How to Find a Real Estate Agent

Buying or selling a home is one of the most complex transactions many of us will ever carry out. Fortunately, real estate agents can make the entire process run more smoothly. Finding a good real estate professional isn’t always easy, though, and there are many things to consider. Follow these seven steps to be sure you end up collaborating with the right real estate agent for you.

  1. Know the Different Types of Real Estate Agents
    Before you get started, it’s essential to know which type of real estate agent will be best for your needs:

Real Estate Agent: Has completed the necessary training and qualified as an estate agent. They can be self-employed or work for a larger firm, and may have a full or part-time schedule
Realtor®: A member of either the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) in the U.S. or the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA). They’re required to follow a strict code of conduct and ethics and will typically learn new skills continually
Broker: A broker is generally responsible for supervising a team of estate agents. They’re held to a high standard and are often the ones that agents go to with complex industry and legal queries
Additionally, you’ll often find agents specializing in different things, such as sales or rentals.

  1. Ask Friends and Family
    One of the best ways to find an agent you can trust is to ask for references from friends or family who have had good experiences. This can be a great shortcut, but even if friends or family give an agent a rave review, be sure to conduct your own research and interview them. Your needs and expectations may differ, or you just might not be a good fit.
  2. Do Your Research and Make a Shortlist
    Aim to make a short list of at least three candidates. Be sure to look for important attributes, such as whether they’re fully qualified, experienced, have good local knowledge and are comfortable negotiating.

Check online reviews and see exactly what services they offer to ensure they’re a good choice for your needs. It’s worth spending time and choosing a few options now rather than going with the first one and finding out things are not working out along the way.

  1. Start Interviewing Your Candidates
    Once you’ve made your shortlist, it’s time to start contacting your choices and arranging interviews. Try to interview at least three people so that you can see your various options. As you prepare for the discussion, put yourself in the shoes of a company’s CEO looking to hire their next star employee.

Essentially, you are conducting a job interview, and planning is essential. Draw up a list of questions for each candidate, covering things like: how long have you worked in real estate?, how well do you know the local area?, what’s your schedule? and can I see your credentials?

  1. Check References
    After interviews, you’ll have a better idea of how you feel about your candidates. Be sure to ask for references and follow up on them. Don’t hesitate to contact former clients to hear if their experience matches what you’ve been told.
  2. Choose Your Best Match
    If the references check out, it’s time to make your choice. Don’t worry if your choice isn’t necessarily the best-rated agent on paper. It’s generally best to go with your gut feeling. You’ll be working closely with your agent, so it’s vital that you feel comfortable with them and that you know they’ll be honest with you.
  3. Check Your Contract
    Read through your contract thoroughly, taking note of the payment requirements and the length of the contract. Usually, the seller must pay agent fees of 6% of the sale price on average, with 3% going to each agent. However, this can be negotiated.

In terms of the length of the contract, consider the state of the market. In a hot market, houses can sell in weeks rather than months. So, you don’t really want to be tied up with a single agent for six months if things aren’t working out and you haven’t sold or bought a home quickly enough.

The Societal Benefits of Homeownership

There’s a lot of talk about the financial benefits of homeownership, such as creating equity and wealth, but what isn’t always as obvious are the social benefits: making people happier, healthier and more civically engaged.

Owning a home has non-financial benefits

A large body of research from Canada and around the world finds homeownership contributes to higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction for homeowners and their families. And that results in a wide range of educational, health and socio-cultural benefits, which were laid out in the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA)‘s recent white paper,

The Homeownership Dividend for Canadians.

These non-financial benefits have spillover benefits to the broader community and surrounding civic fabric—all of which are positively linked to a culture of homeownership.

These “positive externalities,” extend beyond the homeowner to the rest of society, regardless of demographics, ethnicities, income levels and ages.
There are a number of reasons for this higher level of life satisfaction, from having a sense of financial security and ‘rootedness’ to having greater control over one’s life

Homeownership builds pride and stability

It’s also the Canadian dream for many. “We can’t forget that element—people don’t come to this country to rent, they come to be a homeowner,” says Lisa Patel, President of the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board and a member of the CREA’s Federal Affairs Committee.

“There’s a certain amount of pride that comes with homeownership. REALTORS® don’t just sell you a house, they sell you a home,” she says. And while homeownership comes with financial benefits, such as building equity and wealth, it also helps to build more vibrant communities, because “those who have a place to call home tend to want to better their neighbourhood.”

