Posted by admin on August 17, 2012
You keep a pretty clean home. Sure, sometimes your rigid cleaning schedule has to bend here and there to accommodate life, but your house/apartment/condo stays pretty darn tidy.
You’re not bragging or anything, but you certainly have nothing to be ashamed of. You clean all the usual suspects: kitchen sinks, counters and floors. Bathroom countertop, toilets, showers. You vacuum the carpets, dust the furniture, and maybe even hit the blinds and curtains now and then.
Good to go? Maybe, maybe not. There’s a whole host of everyday objects and high-use home appliances that may often go overlooked during cleaning jags. And failure to be a completist when it comes to cleaning may not have that many obvious repercussions, but it can cost you in terms of appliance and electronic performance, allergy attacks and general hygiene.
So go ahead. Grab a bucket, a can of compressed air and a little extra bleach. Roll up your sleeves and get ready to expand that household chore list by a couple of items this weekend.
Difficulty: Minimal. Some grossness factor, though.
You religiously clean your toilet, because, y’know, ewww. But do you make sure to clean the mechanism that cleans the toilet?
“Your toilet brush should be cleaned every time you use it,” cautions Shana Cowart, area district customer service trainer with Bed Bath & Beyond. “Rinse it after every use and replace the head when needed.”
Not doing so could mean growing a little Petri dish of germs in the corner of your bathroom.
Cowart doesn’t recommend doing anything extreme. “Just rinse it after every use. If you feel like it’s still not clean, pour some bleach on it.”
If the brush has replacement heads, all the better. Replace periodically when it’s showing a bit of wear and tear, she said. And if it doesn’t have replacement heads, consider going with a new brush whenever ol’ reliable starts looking a little tattered.
Ceiling and attic fans
Difficulty: Varies, from rather simple to a little bit complex.
Fans pose a little bit more of a challenge than toilet brushes because they’re quite a bit less accessible.
That being said, “if you stay on top of keeping ceiling and attic fans clean, it’s a pretty easy process,” says Bryan Dunning, assistant store manager of the Lowe’s in Gladstone, Mo.
Ceiling fans are rather simple, though you may need a long duster or stepladder to really get the job done (“with a vaulted ceiling, it may not be as feasible,” Dunning said).
The key is dedication. Hit the ceiling fan blades with disposable dusting pads every couple of weeks, and you should be fine. Naturally, if you wait significant stretches between cleanings, expect a lot of dust falloff when you finally do get around to it. For $3 a pack, you could also invest in a filter that sits on top of the blade, but cleaning is still recommended, Dunning said.
Attic fans are a bit trickier.
“Step 1 is to definitely make sure you have your breaker turned off. Since the switch is usually below the fan, you don’t want to be near one when someone turns it on,” Dunning said. “They can put out a lot of power.”
Cleaning attic fans is fairly similar to ceiling units.
“You can use a mild cleaning solution and wipe off the metal blades,” Dunning said. “And with the motor, you can use a can of compressed air to clean out any dust and dirt in the motor.”
Dunning suggests syncing attic fan cleaning with your furnace filter changing schedule.
Cleaning both kinds of fans gives the same benefit: less debris in the air and a longer appliance life span. Dunning also notes that dirty and dusty motors run hotter, meaning less efficient cooling.
“If you work these things into your cleaning routine, you should be fine,” he said. “It’s like preventative medicine. It heads off problems down the road.”
Home audio speakers
Difficulty: Simple. And a light touch is definitely preferred.
Fans aren’t the only household staple where dust may affect performance. Consider your home theater and stereo speakers.
Jennifer Braniff-Harmon, local covert operations agent with Best Buy’s Geek Squad, says that if noticeable dust is building up on the exterior of your speakers, it’s time to clean them.
It’s not just for aesthetics. “Keeping your speakers clean will help keep the sound quality in tip top shape,” she says.
Gentleness is the key.
“Remember not to spray the speaker case or grill directly and especially avoid using harsh chemicals,” she cautions. “A dry or water-damp cloth is the ideal cleaning method.”
If you actually have to go under the grill to get at dust buildup, do not use anything abrasive. Braniff-Harmon recommends a feather duster.
Difficulty: Varies based on use and your fine motor skills.
Speakers, of course, come in all shapes and sizes — from floor-filling subwoofers to the ubiquitous earbud. And just because your headphones aren’t typically subject to public scrutiny doesn’t mean they don’t need the occasional once-over.
“Earwax can interfere with the sound quality of your earbuds, so I recommend cleaning them whenever you see the buildup,” said Jennifer Braniff-Harmon, local covert operations agent with Best Buy’s Geek Squad. “If you are able to remove the plastic bud, you can get a more complete clean inside the ‘canal’ with a cotton swab where the buildup can really affect sound quality.”
If the gunk is particularly resistant to cleaning efforts the detached buds — not the actual speakers — can be given a soak in a light mix of water and dish soap, she added.
