My Oakville Beaver Articles

‘Hood' or House?

Written by Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver, March 2016

In the years that I have been selling real estate, I would say that the majority of buyers have been “house people”, rather than “’hood people”. By that I mean that the primary focus for most people is the house itself, rather than the ‘hood that it’s in. That’s not to say it is the sole focus – most people have an approximate area they want to live in, but within that broad area, they are more interested in the specifics of the house than the nuances of different locations. 

This is generally driven by functional attributes. Most people have an idea that they want certain features in a home, based on what they believe their family needs are. These could be a certain number of bedrooms, a main floor family room, a finished basement, an en-suite, a pool…any number of things. They tend to be willing to trade off in a limited way within these parameters, but for the most part, they want to have their functional desires met in the home they buy.

‘Hood people are a different breed. Often their biggest desire is to purchase in a very particular location. There may also be lots of functional attributes they would like to have, but these take a back seat to where the home is. In a sense, these buyers “live” on the outside more than the inside – things like streetscape, the surrounding environment and convenience trump the size of the family room!

While house has been dominant for a long time, I am noticing an increasing shift toward ‘hood. This is particularly evident at open houses, where a surprising number of people these days are looking way beyond their current location in hopes of shifting their lifestyle. Some buyers with larger homes in subdivisions are looking at smaller homes in locations with higher convenience and walkability. Others are looking to trade off home features for locations closer to schools they feel are a better option for their children. Lots more buyers these days are focused on proximity to transit, as commutes become longer and more frustrating.

Don’t get me wrong, even with the increase in buyers who are starting the think ‘hood, old habits die hard, and often the features of a house still rule despite many buyers’ increasing focus on ‘hood. So things have not changed yet in a dramatic way. But the beginning of big changes is often evident only in small ways, and I think it’s fair to say that a quiet drumbeat toward new purchasing habits in favour of ‘hood may be starting.

If you’re like most people these days, you spend a fair amount of time thinking about real estate. You are probably pretty familiar with realtor.ca. You probably have the app! Give some thought to what kinds of searches you are doing. Can you detect a change in your interests? Maybe you are shifting a bit toward ‘hood in the never-ending tradeoffs involved in real estate purchases. It’s worth thinking about your priorities and how they might be developing as time goes on. Talk to your real estate agent about it. You may find that this little discussion about ‘hood versus house will help focus your thinking about future real estate moves!

Please call me at any time to discuss your real estate needs at 647-405-8057.

 

Don’t Overthink It

Written by Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver, February 2016

One of the questions I get most frequently from clients is “when is the best time to put my house on the market?” Armed with all my super-secret market data and deep analysis, I’d like to be able to give a sharp, definitive answer. But alas, that would not be serving my clients well…

Seasonality of real estate sales is not actually as skewed as you might think. You might imagine that spring is when “all the sales occur” and sales in winter are close to non-existent. But the differences are really only a matter of degree – the market is not ON in some periods and OFF in others.

In 2015, percentage sales in all of Oakville by quarter were – 20% in the “winter” (January-March), 36% in the “spring” (April-June), 24% in the “summer” (July-September), and 18% in the “fall” (October-December).

The highest months were May and June at 12% each, or 24% combined. This is a lot, but it still means that 76% of sales occurred in the other months. January and December were the lowest at 5% and 4%, respectively.

A more interesting question might be: when are the shifts in momentum, when the market turns up or down markedly? March and September have the biggest positive shifts, when sales turn up fairly abruptly from the previous months, and July and October have the biggest negative shifts. So if you want to hop on a positive momentum wave, list in March or September and avoid July and October.

But even this is only of limited value. You really need to look beneath basic seasonality to see what makes the most sense for you. If most homes in your neighbourhood list in spring, maybe fall would be a better time - less competition might help you stand out to a serious buyer that is being transferred to town and really needs to buy a home at that time. Or maybe your home has fabulous landscaping that is a key selling feature. The big March shift in market momentum won’t help, because the gardens are still dormant. You might have the best chance of selling for maximum dollar in summer or early fall. Perhaps your home is surrounded by large trees and has better natural light in the winter. This could be an argument to list at a counter-seasonal time.

In my experience, you don’t need to overthink it. Seasonality alone is not so critical that it should dramatically shift your plans. The ideal time is most likely the time that best suits your own plans. Whatever that time is, work with an experienced agent who can really add value by presenting your home to the market in the best light through shrewd staging moves, proper pricing and good marketing. Make sure they have the skills and take the time to really get things right before you list. There are always buyers in the market, and careful management of your listing will ensure you attract the right one!

Please call me at any time to discuss your real estate needs at 647-405-8057.

 

It’s An Inside Job

Written by Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver, February 2016

The Internet is a wonderful thing. Information on almost any subject at our fingertips. The ability to purchase goods and have them show up days later at our door. Skyping your long-lost aunt in Timbuktu. In the case of real estate, you can scout out new homes not just down the street, but anywhere in the world. Just like you’re actually there!

But there’s a catch. With the richness of the web experience in looking for homes – lots of pictures, Google street view, and YouTube videos for many listings, it’s easy to miss the most important factor that drives real estate purchases. 

