A bit about the Annapolis River

The Annapolis River means a lot to me. Having grown up on a property bordering this beautiful river, I spent my entire life canoeing, tubing and fishing it so I know why it is special to so many. It is the true heart of the Annapolis Valley and it’s little wonder why so many are passionately striving to protect it. If you live in the Valley, or are planning a move here, I’d like to offer a few links that will offer you new insight into one of Nova Scotia’s most inspiring waterways:

Annapolis River (Wikipedia)
Clean Annapolis River Project
Rivers of Canada – Annapolis River (CCGE)
Various Annapolis River News (The Spectator)
Annapolis Valley LiDAR-DEM (AGRG/COGS)
Annapolis River Watershed Boundary Map (Joe Fraser, COGS, 2009)
Various Annapolis River Images (Google Image Search)

Understanding Easements & Right-of-Ways

Easements (the most common being a right-of-way) is an existing agreement that gives one party (e.g. an adjacent land owner) the right to use another’s property to her benefit.  A good example of this would be a right-of-way in the form of a driveway or path across a neighbour’s lawn to provide access to a locked parcel of land or waterway. These agreements usually come about by way of neighbourly agreements, with or without financial compensation, or by government intervention (for example, if the provincial power corporation needed to install a line through a rural woodlot). Easements and right-of-ways are automatically transferred from one owner to the next and exist in perpetuity unless released by the dominant party (i.e., the party who is granted access). Now that we have an understanding of how easements work, let’s consider an example of one and how it might affect the value of property.

Let’s say you are considering the purchase of a nice parcel of land in rural Nova Scotia that you consider to be perfect for building your dream home. Everything checks out: the view is perfect, the lot is private, you can obtain all necessary permits, and the price is great! But upon closer inspection, your REALTOR® examines the deed and reveals a right-of-way running across the lot to an adjacent land-locked parcel of land. This right-of-way, currently across a narrow gravel path, is wide enough to construct a private road to municipal standards, and the owner of this land happens to be a subdivision developer in the area. Looking ahead to the future, it is foreseeable that this right-of-way could be used to the developer’s advantage: he maintains the legal right to install a proper road and potentially subdivide his parcel into building lots. Suddenly your peaceful retreat is a high-traffic subdivision; is this reflected in the asking price of the property? I’ll admit this is an extreme example, but worth considering. My point? Consult with a local expert who knows the area and how to interpret every aspect that might affect the value of a property. After all, if the asking price is too good to be true, it probably is!

A real estate geek, and proud of it!

I’d like to take a moment to highlight my experience and expertise with real estate-related technology and the advantages of working with a tech-savvy REALTOR®. I feel like I might be giving away some really useful info to my competitors here, but then again, you can’t imitate experience!

Speaking of experience, I spent about 15 years in the Information Technology industry, which provides me with an excellent understanding of Internet marketing and presence management. I obtained a Bachelor of Business Administration degree (with a focus in marketing) from Acadia University. During this time I ran several successful Internet-based businesses with my peers.

I am a keen follower (and developer) of new industry-specific marketing techniques, both physical and virtual. I employ these techniques to improve the visibility of my listings online; for example, through the use of dedicated domains, search engine optimization, analytics tracking, google ad-word campaigns, gis/mapping, CRM buyer management, etc. I am currently in the process of overseeing the development of a new website for RE/MAX Banner Real Estate which will employ cutting-edge full-MLS search filtering and categorization techniques. This will make searching for property in the Annapolis Valley amazingly easy and intuitive.

When evaluating the market value of a property (to help determine a list price), I employ a complex and proprietary database + spreadsheet system that I developed with the assistance of a certified home appraiser. My approach to property valuation goes beyond simple A, B & C comparison of similar, recently-sold properties.

A few other tidbits:

  • I fully digitize all pertinent (non-sensitive) records for fast recall any place, any time (even while on the road).
  • Generally speaking, I almost always reply to emails & text messages immediately (unless I am in an appointment or driving), day and night, 7 days a week.
  • I’m a photoshop whiz and amateur photographer. My listing photographs often include panoramic shots and vibrant colours; after all, first impressions are everything!
  • I’m an avid graphic artist & web developer, I design all of my print & web advertising in-house, by myself. The perfectionist in me wouldn’t have it any other way!
  • I maintain a free, online chat service designed to help buyers and sellers with their real estate related questions, including quick, painless answers to questions about my listings.

This stuff is important, and I take these aspects of my job very seriously. I encourage you to read my November 29, 2011 article Five technology-related questions to ask every REALTOR® you interview for more insight as to why!

The process of making an offer: the cards are stacked in your favor!

