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Small gardens  

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It’s summer time in Toronto! And, whether you live in a grand estate with sprawling grounds or your patch of heaven is an upper floor condo with a small terrace, having an outdoor space can contribute plenty to your summertime enjoyment. Gussying-up what you’ve got to maximize your pleasure is easy and doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.

Plan it out

The first thing about creating a small garden is to plan your space properly. Note the position of the sun throughout the day and then layout our plan accordingly. Ideally provide adequate shade so you can sit outside without frying in the heat. Also, make sure the plants you choose are suited for the area of the garden you have planned for them. Regardless of how big your space is, you can always create a mini-oasis by figuring out the best seating and planting areas. 

Pots and plants

If your space doesn’t allow for full-out planting of flowers and bushes because you have a small patio, terrace or balcony, you can still add colour and greenery by using potted plants. Potted plants are easy and versatile. Depending on how large the container and plant is, they can also be portable. And, the best part about a potted garden, is that a number of those same plants can be brought inside to overwinter – so you can be surrounded by greenery year-round. 

Versatile furniture

Another good way to maximize the space of your small Toronto garden is to invest in good furniture. There are pieces designed specifically for small spaces that serve double duty or that can fold for easy storage. For instance, table fire pits are super convenient as they work as a table that converts into a firepit at night. Folding chairs are another great option – after using you can fold them up and hang them on a wall or tuck away into a storage shed. Bench seating that runs along a wall is another great way of saving space. It provides seating while minimizing the footprint needed. Large padded cushions placed on a low, sturdy table can also make a great seat if you’re running low on place. 

If you are unsure on how best to plan your small Toronto garden, you can always look online. There are a number of excellent resources that will help you find the perfect plan for your little paradise.

Planting a pollinator garden at your Toronto home  

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Pollinators are the bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, beetles and flies, amongst a long list of other creatures, that help to pollinate the plants responsible for our food. From the coffee and tea that start off our days to the chocolate and tequila that enrich our days, we owe 75% of the food we eat to pollinators (https://ourworldindata.org/pollinator-dependence). 

Choosing the right plants

Creating a pollinator garden might seem easy enough but choosing the right plants is actually key. The plants you choose should be native to your area. Including plants that are great pollinators but not found in your area can actually do more harm than good. Non-native species can threaten native species. Non-native plants can also negatively impact the life-span of pollinators that depend on such plants for survival by providing nourishment for only part of that pollinator’s lifecycle. 

Avoid chemicals!

The next step to creating a great pollinator garden for your Toronto home is to forego the pesticides and espouse natural fertilizers. Be sure that any plants you buy at your garden centre haven’t been grown using pesticides or water soluble chemicals. These chemicals are very harmful to pollinators and can even be lethal. The worst part? These chemicals can remain in a treated plant for up to seven years. 

What’s in a good pollinator garden

Here’s what to include in your Toronto pollinator garden to create a paradise for your local bees and butterflies.

  • Make sure you have a diverse offering of native plants that produce pollen and nectar for adult pollinators.
  • Include plants that can support butterfly and moth larvae.
  • Have a readily available water supply and create nooks for nesting.

Best pollinator plants for Toronto

The Toronto Botanical Garden blog has put together a list (https://torontobotanicalgarden.ca/blog/plants-for-pollinators/)of native plants that will attract pollinators to your garden. Included are favorites such as Beebalm, Dogwood and Godenrod. 

If you have never created a garden before, it is best to consult with your local nursery to get the best advice on what works in your area. Doing our part to help keep our pollinators healthy will also give you a beautiful garden.

Toronto real estate cooling

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Toronto real estate has been a tear for two decades now. House prices have increased exponentially in that time and seller’s have reaped the benefits of those prices while buyer’s have had to hustle to find housing they could afford and that they liked. However, since the recent interest rate hikes introduced in April 2021, the Toronto housing market has cooled dramatically. 

Year-over-year sales down

Housing sales year-over-year were down a whopping 41.2% in April in the GTA and month-to-month they were down 27% – those are big percentages from a market that continued full-steam-ahead even during the pandemic. According to Douglas Porter of the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), this drop “suddenly getting into buyers’ market terrain.

Good news for buyers

While supply is still tight, this drop in sales means that buyers will have more time to consider their options and won’t be faced with the kind of bidding wars that saw homes selling for thousands over their asking price. 

Buyer’s remorse

What the drop in the market has meant is that greater numbers of buyers are now feeling remorse and looking for ways to get out of their purchase offer. Toronto real estate lawyers have seen an increase in the number of clients looking to either get out of a deal or to keep someone in a deal. With a drop in the market those who bought property on spec are worried that their investment will instead turn into a burden. 