Just as the promise of the potential new mate on dating sites often doesn’t match the reality when the two individuals meet, looking for homes online can only take you so far. It might get you in the ballpark, but it won’t help you discern which home is right for you.

Why is this? Because the thing that drives real estate purchases at the end of the day is emotion, not function. Does the home feel like the kind of place you want to retreat to at the end of a long day? Can you see your family calling it HOME? Does it speak to you at an inner level?

Have you ever noticed that most people look at lots and lots of homes before they find the “right” one? I have found that most people take longer to look at a home they DON’T end up buying than the one the DO end up buying. They will have lots of comments on the features, updates, size of closets in the homes they ultimately reject – almost as if they are trying to logic themselves to a decision. Then they walk into a home that hits the right emotional buttons and they know almost immediately this is THE ONE – even if it has some functional quirks that are not entirely appealing to them.

So as powerful a tool as the internet can be, it is really only a funnel to help you trim down prospects that might be right for you. Actually finding the right home for you is an inside job. You won’t really know it until you walk through the door and FEEL it! It’s also true that listings online can be misleading… good listing presentations use flattering photography and language that may not quite match the reality… “This room looked so much bigger in the pictures!!”.

Of course, as much as we all love the Internet, the real truth is that your agent should be acting as your funnel. The more time you spend together and the better they get to know you, the greater their ability to sort through the noise in the market to zero in on the property that just might feel like HOME when you walk through that door for the first time!

Please call me at any time to discuss your real estate needs at 647-405-8057.

 

Stomping Ground

Written by Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver, December 2015

Oakville continues to gain favour with Toronto buyers, due to our lakeside location, great schools and reputation as a wonderful place to raise a family. Lately I’ve met a number of buyers from Toronto at my open houses, scouting the market themselves and planning to buy in Oakville through their Toronto agent. Two things always strike me – why are THEY doing the legwork instead of the agent, and why would they use a Toronto agent to buy in Oakville?

When I ask the first question, I often hear that they don’t want to “bother” the agent until they find something they like. This always strikes me as amazing – how could it be “bothering” the agent – it’s their job! And I can assure you, a good agent WANTS to be bothered. While the client may feel they are being respectful in not “wasting” the agent’s time, this is really the wrong approach. Visiting open houses is fine, but the best way to succeed is to have the agent leading the way, using his or her experience and market knowledge to guide the process for the client. 

This experience and knowledge is what the client is paying for. After all, a client buys and sells homes only occasionally, even if they are serial open housers and watch HGTV 24/7! But a good agent does this all day, every day. He or she knows how to ask the right questions to guide the search and narrow the field, and knows the inventory in a given market that might work for the client. Sometimes this inventory isn’t even on the market yet, so going to open houses would obviously not be an effective way to find it!

This leads me to the second question – why use a Toronto agent in Oakville? Or for that matter, why use an Oakville agent in Toronto? The simple answer is that in most cases, you shouldn’t. Remember, you are paying for experience and market knowledge. An agent gains this through intense agent work in a given market. Just as being “all things to all people” is a flawed strategy in life, being an “agent to all markets” is also flawed. There may be some cases where very experienced agents have broader geographic expertise, but the general rule is that you should work with agents who have true, demonstrated specialization in a given area.

In other words, the agent should have a true “stomping ground”. Find out what it is. Find out how much business they do there. Dig into their knowledge of the history of the area, the zoning, schools, neighbours, restaurants, recent sales, upcoming listings, parks, even the YMCA! – they should know it like the back of their hand! And then put them to work, making their stomping ground your new stomping ground by finding you the perfect home at the right price. Sure, you can still visit open houses, but probably just for fun, knowing that your agent has your back! 

Please call me at any time to discuss your real estate needs at 647-405-8057.

 

Feedback Anyone?

Written by Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver, October 2015

Selling a house is a big event in most of our lives.  It comes with a mixed brew of emotions – “This is my house, I hope they like it?”  “They only looked for 5 minutes when I spent hours cleaning!”  “Why hasn’t anyone given me an offer yet?”  “I knew it would sell fast, it’s a great house.” 

Sometimes it’s a fast road; other times it can be a longer journey.  The more typical the house, the faster it sells.  The more unique, the more it can sometimes take a while, even if priced correctly.

One of the things I hear the most from homeowners who have had challenges selling in the past is that they didn’t understand what the problem was.  “Everyone seemed to like the house; just no offers.”  Sometimes this may have been a case of selective listening – after all, there MUST have been some feedback…  Other times I think it might reflect a legitimate absence of feedback.  This can be frustrating to an anxious homeowner whose house is on the market, especially if there has been a large number of showings and no bites!

Aside from the main steps in effectively selling a home - preparing (and possibly staging) the home to maximize appeal; pricing correctly; advertising well; beating the bushes with networking - I think the most important thing an agent can do for his or her client is to carefully monitor and communicate feedback from showings.  When the feedback is good, this is easy.  When it is not so good, it can be awkward and sometimes challenging to get the client to accept.  Nevertheless, this type of feedback is the most important to convey, especially since the best response to constructive feedback is to try to address it.  A seller and agent can’t address what isn’t out in the open for discussion. 