Naturally, if you’re a workout warrior who can’t exercise without your iPod, you may find your earbuds picking up dirt and sweat at a higher rate. If they’re dying out at an alarming rate, Braniff-Harmon recommends tracking down a set specifically designed with exercise in mind. Several manufacturers, including Yurbuds and Phillips, offer such models.
Keyboard and mouse
Difficulty: More time-consuming than you might think, especially if you eat near your computer.
A quick rule of thumb from Jennifer Braniff-Harmon, local covert operations agent with Best Buy’s Geek Squad, when it comes to cleaning tech equipment: “You don’t have to overspend on cleaning products, as most devices can be cleaned with common household ingredients. Eyeglass cleaning wipes are cheap and contain rubbing alcohol for sanitizing, making them my favorite for cellphone, keyboard, headphone and monitor cleaning.”
And the computer keyboard (and sometimes mouse) “are some of the dirtiest gadgets in your tech lineup.”
Braniff-Harmon recommends sanitizing after any illness or at least every three months. If you eat near your keyboard and it’s growing fairly crumby, take care of it sooner. Crumbs in the keyboard can cause damage.
Before attempting any cleaning, turn the computer off.
“Then you can take one of the eyeglass cleaning wipes that are great for cleaning gadgets to wipe down the keyboard. Cotton swabs with a little rubbing alcohol diluted in water are perfect for getting those stubborn stickies and upping the germ killing,” she said.
Those eyeglass cleaning wipes are also a good solution for your computer mice.
What about the computer itself? It’s important to keep it relatively free of dust.
Feel free to dust off the exterior, but exercise caution inside the tower. “Do not vacuum inside your computer,” Braniff-Harmon said. “Static electricity caused by vacuuming does not like your computer parts and can cause serious damage.”
Go with compressed air instead.
Refrigerator ice maker
Difficulty: Involved. Varies with model.
Dust isn’t likely to be a significant issue with your refrigerator ice maker, but other concerns may arise.
“If you look at your ice, and it’s getting discolored, that’s a sign that it’s a good idea to clean your ice maker,” Lowe’s Dunning said.
First, check your owner’s manual for step-by-step guides.
Typically, Dunning said, it will involve turning off the ice maker and shutting off the water to the water line. You’ll probably have to let the water run through, then use a mild detergent to clean the line. A mild detergent solution can also be used on the various parts of the ice maker.
“A lot of units now have a filter with the ice maker. These filters can last for different times, and some will give you an indication when they need to be changed,” he said.
By: John Shultz
Posted by admin on
Q: I am in the process of buying an older single-family home and found one I like. I wanted to have my contract contingent on obtaining a favorable home inspection, but my real estate agent has been discouraging me. She claims that I may lose the house if I insist on the inspection. What do you think?
A: You are about to engage in what may be the biggest purchase of your life. You kick the tires when you buy a car. You should get an inspection, and if the seller does not allow this, walk away as fast as you can.
Inspections help buyers and sellers. The buyer gets an independent assessment of the condition of the house, from inside and outside, and top to bottom. There is a hidden benefit to an inspection, namely that if you buy the house, you will know where things are such as turning off the main water in case of a leak.
But the seller benefits also. I have represented many sellers whose buyer (after taking title) threatened to (and actually did) sue the seller, claiming multiple problems in the house.
My defense, which generally works, is, “Hey, you had an inspector and had an opportunity to walk away if you found problems.”
So, submit your contract with the inspection contingency. If the seller rejects it, he may be trying to hide known defects.
Also, many states require sellers to disclose all known problems in a house to potential buyers. If your state has this requirement, show the disclosure statement to your inspector.
The bottom line: There are two important contingencies that must be included in every real estate offer being made to sellers. First, a contingency on financing (assuming you need to obtain a mortgage and are not paying all cash). Second, obtaining a home inspection report from an independent inspector selected by you, to your satisfaction.
Don’t be pressured to sign a contract without these two provisions. In law school, we are taught that real estate is unique. In my many years of practicing law, however, I have learned that it “ain’t necessarily so.”
By: Benny Kass
Posted by admin on July 16, 2012
New mortgage rules went into effect Monday, July 9th, 2012 in Canada, but a recent survey suggests many people are unfamiliar with the changes.
Starting Monday, borrowers refinancing their mortgages are limited to 80 per cent to the value of the home, down from 85 per cent.
And the maximum amortization period dropped to 25 years from 30 years for government insured mortgages – giving borrowers less time to repay the debt in full.
Yet a poll conducted by Pollara for Bank of Montreal found only about half of those surveyed were familiar with the changes brought in by the federal government. And only 45 per cent of those surveyed June 29 to July 4 were aware that the maximum amortization period has been shortened by five years.
What’s more, in Quebec, there was no recent reported spike in applicants looking to buy or refinance homes under the old rules, real estate and mortgage agencies said.
“There wasn’t a huge rise,” said Denis Doucet, a regional director at Quebec’s Multi Prêts mortgage agency, which operates as Mortgage Alliance Company of Canada Inc. in the rest of the country, “Maybe we had a bit more demand, but nothing significant.”
