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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Home sales down 37% by mid July

According to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) / Greater Toronto Realtors only 2,790 sales were made during the first two weeks of July 2010. For the Toronto real estate market that represents a 37% drop compared to the same time frame in July 2009. New listings also were down 8%.

This is to be a little expected however. Last year saw a bumper crop of home sales.

“Last summer existing home sales spiked well above the expected long-term trend. Sales were also unseasonably high during the first four months of this year,” says TREB President Bill Johnston. “Transactions will be down year over - year in the second half of 2010 as the level of sales balances out.”

“With year-to-date sales up by more than 18 per cent compared to last year, we continue to look forward to one of the best years on record under the current TREB trading area,” says Bill.

The average price for July mid-month transactions was $427,931 – up 8% from the same time period in 2009.

Jason Mercer, TREB’s Senior Manager of Market Analysis, believes that there will plenty of sales to maintain the sustainability of price growth.

But what if he's wrong and prices start to plummet?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Retroactive property tax bills

New homeowners in Etobicoke are being struck by multiple retroactive property tax bills for 2008, 2009 and 2010... and they have to be paid in two installments in September and October.

Depending on the size of a home in Etobicoke homeowners can expect the combined three tax bills to total between $2,100 for a small bungalow and $60,000 for a multi-million-dollar mansion.

Having to find such large amounts in a short time period has angered many homeowners, especially since this isn't the fault of the homeowners in the first place. This is the fault of lazy, slow-moving bureaucracy.

Property taxes in Ontario are assessed by MPAC (Municipal Property Assessment Corporation) and are usually assessed in the current year and going back up to two years. Thus the longest any property tax can be retroactive is three years. When that happens, homeowners get an extra hefty bill to pay in a short amount of time. But it is supposed to be extremely rare!

Normally assessment is supposed to happen within the first 6 months of new construction.

What has happened here is because of a shortage of inspectors and rampant growth of new homes in the Etobicoke region there has become a huge backlog of new homes that don't get assessed for 2 or 3 years after being built. (Or rebuilt in the case of fire or there was something wrong with the foundation forcing the house to be torn down and rebuilt.)

This year however instead of 1 or 2 homes being charged retroactive tax bills going back three years, there are literally hundreds of new homeowners who are getting whacked over the head by the tax truncheon. MPAC is refusing to give exact numbers, but the number of complaints continue to pile up.

Worse, if your house was rebuilt and it was originally valued at say $450,000 in 2007 and the new house is only worth $250,000 you still have to pay retroactive taxes on the house as if it was still worth $450,000.

More than 12,300 supplementary tax bills were mailed in the last cycle of land taxes in Etobicoke, mostly representing back land taxes for 2 years. There are 3 to 4 cycles of land taxes per year.

So yeah. That has just scared me away from buying a home in Etobicoke. If they can't send tax bills out on time, just imagine what else is wrong with the system out there.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Leaside, a dream neighbourhood in Toronto

The Bank of Canada has raised interest rates again, making it more difficult for people to get a mortgage at an affordable rate. The key overnight lending rate has been raised from 0.5% to 0.75%.

With that in mind it makes sense to me that people might want to consider buying a house in a region of Toronto which is often overlooked.

Leaside is a small but quiet neighbourhood right in the middle of Toronto. Most of the homes in Leaside are traditional detached two-storey designs dating from the 1930s and 1940s, all-brick constructed, with distinctive intermixing of cut stone around entryways and front bay windows. Homes in Leaside often have exterior details such as leaded glass windows, arched / peaked entrances and broad wooden door casings. Its a level of artistry that hasn't been seen in decades and for someone like myself who enjoys older architecture, a pleasure. Inside you will typically see traditional wooden mouldings, baseboards, and floors... the type of things you'd see when visiting your grandparents.

Or in my case, my parents' farm... or the 1920s apartment building I currently live in.

I look at the architecture of some of the homes in Leaside and I just drool. They're "perfect", almost idealized, like a Carl Schaefer painting.

Not all the homes in Leaside are what I'd call affordable. Some of the really nice homes are $900,000 or more. Depending on where you look however there are more economical alternatives. South Leaside has a variety of semis and bungalows with price ranges hovering around $500,000.