Managing the feedback loop is easier said than done.  Sometimes buyers get a feeling about a property, but can’t really express what’s behind the feeling.  Other times, agents show large numbers of homes to buyers, and the process of securing and communicating specific feedback becomes unwieldy.  

So as an agent representing sellers, I find the feedback process needs to be very actively managed.  My approach is to follow up with all showings to learn what I can about how the prospective buyer felt about the property, both positive and negative.  To keep it all clear, I record feedback from each showing and review with my seller on a regular basis through the listing period, typically every few weeks. 

This allows my seller and me to have the most complete feedback we can and provides a basis to make adjustments to improve the appeal of the listing and accelerate the sale process.  Perhaps expansion opportunities for the home or the ability to add a garage might need to be more clearly communicated.  Or there may be concerns about possible new development plans in the area that the buyer needs to better understand.  Maybe adjustments are required in the furnishing placement in certain rooms to emphasize space.  (I had a good example of this sort of thing when I took over a listing of a property that had previously been on the market for a number of months and had not sold.  My client had never been told that the unique design of the master bedroom (while attractive) was simply not computing with buyers.  We made some small adjustments to the room before my listing and it sold in a few days.)

The goal of course is to successfully anticipate market reaction and reflect this in the listing at the outset to get a fast sale at a great price.  But in cases where a listing is not moving as expected, properly obtaining and understanding feedback, and then taking appropriate actions, becomes critical to success.  Not to mention giving the seller peace of mind during the sale process.

Please call me at any time to discuss your real estate needs at 647-405-8057.

 

In Your Corner

Written by Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver, September 2015

We live in a world of ready access to all kinds of information. Can you get through the day without “googling it”? In real estate, you can look at MLS listings online at any time. In this environment, it is easy to think that maybe the services of experts aren’t so important anymore .

But it is also true that as much as a person can learn on his/her own, there really is no substitute for the knowledge of an expert, especially when it comes to one of the most important financial and emotional decisions most people make – the decision to buy or sell real estate.

I have built my business on providing clients with specialized expertise. Much of my work is in the older part of town, where Heritage and Planning considerations are frequently paramount. Having lived in this area for 33 years, and with my experience as a specialty home-builder and former chair of Heritage Oakville, I provide my clients with in-depth guidance to ensure they have all the information to make sound decisions. I also use my previous experience in mergers and acquisitions to help my clients negotiate the best deal. 

I work closely with clients to help them through the buying process, which is often like a funnel, starting with a broad idea of wants – location, price, house type, feel and size – and narrowing to tighter criteria over time. It helps to “kick some tires”, checking out a broad range of home options to stimulate thinking and bring clarity to what is really most important. It’s always about tradeoffs – matching client needs with the attributes of specific properties. This can take some time, so I encourage clients to get out and start the process well before their desired move date.

I make it my business to stay connected to the market through close relationships with the other agents and brokerages, so that I am plugged into what is coming on the market. I also have my ear to the ground for homes that are not for sale but could be if the right buyer comes along.

I view myself as a service provider, not a sales person. My approach is to look after the long-term needs of my clients at all times.  I’m in your corner!

Feel free to call me at any time to discuss your real estate needs. 

 

They Aren't Making Any More

Written by Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver, August 2015

Most of us remember the simple law of supply and demand from economics class. It holds that there is a relationship between supply and demand, such that, given a certain demand, as supply increases, prices decrease and as supply decreases, prices increase.

Although there are many factors to consider in trying to assess where the real estate market will be moving in the next while, the simple law of supply and demand is a key factor.  This explains why some areas grow faster than others, so when someone quotes national, provincial or even town-wide statistics, these can be misleading.

In south Oakville, there is very high demand for properties that can be redeveloped for newer (and in most cases), larger homes. This is accompanied by a limited supply, especially as you get closer to the lake. As they say, they aren’t making any more of this land… As a result, prices have traditionally increased at a fairly high rate.

So if you are looking for this type of property, you need to keep two things in mind. First, you may have to pay more than you hoped. Second, you might have to act faster than you would like, because when these properties come available, there is usually a lot of immediate demand for them. It is also true that markets ebb and flow, so sometimes prices will get a little higher than they should, but generally, the law of supply and demand will hold and these properties are likely to always be on a long-term upward price trend.

Now you may look at the subdivisions in North Oakville and assume since they continue to expand that increasing supply will hold prices down. But don’t forget, it is the interplay between supply and demand that matters. So even though supply is increasing (they are making more…), demand growth has been outstripping supply growth due to the general attractiveness of our community and the expanding population in the GTA , so here again, we see long-term prices rising faster than the overall market.

While your overall real estate decisions will depend on a lot of factors, keep the law of supply and demand in mind when considering the long-term investment attractiveness of particular properties.   It’s also good to remember that a house is a home first and an asset second, so buying wisely is important but not at the expense of finding the home that feels like just the right place for your family to be happy and healthy!

Feel free to call me at any time to discuss your real estate needs.

 

What a Town

Written by Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver, July 2015

There is a certain civic pride in Oakville that can sometimes seem a bit out of hand and probably annoys neighbouring communities, but the truth is that it is well placed.

