Mortgage Payment Options when life gets in the way


What if a major life change, like a new baby, injury, illness or job loss makes paying the mortgage challenging? What should you do? Your first step is to talk to your lender as soon as possible. Many people don’t approach their financial institutions until their backs are against the proverbial wall, but once you’ve already missed a few payments, your options are more limited and other problems are also in play.

Most major lenders have a department specifically designed to work with people in tough situations and there are solutions out there to help you in the interim…any bit helps, right?

Most lenders do allow you to skip payments, but there are rules around what mortgages apply. Some don’t allow this if your mortgage is in arrears or your current mortgage balance, together with the amount of payments you wish to skip, exceeds the original amount of the mortgage. Even with skipped payments, you will still be responsible for paying your usual insurance premiums and property tax installments (if applicable.)

Find out if any fees are charged for this option and how often the lender allows you to skip payments. How many consecutive weeks can you skip payments – is it every year or only in the lifetime of the mortgage? Is a skipped payment available on every mortgage term? What additional requirements are there for CMHC-insured mortgages? Every lender has a different policy so ensure you ask the right questions.

Sometimes a debt consolidation is the right solution. A mortgage payment is only one of the many other payments you most likely have, so speaking with your lender about the bigger picture may be the right option for you, especially if your particular mortgage doesn’t fit the skipped payment criteria. Sometimes consolidating loans, lines of credit and credit card balances into one single payment with a reduced interest cost, could be the relief you need and help you find that extra cash to make your mortgage payments.

Another possibility is reducing your monthly payments by extending your mortgage amortization, for example from 20 to 25 years. You could also check if current interest rates are a bit lower and ask about getting a blended rate—the rate between your existing rate and the current rate. Often this can make a big difference in the monthly payment and the fees are relatively low—usually only a few hundred dollars.

These are just a few ideas. Taking the initiative to talk to your lender and work out a plan will help you keep your financial head above water until your current challenge passes.

Jennifer Birch – Realtor

5 Ways to start the year off right!


The start of a new year is a great time for resolutions. For this year’s resolution, why not make some promises to yourself about your home? Make a list of your top home priorities and enjoy that feeling of satisfaction when they’re done. These five tips to help get you started!

1. It’s an excellent time to get a handle on your home insurance, review your policy and make sure it still fits your home’s needs. Contacting your insurance company may also reveal some savings too! Bundling home and auto insurance, for example, can often save money.

2. January is also a great time to review home safety. Replace the batteries and test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Having one smoke detector per floor and at least one carbon monoxide detector is a requirement of most home insurance policies.

3. Another great goal is paying off your mortgage more quickly! Are you getting the best rate possible? Can you add an extra payment or increase your monthly payment to really make a dent in that principal? Contact your mortgage holder and have a conversation about how you can best meet your specific mortgage goals.

4. How about improving your home’s energy efficiency this year? Maybe it’s time to replace those old inefficient incandescent with some superefficient CFLs or LEDs. Most hardware stores carry an excellent selection. Also, add a power strip to electronics to defeat phantom load – the energy still being used even when devices are turned off.

5. And perhaps most satisfying is decluttering! Consider choosing one room a week, or even just one closet, to organize and declutter. Donate anything you haven’t used in a year (or never liked anyway!). You’ll be amazed at how much more space you have.

Jennifer Birch – Realtor

Protecting your valuables during an Open House


Holding an open house is a great way to increase exposure of your property to potential buyers, but there always is the unfortunate reality that thefts can occur. So, what can you do to protect yourself?

The first step is to create an action plan with your registered broker or real estate agent to make sure you are both clear on your responsibilities before, during and after each open house.

As a homeowner, remove all valuables or lock them carefully away before each open house. Remember spare keys too! In these times of identify theft, valuables include any personal identifying information, such as utility bills, receipts, even magazines. Remove, unplug, and/or password protect any electronic devices with personal information, such as smartphones and laptops, etc. These devices are both targets for thieves and sources of personal information. You may even wish to take down any calendars as potential thieves can easily see when you plan to be away, for example, “Jessica’s soccer game 4 – 7 p.m. Saturday.” Also, remove any personal photos of your immediate family.