The reason for this is because Leaside is a good place for anyone in the upper middle-class wage bracket. So that means people like myself probably couldn't afford to live there... but I can still dream right?

Sure, its not the multi-million dollar homes of Rosedale... and its not one of the soon-to-be-a-slum condos by the waterfront either. Its just a nice quiet neighbourhood with the following perks:

#1. Conveniently close to both Yonge Street and the Don Valley Parkway. Commute time to downtown is 15-30 minutes.

#2. Cycling distance from downtown. In fact there's plenty of bicycle lanes and trails in the surrounding region. (As a bicycle mechanic, I appreciate these things.)

#3. Abundant local parkland. Serena Gundy Park, David A. Balfour Park, Moore Park Ravine, Flemingdon Park, Sunnybrook Park, Blythwood Ravine, Sherwood Park.

#4. Lots of local schools for children and teens. Maurice Cody School, Blythwood School, Bessborough Drive School, Rolph Road School, Leaside High School, Northern Secondary School, Marshall McLuhan Secondary, North Toronto CI, Don Mills CI.

#5. Oh and its only a short bicycle ride to the Ontario Science Centre, a huge chunk of parkland, fishing in the Don River and the archery range just south of the OSC (as someone who enjoys the sport of archery I can appreciate that).

The area is named after the Lea family from Lancashire, England who arrived in Canada in 1819. John and Mary Lea later built the first brick house in York township in 1829. In 1841 their son William later bought additional land and built an octagonal home which he dubbed "Leaside". The house is no longer there, but its location was where the Leaside Memorial Gardens is now.

I did manage to find a painting of the octagonal home however, shown here.

A lot has changed since Leaside was once prime farmland. Now there's three subway stations nearby, Eglinton, Davisville and Bayview, a plethora of restaurants, boutiques and a combination of small "family businesses" and larger retail stores.

The history of the area includes:

The Leaside Junction Station, one of the busiest train stations and train yards in Toronto from 1894 to 1969.

The Leaside Viaduct, a bridge built in 1927 across the Don Valley.

Residential construction in Leaside didn't begin until the 1930s. In 1967 Leaside became part of East York and eventualled was amalgamated with Toronto in 1997. The area is popular with families, since it has such quiet streets, very little crime and a large number of schools / parkland. Many parents consider it to be one of the ideal locations in Toronto to raise kids.

In the 1990s a number of "exclusive" condos and townhouses were built in the region, attracting more families to the area. Many of Leaside's local shops are geared towards children and mothers, although the area also boasts antique shops, specialty stores and pubs. There's also libraries, community centres, indoor ice arena and an indoor swimming pool, curling rink and an auditorium. The local Sunnybrook Park even has horseback riding stables.

Seriously, freaking horse stables! Who wouldn't want to live in Leaside???

Well, maybe if you were allergic to horses or you have Hippophobia (the fear of horses)... but otherwise, com'on! Leaside is like a dream neighbourhood most people can only fantasize about living in. Of course, if you have a good job and can afford to live there that is another matter entirely.

Learn more about Leaside here:
Leaside : Prime Toronto Neighbourhoods
Search Leaside Homes
A Brief History of Leaside

Friday, July 16, 2010

Which Toronto neighbourhood is the best?

When it comes to buying a home the question of which neighbourhood is the best (or at least the best for you) is a question that is bound to come up.

For example, I happen to like the quaintness of Tiny Town (Craven Road, near Gerrard and Coxwell). There's also Marlborough Place Avenue, a thin street between Avenue Road and Yonge Street, just north-west of Rosedale Subway Station. So despite the small size of the homes in Tiny Town or on Marlborough, these little houses are arguably pretty good if you want to find a house on a budget and you're not fussy about lots of space.

If you live way out in the middle of nowhere (ie. Mississauga's Lorne Park) you might think being surrounded by lots of trees (and the occassional vacant lot) is a good thing. Lorne Park is like the new Oakville... really far away from downtown Toronto, but the houses and land there is cheaper... just so far as you don't mind commuting.

