Get the Jump on Spring at the Butterfly Conservatory

Although spring is here technically, you may not be seeing it outside.  Why not visit the Butterfly Conservatory and get that taste of spring?

Located on the grounds of the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, visitors to the Butterfly Conservatory are transported to a tropical paradise full of lush vegetation, trickling waterfalls and thousands of vibrantly coloured butterflies. Over 2,000 butterflies, made up of 45 different species, call this beautiful space home. The self-guided walking tour of the Butterfly Conservatory begins with a short, informative video presentation.

For directions or more information, visit the Niagara Parks website:  https://www.niagaraparks.com/visit/attractions/butterfly-conservatory/

 

Downpayment Sources for First Time Buyers

first time home buyer 600.jpg

How can first time buyers afford to buy a home today?

With the recent rise of home prices first-time buyers need more down payment than ever before. They have also had to grapple with:

  • The increased costs of mortgage insurance as provided by CMHC plus other default insurers and
  • he stress test imposed on insured mortgages by the government in fall of 2016.

Findings to Answer the Question

A most convincing answer to the question comes from a recent survey by the Mortgage Professionals of Canada authored by their economist William Dunning.

  • Before 1990 the average downpayment for first time buyers was 21% and 66% had down payments of less than 20%.
  • Between 1990 and 2013, that average down payment hovered between 21% and 22%. The percentage of first time buyers with less than 20% down ranged from 56% to 62%.
  • In the most recent buying cycle, between 2014 through 2017, the average down payment increased to 26%, and the percentage of first time buyers with less than 20% dropped to 42%.

Under the National Housing Act, any purchase with a down payment of less than 20% requires mortgage insurance which varies in cost depending on the percentage down. A down payment of 5% to 10% attracts the highest premium of 4% which is applied to the mortgage. On a $300,000 mortgage $12,000 would be added and the mortgage payment is based on $312,000 total.

The cost of mortgage insurance has increased as follows for 5% to 10% down: until May 31, 2015: 3.15%, as of June 1, 2015: 3.60%, and as of March 17, 2017: 4.00%.

Benefits of Increasing Down Payment

Finding sources to increase down payments can avoid the cost of mortgage insurance. In turn, it decreases the loan amount giving the buyer a better chance of passing the stress test which, as of January 1, 2018, is being applied to most mortgage amounts. Currently it has been reported that some 20% of mortgage applicants are unable to obtain the mortgage applied for due to failing the stress test.

More than One Source for Down Payment

In the latest buying cycle (2014 -2017), most first time buyers used an average of 2.2 sources of funds for their down payment. Only about 47% used one source.

Where Down Payments Came From

The following gives how much of the down payments came from various sources. Though buyers rely on any number of sources, parents have played a greater role in assisting with down payments through loans and gifts.

The most important source continues to be personal savings at 52%. Loans from financial institutions are next highest at 21%; family gifts at 10%; family loans at 5%; and 9% from RRSP/Home Buyers Plans.   

Thanks to William Dunning for this report.

New Mandatory Rental Agreement in Ontario

mandatory lease agreement banner.jpg

The agreement will have to be used by most private rentals

Back in April of 2017 the Ontario Government introduced the Ontario Fair Housing Plan. One of their intentions was to create a standard residential rental lease agreement.

This agreement is now available and will become mandatory for use by April 30th. This standard lease template, therefore, will have to be used for all new leases, by “landlords of most private residential rental units – from individual landlords to property management companies.” The following is just a smattering of what the form encompasses.

The Purpose of Having a Standard Lease

According to the Ministry of Housing website, the purpose of having a standard residential lease/rental agreement for all of Ontario is fourfold:

  1. “Easy to understand language to help
  2. “Landlords & renters understand their rights & responsibilities,
  3. “Reduce illegal terms in leases and misunderstandings caused by verbal tenancy agreements,
  4. “Reduce the need for Landlord and Tenant Board hearings to resolve disputes.”

Applies to Most Rental Situations

The lease does not apply to care homes such as retirement homes, mobile home parks and land lease communities. Most social and supportive housing exempt from the Residential Tenancies Act are also excluded. Example: public housing with rent geared to income. The ministry is planning to create different and standard lease agreements for these special groups.

The lease is mandatory and does apply to single and semi-detached houses, apartment buildings, condominiums and secondary units such as basement apartments.