Let’s start with geography. We have the lakefront and beautiful harbours downtown and at Bronte Village. Spend a summer evening watching sailboats from our many lakefront parks and you get the idea. We also have gorgeous ravines throughout the neighbourhoods north of the QEW, with access down practically any street. A nature hike right in our backyard!

Then there’s our history, evident in our tree-lined streets, heritage homes and buildings. Oakville didn’t just pop up out of a developer’s sketchpad, it has deep roots dating back to the 1820s, a history that informs much of what we are about as a town.

And how about volunteerism? From the huge impact of United Way Oakville and the Community Foundation of Oakville, the many Arts organizations, the town committees staffed by volunteers, and our very involved resident’s associations, this is a town where people get involved! 

We have lots of arts events at The Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts and QE Park Community and Arts Centre, and great programs from groups like Arthouse. We have great commercial areas downtown, and at Kerr Village and Bronte Village, each offering a unique mix of shops, restaurants and services in a traditional downtown setting. And sports fields and recreation centres are located throughout the town, all providing a fabulous quality of life for families. 

We are also known for our schools, both public and private. Check out the Fraser Institute school rankings and you’ll see another reason families like to locate here.

When it comes to real estate, we have a great variety of beautiful communities. From character homes on tree lined streets by the lake, to both newer and more established family friendly communities like Bronte Creek and Glen Abbey, to in-town condos and townhouses, to condos on the lakefront in Bronte, we have options to suit lots of different tastes and family-types. 

So it’s no wonder that so many newcomers to the Toronto area looking for a great community to call home choose our wonderful town. And no wonder we have so many long time residents getting involved and creating such a great sense of community. How lucky we are to live here!

Feel free to call me at any time to discuss your real estate needs.

 

Timing the Market

Written by Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver, June 2015

There are lots of opinions out there about the direction of the real estate market. It has seen steady increases for about 15 years in Canada, supported by a fairly strong Canadian economy, even through the economic problems in the US and Europe. In Metropolitan Toronto, increasing demand from population growth has also helped. And the special appeal of Oakville gives us a certain built-in protection.

On the risk side, household debt is at historical highs and interest rates at historical lows. At some point, interest rates will rise, which could hurt the market. On the positive side, the impact should be mitigated since Canadian homeowners have much more home equity than Americans did before the foreclosure crisis, the vast majority of high ratio mortgages are insured, and even rising interest rates are likely to happen gradually and remain at historical lows, making high debt loads more affordable than historically.

The biggest future driver will likely be the economy and employment. Depressed oil prices are a negative, but an offset could be the strengthening of the US economy, improving demand for Canadian-made goods.

So it is probably reasonable to assume the market will face some challenges, hopefully with limited severity. Having said that, many prognoses turn out to be wrong, and certainly my opinion is just an opinion.

So what about timing the market? Few of us can successfully time the market to buy at lows and sell at highs. For the rest, staying out of a rising market expecting a fall that doesn’t occur only makes a later purchase more expensive. And for most, our residence is first and foremost a place to call home, rather than a speculative asset (though appreciation is nice and depreciation can hurt). 

So rather than trying to time the real estate market, consider what makes the most sense for your family’s lifestyle and budget, taking the long view. Buy carefully, and keep your debt payments affordable, with room to absorb some interest rate increases. If the market does soften, history shows that the cycle will ultimately turn positive again and you will be enjoying your home all the way along!

For those who expect to be in the market only a few years before selling, a more cautious approach may be in order. It is really a matter of considering your own capacity for uncertainty, both positive and negative, against the dynamics of the current market. I look forward to discussing your particular situation and giving you the best input I can.

Feel free to call me at any time to discuss your real estate needs.

  

Ready Set Sold

Written by Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver, May 2015 

It is tempting to think these days that successfully selling your home is simply a matter of putting it on MLS and waiting for the buyers to flock to your door. After all, your home is probably beautiful - who wouldn’t come running to buy it, if they knew it was for sale?

The truth is there is much more to consider than this. You want to not just sell your home, but get the highest possible price in the shortest possible time. You need everything working as perfectly as possible – the right price, presentation, marketing, positioning and negotiating to get you the best outcome.

Correct pricing takes an intimate knowledge of the market, knowing how to identify the most relevant comparable recent sales and carefully comparing features between properties. This can mean the difference between a quick, high sale and a slow, low sale.

While we all think our homes are wonderful, the truth is that homes often need adjustments in appearance to accentuate positives and minimize negatives. Staging may be an overused term, but the truth is that in most cases, some degree of staging will generate a valuable return. It is usually not as simple as buying some towels that say PARIS!, or putting some silver balls in a bowl on the coffee table. Effective staging requires presenting a home’s features in a way that is more in line with the expectations of today’s buyers. It is sometimes worth spending as much as 1% of your home’s value to get you 5% or more in selling price.

Beyond just listing on MLS, advertising in the right publications, doing a great YouTube video and putting up a sign, effective selling means making connections with buyers who might not otherwise be exposed to your home. This is about having the right contacts and effective networking.

Positioning your property in the best light to accentuate the positives and address any latent concerns buyers may have, and properly managing the negotiating process are also critical in getting you the best outcome.