If you’re a first-time buyer, or haven’t recently gone through the process of making an offer, this article is for you. In this article I hope to alleviate some of the stress and mystery surrounding the process of offering on property. All too often I find that buyers, by no fault of their own, are misinformed about the Agreement of Purchase and Sale and what it accomplishes; I’m here to set the record straight!

In the province of Nova Scotia, consumers have wonderful protections put in place by the Real Estate Trading Act of 1996. Our act is so good and so comprehensive, that other provinces and jurisdictions have copied it. Without getting into too much boring detail, you should know that it is in place primarily to protect you, the consumer (in part through the regulation of me, the REALTOR®!)

Let’s cut to the chase. One of the results of the Real Estate Trading Act was better, standardized forms, such as the Agreement of Purchase and Sale. This form outlines to the seller the price that you (the buyer) are willing to pay ONLY in the event that a certain terms and conditions are met, to your satisfaction, by a certain date. It is by no means a commitment to purchase until these conditions have been met to your satisfaction.

I won’t cover every single condition in this article (besides, every situation is different), but I will hit on some of the major considerations that most buyers will come across. Please note that this is not to be taken as advice for any particular situation, these determinations must be made on a case-by-case basis. That said, here are a few examples of what protections you can put in place to ensure what you’re buying is to your liking:

  • Financing – your offer is subject to your ability to obtain adequate/acceptable financing, at a specified interest rate.
  • Home Inspection – you are entitled to conduct a professional or informal inspection of the property to ensure it meets your standards.
  • Water & Septic Tests – you may wish (or be required by your financer) to inspect/test water and sewage systems on the property.
  • Lawyer’s Approval – the offer is subject to the approval of your legal counsel; this could, for example, include verification that there are no liens or other encumbrances on the property.
  • Permits – especially important for vacant land purchases, your offer is subject to verification that building, septic, driveway and/or other permits are obtainable.
  • Insurance – most offers should be subject to ensuring that suitable property insurance is obtainable on or before the closing date.

As you can see from this partial list of conditions, a lot of things can affect your willingness (and/or ability) to purchase a property. That said, I’d like to re-iteriate that even though you are offering a certain price for the property, and may come to an agreement on this after some negotiation with the seller, you are not committing yourself to the sale until these conditions have been met. I generally recommend that buyers set one date for all conditions, usually 7-14 days after the offer is accepted, to accomplish these tasks. Should anything fail within this time (for example, the building inspection reveals asbestos and you need to back out based on this), the offer can be legally nullified and any deposit returned.

To summarize and re-enforce, the  Agreement of Purchase and Sale is in place to protect you and your interests, and to a lesser degree, those of the seller. It allows you to work out a purchase price with the seller, but perhaps more importantly, ensures that no-one else can step in and purchase the property from under you. This is especially important if you are bidding on a foreclosure or other high-demand property. If you’re in this sort of situation, get your bid accepted early to protect yourself from other buyers.

Happy bidding!


Tax credits for Canadian home buyers

If you are a first time home buyer or builder, be sure to talk to your accountant about the first-time home buyers tax credit and other incentives, including the ability to withdraw from your RRSP for a downpayment. For more information on this, talk to your accountant or read information direct from the Canada Revenue Agency.

To summarize, here is an excerpt from a recent Tax Guide published in 2012 by several Members of Parliament across the province:

The fees associated with purchasing a first home can really add up. To help Canadians with these costs, [our Government] introduced the First-Time Home Buyers’ Tax Credit. The credit allows Canadians to save up to $750 on qualifying homes purchased after January 27, 2009. The First-Time Home Buyers’ Tax Credit is also available to existing homeowners who are eligible for the Disability Tax Credit (DTC) who purchase a more accessible or functional home, or for the benefit of a DTC-eligible person who is related to the individual purchasing the home.

For many first-time home buyers or builders, saving for a down payment can be the most challenging part. To help Canadians saving for their first big purchase, [our Government] raised the amount Canadians can withdraw from their Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSP) for a down payment on their first home. Through Canada’s Economic Action Plan, [our Government] increased the maximum Canadians can withdraw from their RRSPs for a home purchase to $25,000. Through these important actions, [our Government] is helping Canadians realize their dream of buying a new home.

Five technology-related questions to ask every REALTOR® you interview

Chances are if you’re reading this blog, you know a thing or two about the Internet and understand the role it plays in today’s marketplace. Selling a home is much different today than it was even 2 years ago; sellers have more choice of services in the form of DIY tools, they are more informed about the marketplace, and new gadgets, communication mediums and technologies have arisen. Some REALTORS® have been adapting to (and surpassing the limitations of) these changes, other’s haven’t. Agents should have exceptional answers to all of the following questions. If they don’t, ask yourself “is this agent and/or brokerage going to provide me with the best possible service and market my property to the widest possible audience?”