Some Aspects of the Form

Of course the form spells out the names of the parties, the term of the tenancy and identifies the rental unit. It also allows for a description of vehicle parking spaces. The agreement must spell out what specific services are included (i.e. air conditioning, additional storage space), and who pays for electricity heat and water.

As well, it specifies that the tenant does not have to move out at the end of the term, staying on as a monthly tenant.

On ending a tenancy, the tenant has to give at least 60-days notice.

  • With a fixed term tenancy the “notice cannot be effective before the last day of the fixed term.
  • With a monthly tenancy the “notice must be effective on the last day of a rental period.”
  • In situations of sexual or domestic violence, the tenant can give 28 days’ notice at any time regardless of a fixed term tenancy.  

For condo units, the landlord must provide and the tenant must agree to abide by the declaration, by-laws and rules.

A Comprehensive Document: Of the 14 pages, the agreement itself is 8 pages and the appendix is 6; quite extensive. We’re hoping everybody reads the important general explanations in the appendix. Go to: http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/Page18704.aspx for your copy.

Niagara Region Residential Sales Prices Statistics for February, 2018

Residential Sales & Average Sale Prices YTD

For the Niagara Region: 01-Jan-2018 to 28-Feb-2018 vs. Same Time Last Year*

Sales and average prices are a measure of the last month only.

   
  
   
   
  
    
  
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 Up 5% in Grimsby and even in West Lincoln   Unit Sales Are Down in other areas :   
  
   
   
  
    
  
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 Fort Erie (-31%), Fonthill/Pelham (-44%), Niagara Falls (-25%), Niagara-on-the-Lake (-45%), Port Colborne/Wainfleet (-31%), St. Catharines (-20%), Thorold (-42%), and Welland (-26%).  *The above stats are based in whole or in part on MLS® System data owned by the Association covering January 1, 2018 to February 28, 2018 vs. January 1, 2017 to February 28, 2017.

Unit salesUp 5% in Grimsby and even in West Lincoln

Unit Sales Are Down in other areas: Fort Erie (-31%), Fonthill/Pelham (-44%), Niagara Falls (-25%), Niagara-on-the-Lake (-45%), Port Colborne/Wainfleet (-31%), St. Catharines (-20%), Thorold (-42%), and Welland (-26%).

*The above stats are based in whole or in part on MLS® System data owned by the Association covering January 1, 2018 to February 28, 2018 vs. January 1, 2017 to February 28, 2017.

Fun Facts About St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick’s Day is almost upon us, but how much do most of us actually know about this special day? Here are 5 fun facts about St. Patrick’s Day that you might not have known about!

1.      St. Patrick’s Day was once synonymous with the colour blue, not green! “Saint Patrick’s blue” was a light shade of blue that was associated with St. Patrick, but the colour green came to represent St. Patrick’s day in the late 18th century after the holiday became linked to the Irish independence movement.

2.      St. Patrick wasn’t Irish! Although he is celebrated as the “Apostle of Ireland” and Ireland’s primary patron saint because he introduced Christianity to Ireland in 432 A.D., St. Patrick himself was most likely Welsh or Scottish.

3.       The shamrock represents the Holy Trinity. St. Patrick is said to have used the three-leaved clover to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity (The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit) to the pagan Irish.

4.      The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade dates back to the 1760s. The year 1762 is when the earliest known parade probably took place, and not in Ireland but in New York City!

5.      Drinking alcohol on St. Patrick’s Day is a modern practice. Despite often being associated with drinking alcohol (and especially beer), St. Patrick’s Day was once a strictly religious holiday, and bars and pubs in Ireland were actually closed for business on March 17. It was only in 1970, when St. Patrick’s Day became a national holiday in Ireland, that the idea of drinking alcohol to mark the occasion really took root.

Did you know all of these fun facts about St. Patrick’s Day? Before doing my research, I sure didn’t! Just remember: it takes more than the luck of the Irish to make money in real estate. When buying or selling your largest investment, having an experienced realtor on your side is the smartest bet. Feel free to give me a call anytime at 905-356-9100.

 

New Rules Affect Mortgage Renewal

Are you one of over 1 million Canadians who will renew your mortgage in 2018? If so, you have reason for concern.

mortgage stress test 600x.jpg

Few People Are Aware of the Stress Test

As of January 1, 2018 the Stress Test has been introduced and must be implemented for all new mortgage approvals. Interestingly, it’s stunning how many people know little or nothing about the stress test. More often than not, when the phrase “stress test” is mentioned, the reaction is, “what’s that?” As of January 1st, anyone applying for a mortgage would have to undergo the stress test in the following manner.

