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Real estate advice: the latest tips on buying, selling, staging and design from local experts

Real Estate Market Advice
A primer for sellers and buyers, by Colleen McGill, interior designer at McGill Design Group, whose clients span Toronto, Calgary, Montreal and Florida
Scott McGillivray—contractor, host of HGTV’s Income Property and long-time landlord—points the way to making money
Tips for buyers and sellers from Elli Davis, a 26-year veteran agent for Royal LePage who specializes in luxury houses and condos



FOR SELLERS: HOW TO MAKE THAT HOUSE LISTING POP

Every buyer seems to be looking for an open kitchen next to a family room. And, in general, they want a space to feel fresh and updated; French doors always do that trick. They’re an easy way to open up a small, dated room. They’ll likely cost around $5,000 to $6,000, or double that if they’re being installed in a brick wall.

DITCH THE NAUTICAL THEME
Buyers have a hard time seeing past aesthetics, and most people’s tastes aren’t universal. You’ll want to emphasize brightness with lots of white. The furniture and finishes should be neutral to appeal to the masses—even if you hate that look.

FOR BUYERS: DEMYSTIFYING THE DECORATOR’S FEE
A consultation by an interior designer can range from an hourly rate to a flat fee of up to roughly $2,000, depending on the size of the house and the designer’s experience. The bill can be off-putting, but it will often include things like a customized floor plan, swatches of fabric, paint chips and a storyboard. You get the full sense of what the room is going to look like, and what will and will not have an impact. It’s a complete vision. Make sure when you’re hiring someone that you feel in sync with their style. After you have a frank discussion about the budget and put together your wish list, pass over your trust and let the designer come up with a plan.

AND IF YOU DON’T HAVE $50,OOO TO SPEND ON A KITCHEN RENO
A quick and easy fix is to paint kitchen cabinets white.



LANDLORDSHIP IS LUCRATIVE

If you don’t buy a place with a rental suite built in, creating one is the best renovation you can do. If it’s able to generate more than $1,500 per month,
it can add well over $100,000 to the value of your home.

NOT EVERY HOME IS SUITABLE
The first step is to look into the legal necessities for building an income property, including whether the space has proper exits, fire separation between the units and interconnected smoke alarms. Then it’s important to find a home that already has a lot of the valuable things in place: a separate entrance is worth about $12,000 to $15,000, and ceiling heights of at least six feet are crucial, because digging out a basement to make it livable could cost $30,000.

GET THE PERMITS
If you’ve purchased a property with an existing income suite, the fire department can provide a nine-point inspection on the unit (for about $200) to point out any deficiencies. If building from scratch, the city’s zoning department will tell you whether an income suite is permitted on the property, and the building division will inspect and provide permits for your build. Keep all of this in mind when you are pricing your property for resale—95 per cent of the income suites in this city are built illegally. A legal unit always has more value.

SWEETEN THE TENANT
If you treat your tenants well, they’re likely to leave the property in good condition. I always buy my tenants a bottle of wine when they move in. The gesture goes a long way.



PRE-QUALIFYING IS THE PRIORITY

Figure out your financing before you even start to look for a new home. Everything should be in order so you can be competitive when you go to make an offer. Ensure you’re pre-qualified for a loan, and then shop around. Financing conditions have been known to kill offers by unprepared people. Know what you can afford, and know all the hidden costs of buying, everything from reimbursing the seller for pre-paid property taxes to standard legal fees.

NEVER RENOVATE BEFORE SELLING
Very rarely does the taste of the seller match the taste of the buyer. Minor repairs, painting and sprucing the place up are always good ideas, but let the buyer make bigger changes.

SCRUTINIZE THE DIMENSIONS
When buyers are looking around, they should focus on the size of the property and try not to be distracted by furniture and decor. I had a client who bought a beautifully staged condo and was then disappointed to realize that it appeared smaller without the staging. You should look out the window: is there a parking lot outside that would be a prime spot for a new condo building that will block your view? Always book a second visit, take measurements and bring someone else for a second opinion.

DON’T BE THROWN BY UNSTAGED HOUSES, EITHER
Buyers tend to get caught up in things like bad decorating. I once had a client tell me “I can’t live here” because of an unpleasant cooking smell. Focus on the things you can and cannot change.