I look forward to meeting new clients to show them my comprehensive approach and how it will benefit them in selling their home in the shortest possible time at the highest possible price! Ready. Set. Sold!

  

Chink in the Armour

Written by Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver, April 2015 

Real estate in our town has been on a very long run of “newer is better” for many buyers. Admittedly this might be a bigger trend in Oakville due to its relative affluence, but take a look at HGTV and you’ll see we’re not alone.

The days of the highest demand homes being the ones with character seem to be behind us. Many times, character is met with the bulldozer to make room for brand new, or at the least, major renovations that favour the newest styles and trends. It has become common in recent years to hear both agents and buyers comment that even 10 year-old homes are “dated”.

I sometimes think that a time will come when we may be lamenting the loss or unrecognizable change of many of these older homes. After all, we can see from history that trends move in cycles, but the cycles can be long and it is hard to see the future when we are so strongly immersed in the present!

Recently, though, I have sensed some hints that there may be a few chinks developing in the armour of the newer is better trend. There is both a bit of fatigue developing with a perceived “sameness” of newer or recently renovated homes, and a very slowly developing renewal in appreciation for homes with their own unique personalities.

Coziness rather than cavernous is beginning to have more appeal. More architectural detail rather than simple lines, 8’ to 9’ ceiling heights rather than the continued march higher, more division between rooms rather than wide open spaces. The hints are faint but I believe they’re starting to emerge.

So if you’re a character home lover, take heart, you might be heading back out of the wilderness and toward fashion! And if you’ve been immersed in the new bug for years now, take a look at the other side – you might like what you see!

Please feel free to call me to discuss how I can help you with your real estate needs.

 

Chicken or Egg 

Written by Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver, March 2015

It’s the classic chicken or the egg question. “Should I buy first or sell first?” For most people, buying begets selling and selling begets buying – but which should come first?

Some clients know for certain they want to move and have the financial ability to carry two homes if need be. They can go ahead and buy their ideal home first, albeit without knowing what they are going to receive for their existing home. It’s still smart in this case to seek as long a closing as possible on the purchase to hopefully avoid having to carry both homes.

For clients who don’t have the financial resources to carry two homes, one option is to sell first and then buy. This provides certainty of selling price and available purchase funds. The downside is they may be pressured to purchase quickly or rent for a while, although negotiating the longest possible closing on the sale can reduce this risk.

Another option is to make an offer on a property of interest, conditional on the sale of their own home. The downside is that the seller will typically be less flexible on price, and may also want confidence that the buyer’s home will sell quickly – so the client would need to be ready to list their home immediately, possibly at a lower price than they would prefer.

Some clients may see a home they have always admired come on the market. They would love to move to this home, but otherwise they are not sellers. If they can carry two homes, they may choose to buy first, but again they should negotiate the longest possible closing on the purchase to ease the pressure.  

If they can’t afford to carry two homes, rather than dealing with the downsides of making an offer conditional on the sale of their own property, they could list their home immediately and hope to sell before the desired home sells. It is very wise in this case to make any sale conditional on their successful purchase of the desired home within a short period of time, so that if they fail to negotiate the purchase, they will not find themselves homeless!

Every situation is unique. I work closely with clients to carefully consider the details of their situation and advise them in developing an appropriate strategy.   Please give me a call to discuss your situation.

 

In Your Corner

Written by Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver, February 2015

We live in a world of ready access to all kinds of information. Can you get through the day without “googling it”? In real estate, you can look at MLS listings online at any time. In this environment, it is easy to think that maybe the services of experts aren’t so important anymore . 

But it is also true that as much as a person can learn on his/her own, there really is no substitute for the knowledge of an expert, especially when it comes to one of the most important financial and emotional decisions most people make – the decision to buy or sell real estate.

I have built my business on providing clients with specialized expertise. Much of my work is in the older part of town, where Heritage and Planning considerations are frequently paramount. Having lived in this area for 33 years, and with my experience as a specialty home-builder and former chair of Heritage Oakville, I provide my clients with in-depth guidance to ensure they have all the information to make sound decisions. I also use my previous experience in mergers and acquisitions to help my clients negotiate the best deal.

I work closely with clients to help them through the buying process, which is often like a funnel, starting with a broad idea of wants – location, price, house type, feel and size – and narrowing to tighter criteria over time. It helps to “kick some tires”, checking out a broad range of home options to stimulate thinking and bring clarity to what is really most important. It’s always about tradeoffs – matching client needs with the attributes of specific properties. This can take some time, so I encourage clients to get out and start the process well before their desired move date.

I make it my business to stay connected to the market through close relationships with the other agents and brokerages, so that I am plugged into what is coming on the market. I also have my ear to the ground for homes that are not for sale but could be if the right buyer comes along.

I view myself as a service provider, not a sales person. My approach is to look after the long-term needs of my clients at all times. I’m in your corner!

Feel free to call me at any time to discuss your real estate needs.

 

More Than Meets the Eye

Written by: Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver October 2013

For many, the current real estate trend favours “new build”. Buyers look at existing homes with a checklist of wants in their minds. Where’s the soaker tub? The marble and granite? Not there.? Better build new! Of course, we can’t all have new. It might not be affordable or available where we want to buy. And new homes often can’t compete on character. So why not buck the trend and look at older homes with new eyes.