While pride might not show up on the balance sheet, it does affect behaviour and choices. Several studies cited in the white paper show that homeowners have improved satisfaction with their living conditions and higher rates of overall life satisfaction, regardless of income levels and socioeconomic backgrounds.

For example, CMHC’s 2013 Canada-wide survey of 326 Habitat for Humanity households found that habitat homeowners reported better well-being for their children, a greater sense of stability and a greater feeling of control. Of these respondents, 70% had previously lived in some form of rental housing.

Other countries have had similar results. A group of Dutch housing policy researchers, for example, studied 2000-2001 data from eight European countries and found higher levels of satisfaction with one’s living conditions among homeowners than non-homeowners in seven out of eight countries. Another European study drawing on data from 15 European countries found homeownership correlated with increased overall life satisfaction, regardless of household circumstances.

Better health and education outcomes

Aside from overall life satisfaction, building equity can help with other life goals, such as paying for higher education. The stability and security of homeownership has been shown to contribute to a better home and learning environment, resulting in better educational outcomes.

Several studies referenced in the white paper found when a family owns their home, school drop-out rates decrease, and the homeowner’s children are more likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The research also reflects the influence of homeownership on physical and mental health. “Financial security and residential stability can serve as a buffer against market fluctuations that contribute to physical and mental stress, especially among low-income families,” CREA noted in the white paper.

“When you have the security of homeownership, you are the one in the decision-making seat, you decide when you’re going to move or relocate, so it eliminates the anxiety of someone telling you when you’re going to move,” says Jill Oudil, CREA’s Chair-Elect.
When you rent, your landlord may require you to move whether you like it or not. If you own, the decision to move is your own. If you want to renovate, paint or make a space feel completely your own, you can. If you want to own a pet, you can.

“It makes you content and healthy and happier in your own environment because you have that choice,” says Oudil. “It’s entirely different in how it promotes a feeling of success and achievement—it’s your home.”

Benefits include greater civic engagement

Although these mental health benefits directly affect homeowners and their families, they have positive spillover effects in neighbourhoods and communities. “You invest in the neighbourhood when you live there,” says Oudil. “You own a portion of that neighbourhood so you care about the whole neighbourhood.”

That community orientation of homeownership is often reflected in higher rates of civic engagement, and in turn results in more connected communities. For example, a 1996 literature review by researchers from the University of North Carolina found higher rates of homeownership were linked to greater neighbourhood stability (measured as property condition and length of tenure).

This ‘rootedness’ is a potential contributor to positive civic outcomes because, as noted in the white paper, “by virtue of their longer tenure and more stable financial situation, homeowners may be more inclined to invest into and participate in their neighbourhoods.”

“There’s stability with owning a home,” says Cliff Stevenson, CREA’s Chair. “I would argue that homeowners take more of an interest in the neighbourhood around them, running in community associations or volunteering. It’s a lot easier for homeowners to do that, given the longevity of the investment. The overarching terminology is about stability.”

Homeowners tend to be more active in their communities; they’re more likely to vote and more likely to volunteer for local organizations. They also tend to spend more time and money maintaining their homes, which contributes to beautifying their neighbourhood, which in turn contributes to community pride.

A 2009 Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study on low-income households found that participants who purchased homes remained in inner urban areas, “suggesting homeownership can help reduce urban flight and strengthen neighbourhood connections,” according to the white paper.

“If a family owns a home, the children grow up with that example,” says Oudil. That might explain why, when children grow up and eventually move away, they often move back later to raise their own children.

“It’s so emotionally fulfilling,” she says. “You can say there’s the finance side and the health side and community side, but the fact is all of those are connected, which breeds more happiness.”

How to Make Your Own Live Edge Table

If you have a passion for building, and you want to take on a unique project, we’ve got just the thing for you: a DIY live edge table. Live edge furniture is a great way to add beauty to your home and create a unique talking piece for future entertaining.

What’s a live edge table?

Remember that beautiful table at your family cottage? The one they seemingly stole from a fairy tale? Yup, that’s a live edge. These tables incorporate the natural edge of a piece of wood directly into their design. They’re rustic, raw, modern, and chic, not to mention sophisticated and built to last. A traditional live edge table will have tree bark on its sides; however, some people choose to remove it to avoid the bark possibly becoming brittle and breaking over time. In recent years, live edge tables have grown in popularity among furniture and design enthusiasts everywhere. Here’s what you need to know to build one

How can I build my own?