Unlike previous changes in the mortgage rules for buyers of CMHC-insured homes, the duration between the time when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the changes on June 21 – and their implementation this week – was simply too short, Doucet and others said.
“They did it so suddenly this time,” said Dominic St-Pierre, director of real estate services at Royal LePage, Quebec. “The last time they did it (change the amortization period from 35 to 30 years in January 2011), it was announced months in advance.”
But Kelvin Mangaroo, president of RateSupermarket.ca, a national rate comparison website for personal finance products including mortgages, did notice a rise in activity “as the July 9 date approached.”
The federal government also tightened the standards lenders must apply before granting a mortgage.
Other changes by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions reduced the limit for home equity lines of credit to 65 per cent of a property’s value, down from 80 per cent.
Despite analysts initial welcoming of the changes, a recent drop in sales in Canada’s hot Vancouver and Toronto markets has sparked questions over whether this latest round went too far.
“I think the Canadian government reacted too harshly,” St-Pierre said. “Inventory is creeping up. Montreal is on the verge of becoming a buyer’s market. This is just going to compound the slowdown we see already”.
Posted by admin on June 18, 2012
An unprecedented land grab for new Web addresses began in earnest on Wednesday with fierce competition for new internet real estate including .app, .blog and .web from applicants hoping to break the near-monopoly of the .com top-level domain.
The ambitious plan to liberalise internet addresses attracted 1,930 applications, almost half of them from north America, with Web giants Amazon and Google applying for dozens of domains including .cloud, .buy and .book.
The liberalisation of top-level domains beyond the fewer than two dozen in existence – dominated by .com, .org and .net – is intended to stimulate competition and innovation by giving organisations more control over their Web presence.
Critics say the new suffixes are unlikely to catch on, and some trademark owners have complained that the move is causing them unnecessary expense – at $185,000 per application plus running costs – to defend their online turf.
Previous small-scale experiments in liberalising domains led to low take-up of suffixes such as .museum, .jobs and .travel.
“At the highest level, this is all about creating competition to .com,” said Jonathan Robinson, non-executive director of internet registry services company Afilias, which has applied for more than 100 new domains on behalf of clients.
“That’s where short, memorable, distinctive three-letter type terms become very interesting,” said Robinson, whose organisation already provides key infrastructure for .org, .info and .mobi.
Competing applications were received for 231 domain names. The most popular were .app with 13 bids, .home with 11, and .inc with 12. High bids are also reportedly expected for domains such as .pets, .porn and .pizza, according to reports.
Technology giant Apple’s claim to .apple was uncontested by the Apple music label or anyone else.
“The big names of the Internet have either invested massively or not at all,” said Stuart Durham, European sales director for Melbourne IT, which has handled 150 applications on behalf of clients.
“There appear to be no applications from Facebook or Twitter. There are different strategies in play here and some big gambles.”
Just 17 applications were received from Africa, and 116 for names in non-Latin alphabets. Expanding the Internet beyond the Latin alphabet was one of the original reasons behind the liberalisation drive, which began seven years ago.
ICANN will now spend the rest of the year assessing the applications, with contested domains going to auction where more than one party has a legitimate claim. The first new domains are likely to come online in the first half of 2013.
Some critics, including senior figures at Google, have warned that the liberalisation risks effectively privatising the Internet by giving already powerful Web players more scope to control portions of it.
“Our concern is that this could lead to more Facebook-style walled gardens as big brands seek to keep you in their own areas of the Internet,” said Stephen Ewart, marketing manager for Names.co.uk, a British domain-name registrar.
“Make no mistake, this change to the domain name world will lead to more competition and consumer choice, but it could also be viewed as a silent privatisation of the Web – for better or worse,” he said.
The project is a key test for U.S. non-profit organisation the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), whose authority to administer the Web’s naming systems is being challenged by emerging nations who say it is too U.S.-centric.
“The plan we have delivered is solid and fair,” ICANN Chief Executive Rod Beckstrom told journalists at a news conference in London. “It is our fundamental obligation to increase innovation and consumer choice.”
Nations including China, Russia and Brazil are pushing for ICANN’s functions to be transferred to a body such as the United Nations, in which governments would have more control.
ICANN is set to net some $350 million from the liberalisation project – about five times its annual budget.
Beckstrom said the organisation had priced the applications to cover its costs and that the use of any surplus would be decided by its community – which includes Internet companies, governments and ordinary citizens.
By: Georgina Prodhan
Posted by admin on June 4, 2012
When it comes to the little things that sellers do to make their homes stand out from the competition, a new splash of paint is usually at the top of the list. Sprucing up the front yard and removing the clutter you have learned to live with over the years also rank high.
But the No. 1 step you can take, according to a recent survey of realestate agents, is cleaning the place from top to bottom. Spending a few hundred bucks for cleaning supplies, rolling up your sleeves and getting to work will pay huge dividends, dollar for dollar, according to nearly all the 500 agents who participated in the HomeGain poll.
