties negotiate the details, and get behind this huge new opportunity to put Calgary back in a category that says we’re world class in every way. Not a wannabe who said no. Ask any city that has lost a team through neglect. They spend the next 20 years trying to woo them back. It’s part of our fabric. They’ll do their part. Let’s do ours by supporting this venture. (Photo courtesy of CTV News)

What is a Community Association?

Tue, 28 Apr by Scott Baker

Last week, we addressed the first part of one of our most frequently asked questions, which is:

“What is the difference between a Residents Association and a Community Association? Aren’t they the same thing?”

If you look back at our previous post, you’ll get the low-down on Residents Associations, what they are, and some examples of one right here in Calgary.

This week, we’re looking at the Community Association side of the question. What are they, what do they do, and how do they work?

Community Associations

McKenzie Lake Community Association Event

A family event run by the McKenzie Lake Community Association.

Many of the great events and community initiatives we hear about in these deep south Calgary neighbourhoods are run by local Community Associations. These associations are run by volunteers, and membership is also voluntary. In Calgary, all Community Associations have to apply for a charter from the Federation of Calgary Communities, which is a not-for-profit parent organization that provides direction and guidelines for all Community Association members.

These groups work hard to bring the community closer together and are a huge part of connecting people and making these areas of Calgary feel friendly and familiar. They often seek to create partnerships with local neighbourhood businesses, are the “front lines” for lobbying for or against government initiatives that may impact the community, put on community-centric events, and work to be the “welcoming face” of the neighbourhood for new residents.

When there is both a Residential Association and a Community Association in a community, they often work together to run events and encourage active participation in the community. Community Associations often rent space from the local Residential Association for their activities since they may not have the funds to build their own space.

Community Associations develop over time. A brand new community may not have one right away, and it can take years for a new Community Association to grow in membership and volunteers enough that they are able to become a significant asset to the community. There needs to be a “critical mass” of people living there to start one up, and to keep one going strong.

Examples of Community Associations in Deep South Calgary Communities

Cranston Community Association

Cranston Community Association LogoThe Cranston Community Association runs the annual Cranston Festival of Lights Contest, and has partnered with local businesses to give members a discount on their goods and services. More importantly, they work to keep the community up to date on new school projects that will impact Cranston families, keep residents in the loop on government initiatives that might affect them, and lobby on behalf of the community. They also run a “Clean Up” event that lets community members discard or recycle unwanted electronics, and donate items to Goodwill.

McKenzie Lake Community Association

McKenzie Lake Community AssociationThe Community Association in McKenzie Lake runs great events like regular youth dances and movie nights, promote active lifestyles and local community sports, run fitness and skill development classes in partnership with the Residents Association, and encourage community involvement and charitable works in the area.

Auburn Bay Community Association

Auburn Bay Community Association LogoThe Community Association in Auburn Bay runs many popular community programs including girl guides, seniors programs, as well as soccer and other sports programs. They run an annual Stampede Breakfast, and connect with local businesses to offer discounts on services for their members. They run many local volunteer initiatives, including community “Clean Up” events, keep the community active in local politics, and encourage members to stay active and contribute to their neighbourhoods.

Lake Chaparral Community Association

Chaparral Community Association LogoThe Community Association in Lake Chaparral maintains a regular community newsletter, and keeps their members and residents up to date on political moves that may impact the community. They host regular events, including an annual Stampede Breakfast, Murder Mystery Dinner, and Festival of Lights contest. They also provide community sports, including soccer and hockey.

We hope this information has helped you gain a better understanding of how both Residents and Community Associations work both together and separately to provide facilities, events, and community involvement to enhance the quality of life of people living in the all the deep south neighbourhoods.

What is a Residents Association?

Wed, 22 Apr by Scott Baker

One of the most frequently asked questions our team gets when we work with home buyers in Calgary’s deep south communities of Cranston, McKenzie Lake, McKenzie Towne, Auburn Bay, and Chaparral is:

“What is the difference between a Residents Association and a Community Association? Aren’t they the same thing?”

And the answer is: No! They are different types of associations, responsible for different things. Many of the communities above have both types of associations, so it’s important to understand the difference as a homeowner within these communities.

Over the next 2 weeks, we’ll be talking about the difference between these 2 types of associations and featuring some examples of ones you can find in Deep South Calgary communities.