I’ve observed that when many purchasers walk into a home, they see only what is there. They notice new windows. granite counters, stainless appliances. They notice even more the things the bulge in the plaster, the ugly chandelier. Not to mention the lack of a soaker tub or wine cellar. Sound familiar? This can lead to a situation where almost every home falls short.

Other purchasers realize that for most homes, there is more there than meets the eye. They go from room to room, painting elaborate pictures in their mind’s eye of what COULD be. They notice what is currently there simply to see if the home is a good starting point. If so, they begin immediately to imagine the changes they could make. A soaker tub here… A wine cellar there…

This approach dramatically increases the pool of homes that might be a fit! Suddenly a lot of the things that can throw a purchaser off – the plaster bulge, etc. – are seen for what they really are - minor issues to correct rather than show stoppers.

Oh, but you say you simply aren’t creative enough for this approach? I beg to differ. I have found that most people can do this very effectively if they put their minds to it. Get your friend with the good design eye involved. Collaborate. Make it fun. You will be surprised.

You should also find a real estate agent who can point out improvement ideas, identify risks and advise what the home could be worth after the changes. Perhaps speak to an architect. A little investment in good design can actually save you money by not spinning your wheels. Ask a contractor to help you understand potential costs.

This approach can help you get the home of your dreams, likely at a lower cost than buying new, albeit with a bit of heart, soul and sweat tossed in!

 

Private or Public

Written by: Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver February 2013

We have a well-established tradition in “suburban” towns like Oakville of putting “quiet street” at or near the top of our home buying list. Most of us work hard all day and there is nothing we want more at night than to pull into the garage, shut the door and find privacy and tranquility in our own personal oasis. Many of us grew up on streets like this and it becomes part of our home buying DNA. Just check Oakville on Google Maps to see how much this ideal drives our real estate market.

The typical city buyer of course wants just the opposite - to be in the middle of the action. Some may have grown up next to June and Ward Cleaver and so they want something completely different. Others may be lifelong city dwellers.

I have noticed recently that these two solitudes have begun to overlap. Many long-time Oakville “suburban” buyers are looking for a bit of the action while staying in town. This has driven many buyers to seek homes or townhouses within walking distance to the downtown commercial area. An interesting thing I have noticed with many of these buyers is that the closer they buy to town, the more committed they are to their new location. Even if they contemplate a further move, most are unwilling to move even one or two blocks further from downtown.

Why? Most say it is about the joy of walking to the coffee shop, butcher, fruit market, dinner or to do gift shopping. But there seems to be something else at work. These buyers love the idea that when they are out, there is always activity on the streets. They like the energy. They have traded private for public and they love it!

If this appeals to you, find an agent who specializes in downtown and go check out some properties. You may find that trading private for public is for you too!

 

Send out the Advance Team!

Written by: Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver October, 2012

I have had several clients lately who have the idea in their minds that maybe they should be considering fairly substantial moves. In some cases wholesale changes to their living space (mostly smaller) and in other cases potential moves to entirely new neighbourhoods after a long time in their current area. You know, shake things up a bit! In most cases, they’re not really sure what it might look like – just a vague sense that maybe there’s something out there that might better suit their future needs.

I have found that if these dreams have any hope of bursting into reality, you have to get out into the world and kick some tires; put down some markers to see how it might look and feel. So I advise my clients that they need to go check out properties across a wide spectrum to begin to test the boundaries of their dreams. Do they really want a dramatic change? Does it feel right when they start to see real options in the flesh?

Sometimes what you dream about turns out not to be what you really want and you are better to stay where you are. Other times, change is the ticket but the type of change you end up embracing is not what you visualized when you started. It is good to start this “funneling” process months or even years before you think you might actually want to make a move, so when the time comes, you have focus and know the market well enough to make good decisions.

Find an agent to partner with early in the game. Do the advance work so you are in the best position to turn your dreams into the perfect reality for you. Have fun!

 

Look Under the Covers

Written by: Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver September 2012

Have you ever noticed how much time you spend on some of life’s most basic purchase decisions? Like a new pair of pants or a new TV. Gee, I’m not sure this is the right choice for me, maybe there’s a better option, I’d better search a little more, give it a little more thought… A bunch of deliberation over a new car purchase seems reasonable, but a pair of pants? Maybe we sometimes lack perspective.

Now, when it comes to purchasing a new home, of course we invest lots of time deciding, given the importance and expense involved. It’s the only rational thing to do, right? Actually, this is usually not the case. Oddly, many people make this decision in a flash – maybe just a 15 minute walk through and their minds are made up – let’s write up an offer! I wrote in an earlier column that home purchases are emotional; kind of like picking a mate. So some impulsivity is natural. But shouldn’t a decision of such magnitude be a little more deliberative?

I think so. Upon the feeling in the heart that a particular home is the ONE, buyers are well advised to step back and call on the head for some input. Don’t forget, many homes are staged these days, trying to entice you as the buyer. Make sure you look beyond the “stage” and take a look “under the covers”. Is the carpentry professional? Are there custom built-ins and mouldings? Are the kitchen drawers wood or metal? Are the interior doors hollow or solid? Are the faucets basic or higher quality? Is there hardwood or carpet? Are the closets outfitted with simple or custom shelving? How elaborate is the landscaping? How much money might you need to spend on improvements? The list goes on.