Find out from your real estate representative how they will be keeping track of who has entered the property. A would-be thief could be deterred if they know their identity has been logged, and knowing who attended the open house is crucial if anything goes missing and you need to file a police report.

Communicate with your real estate agent about locking up after the open house. Real estate agents take their responsibilities seriously and are diligent about ensuring your home is in the condition you left it, including lights turned off and doors locked. All entry points should be double-checked again when you return to your home.

With a clean and comprehensive action plan in place for protecting your home and valuables, your open house is sure to be a success.

Jennifer Birch – Realtor

Roof Damage in Winter


Maybe a windstorm ripped off a few shingles, or a critter looking for a warm home did some roof damage. Now you’re faced with a damaged roof and plummeting temperatures.

What are your options?

Surprisingly, you can repair a damaged roof, even in the winter. Sooner rather than later is best when talking about roof repair. As weather worsens and adds more snow to the roof, that small leak will become larger. Melting snow behaves differently than rain and can even works its way uphill as ice dams force the water up and between damaged shingles and eventually into vulnerable drywall. Keep in mind that an untended leak that eventually causes water damage might raise the eyebrows of your insurance company who might not take kindly to paying a claim.

As soon as you notice the damage, contact a trusted roofing company in your area. They will assess the damage and determine what kind of temporary repair is appropriate – and feasible – in your situation. It might be a well-fastened tarp or a few well-placed shingles with temperature-appropriate caulking. The adhesive strip on standard asphalt shingles won’t adhere well in colder temperatures, so additional caulking is advisable. An experienced roofer will be able to advise you on how best to proceed. Whatever you do, don’t head up to the roof yourself! Slippery, windy conditions are highly dangerous and a fall could be deadly. Keep your feet on the ground and call a professional.

Although minor roof repairs in winter are certainly doable and definitely a good idea, completely redoing a roof is a task best left for the spring. Barring catastrophe, replacing a roof should be done in temperatures when the products will be at peak performance and the safety of the workers isn’t at risk.

Jennifer Birch – Realtor

Safety around the house

hot-stoveWhether you have lived in your home for decades or are still unpacking boxes, maintaining a safe household is very important. Every year we hear stories of people injuring themselves in their own homes and, in most cases, these accidents are preventable. So, while the cold weather is here and you find yourself spending more time indoors, why not take some time to make your home safer for your entire family?

In the kitchen:

  • If you have children, make sure knives, sharp tools and cleaning supplies are kept in a latched cupboard or drawer.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher easily accessible (and make sure you know how to use it!)
  • Reduce the spread of harmful germs by replacing your kitchen cloths and sponges regularly
  • Prevent falls by ensuring that mats have non-slip backing and spills are cleaned up immediately
  • Install proper lighting so you can see what you’re doing

In the bathroom:

  • If there are young children or aging relatives in the home, keep a thermometer close by to test bath water
  • Make sure outlets near the tub or sink have fault circuit interrupters
  • Unplug curlers, flat irons and electric razors when not in use
  • Place a non-skid mat in the tub
  • Keep prescription medications locked up and out of reach
  • Install grab bars for elderly residents


  • Ensure that pictures and wall hangings are securely anchored
  • Install child-proof locks on sliding doors (especially if you have a pool)
  • Keep clutter off staircases and make sure they are well-lit to prevent falls
  • Install a smoke detector on every floor of the home and check batteries regularly. Every home also needs at least one carbon monoxide detector
  • Prevent break-ins by adding some motion-activated lighting around the home and always keep doors locked, even during the day
  • Use protective screens on fireplaces
  •  Keep space heaters at least three feet from other objects and never leave on unattended
  • Always keep gasoline and other flammable liquids outdoors.

Jennifer Birch – Realtor