Residents Associations

Century Hall in Cranston, CalgaryMany newer communities were developed with additional amenities or features, such as gazebos, water fountains, private lakes, skating rinks, etc. When the developers who build these communities turn them over to the city, many of these special amenities are not recognized by the City of Calgary as city infrastructure, and won’t be maintained by them.

Residents Associations are not-for-profit organizations that were created to “fill the gaps” for these extra, in-demand features and amenities that require ongoing maintenance. By choosing to live in one of these communities, you are also agreeing to join the Residents Association and pay annual fees that go toward running and maintaining these types of amenities – whether you use them or not. If you live in an area with a Residents Association, you can’t “opt out”: membership is compulsory. If you live in an area covered by a Residents Association, you have to be a member. You also get all the benefits of their efforts, exclusive to the community.

Residents Associations also put an encumbrance on your title when you buy a home in one of their areas. This means you are obligated, as part of owning a home there, to pay annual Residents Association fees, in essence to cover “your share” of the maintenance costs of infrastructure, amenities, and features of the neighbourhood that are public spaces, but not covered by the city.

If a community is going to have a Residents Association, you’ll know from the beginning. These associations are created when the community is created, usually by the developer and then “handed off” to a board elected by members of the association once a certain proportion of the units in the community are sold.

Examples of Residents Associations in Deep South Calgary Communities

Cranston Residents Association

Cranston Residents AssociationThe Cranston Residents Association maintains Century Hall, a large private facility in a gated park area. Century Hall provides the community with dedicated meeting spaces, banquet rooms, a splash park, toboggan run, gymnasium, and other multi-function rooms. They run seasonal recreational programs such as summer camps, workshops, and some community events. They also maintain the park around Century Hall, the grass around Cranston Art Park, the grass around the Cranston Windmill, and various flower beds throughout the community.

McKenzie Lake Residents Association

mckenzie-lake-residents-associationTheir primary responsibility is maintaining the private lake area, including equipment for use on the lake such as life jackets, rowboats, kayaks, canoes, and pedal boats. They make sure the lake is stocked with rainbow trout in the spring, summer, and fall months, to the delight of residents who love fishing. They also operate and maintain other recreational facilities, including the tennis courts, basketball courts, toboggan hill, and beach volleyball area. In the winter, they maintain several skating surfaces on and around the lake.

Note: There are two sections of McKenzie Lake that were either given the option not to join (as their homes were built before the lake went in), or were built by another developer and were excluded from lake access. This is a unique situation, as other communities were built with amenities already planned and budgeted for through the annual HOA fees for each home.

McKenzie Towne Residents Association

mckenzie-towne-council-logoKnown locally as the “McKenzie Towne Council”, the Residents Association in McKenzie Towne manages and maintains the McKenzie Towne Hall facility, which includes a banquet hall, gymnasium, and multi-purpose rooms. They also maintain most of the park areas within McKenzie Towne, the skate park, and clear many pathways and public sidewalks in the winter.

Auburn Bay Residents Association

auburn-bay-logoThey run Auburn House, the private lake area, and the surrounding park. They maintain several landscaped areas within the community including neighbourhood entry features, decorative corners, and lake access ways. They also run a wide variety of local programming, classes, and events, including summer camps and drop-in fitness programs.

Chaparral Residents Association

chaparral-residents-associationThe Residents Association in Lake Chaparral operates the lake, the nearby recreational building, and the 22 acre park surrounding it. They run and promote many local fitness and sporting events, and also rent sporting and lake equipment to residents. They are also responsible for maintaining and enforcing the Architectural Guidelines in the Lake Chaparral community, that keep the unique look of each neighbourhood intact and consistent.

Stay tuned next week, when we’ll be covering Community Associations and featuring some great local examples you can find right here in Calgary. In the meantime, if you just can’t wait to learn the difference or you have questions about buying a home in a community that has a Residents Association, send us your question or give us a call anytime!

Bill 9 for Calgary Condo Owners: Fixes & Misses

Fri, 10 Apr by Scott Baker

Calgary CondosThis winter, the Alberta government passed the Condominium Property Amendment Act (known as “Bill 9”), which includes roughly 50 amendments to condo property laws to enhance protections for buyers, owners, and provide stronger regulation and governance within the condominium industry.

