Incredible Shrinking Spaces

As I browse, the sale of smaller living spaces is pretty apparent. This has been the trend for quite a few years and is expected to continue as urban areas grow denser. According to the National Association of Home Builders in the U.S., the average completed home in 2010 was 2,377 sq ft, down 3% from 2009. This is coupled with the decrease in household sizes. A study done by the Canadian Home Builders Association shows that household sizes have fallen from 3.6 to 2.5 persons between 1971 and 2006. Household sizes are expected to trend down as more baby boomers head towards retirement, which will lead to more developments catering to empty nesters and retirees.

Though homes are getting smaller, the use of space is becoming much more useful. Many homeowners are now more willing to forego space for functionality. There is less focus on separate rooms for a specific purpose. Living rooms will blend into the family room and the dining room is being replaced by a multi-functional eat-in kitchen and entertaining space. Master bedroom suites may double as a home office as well.

Living in a smaller place can really reduce your cleaning and maintenance, making it more affordable. You may also be using less energy, leaving less of a carbon footprint. Make your “cozy” home work for you.

Floor Plan: The layout of your place will determine the usefulness of the space and how you can arrange your furniture. Make sure you buy a place with a floor plan that works for you. I have friends who love entranceways and some who love walking into an open space instead. If you’re buying a new development, conceptual photos and floor plans can be deceiving and make a room look much larger than they actually are in reality. It might not hurt to view similar listings with the same layout to really get an idea of what you are getting.

As builders create more multi-functional spaces, it’ll be important to figure out what you want each space to do. Will you be dining in your kitchen or is there space for your home office in the master bedroom?

Furniture: Furniture is key to making a space look roomy or cramped. An oversized couch could cut the space in half or an old armour will look overbearing in the corner or a room. Look for pieces that are versatile and can play various roles in your living space. For example, some ottomans can help you store pillows or throws, while acting as an extra seat or side table.

An option is to have pieces customized to fit the nooks you have. This way, you know that it will fit perfectly and maximize the space you have.

Storage: Living in a small space means being creative with how you store your things. Exploit wall space to maximize storage. Consider hanging your pots and pans on the wall or even your most used kitchen utensils – just make sure you find hanging accessories that are strong enough to secure your items. You can also add shelving on your walls for books and items.

Also, spaces above or below your furniture will become extra storage. If you look at any home accessory store, you’ll find a plethora of storage items for under the bed or for hanging on a door.

It is possible to create your own dream home in the city. Let your creative side come out as you decide if a smaller space is right for you and your family.

Don’t Renew Your Mortgage with Your Eyes Closed

When your mortgage comes up for renewal, your lender will send you a letter suggesting you renew at their current offer. If you do, you’ll be renewing your mortgage with your eyes closed!

This is your moment of opportunity to negotiate the best possible deal, either with your current lender or with a new one. Do you know if the same lender remains your best choice? If you don’t, you aren’t alone.

At the end of 2011, Manulife Bank of Canada released the results of their latest consumer debt survey.  They found that two-thirds of homeowners (65 per cent) did not compare products from several different lenders to make sure they were getting the best deal the last time their mortgage came up for renewal. Twenty per cent stayed with their current lender and did not negotiate, while 45 per cent stayed and negotiated but did not shop the market.  Interestingly, the youngest age group surveyed (30-39) were the most likely to shop around (41 per cent) but also the most likely to stay with their current lender and not negotiate (24 per cent). This age group is in the most hectic period of balancing work and children, which often causes things to be left to the last minute and it’s easier to follow the path of least resistance.

You could save a considerable amount of money if you renew at a lower rate.  A half percent difference on a $225,000 mortgage with a 20 year amortization can mean over $5,200 in interest savings over five years.  Wouldn’t it be better to put that amount towards reducing your mortgage principal?

You also need to consider that your mortgage needs may have changed.  This may be a good time to roll your high-interest credit cards and other debt into your mortgage to get one lower payment, boost your cash flow and save on interest costs. Or you may want to take some equity out for renovations, a second property or for investing.

Keep in mind that there are some administrative details and costs when switching your mortgage to another lender, but don’t let this discourage you from finding out more. It doesn’t cost you anything to investigate your options or get a second opinion. When you switch your mortgage to a new lender, you will go through an approval process similar to when you took out the original mortgage. You can either assign your existing mortgage or you can apply for a new one should you want to borrow a larger amount to consolidate your high interest debt or complete some renovations.

Your lender may charge a discharge fee, and you may need to pay legal and appraisal fees if you are getting a completely new mortgage instead of switching your existing one. At that point, you should assess if the money you will save by switching to a better interest rate offsets those costs. The cost for you mortgage life insurance may also change. You won’t have to pay for your mortgage broker’s service (oac) because the lender selected pays compensation for the services and mortgage solution provided to you.

If a renewal is in your financial future, bring your renewal notice to a mortgage broker four months prior to your renewal date. There are some great options out there and they can help you look around.