And frankly there's nothing I find MORE BORING than sitting in traffic for 2 hours per day, because that is what you get when you live in Oakville, Richmond Hill, Vaughan, Markham, Purpleville or even those crazy people who commute all the way from Aurora, Newmarket, Pickering, Barrie or Hamilton. Its not even NEAR Toronto any more when you live way out there. Its just insane people who are too cheap to buy a house which is closer to downtown Toronto...

Or worse, they're so obsessed with having a backyard and a front yard that they completely ignore the condo option. Don't even get me started on the anti-condo movement... (Although I will note that overseas in Asia, condos are considered to be better than a house. The anti-condo sentiments in North America are outdated and unrealistic.)

Anywho... my point is that there is still plenty of unused land close to downtown where people can buy a house (or even build a new one). People can get "more bang for their buck" simply by shopping around more and exploring different options... ie. Midtown, uptown, Little Italy, Cabbagetown, Lawrence Park, Leaside, Summerhill... you know... the sleepy neighbourhoods where the prices aren't sky high, and are still pretty reasonable when you consider their location.

Price appreciation in the suburbs and satellite cities of the GTA have been going up so fast that a house in Richmond Hill is now comparable to the price of a house in Leaside. The houses in Richmond Hill may be bigger, have extra rooms you will never use (seriously, I swear the people designing these houses are building extra living rooms in them just so they can jack up the price more)... and frankly who needs all the extra space?

As a devoted cyclist I like being able to cycle around downtown on a moment's notice. Driving for an hour to get something annoys the hell out of me. I want to be close to the things I want. I am willing to pay extra for the convenience... and when you consider that the prices of homes in these suburban boonies are going up quickly it makes you realize that its probably unsustainable.

Lets take Lorne Park for example (its an upscale neighbourhood near the beach in Mississauga), where the average price has gone up 30.2% in the first half of 2010 compared to 2009 prices (figures from ReMax). The average home there is now $880,373 compared to $676,289 in 2009.

So you're not saving any money by living in such an upscale suburban neighbourhood. All you're doing is giving yourself extra headaches from traveling farther, making your gasoline budget sky rocket and destroying any convenience you could have had by living in a neighbourhood closer to the downtown core.

The “near suburbs” have been driving up prices during the first six months of 2010 because buyers want homes within a half-hour drive of downtown. Except Lorne Park isn't even near the downtown... the commute time is still 40 to 50 minutes via the Gardiner Expressway.

But buyers in 2009 actually got a deal in 2009... because prices in Lorne Park dropped 18% in the wake of the financial crisis in the USA. Thus anyone who bought a home in Lorne Park managed to get it on sale and is probably now tempted to flip it for a good sale value.

According to ReMax 80% of GTA neighbourhoods had a decline in value in 2009. With the record low interest rates people actually looking to buy probably got a good deal.

But this year the prices are back up. The average sale price in June was up 8% compared to June 2009, but overall the number of sales of Toronto homes were down 23%... despite the fact that home listings is up 28%, suggesting the Toronto real estate market is becoming a bit flooded.

Usually when the market is flooded prices should come down, but this phenomenon is not limited to just Toronto. Canadian home sales across the country in June were down a seasonally adjusted 8.2% compared to May. The Canadian Real Estate Association reported 36,467 sales in June, down from 39,778 reported in May.

Actual (not seasonally adjusted) sales was also down by 19.7% in June compared with June 2010.

And yet despite the lower number of sales, the average price in Canada in June was $342,662, up 4.9% from June 2009.

Part of this is probably due to the rise in interest rates and Canada's shakey recovery from the American Recession. Job numbers in the service sectors are up, but manufacturing is still shedding jobs.

So which Toronto neighbourhood is best? I think it really depends on what you can afford, but vote is for any neighbourhood where you can walk to the movie theatre, the grocery store or go shopping... all within 20 minutes.

Because then its no longer the size of your house. The whole city is your oyster.

5 Ways to look like a Rich Douchebag

The following is a list of 5 ways to make your house or condo look more expensive than it really is, but only if you don't mind looking like a snobbish douchebag.