For such a beautiful piece of furniture, a live edge table is relatively straightforward to make. It can be a one-day project if you have the right materials. Unlike most live edge tables, the process outlined here doesn’t require you to break out your welding gear.
To get started, browse crafty websites like Pinterest or Etsy to find inspiration. It’s also important to designate an area of your home as your workspace; we recommend a garage or backyard.

Start with a wood slab you think will work in your desired location, proper tools on hand, and your creative spirit ready to go! Keep in mind it can be dangerous to operate power tools without the right safety equipment and know-how—so be cautious. If you don’t have the required tools, you can likely rent them at your local hardware store.

How to source the right wood

Depending on the size of table you want, and the type of wood, slabs can range from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000. For the cost-conscious builder, a softwood like cedar or pine is recommended as it’s often less expensive and easier to work with; however, most species of wood will produce a beautiful finished product. Don’t worry, you don’t need to cut down a tree yourself; there are plenty of lumber yards or woodworking vendors who can sell you the perfect slab.

Materials and tools needed

To build your own live edge table, you’ll need:

  • A slab of live edge wood (three inches thick is optimal)
  • A hammer (optional to remove bark)
  • Two 2x4s and a sawhorse (or any tool to safely elevate your slab)
  • An angle grinder, a sharpening disc, and a flat carving disk
  • Sandpaper and an orbital sander
  • A tape measure, pencil and drill
  • Lag screws and metal table legs (you’ll need to measure and order custom sizes)
  • Lint-free rags and a tack cloth
  • Wood finish

Steps to follow

Step one (optional to remove bark)

If you don’t want your table to have the tree’s natural bark along its edges, elevate your wood slab to protect it and use a hammer claw to remove the bark.

Step two

Secure your slab on top of your sawhorses. Using your angle grinder and carving disk, shape it to your liking, following its grain and natural curves for the best results.

With your slab in its desired shape, use your orbital sander to buff out any aggressive marks. Start with a low grit and slowly increase.

Step Three

With your slab in its desired shape, use your orbital sander to buff out any aggressive marks. Start with a low grit and slowly increase.

Step four

Place your table face down on your 2x4s, position the legs, and mark drill holes. Drill your pilot holes and attach the legs using heavy-duty lag screws.

Step five

By now, you’re probably boasting your woodworking skills to everyone who will listen; this table already looks good enough to eat off! But it’s not done yet; you need to protect it with a finish.

Wipe down the surface with a lint-free rag, then with a tack cloth. Evenly apply your finish, letting it soak as per the manufacturer’s recommendation, then a smaller coat for any dry spots and wait again. Finally, buff out any excess finish with a clean, lint-free rag.

Now that you’ve completed your table, it’s time for the hardest part: deciding where to put it. Most likely, it will be the crowning jewel of your dining room, but just be careful—once you have one piece of live edge furniture in your home, you’ll probably want to add even more! There are plenty of live edge projects you can take on, such as shelves, desks, bedside tables, a striking coffee table for your living room, or even a fancy cutting board! They all carry the same, elegant look and natural look of a live edge table, and are sure to make a charming addition to any room in your home!

As with any DIY or home improvement project, safety is always the most important factor. If you’re unsure about building a live edge table on your own, or you don’t have the proper tools or safety equipment to complete the project, be sure to contact a professional woodworker who can help you plan, design, and build your dream live edge table.

Should You DIY Your Kitchen Renovation?

Tired of cooking in your cramped kitchen? Are your circa-1980 cabinets ready for the dumpster? A new kitchen can help boost property values and greatly improve your overall enjoyment of the home.

The catch? A kitchen remodel isn’t a weekend project. Depending on how involved your plans are (replacing cabinet doors vs. gutting the whole room), your project can either be affordable and simple, or expensive and complicated. Here’s how to figure out whether you have the resources to go the DIY route or if you’re better off hiring a professional.

Evaluate your goals and your skills

Kitchen renovations take money and time, says Brandon Fuchs, owner of North Canadian Construction Group (NCC), which operates in Regina and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

“You have to determine: are you planning on selling your home and just renovating it to freshen it up, or is this your forever home?” he says. “And if you’re in an expensive neighbourhood and you do the kitchen yourself, the quality of the work you’re producing might be a deterrent when you sell your home.”

Feeling confident about your abilities? You’ll still need to consider equipment. If you don’t own the proper tools, factor in the cost of renting or purchasing what you need.

Consult a designer

Fuchs admits when he first launched his contracting business, he didn’t appreciate the value of working with a designer. He has since changed his mind.