Actually, cleaning has ranked as the top home improvement suggested by realty professionals ever since HomeGain began asking the question in 2003. In the latest survey, the agents said spending $400 on cleaning is likely to gain sellers $2,000 more at closing. That’s a 400 percent return on investment.
Of course, there is clean and then there is really clean. Here are some tips gleaned mainly from the folks at The Maids, a residential cleaning service with about 150 franchises in 40 states, with suggestions from professional house cleaner Mary Findley (also known as Mary Moppins) thrown in for good measure:
You may not look up when you walk around your house, but would-be buyers do. They look everywhere, so knock down any cobwebs, clean the blades on the ceiling fans and remove the dust that has built up on the top of window and door frames, as well as other places it tends to accumulate.
Now look down and clean your baseboards.
You’ll want to shower your place with light to show it off, especially at night, so remove the bugs that have accumulated in your light fixtures and clean the glass. Replace the bulbs with new ones. That way, Findley says, you won’t have a burnout during a showing.
Walls and ceilings should be dusted. For textured surfaces and rough wood, slip three lint roller tubes over a paint roller and roll.
Wipe down front and back doors, including screens. Remove oil spots from garage floor and driveway. Polish doorknobs, hinges and drawer handles, and clean your trash cans.
Wash the windows, inside and out. Findley cleans windows with a 32-ounce spray bottle filled with 1/3 cup white vinegar, 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol and the rest distilled water.
For best results, wash on a cloudy day. Sunlight dries the glass quickly, causing streaks.
Window treatments tend to trap dust and odors. Dry-clean or at least vacuum drapes. Roll up blinds to remove them. Then loosen and wash in a tub of warm, soapy water with a cup of white vinegar. Rinse and lay flat on a towel outside to dry.
Alternatively, hang the blinds outside with the slats facing down. Spray from bottom to top with foaming tub and tile cleaner, a Findley favorite. Sponge off with water, then flip them over, turn the slats in the other direction and repeat. “Sparkling blinds in 15 minutes,” Findley says.
Clean the stove and oven. If you have burner drip trays, replace them. The cost is minimal, and they will make the range sparkle. As an alternative, Findley suggests placing dirty drip pans in a plastic bag with a 50/50 mixture of water and ammonia. Let sit for a day, then scour and rinse.
Don’t overlook the range hood — not just the top, but also underneath where grease tends to accumulate. Spray foaming tile and tub cleaner, wait a few minutes and wipe.
Eliminate lingering odors in the dishwasher by running it with a couple tablespoons of Tang, the powdered breakfast drink.
Decluttering goes along with cleaning. Since lookers will peer in your kitchen cabinets and drawers, take everything out, pack away what you’re not using and neatly restack what’s left — but not before wiping the shelves and drawers clean.
Cabinet doors don’t need to be replaced or resurfaced, just cleaned, Findley says. Start with a wood cleaner to deep-clean the doors, then apply a wood restorer to replenish the finish.
Shampoo carpets and then vacuum daily. “Nothing screams clean like visible carpet pile lines,” according to The Maids.
Wood and tile floors should be mopped. Clean the grout too. If your linoleum floor no longer holds a shine, strip it with a janitorial-grade wax remover and redo with janitorial non-yellowing wax, which Findley says holds up longer than most store waxes. That way, if it takes longer than expected to sell, at least you won’t have to rewax.
In the bathroom, clean showers, sinks and tubs. Remove hard-water spots and soap scum by spraying them with undiluted, heated white vinegar. Let soak 15 minutes before scrubbing.
Alternatively, Findley suggests applying a concentrated orange-based cleaner full-strength. Give it at least an hour to dissolve soap residue. Then use a white scrub pad — only white; any other color will scratch the surface — to remove the buildup.
To get rid of water rings in the toilet bowl, drain the bowl and saturate several heavy-duty shop paper towels with orange cleaner or white vinegar. Plaster the sides of the bowl with the towels and let sit for several hours. For a quicker solution, try the stuff you use to clean tile grout.
Wash shower curtains and liners. Wash glass doors as you would showers and tubs above.
Hit mildew with straight hydrogen peroxide as opposed to bleach, the fumes of which can be overpowering in small spaces.
By Lew Sichelman
Posted by admin on May 1, 2012
The gig: Ed Kushins, 65, is the founder and president of HomeExchange.com, based in Hermosa Beach. It is one of the nation’s largest members-only home exchange businesses.
What is a home exchange? With 43,000 members, HomeExchange helps participants reach agreements to swap their homes for vacations or business trips. The deal provides each with a house or apartment, and it eliminates the need to pay for hotel rooms. Members pay about $120 per year for access to the company’s member database.
How does it work? A member in Southern California looking to visit Florida, for example, finds homes of Florida members and exchanges photos and emails, asking if any of the Florida homes are available on the desired dates. If two parties agree, they arrange the trade. HomeExchange facilitates the meeting but does not perform background checks or referee the transaction.