There’s a lot of good in this bill, which is good news for Calgary condo owners but even better news for buyers once the new legislation takes effect (the amendments will start coming into force in stages starting sometime in 2015). But there are a few places where the bill is still weak, and some gaps it didn’t fill (or didn’t fill enough).

Highlights of the Fixes

Consumer Protection

Bill 9 provides some better, stronger consumer protection, especially around information disclosure. Purchase disclosures will include firmer dates – and a final date – for when a unit will be ready for occupancy, a proposed budget for the corporation, home warranty information, and other important financial documentation.

Developer Obligations

Additional protections are being added for buyer deposits, ensuring they are deposited with an authorized trustee. Developers will also have responsibility to pay their fair share of condo fees for unsold units, and when converting existing buildings to condos they will be required to have a full Building Assessment Report prepared detailing the condition of the building.

Board and Voting Procedure Rules

The bill outlines clear voting procedures and more rules to help keep condo boards transparent. This includes notification procedures around changes to the corporations insurance policy and property replacement costs. It also introduces harsher penalties for boards that don’t follow the rules.

Existing Owner Protections

There are more rules around when a condo board can impose a special levy, and about how much notice the board must give owners about an impending levy. There are also additional limitations placed around when an owner’s right to vote can be suspended, and maximum fee caps for corporation documents. With the construction booms in the past decade, there have been countless special assessments foisted on buyers due to faulty workmanship. When the developer fights paying for it, and the repairs are critical, management companies and condo boards have declared some huge special assessments, hoping they are recovered in litigation.

Dispute Resolution

A new pilot tribunal will be created to hear and settle a variety of disputes, to create an alternative to the court system that is hopefully more efficient, less costly, and can settle disputes between owners, boards, occupants, and other parties.

Some of the Misses

Financial Documents Still Costly

When buying or selling a condo, there are lot of important financial documents that have to be requested and disclosed before the sale can be finalized. These documents are often held by property management companies that charge ridiculously large sums for these documents that, we feel, owners should have a legal right to have access to without exorbitant fees. There are maximums imposed in the new bill – and that’s great – but we’d rather see better protections for the owner’s right to their own financial documentation. As a shareholder of a company, you would normally be entitled to see financial accountability from the corporation, without charge. Ordering condo documents for someone wanting to sell their unit has become a revenue source, and that’s wrong.

Board Minutes

This is relevant for both owners and buyers. Whether you attend a board meeting or not, you should be able to read a summary of what was discussed during the meeting in a timely fashion. A lot of the owners we work with haven’t had minutes from their board meetings in a long time, and often their requests for them result in a run-around. In some cases, there may not be good quality minutes taken, so getting an update on recent board activity – especially relevant information for a buyer looking at purchasing a unit – can be extremely difficult.

Website Info Updated

Many management companies have websites but many of them have not been recently updated. We’d like to see even greater transparency rules in place when it comes to ease of access to critical information and decisions the board has, including meeting minutes, special assessment information, insurance documentation, etc.

Rules versus Bylaws

Better clarity is needed around what can be established as “rules” arbitrarily made by the condo board versus what must be voted on by the owners as a bylaw. For example, whether or not a condo building allows pets and what kind of pets are permitted should probably be a bylaw, voted on by all the owners, rather than a rule established by the board without consulting the owners. Move-in and out fees charged are another area that seems to be abused.

Clearer Insurance Guidelines

Any condo has two levels of insurance: The building insurance, owned and managed by the board, and each individual owner’s insurance, that covers the individual unit. Sometimes, which insurance company is responsible for which claim is unclear, as is who should be required to supervise the repair work. There is a huge grey area on whose insurance covers what part of the building, and this needs better clarity.

Requirement for “As Is” Building Documents

Finished buildings rarely correspond to the original plans in every detail, but currently developers aren’t required to create these documents once the building is complete. If they exist, they must hand them over to the board, but often these documents aren’t ever created. This makes further warranty claims, building repairs, or renovations difficult, and can lead to unexpected costs for the board and assessments for the owners in the future, costs that could be avoided if the documentation was complete.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Bill 9 gets a ‘B-‘ in our opinion. Unfortunately, this is most likely not going to be re-visited anytime soon, for those wanting more protection and clarity or rights for condo owners, the numbers of which have grown exponentially in the past 10 years in Alberta. As the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

If you’re looking to buy a Calgary condo, have a look at our Calgary Condos search and info page or contact us any time with questions: We’re happy to help!