Lower prices

Porter added that “decades of history show that the sales-to-new-listings ratio is an excellent leading indicator for average transaction prices,” which essentially means that lower prices are around the corner. Although no one expects the free fall of what happened in the US in 2008, a correction is definitely possible.

Successful container gardening: the right pot

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As a Toronto homeowner, if you really want the fun and flavor of growing your own vegetables but are limited on space, then container gardening is the way to go. Containers are easy and versatile. The best part? When it is time to close up the garden, all you need to do is empty out the soil, clean the container and put it away. 

To maximize the output of your container garden, it is necessary to have the right pot for the right plants. Containers come in different materials, sizes and shapes. Choosing the right sort for your project will determine the degree of its success. 

Ceramic pots

Ceramic pots are porous so they allow excellent movement of air around the roots of the plant. More air movement means healthier, hardier roots and more robust vegetable yields. However, ceramic pots also wick moisture out of the soil, so you have to water more frequently or only use them with plants that can handle drier soil. If you tend to be lax when it comes to watering, then it’s best to choose a different kind of pot. Ceramic pots are also rather heavy and when soil, water and a plant are added, become heavier still, making them harder to move around. 

Plastic pots

Plastic pots are usually inexpensive, light-weight and last a long time – unless kept outside in the elements. Plastic pots exposed to extreme cold and extreme heat will crack quicker over time.  Plastic pots tend to keep moisture in so people who have trouble with a watering schedule will do well with these pots – as will their plants that love moisture! Plastic is also easy to maintain and comes in many different colours to suit your design needs. The best part? Even large pots are not heavy making them easier to move when filled. 

Fabric pots

Some of the newest pots on the market marry the best features of the ceramic and plastic pots. Fabric planters are lightweight, easy-to-maintain and allow for terrific aeration of plant roots, which lead to healthier plants and better produce. Fabric pots also tend to last longer than plastic pots that are left outside – although fabric pots will lose their shape in time. Fabric pots have been growing in popularity in recent years due to their versatility, low cost and plant-friendliness. 

Once you have the right container for your Toronto garden, it is time to fill it with just the right mix of earth, mulch and plant food to give your plants the optimum boost needed to be healthy and to produce delicious veggies throughout the growing season.

Getting your garden ready

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Despite the recent late-winter storm, Toronto gardeners should be getting ready to don their galoshes and gloves to head out into their gardens to begin the yearly planting prep. Whether you prefer flowers to vegetables, getting your beds ready for planting is a crucial step that cannot be overlooked if you want a successful season. Below is a list of things to do to get the most out of your garden.

Clean up

As simple as this sounds, the first step to any good gardening experience is to clean up the debris left behind from the previous year so you can properly take stock of what needs to be done. This step includes pruning your hedges and bushes into the proper shapes, cutting back low hanging branches on trees and raking up leaves, pine cones, dried grasses, etc… 

Assessment

Next up is assessing your garden and what needs to be done. Are the perennials growing in the right place? Do some need to be transplanted elsewhere? Are some overgrown and need to be removed? Do you need to start another bed? Do you want to raise your vegetable bed? These are all questions that need to be answered before you can proceed with any plans. Taking careful stock of what you have in your garden and whether it is still working will help you to better plan what you plant and where you plant it. 

Soil prep

Over winter soil gets compacted. Before planting, turn the soil in your garden to loosen it. Now is also a good time to add whatever compounds your soil might be missing – whether it is fertilizer, calcium, mulch or just more earth. Preparing your soil will guarantee a successful and growing season. 

Check and clean your tools

Every good gardener will take care to clean and care for their tools properly. Dirty tools can spread any bacteria or fungus from the prior year to this year’s garden. Furthermore, any contaminant it might have picked up over the winter could still be attached to it, so giving them a good cleaning is the right way to start off any new season. 

Plan your plants!

Yes, you might already have plants growing in your garden, but unless you actively plan your garden every year, your perennials will take over. Unplanned gardens can definitely look great – as long as all of the plants are growing in the right place. If you have smaller plants at the back and taller plants in the front, the effect that could have been created will be lost. Instead, make sure that your plant sizes are appropriate next to each other and that smaller varietals are near the front of your beds. If you are unsure of how to go about planning your garden, there are several interesting websites that can guide you through this process. 

Planting

To plant successfully you must wait until the weather will no longer dip below freezing. Seedlings are delicate and need consistently mild weather to thrive. Don’t make the mistake of planting too early. Usually the rule-of-thumb for Toronto gardeners is to plant on Victoria Day weekend. The long weekend usually signals the start of the growing season – anything earlier and you run the risk of a late season frost that could harm your plants.