1) WORK WITH WHITE

Use a limited palette and lots of white. It will make your condo seem bigger than it really is. No clashing colours, no questionable accents, just completely spartan like you don't have anything resembling a personality that is HUMAN. Instead you mix textures... suede sofa, satin pillows, faux polar bear skin rug. The idea is to convince people you paid a fortune because you WANT people to think you're a rich snobbish douchebag.

2) GO SHINY

Anything stainless steel or high gloss ceramic white or black adds a sense of luxury to your condo. Do this enough and you will begin to feel like you live in an industrial warehouse instead of a home.

3) DON'T BUY A SHOWROOM SET

Avoid having all your furniture designs match. If all your decor looks like you bought it at Ikea on the same day your visitors will think you lack the skills to decorate. You're trying to show off like the rich douchebag you are so you have to the time to at least make it look like you put thought (or hired an interior decorator) into your layout.

4) SPEND A LOT ON ONE BIG ITEM

Spend all your wad on something really big and impressive. Max out your credit card by buying the most expensive 3D HDTV you can, with extra glasses for guests. Or if 3D HDTV isn't your thing, buy something equally expensive so you can show off to people.

5) BUY A PAINTING REPRODUCTION

You want to at least pretend you're sophisticated and know something about the artworld so go out and buy a really big reproduction of a famous painting, not something that is too distracting but is still pleasing to the eye. A really nice landscape, abstract painting or still-life... because you have no life and no time to go out and buy real painting from a real artist.


So obviously I am making fun of this. Interior designers these days are all loving the spartan white look and this look is being perpetuated by other interior designers on television and in magazines, etc. They have almost no imagination. Its a bit like the Nazis decorating... EVERYTHING MUST BE WHITE OR SPARTAN OR SHINY! *Best imitation of a German gestapo officer*

I say live a little. Want to impress people? Put real thought and personality into your decor. Use wood, mix palettes, experiment. Sure you can still buy big ticket items, but only if you really want them and not just because you're trying to impress people. BE YOURSELF. Don't try to present yourself as some bourgeosie spartan douchebag who must have everything looking perfect.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Superstition and Homebuying

Some people who are superstitious would prefer to avoid a house with a history... ie. its supposedly haunted. Wooooooooo... spooky! Others might actually think that is a bonus and want to live there even more.

I bring this is up because according to the following article, "When is the Best Time to Buy a Home in Toronto?", the best time of year to buy a house is Christmas Day.

Its easy to guess why. There's zero competition because so few people shop for homes around Christmas time, people are in good mood, they're feeling generous (unless their last name is Scrooge) and if they're trying to sell their home during the Christmas season they're probably pretty serious about it.

But there's also the superstitious element, a topic which the above article leaves out. 85% of Canadians are religious. Even amongst non-believers and atheists many people (including myself) still believe in luck. (I realize that is hypocritical, but the belief in luck is more difficult to shake.)

Imagine for example your real estate calls up on Christmas Day... you've been trying to sell your house for three months now. The call comes around 11 AM Christmas morning... the children have opened their stockings, everyone has had breakfast already, you're all in a good mood from eating lots of chocolate... then the call comes. You pick up the phone expecting a friendly greeting from a relative who is calling. But wait, its not your annoying relatives, its the real estate agent calling to say someone has made a bid on your house! They've made an offer!

You look at your spouse. You tell them the good news. The children are suddenly quiet, because they know someone special has happened.

"What is the offer?" you ask.

Your agent tells you. You tell him you'll call him back shortly after you and your spouse have a chat. You discuss it in private. You both wonder if this is some kind of sign. You've been trying unsuccessfully to sell your home and finally you have an offer on Christmas Day. It almost feels like divine intervention and you wonder if it would be foolish to refuse. You call the real estate agent back. You accept the offer.

"Okay, we'll draw up the paperwork tomorrow. Have a good Christmas!" says the real estate agent.

In other news the worst time of the year to buy a house is Spring time, because the market is flooded and there is also lots of competition and bidding on the houses. Otherwise the best season is Summer because its a slow season and most people go on vacation or relax during between June and August... less competition means more likely your low bid will be accepted. People are more relaxed in August and if their home has been on the market since April they may be getting impatient to sell.