His background: Kushins worked as an airline marketing director until 1978, when he took over his father’s scrap-metal business in Los Angeles. He is married and has two children from a previous marriage.
An idea is born: In the early 1990s Kushins vacationed in Washington, D.C., with his children, staying at a home he found through a Europe-based home exchange program. “It was perfect,” he recalled. “Instead of staying at a little hotel room and coming back after a full day of sightseeing, we had a big house in Washington. We had seven days there. They had a swimming pool, and everyone had their own room and their own TV.” Impressed, he decided to launch his own home exchange business in the U.S.
Power of the Internet: Kushins founded the company in 1992 and mailed the last paper directory to members a few years later. “When the Internet started to become widely available and popular, it totally changed this from being a hobby to being a business because in one fell swoop it eliminated all my production costs,” he said. And instead of having to send letters to one another, members can use email to communicate instantly.
Hobby no more: What began as a hobby with about 125 members and a printed directory sent by mail has become a bustling enterprise. With five full-time workers and 42 contract workers, the business now operates around the globe, is offered in 15 languages and draws $5.5 million in annual revenue.
Not to worry: The exchange idea may sound scary at first, but it isn’t, Kushins said. “First of all, nobody ever does an exchange with a stranger,” he said. “The whole process serves to eliminate that fear and to make sure that you feel so totally comfortable with these people coming into your house and that you are going to have a comfortable experience in their house. By the time you do your exchange, it’s not even a factor.”
Insurance? Most potential problems should be addressed in discussions ahead of time. But if there is some damage in a home swap, HomeExchange officials say, most homeowners insurance policies typically cover such mishaps. Many policies treat HomeExchange members like any other invited guest, such as a messy, clumsy brother-in-law.
Hey, wasn’t this in a movie? The company benefited from the 2006 film “The Holiday,” starring Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, about two women who exchange homes and in the process meet the men of their dreams. Before filming began, producers called Kushins for permission to mention his company in the movie. He agreed.
“We really took advantage of the movie by capitalizing on a lot of PR that came subsequent to the movie,” he said. “The killer was 10 days after. The ‘Today’ show came to my house and did a five-minute interview with me about the home exchange business.” The movie was released in December 2006; HomeExchange’s membership jumped from 9,000 in 2006 to 14,000 in 2007.
The biggest disputes: The most common complaint among people who exchange homes is that other members did not leave their homes as neat and tidy as they found them. But Kushins said such problems are “so rare that it statistically doesn’t show up.”
The latest feature: HomeExchange recently added a “Gold” membership for those who want to exchange high-end, luxury properties such as ski-in villas, penthouse apartments or beach-side mansions. The membership fee is $500 per year, and the company has about 1,000 such members.
Who would want to stay in my tiny, cramped home? Members negotiate a home swap and decide what is a fair exchange. They can agree, for example, to trade three days in a tiny shack for one day in a mansion, Kushins said. “I’ve exchanged for a tiny loft in Greenwich Village for my relatively larger place in Hermosa Beach, and I’ve exchanged for a 10,000-square-foot home in Dublin.”
By: Hugo Martín
Posted by admin on
Who hasn’t dreamt of building their own house? Of finding that perfect little plot of land, coming up with a design and then seeing it through to completion.
It’s a powerful idea, and it might be part of the solution to Britain’s housing shortfall, which some estimates suggest will reach 750,000 homes by 2025.
Perhaps the answer is for house-hunters to take control of the situation themselves. A report by the National Self Build Association predicts a 141 per cent increase in the number of mortgages available for those building their own homes. Now the Government has backed a package of measures to help would-be home builders to get their grand designs off the ground.
“It’s an idea whose time has come,” says the Housing Minister, Grant Shapps. “At any moment, two million people in Britain are investigating the idea of building their own houses. But too many of these projects are halted before they can get started.”
The product of a joint initiative between the Government and the self-build housing industry, a new interactive website, selfbuildportal.org.uk, contains information on everything from finance to double-glazing. A postcode calculator allows you to work out how much, on average, a self-build will cost in your area.
Pricing is a key point. Television property programmes often feature multi-million-pound fantasy homes, but Shapps is keen to stress that building your own place needn’t be for the wealthy few. “The average cost of a ready-made home is now more than £232,000, but a budget of £150,000 is usually adequate to build a three to four-bedroom house. Fourteen thousand self-build homes were constructed in the UK last year, just one in 10 new homes, a figure which lags behind the rest of Europe.”
Shapps’s aim is to double the size of the UK self-build sector. He has enlisted the support of some of the biggest names in British property, including the “Restoration Man”, George Clarke, the BBC architectural historian Dan Cruickshank and Kevin McCloud.
McCloud knows better than most about Britain’s self-build frustrations. As presenter of Channel 4’s Grand Designs, he has spent more than 13 years helping people to realise their dreams, and to deal with the myriad frustrations they encounter.