Example of the Stress Test:

  • You might be looking at a contract interest rate of about 3% today;
  • At 3%, let’s say you will qualify for the mortgage you want.
  • To be approved, however, you must be stress-tested at the current qualifying rate of 5.14% or your contract rate of 3% plus 2% whichever is greater.
  • In this instance you would have to qualify at 5.14%.
  • The stress test might cause you to fail and so your mortgage application would be denied.

Renewals Don’t Have to be Stress-Tested, But...

You do not have to be stress-tested if you are renewing your mortgage with your current lender if that mortgagee is federally regulated by The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI).

...Transferring Requires a Stress Test

For a number of reasons, but mostly because of negotiating a better rate, you may want to transfer your mortgage to a different lender and, if that lender is federally regulated, you must undergo the stress test; that is, qualify at the greater of the qualifying rate or the contract rate plus 2% as mentioned. If you were to fail the stress test, you would be forced to stay with your current lender. Will Dunning, Chief Economist for Mortgage Professionals of Canada, says that this could put you “in a disadvantageous situation for negotiating” a new interest rate. Dunning estimates that “as many as 200,000 Canadians who renew mortgages will fail the stress test, and this may limit their ability to negotiate the lowest possible interest rates.”

Lenders Not Required To Stress Test Are Encouraged To Do So

Provincially regulated lenders, such as Credit Unions, are not required to perform stress tests. They are, nevertheless, encouraged to do so.

In a recent application a senior wanted to borrow an additional $25,000 against her home, valued at $300,000, to purchase a new car. This would increase her registered line of credit from $50,000 to $75,000. She has no other debts and an excellent credit rating of 790. On her income, however, she failed the stress applied by her bank. She then went to a Credit Union who also stress-tested her. A debt of $75,000 against a $300,000 home gives her a very low loan-to-value ratio of 25%. Yet the mortgage was denied. There has got to be something wrong with this.  

Niagara Region Residential Sales Prices Statistics for January, 2018

Residential Sales & Average Sale Prices YTD

For the Niagara Region: 01-Jan-2018 to 31-Jan-2018 vs. Prior Year*

Sales and average prices are a measure of the last month only.

   
  
   
   
  
    
  
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    Unit sales :  Are even in Grimsby and up 14% in West Lincoln.   Unit Sales Are Down : Fort Erie (-13%), Fonthill/Pelham (-31%), Grimsby (0%), Niagara Falls (-12%), Niagara-on-the-Lake (-60%), Port Colborne/Wainfleet (‑18%), St. Catharines (-24%), Thorold (-33%), Welland (-40%) and West Lincoln (-8%).  *The above stats are based in whole or in part on MLS® System data owned by the Association covering January 1, 2018 to Jan. 31, 2018 vs. January 1, 2017 to Jan. 31, 2017.

Unit sales:  Are even in Grimsby and up 14% in West Lincoln.

Unit Sales Are Down: Fort Erie (-13%), Fonthill/Pelham (-31%), Grimsby (0%), Niagara Falls (-12%), Niagara-on-the-Lake (-60%), Port Colborne/Wainfleet (‑18%), St. Catharines (-24%), Thorold (-33%), Welland (-40%) and West Lincoln (-8%).

*The above stats are based in whole or in part on MLS® System data owned by the Association covering January 1, 2018 to Jan. 31, 2018 vs. January 1, 2017 to Jan. 31, 2017.

Renovate or Move?

If you're waffling whether 'tis better to work with what you've got or start fresh somewhere else, Bud Dietricht, IAI, architect's insight can help.

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Do you stay where you are and renovate your existing house or do you move to another, maybe newer, house? How do you make that decision? Some will counsel you to leave that old house and buy something new. Others will tell you to tear it down and build new, while others still will tell you to stay and remodel.

So how do you make that go or no-go decision? What criteria do you use to make a rational decision to stay put and renovate or move on?

Here are some questions to ask yourself. Your answers will certainly help you decide on your next move.

 

How do you feel about your neighborhood?

Is it a place you enjoy? What about the neighbors? What about amenities? Are you happy your children go to the local schools?

In sum, make sure that the neighborhood is the right fit. Take to heart the old adage that you can always fix a house but you can't fix a neighborhood.

