If you’re thinking of tackling a major kitchen or bathroom remodel this year, you might be perusing décor magazines and watching HGTV looking for a little inspiration. Which looks or ideas have resonated with you? According to design experts, there are a number of trends that we can expect to see a lot more of in 2015 and one word seems to be popping up quite a bit. This year, it’s all about luxury!
Rather than economical features, homeowners are opting to splurge on high-end features for the bathroom, in everything from faucets to flooring. Many are forgoing the tub altogether and reconfiguring their space to include chic walk-in showers, complete with double rain showerheads, heated tile and touch-screen operated water controls. When tubs are included, acrylic is out and striking, freestanding tubs are in!
When it comes to flooring, many hip homeowners are choosing to turn their floors or a wall into a topic of conversation. “Feature floors” can include fancy geometric tiles in a bold colour or unique pattern. And we’ll soon be seeing bathroom feature walls in everything from live plants to reclaimed wood.
Much like the rest of the house, grey is the new beige when it comes to choosing a neutral shade. Cabinetry, paint colour and tiles for the bathroom will come in every tone of grey.
Finally, many homeowners are doing away with the door when it comes to their master ensuite and opening things up. 2015 is seeing a trend towards open-air master retreats, with the bathroom visible and accessible from the bedroom area.
One of the most prominent trends kitchen designers are seeing this year is the creation of custom, “furniture-style” cabinetry in place of standard kitchen islands – workstations that blend in with a home’s total décor and serve both an aesthetic and functional purpose. You can expect to see kitchen islands raised on legs rather than flush with the floor and intricate paneling to add visual interest.
Brass fixtures are hot this year. Shiny gold faucets, range hoods, sinks and light fixtures will be all the rage.
Finally, kitchens are getting smarter. We’ll be seeing a lot more “smart” appliances – think ovens that store your favourite recipes and built-in iPads for creating your grocery list.
Jennifer Birch – Realtor
Let’s say you bought a house three years ago at a five-year fixed mortgage rate. Whether you’ve outgrown your current home or need to move for a career change, you might be wondering about transferring your mortgage – with its current rates and terms – from one home to the next. Is it an option? Or do you have to shell out a hefty fee for breaking your mortgage early and start back at square one? It depends on your lender and your current mortgage terms.
Banks have different policies when it comes to ‘porting’ mortgages. The first factor your lender will consider relates to the conditions of the purchase. Is the new home more expensive than your current home, meaning a larger mortgage? Or is it less expensive (which may result in penalties because your mortgage amount will be reduced before the end of your term). Or is it a straight port for the same amount?
Ideally, you want to port a mortgage when your current interest rate is lower than what is available on the market. If you locked in at 2.99 percent three years ago and the best rate today is 3.99, it makes sense to hold on to your five-year rate.
Another factor to consider is your mortgage loan insurance (which you would have been charged if your original down payment was less than 20 percent of your purchase price.) The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) portability feature allows borrowers to port the CMHC mortgage loan insurance from an existing home to a new home and in some cases save money by reducing or eliminating the premium on the financing of the new home. For more info on this, visit http://www.cmhc.ca.
In some cases, mortgages are not portable and you will have no choice but to pay the prepayment charges and apply for a new mortgage on your new home. That’s why it’s a good idea for first-time buyers to ask if their mortgage is portable when they apply. It’s estimated that 70 percent of buyers move within three years of their first home purchase so there’s a good chance you’ll need to transfer your mortgage at some point.
Jennifer Birch – Realtor
In Ontario there are innumerable incentives for first-time homebuyers! Buying your first home is one of the largest investments of your life, and Ontario offers countless ways to aid and encourage first-time buyers. Canada’s Economic Action Plan introduced the First-Time Home Buyers’ (FTHB) Tax Credit and the expansion of the Home Buyers’ Plan to provide you with additional benefits and help you realize your dream of homeownership.
The RRSP Home Buyers’ Plan now allows first-time homebuyers to withdraw up to $25,000 from their Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) for a home purchase, tax-free! With 15 years to repay it, many first-time home buyers take advantage of this opportunity and set up RRSP accounts well in advance, with the intention to reap the rewards when it is time to purchase a house.
The Land Transfer Tax Credit is a refund of the cost of Ontario’s land transfer tax up to a maximum of $2,000. This will allow first time homebuyers to purchase a home up to $227,500 without having to pay a land transfer fee. The refund can be given instantly at the lawyers office but advise the lawyer prior to the closing date if you qualify for the rebate.
If you want to call Toronto home, first-time homebuyers of a newly constructed or re-sale residential property qualify for the Toronto Land Transfer Tax Rebate. The maximum allowable rebate is $3,725, allowing first timers to purchase a home valued as high as $400,000 without having to pay a Toronto land transfer tax!
Although the good ol’ days of a no-money down mortgage (0% down payment) are no longer directly available through CMHC, 5% down payment mortgages with a 5% cash back component are. CMHC also permits down payments to come from borrowed sources such as Visa, Line of Credit or family. Used in conjunction, a homebuyer can borrow their down payment and obtain a 5% cash back mortgage allowing them to pay off the borrowed money once the home closes.
Buying one’s first home is, after all, completely overwhelming and likely the largest purchase a person will ever make. There are countless websites to help buyers do their initial homework and understand these incentives. Then there are the experts. Remember Canada wants you to own a home and has created these measures to support you in your first go-around!
Jennifer Birch – Realtor
Buying real estate and HST
Whether it’s your first time or your tenth, buying a home is a daunting and anxiety-provoking prospect.
There are so many things to consider: what neighbourhood, house style, number of bedrooms and on and on. Then there are the costs: real estate fees, lawyer fees, home inspection, land transfer fees and HST.