Albert Pereira is with CENTURY 21 Desert Hills Realty in Kamloops, BC.

Relocating for Work

Years ago, I was finishing my degree in Vancouver with one co-op term left before graduating. There were some really good positions in Vancouver to choose from, but the one that caught my eye was a one-year term in Victoria with the Government of British Columbia. It had all the work opportunities that I was looking for, so I packed my bags and ferried over to Victoria.

Picking up and moving to a different city was challenging to say the least. Many people have done it and are doing it, but the decision is a big one. Though I was only moving a short distance, there were a lot of considerations I had to take in.

Prepping for a Move

At the time, I was still renting an apartment, so I needed to make sure I gave enough notice to my landlord. Then, I had to pack up my place, prioritize what I wanted to bring and put the rest in storage. If you own your home, you should create a checklist of what you’ll need to do to list your home. It’s a good idea to speak with a Realtor to help arrange the sale of your home. They can help get your property ready to be listed and handle many of the details to alleviate the stress. Trust me; you’ll have enough to worry about with the move already.

Check out a previous guest blog by United VanLines on how to pack for your big move.

Finding a Good Neighbourhood

I had been to Victoria on vacations, but I didn’t know the neighbourhoods well enough to know where I wanted to live. I started my search online to see the location of my new workplace and had decided that I wanted to be within walking distance. From there I looked at the municipality’s website along with other sources. Google Street View is a fantastic way to preview a neighbourhood online. Also, check out our Community Websites, which will give you some insights into different neighbourhoods in Canada.

Again, a local Realtor will be able to give you knowledgeable information about new neighbourhoods and help you find a good location based on your needs.

Financial Costs

For some, the company they work for will pay for their relocation costs. For others, like myself, the cost of moving was strictly on me. I was surprised at the cost to move to Victoria. Moving costs can be high if you have to travel large distances. Do some research on moving companies as they can vary in price. I also found that I had to buy small pieces of new furniture, and accessories like a rug and lamps. It all adds up.

Some costs associated with moving can be deducted on your tax return. Check with an accountant on what those could be and save your receipts.

Starting Fresh

I really had no support system in Victoria when I arrived. People I worked with were much older and I was starting to feel a bit lonely after a month away. Moving to a new city is exciting, but it can also take an emotional toll. I made an effort to try things on my own, like watching a movie in the theatres or eating at a restaurant. I also looked at community centre classes and hobby clubs to join.

Growing Your Network

Being involved in community groups and learning to live on my own really helped me make friends that had similar interests. Through various means, I ended up with some really good friends that I could count on. For me, moving to a new city was an amazing adventure.

Today, I’m back in Vancouver contemplating another move (locally this time). The experiences I gained in previous moves will hopefully translate to a smoother move next time.

Do you have any advice on relocating for work? Share them here in the comments.

The kitchen of the future

The future is bright for kitchen design. Even today we can turn on a faucet with a simple tap, perform a Google search from the fridge door and open a drawer from a slight touch. So what can we expect in the kitchen of the future? Just about anything you can imagine….

The new Samsung  RSG309  fridge, is an industry first. Equipped with a Wi-Fi enabled 8’’ LCD screen on the front of the appliance, you can access recipes on Epicurious, check the weather, post notes for family members and even review the family’s Google calendar, check the latest headlines or enjoy a photo slide show.   

Samsung does it again with the new Flex Oven. The Flex is the world’s first 30” freestanding electric range with an oven cavity that can be divided into two separate cooking chambers. So you can cook dinner and dessert simultaneously without compromising smells or tastes!

In the not so distant future, kitchen cabinets will be subject to high-tech upgrades. The cabinets of future kitchens will be made of glass, will change colour, even play a movie and will open from a slight touch. Smooth glass cabinets will feature LED wallpaper that can change pattern by the use of a personal computer, and because we will use glass instead of wood for cabinetry, the surfaces will be scratch resistant, ant-viral and recyclable.

Speaking of green design in the kitchen, countertops will also be made of glass.
Glass 2” countertops are already available in the United States. Glass 2 is 99% recycled glass, stain-resistant, virtually scratch-resistant, maintenance free, cold and heat resistant, has permanent coloursand unlike granite, which takes 325 million years to form, Glass 2 contains no radioactive elements.

Glass countertops will also allow for induction technology, another energy saving technology. With induction cook tops, you will be able to move your cook top anywhere on the counter top or island by the easy sweep of a hand.

Wireless electricity in the kitchen is also in the cards. Imagine a kitchen where there are no plugs and no cords to get tangled up in. Our future kitchens will have wireless electricity, thanks to transmitters hidden under the counter.

We will also have a high tech system that will help us keep tabs on our grocery needs, 

expiration dates and food usage. Now all that’s need is the trusty kitchen robot! 

Check out this video that shows what our kitchens could look like in the future