 

Is there some intangible quality to your house?

While not every house has a significance beyond simply providing shelter, many do. Whether it's age or design or some other quality, a home that has significance shouldn't be subjected to the wrecking ball. Expanding, renovating and adapting these homes are sure ways to keep that significance alive for future generations.

 

Does renovating make economic sense?

There are a whole host of factors to weigh when it comes to this question. If you're renovating, there's not only the cost of the renovations. There could very well be associated costs, such as temporary living quarters while the house is under construction.

Additional costs are also associated with moving (such as Realtor fees and decorating the new house).

Determining whether to go or stay requires that you identify all of the costs, not just the construction costs, before making a decision.

 

Does the existing house have good bones?

Not every house is a good candidate for a renovation. While there might be a reason to rebuild an old historic barn that's full of memories, a 20-year-old tract house with a failing foundation or another significant defect might not be a good candidate. So make sure to assess, or have a professional assess, the bones of your house to see just what lies beneath those foundation cracks and less-than-level floors.

 

How will the latest zoning restrictions affect the project?

If your house is older, it very well could have been built under different, often more lax, zoning restrictions.

While your house may suit you better through the benefits of these laxer restrictions, a new house in its place might not. Evaluate height, distance to property lines, yard dimensions and so on to see if saving the existing structure provides some benefits that would be lost if the house were razed.

 

Can I be patient and have fun with the project even when it isn't going well?

In any case, building a new custom home or renovating your existing house will require you to make countless decisions. From the macro, like how big and how much, to the micro, like what hardware you want on the kitchen cabinets, you'll spend countless hours on Houzz and elsewhere researching what you like and what's available. If you're new at this, you'll likely want to have a professional help you every step of the way, so you can avoid "We should have done ... " or "Why did we ...?"

Being patient is key. And starting at the right place for you — whether it's where you are or somewhere new — will make the end result truly worth the journey.

Financial Considerations When Buying a Home

 

Assess your present household budget and your annual income to determine if you are eligible for a mortgage and how much you can comfortably afford.

Also check out the Mortgage Affordability Calculator at www.REALTOR.ca.

 

A mortgage is a loan, generally used to buy a property.  How much you pay depends on how much you borrow (the principal), the loan's interest rate, and how long you take to pay it back (the amortization period).

Do not be afraid to negotiate interest rates and mortgage terms with different lenders.  They are offering you a product and talking to more than one lender helps you make an informed decision.

 

When you buy a home with less than a 20% down payment, the mortgage needs to be insured against default.  This type of insurance protects the mortgage lender in case you are not able to make your mortgage payments.  It does not protect you.

 

The federal government has assistance programs to help homebuyers.  Research government program requirements to see if you are eligible.

1.  Assess Financial Readiness

What do lenders require?

Mortgage lenders use two calculations to help determine your eligibility for a mortgage - your Gross Debt Service (GDS) ratio and your Total Debt Service (TDS) ratio.

Your GDS ratio is the percentage of your gross monthly income used for mortgage payments, taxes and heating costs or - if you are buying a condominium - half of the monthly maintenance fees.  As a general rule of thumb, your GDS ratio should not be more than 32% of your gross monthly income.

Your TDS ratio is the percentage of gross monthly income required to cover monthly housing costs, plus all of your other debt payments, such as car loans or leases, credit card payments, lines of credit payments and any other debt.  Generally, your TDS ratio should not be more than 40% of your gross monthly income.

Have you been pre-approved?

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage before looking at properties gives you a more realistic expectation of what you can afford.  However, keep in mind that the pre-approved amounts can overestimate what you can actually afford to pay.

Pre-approval does not guarantee you will be approved once you actually apply if market conditions, such as interest rates, or your personal circumstances change.

Do you know your credit rating?

Order a copy of your credit report to make sure it does not contain any errors because lenders will check it before approving you for a mortgage.  A credit report is a summary of your financial history and shows whether or not you have had any problems in the past paying off debts.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC), a federal government agency, has tips on how to order your credit report for free and how to improve your credit rating.  Visit FCAC's website at:  www.itpaystoknow.gc.ca.

2.  Consider Mortgage Options

What type of mortgage is best for you?