Tile trends

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There is no shortage of ideas and styles when it comes to flooring. Today’s tile market holds a wide variety of shapes, colours, sizes and textures to suit any design vision. Toronto’s most luxuriously appointed homes have seen tile sizes increase steadily over the years. Gone are the days of the tiny tile – today’s most expensive residence are now opting for oversized tiles ranging in size from 24”x24” and going all the way up to 48”x48” – with many variation in between. 

Designs

Despite tile options getting larger, the variety of tile shapes and sizes is truly impressive – and the designers are using tiles in new, innovative ways. Instead of the traditional placement of subway tile, today’s trend sees these ubiquitous tiles being stacked instead. Designers are also opting for surprising uses of tile – from colour blocking certain areas with bold choices to using tiles on counters, sinks and more. 

Oversized tiles

Oversized tiles are especially in right now as they create a luxurious, nearly seamless look in whatever space they are placed. Even small bathrooms benefit from oversized tiles as fewer joints means walls and floors looking like one, continuous area. Larger tiles are also a terrific wallpaper replacement as they create the same kind of aesthetic but requirement little maintenance. 

Tile colours

The most popular tile colours remain in the shades of grey, although it is opening up and greens and blues are also quite trendy. However, one of the hottest tiles are currently those that resemble hardwood floors. These superb tiles have the look and texture of hand-scraped hardwood but have the durability and low-maintenance of tile. They are great for high humidity areas such as kitchens and bathrooms and can be matched with any actual hardwood found in the rest of the home. 

Tile shape

Tiles are no longer just square or rectangle. Geometric shapes are being used in greater frequency and with very good effect. They can add visual interest in an otherwise dull area, give a room a focal point or even impart a homeowner’s unique personality into a setting. Geometric shaped tiles can be a fun way to spice up any area of your home. 

Tiles can be used for more than just flooring. Walls, ceiling, counters, tables and more can benefit from being given the tile treatment.

Variable vs Fixed Rate Mortgages

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The Bank of Canada recently hiked the key interest rate to .50% for the first time in four years. Naturally, Toronto homeowners will probably be wondering whether it is time to lock-on their variable rate mortgages. Let us take a look at whether a variable rate mortgage is still the better option given the current socio-economic climate. 

Stress test

One of the key factors on whether you should choose a variable rate mortgage over a fixed rate mortgage in 2022 is just how well you can handle fluctuation in the market. Variable rates have statistically been shown to be more advantageous in the long run for homeowners. Even during years of high rates, over the course of a mortgage, the variable rate homeowner comes out ahead. However, that homeowner must be able to stomach the changing payments that come with a variable rate. 

Making a variable rate easier

One way to determine the feasibility of a variable vs fixed rate mortgage is to find out whether you can pay the fixed rate if you need to lock it in. For instance, if your monthly mortgage payment on a variable rate is $1,100/month and the fixed rate mortgage payment would be $1,300/month, if you are able to afford that extra $200 payment, then a variable rate would work for you. To make it even simpler – you could even increase your monthly payment by $200, with the extra money going towards the principal. By doing this, you would already be paying what a fixed rate mortgage would be and you would be putting down extra money towards your mortgage. 

An argument for a fixed rate

If you are not comfortable with a varying payment amount every month and you plan to stay in your home long term, then a fixed rate mortgage is probably the best route for you. Although you will be paying a higher rate of interest and less of your money will be put towards your principal every month, your payment will remain consistent for the life of your mortgage term. You won’t have to worry about changing payments and locking in your rate when interests rates rise. 

Breaking your mortgage

To break a fixed rate mortgage, you will usually be required to pay either three months of interest or the interest rate differential (whichever is higher). To break a variable rate mortgage the penalty is usually three months interest on the balance of your mortgage. 

If your mortgage is up for renewal this year, then it might be the right time to start looking for a new mortgage. Interesting rates have started to rise, with more raises being forecast. Therefore, if you are able to lock in to switch your mortgage to a new one now, you will certainly have a better rate then if you wait until summer or fall.

Downsizing is also rightsizing

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The word downsizing can cause some people to struggle with the notion. However, change the word to rightsizing and it makes a lot more sense. While the concept is the same – moving into a home with a smaller footprint, the thought and reasoning behind the move will help those who are wrestling with the decision to see the benefits of making a move. 

Timing

One of the key strategies of rightsizing is timing it properly. There is no point in moving into a smaller space if you still enjoy hosting big parties, keeping a garden or maintaining your home. The best time to move to a smaller place is when everything that goes along with a home no longer appeals to you. If you are getting tired of shoveling snow in the winter, cutting grass in the summer, cleaning out gutters or, if you simply want the freedom to get up and leave without worry, then you might be ready for a smaller space. 