“Often people think of self-build as long, difficult and self-sacrificing,” he says. “But with the right planning, help and support it can be an enjoyable process.”
As well as individual self-builders, the portal aims to encourage community projects, where a group takes charge of a local scheme. This means that self-builders can buy a “base unit”, a plot where the foundations are laid and utilities connected.
“What we’ve seen from Grand Designs is that 90 per cent of the hard work is breaking the surface: laying foundations, connecting to utilities, that sort of thing,” McCloud explains. “One solution might be for people to buy a base unit and then put their own designs on top of that. It’s good news for home builders, and also good for the landscape because people will have more architectural input.
“Self-build homes are often more ecologically sound, so it could also be beneficial for the environment.”
One of the controversies around the Government’s new legislation to free up planning laws has been the fear that the countryside will become swamped with low-quality homes.
Restoring ownership, by having a greater number building their own properties, could help ensure that new properties are both attractive and precisely suited to people’s needs.
“It would be great if we could become a nation of self-builders,” adds McCloud. “Like the Dutch, the French, the Germans, the Italians, the Swedish – the list goes on – we have lagged behind so far, but there’s no reason why we can’t catch up.
“Self-build is a dream that can stay with you through your whole life.”
By: Ed Cumming
Posted by admin on April 24, 2012
Issue: Energy and mining companies often create homes and infrastructure in previously uninhabited areas only to leave them abandoned once operations cease
Shift: New processes let companies quickly set up, tear down and move buildings whenever they need to, creating a more sustainable and cost-effective approach to infrastructure
If you build it, they might come. But what happens when they leave? That’s the dilemma facing many thriving oil and gas, energy and mining operations that have set their sights on development in remote communities throughout northern Canada.
With the rebound in the resource industries, the sectors are surging ahead with projects that will instantly grow existing communities or instantly create new ones. But past booms and busts have shown that building a community infrastructure isn’t that simple — especially when the production life cycle will peter out within 20 to 25 years.
The questions being asked around the planning table are different from days gone by: How do we get it up and running as quickly as possible? How can we do it in an environmentally sustainable way? And what do we do with it all once the boom is over?
There is a lot of overseas mining activity in the Yukon, for example, that will demand infrastructure building in what were once virgin territories, notes John Berg, architect and senior associate for engineering firm Stantec in Whitehorse, Yukon. “The biggest obstacle for these people coming in is dealing with the environmental impact and delivering an infrastructure that they have to have up and running in a matter of months.
“That includes electrical, mechanical, structural and architectural planning.”
Infrastructure and life cycle planners need only look at the fallout of aggressive post-war development to know what not to do. When the market faltered, many communities were virtually abandoned after operations closed.
But as Scott Weston, mining sector leader for Hemmera in Vancouver, which specializes in environmental management and infrastructure design, notes, today’s planning exercises are far more future-focused.
“You need to build in a way that the smallest footprint of land is disturbed. You have to design taking into account the potential impact on human health, socio-economic and socio-community factors. And you have to consider the entire life cycle of a community and plan for closure in 10 or 20 years’ time. What’s the cost of clean-up when you’re done?”
Governments have become increasingly leery about being left on the hook for project clean-ups, he adds.
“People are now planning projects for closure so they minimize footprint and environmental impact while supporting economic development. I’m also seeing progressive reclamation, in which they remove liabilities as they go rather than waiting 19 years to start.”
As part of that, organizations are increasingly considering modular and portable infrastructure solutions from communications, energy and water-treatment systems to housing and community buildings. The reasons are simple: Modular translates into cheaper to build, faster to deploy, and, more importantly, easier to dismantle, move or recycle.
On the economic front, Mr. Weston notes that the scale of today’s operations is much bigger and the amplitude of these booms and busts are getting larger. Translation: companies need to get operational as quickly as possible to justify the investment.
The outcomes of modular thinking also deliver positive benefits on the environmental front, Mr. Weston says. “Having something that is temporary and can be moved is good from an environmental perspective. And you can scale up or down throughout the life cycle of the project. That’s a much more sustainable approach. And every mining company is thinking that way right now. It’s a new standard for how you do business.”
BioteQ Environmental Technologies Inc. in Vancouver has worked with resource industries on sustainable water treatment technologies. According to company CEO Jonathan Wilkinson, it recently engaged in a project that involved the development of a portable water treatment system for a mine site in northern Canada.
“Everyone is looking for opportunities to shrink their footprint and make things more portable,” Mr. Wilkinson says. “A lot of operations are looking at significant expansion, and need to sustain themselves through that growth. Permanent facilities are expensive and inflexible. Transportable solutions are much more desirable in many cases because they reduce both economic and environmental risk.”
Another aspect that ties into the modular movement is skilled labour shortages and high turnover. Not only do modular solutions reduce the need for skilled
construction hands, they also provide higher-grade living conditions and supporting facilities, such as arenas and schools, that are appealing enough to keep employees and their families comfortable and happy in their environs. The old trailers and metal shelters aren’t nearly enough to ensure employee retention.