1. How will you market my property online?

You’ve heard this statistic before and the figure is increasing by the day: over 90% of buyers search for properties online before taking further action. How will your property stick out from the crowd? Will it be accessible to the maximum potential pool of buyers? What is the agent doing that is different from others?

2. How do you stay in touch with me and other agents?

Is the agent carrying a laptop, tablet and/or smart phone to every appointment? Will he have the time and resources to respond to your and other agent’s requests while on the road? Realtors spend a lot of time in their cars – their mobile office and ability to access information anywhere, anytime is crucial!

3. How do you transmit agreements and other written correspondence?

Unless it is out of absolute necessity, “via fax” is the wrong answer here. It may seem like a small consideration, but deals can get snagged up over something as simple as illegibility or missing pages. Also keep in mind that your lawyer probably charges by the hour; don’t let her spend extra time scrutinizing an agreement due to the fact she needs a magnifying glass to read it. It’s nearly 2012 folks; by now all agents should be transmitting documents via PDF files over secure FTP or encrypted email systems. Furthermore, at the end of the deal, wouldn’t it be nice to have a searchable electronic copy of all documents (as opposed to a messy file folder with wrinkled/missing pages?)

4. What special tools do you use that will help me as a buyer or seller?

Every agent claims to have a trick up their sleeve – a unique method or tool that no one else has access to. This is fine, but does this really add value, and is it something you could get access to yourself on the internet? Ask your agent if he uses proprietary technology such as GIS (mapping & measurement), CMA (market knowledge & analysis), cloud computing (information sharing & distribution), mobile targeting (text and QR codes), eCRM (automatic updates to her pool of buyers), and more. You might not know what half of those things are, but your agent darn well should.

5. I understand that technology is a big part of your business, and that’s great, but do you employ traditional methods as well?

 My grandfather, a very wise man, always likes to remind me that “face to face wins the race, phone and mail take second place.” Despite my urging that you choose an agent who has entered the 21st century with confidence, you should also look for someone who is personable, punctual and a competent negotiator. A fistful of gadgets are worth nothing if your agent doesn’t have the professional and people skills to back himself up. That said, here is my litmus test suggestion. Initiate correspondence via email, and if the reply is quick and friendly, pick up the phone to see what he’s like on the line (his number is in his email signature line, right?). If he passes this second test, move onto the third – a face to face interview. You’ll know soon enough if this is the sort of agent who likes hiding behind a computer screen instead of going out and publicizing your property to real people in real environments!

– Colin

Selling your Neighbour’s House

I’d like to discuss what is arguably the most important thing to consider when selling a home. Any guesses? Although things like staging, timing, and marketing all come to mind (and certainly should not be discounted), what I’m talking about is price. Sometimes just a few thousand dollars can mean the difference between selling quickly and not selling at all!

Your objective should almost always be to achieve the best price, in the shortest time, with the most favorable terms and conditions. You can achieve this by pricing at almost precisely what potential buyers would be willing to pay for your home – easier said than done. Pricing a property is somewhat of a science, including complex calculations that involve figures associated with recent sale prices of comparable homes, supply and demand, socio-political influences, timing, and unique monetary aspects of the structure or land. Taking all of this into consideration can be overwhelming, but worth the effort. It’s no surprise that people such as appraisers, lenders and Realtors alike base their careers on various aspects of this process.

That said, after going through this effort, let’s say we know your home is genuinely worth about $140,000, give or take $5,000. It is tempting to list at a higher price, say $169,000, to see if maybe, just maybe, someone out there will fall in love with the home instantly (and won’t care about the price). This is a practice I like to call “fishing” – yes, it works sometimes, but rarely. I don’t have to tell you that buyers in today’s economy will not pay more for something than they have to. If your neighbor around the corner is selling a home that has compatible features and priced properly, he is much more likely to receive offers. By pricing higher than what’s fair, you have in fact made his property look like a better deal. Now I’m a neighborly guy and all, but I wouldn’t do a favor that big for my buddy next door (sorry Josh!). In addition, consider this caveat: buyers may refuse to even consider your property because it is out of their financial reach. Not a good situation, especially if you need to sell quickly.

My recommendation should be obvious by this point. Price your property at what it’s truly worth. Buyers will take you seriously and won’t feel like they’re getting ripped off, which will make for a more amicable and stress-free negotiation process. I guess that’s the Golden Rule at work, right? 🙂

– Colin