  • Fixed rate mortgages:  Your interest rate is locked in for a specified period called a term.  Your payments stay at the same for the mortgage's term so you will not pay more if interest rates increase over time.
  • Variable rate mortgages:  Rate of interest you pay may change if rates go up or down.
  • Conventional mortgages:  Require a down payment of more than 20% of the property's value.  You are not required to get mortgage default insurance with a conventional mortgage.
  • Closed mortgages:  The mortgage cannot be paid off early without paying a prepayment charge.
  • Open mortgages:  A mortgage that can be paid off at any time during the term, without having to pay a charge.  The interest rate for an open mortgage may be higher than for a closed mortgage with the same term.

What mortgage features are best for you?

  • Portable mortgages:  If you sell your existing home, you can transfer your mortgage to your new home while keeping your existing interest rate.  You may be able to avoid prepayment charges by porting your mortgage.
  • Prepayment privileges:  You can make lump-sum prepayments or increase your monthly payments without having to pay a charge.  This can help you pay off your mortgage quicker and save on interest charges.

How often can you make your payments?

  • By switching from monthly payments to accelerated weekly or biweekly payments, you can pay off your mortgage faster.  Explore your options for mortgage payments and see how much interest you could save by using FCAC's Mortgage Calculator Tool at:  www.itpaystoknow.gc.ca.

What types of mortgage charges might you have to pay?

You may have to pay charges if you prepay large portions of your mortgage due to unforeseen life changes, such as marital breakdown, death of a spouse or relocating for a job.

It is your right to know how lenders calculate prepayment charges.  Read your mortgage contract carefully and make sure you understand how charges will be calculated before you sign.

How much do you need for your down payment?

A down payment is the portion of the property's price not financed by the mortgage.  You will need a down payment of at least 5% of the purchase price of the home.  For example, to buy a home for $200,000, you will need at least $10,000 as your down payment.  If your down payment is less than 20%, you will need mortgage default insurance.

3.  Mortgage Default Insurance

Are you planning to purchase a property with less than 20% down payment?

If yes, you require mortgage default insurance which generally adds 0.5% to 3% to the cost of the mortgage depending on the total amount borrowed.

Mortgage default insurance enables you to purchase a home with a minimum down payment of 5% (10% for multi-unit dwellings) with interest rates comparable to those of a conventional mortgage.

Major providers of mortgage default insurance include Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), Genworth Financial Canada, and Canada Guaranty Mortgage Insurance Company.

4.  Research Government Programs

  • First-Time Home Buyers' Tax Credit - a $5,000 non-refundable income tax credit on a qualifying home.  The credit provides up to $750 in tax relief to assist first-time buyers with purchase costs.  For more information, check the Canada Revenue Agency's (CRA) website:  www.cra-arc.gc.ca.
  • Home Buyers' Plan - a one-time withdrawal up to $25,000 from a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) by first-time buyers to help purchase or build a home.  Generally, you have to repay all withdrawals from your RRSP within 15 years.  For more details, visit CRA's website at:  www.cra-arc.gc.ca.
  • CMHC Green Home program - when you use CMHC-insured financing to buy or build an energy-efficient home or make energy-saving renovations, you may qualify for a premium refund of 10% on your mortgage default insurance and premium refund for a longer amortization period (if applicable).  Check out CMHC's website for more information:  www.cmhc.ca.

Government programs can change over time.  For the most up-to-date information, refer to Service Canada's website:  www.servicecanada.gc.ca

This information is provided from Financial Consumer Agency of Canada and CREA (The Canadian Real Estate Association.)

7 Keys To A Happy Relationship

What you need to know for joyful, lasting love and companionship.

Happiness within a relationship is hard to define. Not only is each relationship different, but within each relationship, each person defines happiness in an individual way. Some people view happiness as a peaceful conflict-free life. For some, happiness involves a tremendous amount of fun, great intimacy or lots of laughter. Whatever your definition, it directly correlates to your expectations, desires, wants and needs—and those things can change over time.

What holds constant are 7 specific behaviors and attributes laid out below that, in my experience, can almost guarantee the likelihood of long-term success and happiness in a relationship.

If you work toward integrating these keys into your daily life, you will most certainly experience greater joy and less conflict in your primary relationships.

1. Respect

Every successful relationship is built on a foundation of respect. Respect means caring about your partner’s wants and needs and always taking them into account before speaking or acting. The expectation is that your partner will follow the same guidelines. My official definition is as follows: Respect means putting the comfort, well-being and happiness of the person you’re with at an equal level to your own.