That’s a big selling proposition for companies like Sprung Structures in Calgary. The family-owned company produces tension-membrane modular facilities that range in size from barracks, churches and schools to large-scale community recreation-size facilities such as gymnasiums and hockey rinks. Construction can be done by a team of 10 unskilled labourers at a rate of 2,000 sq. ft. per day by 10 workers.
Phil Sprung, president, tells the story of a team of oil company engineers walking through the two-storey modular facility serving as the company’s head office. “They told me they had just finished constructing a new office complex that took two years to build, was 30% over budget, and they had already outgrown it. Then they saw we could have had something finished and operational within 90 days at 70% less cost. All they said was ‘that changes everything for us’. It was one of the greatest meetings we ever had.”
Mr. Sprung touts the buildings as “99% reusable” because, with the exception of the bolts, they don’t corrode. Some of the buildings have had three or four lives — a more sustainable alternative to “bulldozing a site and taking thousands of tonnes of debris to a scrap yard.” Materials are also light enough to be helicoptered in if need be since materials are one-tenth the shipping size.
Out-of-the-box residential housing options have also improved considerably, notes Andrew Libera, president and CEO of RedLeaf Homes Ltd. in Victoria. RedLeaf recently signed on with ICI (Innovative Composites International) to distribute its permanent and portable homes and shelters in Canada. He reports that a 1,000 sq. ft. structure can be erected and ready for plumbing and electrical in about two days at a cost in the $60- to $100-per-square-oot range — a significant savings from more conventional builds that can run $120 to $200 a square foot or higher.
“We’re seeing a lot of interest from the mining community,” he says. “The price point and portability is such that it’s right in their wheelhouse. The best part is they can be dismantled and reused. You don’t need cranes – just some basic hand tools you’d find in any garage.”
Posted by admin on April 22, 2012
Selling a home in a buyer’s market can feel like you’re playing a game you can’t win. But buyers don’t necessarily hold all the cards. “You have to be able to see it from both sides of the table,” says Jeffrey Stanton, who teaches a Realtor certification course in negotiation. Armed with information and a smart strategy, you can play your hand wisely and get the best value for your home.
First, determine the best price you can reasonably expect given the home’s market value and the minimum you can accept. All negotiation will take place somewhere in between those two limits. Your goal is to stay as close to the top of that range as possible.
Next, count your bargaining chips. A buyer’s position is weakened and yours is strengthened by anything the buyer wants that you’re able to provide or withhold. “Price is one of the many things you negotiate for, but you need to make the pie bigger,” says Stanton. Additional slices might include flexibility with the closing or move-in dates, extra items for sale, cash concessions, bragging rights – even the deal itself, since you can always walk away.
WHEN TO USE IT: Throughout the process.
HOW TO PLAY IT: The first time the price chip comes into play is when you list your home. Look up similar homes that have sold in the area recently with online tools such as the sold properties link on the Multiple Listing Service site or Newsday’s recent home sales search tool. Use those prices to zero in on your home’s market value and to weed out lowball offers. Padding your asking price to leave room to haggle is not helpful, says Lynne Kleinman of Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty in Manhasset – instead, price it to attract multiple offers. “You’re putting yourself in a position to be bid up if you’ve chosen the correct number.”
When you receive a written offer that’s in the ballpark, you may use a price adjustment as part of your counteroffer. A small move tests the water; a big reduction announces your willingness to negotiate, Stanton says. You can reduce the price more than once to nudge the discussion along, but in a strategic pattern: Your price concessions should get smaller and smaller as the deal progresses. This signals to the buyer that you’re approaching the bottom.
2. Bragging rights
WHEN TO USE IT: When the buyer shows a competitive streak.
HOW TO PLAY IT: “Sometimes in order for you to win, you have the make the other party feel as if they’ve won,” says Stanton. “A lot of people are competitive negotiators who want to win by taking that very last thing off the table.”
And it’s not just about ego – it’s also about nerves. Buyers who fear they could have gotten a better price are more likely to get cold feet, which could jeopardize the deal.
Satisfy the buyer’s need to win with a pattern of increasingly stingy price concessions. This creates the reassuring and gratifying impression that you’ve scraped the barrel and given up every last crumb of value – even if you haven’t.
To enhance this effect, trade away any other chips with conspicuous reluctance, regardless of their actual importance to you – and try to get something you secretly do care about in return.
3. Financial incentives
WHEN TO USE IT: When you’ve got a serious buyer and lack of funds is the only obstacle.
HOW TO PLAY IT: Consider a seller’s concession to bridge the gap: If the price is $300,000 and the buyer needs $6,000 for closing costs, you would pay those costs upfront but raise the price to $306,000. “The purchase price is artificially inflated so the buyer can finance an additional cost,” says Chandra Ortiz, an attorney on the Nassau County Bar Association Real Property Committee. This allows the buyers to make a bigger down payment, or pay points for a lower interest rate, which could increase their purchasing power to close the deal.