Ask your agent for help in looking under the covers. Keep yourself honest. Yes, you want the home of your dreams, but you want it to pass the reality test too!

 

Have your cake and eat it too?

Written by: Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver April 2012

Home shopping is an interesting experience. No two homes are alike and each has its own personality. Even two identical new homes will have a different sensibility, perhaps in backyard exposure, interior finishes or even the way each owner uses the rooms. So the search is not like buying a car, where even though they can seem daunting, the choices are more limited.

Most people start their search with a fairly clear general idea of their wants. Off they go scanning listings, booking appointments with their agent and visiting open houses, gung ho and excited. In many cases, however, this initial excitement gives way pretty quickly to confusion, second guessing their priorities and general “home shoppers fatigue”. Even a clearly defined list of wants falls prey to the reality that hardly any homes tick all the boxes. I was reminded of this last week in helping transferees find a new home in a new country! In home buying, it’s hard to have your cake and eat it too, especially when the reality of price limitations enters the mix.

So it is a good idea to go in understanding that trade-offs will likely be inevitable. This truth usually hits hard and encounters resistance. None of us likes it – can’t we have everything we want? But if you come to terms with this early, your search will be more efficient, fun and fruitful. After each outing, try to assess what you saw and learn which wants are immovable and which you might be willing to give a little on. Then use this “self-analysis” to adjust your search criteria. Ask your agent to keep you honest on this. You’ll save frustration and end up with the home of your dreams, even if you miss a tiny bite or two of the cake…

 

What a Character!

Written by Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver April 2012

We all love shiny new stuff. Our consumer culture is based on consumption and one of the lures to get us to consume is innovation – the newest idea or technology gets the attention and we “have to have it”. This mentality even extends to homes. Builders seek ways to stand out by offering the latest styles and features in home construction.

Have you ever noticed, though, that new home marketing is often based on creating a sense of the past? New developments with front porches and back alleys are one example. Architectural styles are often borrowed from the past – French Chateau and Arts and Crafts are especially popular at the moment. Why is this? I think it is because a home is different from other items we purchase – we want permanence, lasting value, a connection to our roots, hearth and home.

Sure, a new home can offer these features with “invented character”. But how about considering an older home, one that has “earned” its character by virtue of age and history? Old Oakville has lots of opportunity to find just such a home. Some are beautifully renovated or restored, so can be just as easy as moving into a newer home but with genuine character thrown in. Other times there may be a need to make some changes to suit your needs.

There is something about the character of older homes that just “speaks” in a way that a newer home never could. And the charm of an older neighbourhood is also hard to match. If you are even a little attracted to older homes, drop by some open houses or call an agent with knowledge of these homes. You might find yourself as proud owner of one of these fine pieces of history and loving it!

 

One of a Kind

 Written by: Terry Smith

 Published in the Oakville Beaver March 2012

Oakville has about 180,000 residents, the size of a small city. But for most of us, it feels much smaller. We really are a town of many smaller communities, each with its own personality. Oak Park is distinct from Glen Abbey, Bronte has a different vibe than Kerr Village, Palermo still has some of its village feel, while Downtown Oakville is becoming increasingly “urban” – not to overstate the case…

Homes in some neighbourhoods are more homogeneous than in others. Yet even in these areas, when buying a home, we aren’t really looking for sameness. We search for differences. We want a home that speaks to us, that is “one of a kind”. We don’t want what everyone else has.

How do you find this special home? For those who know the type of architecture they prefer or what neighbourhood or even street they want to live on, the search can be relatively easy. But most people will simply “know it when they see it”.

This is where a great agent comes in. Sure, you may want to search yourself at open houses or online, but your agent makes a living being plugged into what’s going on in the market. He or she should be your eyes and ears, hopefully telling you about new listings that might be a fit before you see them, or even tracking down the perfect home that isn’t on the market yet. To make this work, your agent should demonstrate that he or she is on top of the activity in the areas you are interested in. Then he or she should really get to know you to help clarify your wants and needs. This means taking the time to build a great relationship with the right chemistry.

Keep this in mind when selecting an agent and you’ll have much greater success in finding that “one of a kind” home that is just perfect for you!

 

Not Just an Inside Job

Written by: Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver January 2012

Our culture talks about real estate a lot. We read about it, watch TV shows about it, talk about future plans. Have you ever noticed that most of the attention is on what’s inside, rather than outside? We love big open kitchen/family rooms, stainless steel appliances, en-suite bathrooms, hardwood floors, granite counters.

We’ve all heard the phrase location, location, location. Like many of life’s truths, this one often doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Deep down we understand it. When we visit other countries, we focus on location. In Italy we visit Venice, Rome, Florence. In the US we go to New York City, Napa Valley, the Grand Canyon.

Yet when it comes to buying a home, we think more about room sizes, layout, bells and whistles. Maybe it’s easier to compare properties on number of bedrooms or quality of finishes than on the pluses and minuses of location. Location is less tangible. It’s harder to see what you might like or not like about a certain neighbourhood unless you’ve spent a lot of time there.