2. Loyalty

We feel happy when we know that someone has our backs. Relationships have the greatest success when each partner focuses on supporting one another at all times. This means that if someone is antagonizing your partner, you will either back your partner up directly or support him or her from behind the scenes. This also means that if your partner has done something you believe is wrong or that you don't approve of, that you speak to him or her privately about the issue, never in front of others.

3. Priority

If you want to build a stronger positive relationship, let your partner know that he or she is a priority. Commit time and energy to talking and addressing each other’s wants and needs. Be sure that the two of you have “quality time” alone to connect and enjoy each other’s company. Even though work, children and other obligations are also priorities, find the balance so that your partnership is not neglected.

 

4. Pick Your Battles

Strong and happy couples know when to bring up issues and when to put them aside. My rule of thumb: If you can let something go, move on and still enjoy your partner … let it go! If you cannot move on and are ruminating or worrying about something, then bring it up. When you do bring it up, make sure it is in a calm manner, in private and at a good time for you two to discuss it. Never bring something upsetting up in bed, and never in earshot of children or other family or friends.

 

5. Loving Gestures

The concept “Actions speak louder than words” is an important one when it comes to relationships. It is not enough to simply feel that you love someone, you must also show that you love that person. Use kind words, be physically affectionate, leave little love notes around the house … whether it’s a verbal gesture or a material one, make sure that you are letting your partner know in no uncertain terms that you love him or her.

6. Put in the Work

Partners in a successful relationship understand that you need to put in the work to keep things running smoothly. That means sometimes you need to do things that you do not want to do because it matters to your partner. Other times it means you have to put in that extra effort to calm down or hear out your partner’s concerns, even if that isn’t the easiest or most convenient thing to do in the moment. Relationships take a lot of work if they are going to be happy, successful and long-lasting.

7. Focus on the Positives

Even the best of relationships have challenges, and even the most wonderful of partners can have less-than-stellar moments. When times are tough, those who are seeking a happy relationship will combat the negative with a positive. If your mate is irritable after a long day, remind yourself about that great time you had last weekend or how funny he or she can be. If you have found that your partner is a bit messy, for example, and it doesn’t seem to change, focus on the fact that he or she is a great cook or a terrific parent. Reverse your thinking to remind yourself that your mate has great qualities and that you are happy to be together.

Article by Stacy Kaiser

 

5 Quick Tips to Save Money in the New Year

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The New Year is almost upon us, and as we go through the often expensive holiday season, we might just find ourselves experiencing a “financial hangover” come January. If you want to make up for those hefty holiday purchases by starting the New Year off on the right foot, here are some quick money saving tips for 2018.

  1. Make a Budget, and Stick to it! This sounds simple enough, but despite this many people fail to compile a budget for the New Year, or if they do they fail to stick to it. Sit down and compile a clear budget for 2018. You don’t have to do everything in one day; in fact, it is recommended that you take your time to make sure that everything is workable.
  2. Adapt to Changes! As time goes on and the year progresses, you are bound to face some changes to your financial situation. Whenever a major change occurs – an unexpected expense, a sudden trip, or anything along those lines – be sure to go back to your budget and adjust it. Life is unpredictable and our ability to adapt is crucial, so don’t be afraid of change but be sure to account for it in your budget.
  3. Save for a Rainy Day! Speaking of changes and unforeseen expenses, the best way to deal with such pesky realities is to always expect the unexpected – and to plan for it ahead of time. In case something unexpected happens, such as your car breaking down or your house suffering damage from harsh winter conditions, be sure to have a slush fund ready to go. It is advised to have a sum equivalent to all of your expenses for three months at your disposal, so if you don’t have that kind of money saved up my advice is to start saving now.
  4. Cut Out the Cards! Whether credit or debit, relying on bank cards for your daily purchases will likely lead to spending more money than you planned. Unless you absolutely need to make a larger purchase leave your cards at home and get in the habit of bringing only the exact amount of cash that you are prepared to spend. This will eliminate the type of impulse purchases that you will regret later.
  5. Invest in Yourself! Financial experts suggest that you should take about 6 percent of your monthly income and invest it. Even more than that would be great, but 6 percent every month adds up quickly, and as the years go by and you get closer to retirement, you will be glad that on top of all your other expenses you were also investing in yourself!

I hope that these 5 tips will help you start 2018 off on the right foot! For more financial and real estate tips, feel free to call Barbara Grumme at 905-356-9100.