Oil Prices and the Calgary Real Estate Market: 7 Pieces of Expert Advice

Tue, 24 Mar by Scott Baker

calgary-skylineEvery week we’re seeing more hyperbole in the headlines being generated about lower oil prices and the effect on the Calgary real estate industry. If you follow the news you’ll see a variety of headlines ranging wildly from “Calgary Housing Market Will Weather Plummeting Oil Prices” to “Buy Now: Prices May Drop 20%”. Not exactly a moderate, consensus message.

So what is the REAL state of affairs in the Calgary Market for 2015? And what can you or should you do about it? What strategy can you take to put yourself in the best market position? We’ve put together 7 pieces of advice you should take seriously.

#1 Trust A REALTOR®, Not the News

Our first piece of advice is the best piece of advice: Stop relying on media and water cooler talk for information on what’s happening in the market and where it’s going to go. Most of the people who write these articles are not experts in real estate or experts in how a shift in regional economics will impact the market.

A professional, experienced REALTOR® can provide you with the unbiased, no-hype facts about the market and where it’s likely to go in the next 6 months. We can help you understand all the factors that will impact your decision to buy or sell and when the best time to enter the market is, given your needs and deadlines.

#2 Moving Up? Look At The Delta

If you’re staying in the same market (both buying and selling in the same area) and moving up in the market, it’s important to look at the “delta” between what you’re selling for and what you’re buying for, because ultimately that’s the important thing. If you sell your townhouse for $300,000 instead of $315,000 and then turn around and buy a detached home for $400,000 instead of $420,000, you still move up and gain $5,000 even though the price was down 5% on both sides. That’s the bottom line that matters.

#3 It’s Not a Fire Sale

The headlines may indicate otherwise, but the truth is homes in Calgary are still selling at or above list price, depending on the specific area, amenities, and demand. Sale-to-list ratios are sitting at between 1% – 1.5% lower than last year, which is well within normal tolerances.

Having said that, savvy buyers with experienced REALTORS® will be able to find better value in certain parts of the Calgary market. There will be some great opportunities when sellers have a tight timeline or price their homes without proper understanding of the current market.

Some markets will definitely be slower: The luxury and high end property market is likely to be much slower in the near future. However, first time single family homes in certain neighbourhoods will likely do well as their pricing falls back into the affordability range for some buyers.

#4 Sellers Should Be Strategic

Sellers in some areas will need to sharpen their pencils with their initial price in order to take full advantage of a much shorter window of opportunity to attract buyers before they move on to other listings. Inventory is increasing, so your pricing and showing strategy needs to be solid.

Buyers have been sitting on the fence this winter to see how far prices will plummet. Since they haven’t — and likely won’t — the pre-approved buyers will be back out this spring. The big difference is this year, they’ll have more time to shop as there will be more choices – more inventory – than last year. So a solid marketing strategy and point-precision pricing is key this year.

#5 Multifamily Opportunities for Investors

There are many new condo projects scheduled to be completed this year, and there’s going to be an increase in new-build condo units on the market, which may make this particular market softer than it has been the last 3 years. Investors interested in multi-family should keep their eyes and ears open for opportunity.

#6 Look to the Resale Market

Builders are already scaling back on new construction projects, which means buyers should look to the resale market more than they have been the last few years. The inventory of resale listings is rising, and there is great selection in many areas, styles, and at a wide range of price points.

#7 Take Advantage of Lower Mortgage Rates

The banks have just dropped their long term mortgage rates, and when they inevitably go up people will daydream about the good old days when mortgages were 2.5 – 3%. Mortgages are cheap right now, so if you’re on the fence don’t wait. Get pre-approved!

Remember, unlike the recession, which was international and largely unpredictable in scope, this is a much more regional challenge that most consider to have a short to medium shelf life. Job losses will ease in the second quarter, and once oil recovers, whenever that is, employment will also recover.

Our team of experienced Calgary REALTORS® is happy to answer any questions you have about the current market, where it’s going, or how the current Alberta economic outlook will affect your decision to buy or sell. Give us a call or send us a message: We’d be happy to help you with any real estate questions you have.