The HST is one of those sneaky costs that often get overlooked. And even though it’s been in effect since 2010, there is still a lot of confusion around the ins and outs of this much-maligned tax.
If you are buying a resale home you’re in luck because there is no HST on the purchase price of the house. That’s because sales tax did not apply to resale homes under the previous PST.
Unfortunately, if you are buying brand new, you will have to pay HST. But the good news is that there are rebates available on most new home purchases. For homes under $350,000, buyers can apply for a rebate on the federal portion of the tax to a maximum of $6,300. For homes between $350,000 and $450,000, the rebate on the federal piece of the HST would be reduced proportionately. Homes over $450,000 aren’t eligible for this rebate. But all new home purchasers in Ontario can apply for a rebate on the provincial portion of the HST to a maximum of $24,000.
Given that the average cost of a house in Ontario is about $400,000, the HST can certainly add up and in this case rings in at $52,000.
HST also applies to such services as moving costs, legal fees, home inspection fees, appraisal fees, the labour you pay on renovations and landscaping and on real estate agent commissions.
It’s estimated that the average home buyer spends an extra $1,200 to $1,500 in HST when moving from one home to the next.
Jennifer Birch – Realtor
Having guests stay overnight? Treat them to a five-star experience and show them to a room they’ll be talking about for years to come. Here are a few suggestions on how to create the perfect guest room:
Colour: Choose neutral or light tones like greys, whites and lilacs and keep them at their most pale. From the paint colour to the curtains and bedding, choose light and elegant. You can always add pops of colour in pillows and decorating accents, but overall the room should give a feeling of serenity.
Bedding: Buy nice cotton or linen sheets and make up the bed, as you would expect it to be prepared at a nice hotel. Always include four sleeping pillows and if you’re looking to impress, iron the sheets and pillowcases just before your guests arrive. Don’t forget to offer an extra blanket for those chilly nights.
Storage Space: Leave a couple of drawers in the dresser empty so that your guests don’t have to live out of their suitcases. It’s also ideal if you can offer some room and several empty hangers in the bedroom closet. If you’re sharing a bathroom with your guests, save some space by installing hooks on the back of the guest room door for easy towel storage.
Alarm Clock: Even though most of your houseguests will likely prefer to use their cell as their alarm of choice, an alarm clock is still an essential tool for the bedside table.
Bathroom Amenities: Each guest should be given a set of fresh, clean towels that includes one bath sheet, one hand towel and one washcloth. Go above and beyond by offering a plush bathrobe and a new pair of slippers. Put some of those fancy hotel toiletries you’ve collected up over the years to good use and arrange soap, shampoo, conditioner, cream, toothpaste and mouthwash in a decorative basket. Place the basket and the towels on the guest bed so that it’s clear that these items are for their use.
Welcome Basket: Create a welcome basket and offer some thoughtful items that will help make their stay more enjoyable. Bottled water, foil wrapped chocolates, a pen and notepad, transit schedules and area brochures, a bottle of pain reliever and a travel sewing kit.
Decor: While you may love your knickknacks, your guests will appreciate having some extra space to set-up their belongings. Keep decor fairly simple – less is more in this case. Consider introducing simple touches like fresh flowers, a scented candle, a few magazines and a travel book that features your city or town.
Jennifer Birch – Realtor
Still carrying credit card debt from the holidays? You are not the only one. According to BMO’s 2015 Credit Card Report released in February, 28 per cent of Canadian credit card holders entered the new year with an added credit card debt load that accumulated over the holidays, averaging $1,192.
That’s not all the survey found - 46 per cent of Canadian credit card holders are currently carrying credit card debt, and 30 per cent do not pay their credit card bill every month. The survey, conducted by Pollara, examined credit card usage and behaviour among Canadian card holders heading into 2015. Some interesting findings:
• Over half (52 per cent) pay for the majority of their purchases using a credit card
while one third (30 per cent) carry a monthly balance, 51 per cent pay off their entire credit card balance every month.
• One third (32 per cent) do not keep track of the balance on their card until they see the bill at the end of the month.
• One quarter (26 per cent) are often in a cycle of paying off their credit card with all available funds and incurring additional debt to pay for other expenses.
Nick Mastromarco, Managing Director, North American Retail Payments, BMO Bank of Montreal, offered his insight into the survey findings, “Credit cards are a popular payment tool for Canadians; however, unchecked spending habits can result in getting stuck in continuous monthly debt cycles that can hamper near and long term financial goals. Staying realistic about spending habits and bill payments is key to effective management of credit card spending.”
The poll also revealed one quarter of Canadians see their credit card as additional spending money, and this number rises to one third (33 per cent) for Millennials. Two of the top financial concerns for Canadians include sticking to their budgets (70 per cent) and spending more than they can afford on things they don’t really need (61 per cent).
“Utilizing a credit card as a payment tool as opposed to a borrowing tool is crucial to managing household finances and ensuring households are living within their means,” said Mastromarco. “Working with a financial planner to build a comprehensive budget that includes monthly spending habits and savings goals can help Canadians stay on the right track.”
Mr. Mastromarco added that leveraging a no-fee card, keeping manageable credit limits and tracking day-to-day purchases helps to quickly achieve debt repayment goals. Here are some other tips to manage credit card spending:
Build a realistic budget:
Developing a detailed budget that incorporates everyday expenses and debt repayment helps provide a clear picture of your financial standing. Building in funds for contingency spending can help you stick to a plan and avoid getting discouraged.
Track your spending regularly:
Create a budget, set savings goals, track spending and analyze cash flows and transactions.
Jennifer Birch – Realtor