Save Time and Money on Christmas Decorations

 

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Christmas can be a stressful time for many as we rush to buy all the right gifts before December 25th rolls around. On top of that, we often end up spending far too much money as we scramble to get the Christmas decorations up in and around the house.  To help you save both time and money this holiday season, here are some easy and cheap Christmas decorating tips.

1.       Do you have extra ornaments that don’t fit on the Christmas tree? Use them to make a festive centerpiece by placing them into a bowl on top of branches and greens.

2.      If you have wooden logs lying around the house, stack them somewhere in the living room to contribute to a cozy holiday environment.

3.      Want to spruce up your bookshelves? Wrap your books with leftover wrapping paper and throw in some branches and greens.

4.      Fill your vases with pine boughs for great homely decorations that will give off a wonderful smell.

5.      Make a wreath out of a garland of lush greenery and use it to decorate your windows.

6.      Wrap festive bows over your bannisters.

7.      With the help of twine you can hang paper, wood, or metal stars from the walls or windows.

8.     Fill a vase with walnuts, hazelnuts, cranberries, and other natural goodies and place a pillar candle and holder inside the vase to make a lovely centrepiece.

9.      Use ribbons to hang beautiful natural pinecones throughout the house.

10.  Need charming holiday candlesticks? Find empty bottles of wine, replace the label with wrapping paper and ribbons, and stick a candle inside the bottle.

I hope these quick and cheap decorating tips will help make your holiday season a less stressful and expensive one! For more information about Christmas budgeting and other financial and real estate tips, feel free to contact me at Barbara.Grumme@Century21.ca.

The Winter Festival of Lights Returns to Niagara

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From November 18th through January 31st Canada’s largest festival of lights will be on full display again right here in Niagara. Celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, the Winter Festival of Lights in Niagara is renowned for its impressive displays that feature over 2 million lights, and the magical sight is seen each year by about 1.5 million people!

Every November the festival transforms Niagara Falls into a canvas of breathtaking colour with millions of sparkling lights and animated displays located within the Niagara Parks, Dufferin Islands, and surrounding tourist districts.

Illuminations include fifteen Canadian Wildlife displays, over fifty trees wrapped in lights in Dufferin Islands, the world’s largest Canadian-American Flag, the light show on the Toronto Power Generating Station, the two-storey tall Zimmerman Fountain, three-dimensional Angels at the Niagara Parks Police Building, and a visitor favourite, Noah’s Ark.

There are no admission fees to view the illuminations, and the festival features free entertainment programming for visitors, including the Fallsview Sound & Light Show at the Oakes Hotel, Laser Light Shows at the Top of Clifton Hill, and Winter Festival of Lights Opening Ceremonies in Niagara Parks Queen Victoria Park. 

For more information about the Winter Festival of Lights, including a detailed map of the 8km-long route that includes the times and locations for all events and attractions, please visit their website.

Remembrance Day 2017 in Niagara 

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Each year on November 11th Canadians come together to remember all of the soldiers who gave their lives in the line of duty since the First World War. On the 11th of November 1918 the signing of the Treaty of Versailles marked the official end of World War I. Referred to at the time as The Great War, World War I was one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, and November 11th became a solemn day of remembrance for the fallen. The poppy became the symbol of Remembrance Day in 1921 due to its prominence in the famous poem “In Flanders Fields”, written by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. 

This year formal Remembrance Day ceremonies will be held in Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake, so if you want to attend the events and pay tribute to the fallen, here is the information at a glance:

Niagara-on-the-Lake - November 10, 2017

Time:

10:00 - 11:15

Details:

A commemorative ceremony honoring our brave Canadian soldiers, past and present.

Location:

Crossroads Public School

Address:

1350 Niagara Stone Road, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

 

Niagara Falls - November 11, 2017

Time:

10:30 - 11:30

Details:

On Saturday November 11th @ 10:30 a.m. we will be honouring our Veterans who have passed and the ones still with us. All friends, family and anyone in the area that would like to join us in a beautiful Remembrance Day Service are welcome. Lunch will be served to resident's at 12:00-1:00 McPherson & Rant will entertain at 1:30 p.m. Service is located in the Theatre.

Location:

Queenston Place Retirement Residence

Address:

6440 Valley Way, Niagara Falls, Ontario

Boost Your Immune System for Winter!