There are limitations and risks: The lender will appraise the home and restrict concessions to a certain percentage of the appraised value, which may turn out to be less than the purchase price you and the buyer agreed to. “When it doesn’t appraise at that figure, the bank won’t give additional money to cover the concession,” cautions Ortiz. Include language in your contract to protect yourself from having to pay the concession if the appraisal is low, she advises. Also note that a higher price will cause your transfer tax payment to go up – make sure the buyer agrees to pay for that, she says.
WHEN TO USE IT: When the buyer is on a deadline and you can be flexible – for a price.
HOW TO PLAY IT: “The way it works is whoever has the shorter time frame isn’t negotiating from a position of strength,” says Stanton. Buyers often want or need to close or move in by a certain date – they may be trying to get into their new school district before September, for instance.
If you have the ability to help them meet their deadline, you’ve got currency. Keep it in your pocket and remain noncommittal about dates until you need that extra push.
For instance, if your buyer is considering a competing property but the other sellers can’t vacate soon enough, that closing date could become the deciding factor. It can also help your bottom line, Stanton says. “If I know you have to be in by the first, that may be more important to you than price.”
WHEN TO USE IT: Periodically offer these in place of price reductions, or along with smaller reductions.
HOW TO PLAY IT: This chip could fall into your lap during talks – or it could take some creativity on your part. Pay attention; if a buyer shows interest in something, such as a piano or window treatments, you’ve got yourself an unexpected chip.
The best kinds of extras are those that are of little value to you, but could matter a lot for the buyers. For instance, if you’re leaving a grassy two-acre property for a maintenance-free condo, you won’t be needing that ride-on lawn mower anymore – but your buyers sure could use it. Swap it for a more favorable deal. A home warranty is another good one; it may only cost you a few hundred dollars, but it provides a benefit that could be far more valuable to the new owners. Get something in return for it, even if you planned all along to include it in the sale.
6. Your Plan B
WHEN TO USE IT: When you’ve exhausted your chips without reaching an agreement – or you suspect the buyer is bluffing.
HOW TO PLAY IT: “Buyers feel like they have all the time and all the choices, but when they feel a sense of urgency because another couple wants that house, then the seller holds the cards,” says Diane Saatchi of Saunders & Associates.
Use smart marketing to level the playing field. Pricing, staging and photography are key to attracting buyers – and offering a higher fee will get the agents’ attention, Kleinman says. “Brokerage fees speak very loudly to the agents who will be showing your house.” More showings could translate into more offers – and a better bargaining position.
Reserve the right to keep showing your home if the deal is contingent upon the buyer’s home getting sold and look into the possibility of renting out the place. This will ease your pressure – and, if all else fails, it allows you to walk away. It’s not easy, but sometimes that’s your best option – either your buyer will reconsider, or you’ll get yourself out of an unacceptable deal.
By: KRISTIN TAVEIRA
Posted by admin on
If a king-size bed is your choice then opt for the split-box spring. Each piece is the size of a single box spring, which makes it easy to move around in tight spaces. You can also choose two smaller mattresses (called twin plus), which is great for customizing your comfort level from one side to the other, and still enjoy the size of a king bed. Co-ordinate the split bed with one king-size headboard and bedskirt to give a finished king-size look to the bed.
If a comfy sofa is just too large to be brought up a skinny staircase, consider a grouping of lightweight, small-scaled club chairs. You’ll create a lounge feel with the chairs around a cocktail table or large round ottoman and you’ll be seating as many people as if you had the traditional sofa and chair set. Plus, you’ll have more flexibility for re-arranging the furniture during holidays and parties (see the Tess Chair, above).
Forget about a sleeper sofa altogether; not only are they heavy, they are usually much deeper in size than a regular sofa (the extra depth helps contain the mattress mechanism).
Armoires and china cabinets too large? Find furnishings that disassemble or can be placed together once inside the desired room. If choosing a china cabinet, make sure it comes in the form of a credenza and hutch; each piece will be easier to move up and down stairs.
You can also purchase three or four smaller cabinets or bookshelves and line them up along a long wall for the look of one large piece of furniture (see the Stockholm Glass Cabinet, left).
Like a ‘ship in a bottle’
Here’s a list of easily-moved items that can offer big impact and still move easily up the stairs:
• Area rugs. Look for colourful, large patterned rugs to fill a room with style.
• Draperies. Make small windows look larger by hanging draperies on the dead wall space beside windows.
• Artwork. A big mirror or a piece of art helps create a focal point in a room and offers something large-scale without taking up precious floor space.
• Paint. If you’ve got a naturally dark room in your place paint it a dark colour for unexpected drama.
• Lighting. Whether you are renting or own your home, new lighting is a great way to make a place feel sexy at night. A single spotlight on a piece of art or a dramatically painted wall washed with light will help create a special mood in your new place.
By: Karl Lohnes