Be realistic

If you have lived in a house with a large square footage, be realistic about how much space you can comfortably move into without feeling claustrophobic. Charles and Maria lived in a 4000 square foot house and decided to right size after their son left home and their daughter entered college. They initially bought a 1100 square foot condo. After a year of living there and having to work from home due to Covid, they realized that it just wasn’t big enough for their needs. They moved this summer to an 1800 square foot condo with enough space for both of them to work from home comfortably. “We can now breathe and aren’t always in each other’s hair!” says Maria, who also confessed to believing that they had made a huge mistake after moving into the first condo. However, with enough space, Maria now sees the advantage of condo life and wouldn’t go back to a home with all of its maintenance. 

Proper furniture

Another way to guarantee comfort when you rightsize is to properly assess your existing furniture. Is it too big? Too much? Not the right style? Simply taking the furniture from a home and moving it into a condo might seem like a good, economical way of doing things, but it can backfire. In most cases, the furniture we have in our homes will be too big for a smaller condo. Measure everything and use masking tape to approximate what it will look/feel like in the condo. You will then have a decent idea of whether the items you already have can be taken with you. If it is too big, then you can always sell it and buy furniture that will be more suitable to your new space. 

Location

If you are thinking of rightsizing, be sure to choose your location properly. To make up for the lack of space indoors, many people opt for either a complex with facilities such as party rooms, gyms or swimming pools or a location close to amenities such as parks, nature trails or even downtown where there is usually plenty to do and places to go. 

Rightsizing is a personal decision that can make sense if you are ready for it and if you are looking for a simpler, less encumbered lifestyle.  

 

  

 

     

Winter safety tips for homeowners

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Toronto homeowners have hunkered down to plow through the dog days of winter. Keeping your home safe is naturally upper most in people’s minds. Not only is it important to winterize your home, but it is also important to protect air quality and to be prepared for any possibility – including the loss of power. Here are a few ways to make sure you make it through winter easily and comfortably. 

Winter tools

Having the right tools can help you get through the winter quite well. Here is a list of the most commonly needed to battle Canadian winters:

  • A good shovel
  • A telescoping roof rake/shovel
  • A heavy duty broom
  • Some kind of ice melt – salt, sand or gravel

Energy Backup

Having a good sized backup generator that you can rely on should the power fail is very important. It could mean the difference between freezing in your home and being comfortable while waiting for the power to come back on. There are two types of generator – portable and standby. Both options are very convenient, but cost and features will determine the best fit for you. 

Prep

One of the best ways to keep your home safe in the winter is to prepare for the cold months in advance. If you know that your water pipes are exposed to outer walls and tend to freeze, then covering them with insulation is a very good idea. Cleaning out your gutters and storm drains is another important step to take – clean gutters and drains will ensure no water remains to freeze and cause damage to your home. Another good thing to do is to seal your windows and doors to prevent air leaks from happening. 

Personal safety

Lastly, getting a good pair of crampons for your boots is a wise idea. Not only will they give you confidence if you have to go out after an ice or snow storm, but they will provide security while shoveling your driveway/walkway or if you have to do any kind of maintenance around your home. 

Keeping your home safe in the winter is not hard. So, long as you follow the few steps outlined above, your home will be a safe and secure place all year-round.

Rising interest rates 

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Toronto real estate gains have been driven largely by very low interest rates. While rates remained low, consumers felt comfortable borrowing more money to cover the rapidly rising costs of owning a home. With the economy in flux due to Covid and its impact on every aspect of the economy, the Bank of Canada (BOC) has kept interest rates low. Now, with inflation setting in, there is reason to expect rates to rise. In fact, strong voices such as Dave McKay, CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada are calling for rate increases this spring to mitigate the effects of inflation

The effects of rising interest rates

While rising interest rates in Toronto can be a good thing – think better interest in savings accounts, it will make borrowing more expensive and affect how much house someone can afford. Rate increases will not immediately affect homeowners. Those who are locked into fixed rate mortgages will feel no difference until it is time to renew. At renewal, theoretically, their mortgage payment increase due to a higher interest rate will be offset by a smaller principal amount left to pay down. 

Variable rate mortgages

Those with a variable rate mortgage, might consider locking it in unless they have a lot of flexibility financially. However, if you are already just making ends meet then locking in a lower interest rate is probably a good idea. Before making any financial moves, it is best to consult with your financial advisor or lender to understand your options and decided what is best for you. 

Preparing for a rate hike

To prepare for eventual interest rate hikes it is best to pay down any loans as quickly as possible. If you have several loans, concentrate on paying down the highest rate loan first. You can also find out whether consolidating your loans makes sense for your situation. And, if you were planning on buying a home in 2022, then get a preapproved mortgage rate that will allow you to lock in the current very low rates.