In this case its not about location. Its timing, timing, timing.

Superstitions to Buy or Sell a Home

Put a pinch of salt in every corner of every room on the day you move in.

Bury half of an onion on either side of the front door to ward off bad luck.

To sell a home that’s not getting any offers, bury a statue of St. Joseph upside down in your yard. Once the home sells, be sure to dig up poor St. Joseph and put him in a place of honor in the garden.

Bring your cat to a home you’re interested in, and send him out into the yard. If he comes running back, quickly, the house is unlucky. If the cat stays a while, put in an offer because even your cat likes the place!

If you’ve bought a home that you feel is your dream home, make sure the first person to enter the home carries bread (or rice), salt and a new broom into the home. Never bring an old broom into your home because it bring bad spirits with it.

If you’re looking at a new home, or are showing the home, make sure you and your guests enter and exit using the same door you entered.

When selling a home, try the “baking chocolate chip cookies” trick. Try cutting lemons or dabbing vanilla on light bulbs also.

You should never move in on a Friday, or when the moon is waxing. Wednesdays or Saturdays are the best days for moving.

Placing a comb under your bed will bring you prosperity and luck – this works whether you’re buying or selling.

When showing your home, put fennel over the door jams to keep out negativity.

Many Chinese people also believe the number 4 is a bad omen. Just like Westerners don't like the number 13. Westerners prefer the number 7, whereas many Asians believe 6 and 8 are lucky. (See also Numerology.)

Feng Shui Tips to Sell Your Home

Put fresh yellow flowers in the living room, hall or dining room. Turn a light on each empty room for at least 3 hours a day.

Hang a small brass bell on a red ribbon outside the front door.

In the south and southwest areas of the home, place yellow and fiery colored square or oblong rugs.

In the west area of the home, use lots of metal, brass or copper accents and white, cream and grey tones to symbolically add strength and new opportunities.

Place TVs, stereos and other electrical items in the northeast part of your home.

Keep plants out of the bedrooms, but do make sure you match either side of the bed – including side tables and reading lamps.

Don’t forget the importance of mirrors in feng shui. Mirrors work best in the east, southeast and the north areas of the home.

Make sure you put potted flowering plants outside of your entrance, and keep the outside lights on all night.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Housing prices dropping suddenly

Housing prices are starting to drop in Toronto... and this is both bad news for the short term and good news over the long term.

What it means is that Toronto's housing bubble is about to burst. Which will lead to a recession in the construction industry as the prices of homes collapse, which will have a ripple effect across the Canadian economy.

In the long run however the economy will recover and home prices should be roughly half of what they currently are (the same thing happened in the USA in 2007, resulting in the American Recession of 2007-2009).

Its about freaking time too. Toronto's real estate market has been in an unprecedented bull market for over a decade now, resulting in bidding wars on homes that have raised home prices to double what they're actually worth.

The sudden downturn in home sales is a sign that many Torontonians are fed up with high prices for homes and have decided to wait before buying a home. Sales dropped in May and again in June. The Toronto Real Estate Board reports 8,442 homes were sold in June, down 23% from June 2009.

If we see more decreases in July and August we will be looking at a collapse, one which ultimately hurt banks if people decide to default on their mortgages because the house isn't worth any more what it supposedly is worth on paper. If we see extreme drops in sales (like 30% or more) then the prices will start to drop significantly.

“In the old days the vendor called the shots. It was do you want the property or not? Because we have a lot of other people lined up for it,” says Ede, an Remax agent. “Now buyers are saying 'I’m going to think about it – and you better give me a good deal.'”

Right now average prices in Toronto are still high. In June 2010 they were $435,034, up 8% from June 2009. Real estimate economists however admit that was below double digit expectations.

Listings are up 28% too in June... homes are flooding the market and yet they're not selling.

Economists worry this may be signs that Toronto's real estate market bubble is about to burst. If that happens it will mean chaos for the industry and mortgage lenders. Analysts say if sales dip below 8,000 per month then it will start to make bankers very nervous.