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Boosting our immune system is the most effective way to fight off harmful bacteria and viruses, and to stay healthy even as one season gives way to another. It is important to remember that the single biggest contributor to a weakened immune system is STRESS. This certainly applies to emotional stress, but it also applies to other aspects of our lives that serve as “stressors” on our body, including:

1. Diet

Nutritional deficiencies are among the most common contributors to a weakened immune system, particularly vitamin and mineral deficiencies, as well as the deficiencies of good gut flora and reduced levels of stomach acid (which are necessary for absorbing nutrients from our food). Consuming too much processed food, alcohol, wheat, dairy, and sugar also contribute to a deficient diet.

2. Lack of sleep

Sleep is essential for balancing our bodies and maintaining a strong immune system. Sleep deprivation leads to a reduction of natural killer (NK) cells that ward off bacteria and other pathogens, making us more vulnerable to illness.

3. Sugar

Consuming too much sugar has a negative impact on the effectiveness of our white blood cells, which keep us safe from viruses and other foreign invaders. Vitamin C is necessary for white blood cell protection, but because Vitamin C and sugar (glucose) have a similar chemical structure, too much sugar in the bloodstream leads the body to start absorbing sugar instead of Vitamin C and this deprives us of the benefits of Vitamin C as a powerful antioxidant.

4. Toxins

The natural role of our immune system is to fight off foreign invaders such as chemicals, pollutants, pesticides, herbicides, and so on. Too much exposure to these harmful elements will cause our system to go into overdrive, which will have a negative impact on its natural ability to defend itself.

5. Negative Emotions

Finally, emotional stress has a very real impact on our physical state. Emotions such as fear, anger, and guilt affect not only our mental state but also our physical ability to fight off viruses and bacteria by causing a spike in cortisol, which suppresses the immune system. Although they still cannot fully explain why, studies show that a positive attitude actually boosts our immune system.

Keeping these factors in mind, effective strategies for boosting our immune system include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Getting enough rest and sleep
  • Eliminating sugar from our diet
  • Consuming alcohol only in moderation
  • Finding ways to reduce stress
  • Washing hands frequently and thoroughly, and practicing good hygiene in general[1]
  • Consuming plenty of fermented foods and/or probiotics in order to nurture good gut flora
  • Eating a colourful variety of whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, and lean protein

For more information I recommend checking out nutritionist and health wellness consultant Sharlene Styles at www.purenaturalhealth.ca. If you need some extra help, she’s also available for appointments.

[1] Maintaining a clean environment is not only good for your health, but also for the value of your home! In a recent survey by OREA, 7 out of 10 home sellers in Ontario said that ‘cleanliness’ is very important to retaining a home’s future resale value. In comparison, half said that a new/renovated kitchen is very important, while 46% said the same for a renovated bathroom.

 

Prepare Your Home For Winter: 10 Tips!

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Winter is not quite upon us yet, but here in the Niagara region cold weather has a habit of creeping up on us suddenly and without warning. With that in mind, don’t wait too long to prepare your home for winter before the cold temperatures hit. To help you get going, here are 12 quick tips!

1.       If you have wooden windows, check them carefully for decay or rotting. If they are damaged, repair or replace them to keep the heat from escaping your home.

2.      Another way to prevent heat from escaping is to check the weatherstripping on your doors and windows and replace them if required.

3.      Also check the windows themselves for cracks or gaps. If you find that your windows are damaged, repair or replace them before winter.

4.      If there are overgrown branches on your property, make sure that they are not too close to the home or to electrical wires. If they are, be sure to trim them because the weight of snow and ice combined with strong winds could bring these branches down.

5.      If you have stairs on the outside, check to make sure that they are secure. Their integrity is sure to be tested by the ice and snow.

6.      Check carefully to make sure that the firebox and flue system are clear of creosote and/or soot. Also check for cracks to avoid fire hazards.

7.      In order to ensure that your furnace is functioning at full capacity and that the indoor air is clean, check to see the condition of your filters. Clean or replace them as needed.

8.     Always check the smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors inside your home on a regular basis.

9.      Plug up any leaks that you find in the basement, in the attic, or in crawl spaces.

10.   Ice and snow build up can become so heavy that it can cause gutters to collapse. Before winter sets in be sure to check that all of the gutters are properly fastened, and if you notice any sagging or loosening, tighten them up as soon as possible.

While this is not an exhaustive list, these 10 tips will get you well on your way to preparing your home for winter. For more information, feel free to call Barbara Grumme at 905-356-9100.