And yet, I have noticed an increasing trend. The more homes have the “I wants” built-in, the more clients are starting to shift focus to location. Maybe they now sense a certain “sameness” on the inside, but whatever the reason, more people want to find the right location, even if it means some compromise on the inside.

This seems to reflect a broader notion of lifestyle, beyond just inside creature comforts. Ability to walk rather than drive, entertainment options, streetscape and architectural environment, proximity to hiking trails, feeling of community. If location is key for you, make sure your agent understands this and guides your search accordingly. Take the time to really get to know the areas that interest you and you’ll choose a home that’s perfect for your lifestyle, both inside and out.

 

Building a Hedge

Written by: Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver January 2012

We are very fortunate to live in a country and community that has largely bucked the global economic challenges of the past few years. Our real estate market has been vibrant while the US market has been in turmoil.

Perhaps counter intuitively, the tough world economy has helped our market. Economic challenges have kept interest rates low, which enhances affordability. This, combined with reasonable home equity among Canadians, has driven sales, especially in Oakville, where the fundamentals are stronger than the Canadian average.

Will this continue? It is probably reasonable to expect the market to soften at some point in the next few years. Oddly, as the world economy eventually improves, rising interest rates will affect affordability and could be a drag on home prices. How can home owners, buyers and sellers protect themselves in this environment?

One answer is to build a hedge. Add value through ingenuity. Find a way to add value to your home investment rather than just relying on the market to do the work for you. A rising tide lifts all boats, but when the tide starts to subside, you’ll have to do the lifting yourself.

Building this hedge means looking for ways to improve your home, or a home you are considering purchasing in a way that will that will add more value than the cost. Most homes have hidden potential that can be uncovered through looking with new eyes, imagining what changes another buyer would like to see. Then make these changes with both quality and cost consciousness in mind. You’ll get better returns in a strong market and hedge your bets in a slower one. If you can’t see the potential, find a real estate agent who has a reputation for helping clients add value, get a friend to give you some ideas, or call in an architect for a consultation. Take the time to build a hedge. You’ll be glad you did!

 

Are We Living In Camelot?

Written by: Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver October 2011

Oakville has a reputation as a great place to live. We started as a harbour town and beautiful historic homes still grace the harbour area. Gradually this amazing setting gave rise to summer cottages along the lake and then incredible summer estates for some of Canada’s rich and famous. Throughout the 1900s, Oakville steadily grew as a town and then as a magnet for suburban buyers seeking something a little different.

I believe what defines our town most is our genuine sense of community. Oakville people typically LOVE Oakville. There are lots of good reasons: The lake, the downtown, the history, the trees, the trails, the people, the restaurants, the schools, the facilities, the level of volunteerism, the fact that neighbours know each other. This place is special, we know it and most of us contribute by getting involved.

Lately I have noticed that our appeal to out-of-towners is actually on the rise. More and more showings for Oakville listings are from Mississauga and Toronto agents. It seems that many of their clients are getting fatigued with the sprawl of metropolitan Toronto and want what Oakville has to offer.

I have also noticed that the appeal of the downtown area specifically is on the rise to both out-of-town and local buyers. This feels like a demographically-driven acceleration of a trend that has been gaining for several years. David Foot spoke of the powerful impact of demographics in his 1996 book, Boom, Bust& Echo. This seems to be playing out as many baby boomers, now in their 50s and 60s, want to downsize and be able to walk out the door to the fruit market, shops and restaurants.

It is not possible to say with certainty whether these observations point to long-term trends. But I would not underestimate the power of our town’s appeal or the power of demographics. Relative to other towns, Oakville is likely to further grow in demand, especially in more mature neighbourhoods and in the downtown area.

 

Right Under Our Noses

Written by: Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver September 2011

It’s fall and the air is getting crisp, the light is somehow sharper and that odd sense of renewal and vitality that comes with the season (are we crazy, winter’s coming!) has most of us thinking about getting into the car for a drive into the country. We might be planning a hike in the woods or maybe an apple picking adventure. We can’t wait to get out of town to see the fall colours.

But wait, we are blessed with one of the best places to experience fall, right here under our noses in downtown Oakville. The Harvest Festival is October 15, where you can go on a wagon ride, hear live music, enjoy a corn roast or while away the time on the colourful, leafy streets of Old Oakville. Maybe visit the Thomas House on Front Street and experience the smell of a roaring fire while the costumed interpreters cook on the open hearth. You can even take part in one of Oakville Historical Society’s annual Ghost Tours that run several days throughout October. While you’re downtown, visit the charming shops and restaurants downtown has to offer.

Many of us tend to think we have to travel to feel a sense of “getting away from it all”, but that feeling can be experienced right here, with our town’s unique combination of history, natural beauty and community spirit. Take a trip to experience fall this year – right here at home!

 

All The World’s A Stage

Written by: Terry Smith

Published in the Oakville Beaver July 2011

If you haven’t sold a home lately, you might be surprised how things have changed. Back in the day, when it was time to sell, you just signed up an agent, did a decent clean up, and you were o