Canada managed to avoid a bank bailout during the American Recession. But that doesn't mean the same problems can't happen here if the real estate market collapses... which at the same time will hurt the banking and mortgage deriviatives/equities industry.

If you have stocks or deriviatives in the mortgage industry now would be a very good time to sell, before those companies lose their shirts.

There's also more reasons why the market is likely to collapse soon. Toronto is currently experiencing a building renaissance in new homes and condos. Residential building permits were up 22% in April according to Statistics Canada. Most of them are condos, indicative that more Torontonians are opting for condo living instead of commuting from the suburbs.

Non residential building permits meanwhile were down 28%, suggesting industrial, commercial and institutions are cutting back. Canada wide both residential and non-residential sectors are down 10.8%.

According to a house price survey by Royal LePage we should expect to see house prices increase 7% by the end of 2010 compared to December 2009, as people try to take advantage of low interest rates and low taxes. But this is not a good sign... affordability is a big issue, so while prices may go up the number of actual sales is expected to go down as the market continues to become flooded.

The first 6 months of 2010 has already seen double digit increases in home prices, so 7% suggests that the next 6 months will see a dip in housing prices. Analysts admit that the flooding of the market means high prices is unsustainable.

They have to crash sometime.

Some economists believe Canada's housing market is overvalued by at least 30% in major cities. If the market collapses it will actually dip BELOW the real value, especially if people lose their shirts and have to sell their homes when they can no longer make payments.

And there's actually a lot of Canadians that are hovering near financial collapse. According to the bank loan managers a lot of Canadians have been refinancing their mortgages and using their home equity like an ATM so they can buy a new car, a speed boat, a cottage, etc. Or they're making their mortgage payments using their credit card, maxing their credit card out to $60,000 or more.

These financially inept people are so plentiful that one in four Canadians would be unable to deal with an unexpected expense of $5000... even if allowed to use their credit cards. They have almost no money in their bank accounts and they have already maxed out their credit cards... or worse, their credit rating is so bad they would be refused credit.

Meanwhile the CMHC has increased the number of mortgages which are "insured" by the Canadian government to $600 billion... so if the mortgage industry in Canada collapses it won't be the banks on the hook... it will be the Canadian government and Canadian taxpayers who will be paying for it.

Remember how Stephen Harper is against the bank tax? Well, if the mortgage industry collapses and nearly takes Canadian banks with it you can pretty much guarantee he will be flip-flopping on that issue pretty quickly.

Although frankly I can't see Stephen Harper's minority government sticking around very long if the Canadian economy goes into a local recession. Canada was barely affected by the American Recession... we were shielded from the worst of it. But a made-in-Canada recession is a different matter. It will be deeper and hurt a lot more Canadians, especially in major cities.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Electricity Rates & Bedbugs

Would you buy a house with bedbugs?

According to veterans in Toronto's real estate industry its something that to many homebuyers is a deal breaker. If the house has bedbugs it can lead to lawsuits over the cost of spraying and removing the annoying insects. Especially if the previous owners failed to mention them.

According to real estate appraiser Barry Lebow he now sprays his jeans with bug spray before entering houses. Its an occupational hazard. “I promised myself that I wouldn't bring home bedbugs again — that stuff is murder,” says Lebow, admitting he accidentally brought bedbugs home with him after inspected a Toronto home. “We didn't sleep for three weeks.”

Blame new laws against pesticide use in Canada. Only farmers with permits are allowed to use pesticides now and getting the permits cost several hundred dollars.

Bedbugs are not life threatening, but they're MORE annoying than an army of mosquitoes. If you've ever been attacked by mosquitoes you know how horrible they are.

In 2009 Toronto city hall formed a committee to look at the problem as bedbugs are becoming a growing nuisance in Toronto, hurting the well-being of many Torontonians. And the fact we can't use pesticides to kill them makes removal very difficult.

Some homebuyers are even putting bedbug clauses into their contracts, along with other clauses covering standard problems such as leaks, moulds, termites and whether the home has ever been a marijuana grow-op.

In 2009 apartment residents in two Des Moines, Iowa, apartment buildings filed a $7.4 million USD class action suit against management for ignoring the bedbug problems in their building. The suit also demands that the buildings not be allowed to rent to new tenants until all the bedbugs have been removed first.

There is even a website, bedbugger.com, which tracks tenant and buyer issues.

Its now being recommended that people check for bedbugs both in person and online before they buy a house or condo... even if its just in a neighbourhood building, because the critters are known to spread to neighbouring homes quickly... as easily as hitching a ride on the pant leg of the local postman.

Worse... people living with bedbugs often get fed up with them and try and find a different place to sleep. This migration often results in the bedbugs migrating too.

In June, Ontario MPP Mike Colle started promoting a private member's bill to protect tenants against bedbugs. If passed in the Autumn the bill would amend the 2006 Residential Tenancies Act to require landlords to disclose information with respect to bedbugs and other pests... because otherwise many landlords would prefer to lie about it so people don't know about the extra critters who will be biting them at night.

Some landlords are so paranoid about their reputation they are demanding bedbug removal services send their invoices and bills to a corporation number... and not to their company name.

Such services are booming anyway, up approx. 20% from 2009. Prices vary but expect to pay $400 for a two-bedroom house or $500 for a three bedroom home. Try bedbugscanada.com if you're looking for a local Toronto company.

This is a big shift from 2003 when bedbugs were practically non-existent in Toronto. There were only 46 reported cases in 2003. By 2008 there was over 2,500 during the year. Its believed there will be over 3,000 reported cases in 2010.

While you're checking for bedbugs there is several other things you should ask about:

Electricity Rates

Ask to see the sellers electricity bills (and their heating bills too, if applicable).

Then determine the average they pay for month. Assume an increase if you have more people in your family, especially if you have teenagers who consume more electricity.

Then calculate how much do you like to run the AC full blast in the summer... I run it all the time myself.

Once you have an idea of what it will cost, then you need to calculate how much money would you save if you signed a contract instead (buying your electricity either at a bulk rate over a period of several years, or buying it at a constant rate regardless of the time of day).

Most electricity companies (Ontario Hydro, etc) are moving to time-of-use prices, forcing customers to shift consumption to off-peak periods... however if you want to avoid this you could sign a fixed-price electricity contract.

But to do this its recommended you compare prices first before signing. The following website from the Ontario Energy Board will be helpful: www.oeb.gov.on.ca. You can also compare natural gas prices on the website too. This website is good too: www.energyshop.com.

Lets say you use 960 KWh per month, above the so-called Ontario average of 800 KWh.

If so your bill is likely $127.41 if you are currently with Toronto Hydro, of which $68.95 was the cost of electricity.

You are also paying $44.62 for delivery, $7.12 for regulatory charges and a $6.72 debt retirement charge. (Feel ripped off? Me too.)

Don't forget the 13% HST on top of all that.

Now when comparing companies you have to realize that some companies are a complete ripoff... Direct Energy for example would be charging $179.86 for the same thing and you'd be stuck in a 5-year-contract... I worked for Direct Energy years ago and I admit they are high-sales-pitch, lots of fluff and gain customers by scaring them with rumours that electricity rates are going to rise. Its a scare tactic and it works.

But if you shop around you MIGHT be able to find a deal. Or you might not. It really depends what you're currentl being charged and whether you're being ripped off.

Its entirely possible you could get stuck with a fixed-rate contract where you are actually paying extra... and what happens if you move later on? Weigh your options carefully. Signing a fixed rate contract also includes an extra $21.12 fee... a provincial benefit which gives more money back to the grid.

To learn more about the provincial benefit check the Independent Electricity System Operator’s website.

If it was up to me I'd calculate how much it would cost to install solar panels and windmills (enough to provide the needed 960 KWh or whatever you happen to us), a geothermal heating system to save on heating and electricity costs... and then calculate how many years it would take to pay off.

And while I was at it I'd make a point to purchase household items which use less electricity and retrofitting the home so it has better insulation (saves on both heating and air conditioning).

I think its best to know such things before you buy a house... the last thing you want is a surprise when the electricity bill comes... or when you're bitten by bedbugs.

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