“A cabinet company makes a plan for cabinets, but they don’t make a plan for your project,” he says. “Designers create that blueprint and use software that visually takes you right to the end of the project. They have experience on job sites, so they’ll help guide you to make the correct decisions.”

Consult a Realtor

You may not be selling the house right away, but consulting with a local realtor is a good idea before starting any home renovation project. Realtors know what buyers are looking for in your neighbourhood, whether it’s the style of cabinets or the quality of the countertop. Knowing these things in advance can help you make decisions for a potentially better resale value in the future.

Settle on the scope of your project

Even if you aren’t knocking down walls or changing the footprint of your kitchen, check with your municipality to see whether you need permits and what the building code requires, says Fuchs.

“For example, where we are, as soon as you touch a kitchen, you have to upgrade the electrical,” he explains. “So if an inspector gets wind that you’re doing your kitchen and you haven’t hired an electrician to follow those new code restrictions, you could get into trouble.”

Consider how much time your kitchen remodel requires

Binge-watching home improvement shows makes us believe that renovation projects can be accomplished in a few spare hours. The reality is just the opposite, says Fuchs.

“Some people think it’s more cost-effective to do things on their own, but I have a different perspective: What’s your time worth? If you’re employed and you work eight hours a day, you might work for another eight hours after that, because you’re not as efficient as a pro,” he says.

Smaller projects such as putting up backsplash tiles or swapping cabinet hardware don’t require a huge time investment. But hanging cabinets, changing a sink and faucet, or installing a new countertop could take a lot longer than anticipated.
The work will also probably disrupt your daily routine, plus you need to be ready to live with the mess until the kitchen is complete.

You may pay less (or more) for materials

If you’re good at researching materials and products online to find the best deals, your DIY kitchen could end up costing you less in the long run.

Fuchs notes contractors usually get special ‘for the trade’ pricing from suppliers. But if you don’t mind spending time buying and transporting supplies, some big-box stores will allow you to open an account if you’re planning to purchase lots of items, so you can negotiate a small discount.

“Because of the relationships we’ve built over the years, we get more than just a discount on material,” he explains. “We also have more control on availability.”

Fuchs also said contractors often have access to higher quality materials than what’s available to consumers.

Know when to call in a pro

Renovating an older home? It’s probably better to hire an experienced general contractor that can spot potential problems, suggests Fuchs.

“Does the house have asbestos, mould, or rot? These things sound really bad, but you can prep for them before you actually start. However, people often jump into renovating their home without knowing what they’re doing, and that’s when the extra costs come up.”

Generally, the average DIYer should bring in professional help for plumbing, electrical, or gas hook-ups, along with asbestos or mould remediation.

Ask for extra help during your DIY

As you embark on your DIY project, it’s important to note, a number of companies also offer their services online. From plumbing, electrical to general contracting, a quick Google search will connect you with a professional to help avoid any DIY disasters.
Whether you take on a project yourself, entrust a professional contractor or go with a little bit of both, take the time to research all your options before you grab a sledgehammer.

Fun Virtual Event Ideas to Keep Everyone Entertained During Lockdown

We’ve never been closer to one another in a world where social distance has become the norm. You can FaceTime your mother, hang out with friends, or join a Zoom call with your team of 30 coworkers with the click of a button. There are so many unique and entertaining ways to interact with one another online, from birthday parties to scavenger hunts.

Below is a comprehensive guide that will walk you through the ins and outs of hosting a virtual event, as well as etiquette and expectations, as well as several fun and engaging virtual group activities to try for your next event.

What to consider when hosting a virtual event

  1. Good internet
    One of the most fundamental and important components of a successful virtual event is your internet connection. Even though your bill says “high-speed internet,” you might have a less than optimal connection. Ensure you have a minimum upload speed of 15MB/s so your video and audio quality is good–nobody likes choppy or glitchy footage! If you have the ability to plug your laptop into an ethernet cable, do it. A wired connection is much more stable and consistent.
  2. Services and apps to use
    Zoom has quickly become the standard for hosting virtual gatherings and events, however, there are many more options on the market, from Facebook Messenger and FaceTime, to WhatsApp and Google Duo. If your event requires screen sharing or has many participants joining via an array of devices (laptop, tablet, phone), it’s best to stick with Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, or Skype.
  3. Virtual etiquette and tips
    Just because an event is virtual doesn’t mean all manners and social etiquette go out the window. Here are just a few simple tips and behaviours to consider:
  • When sending out invites or RSVPs give lots of lead time.
  • Use your laptop rather than your phone. If the phone is a must, consider placing it on a stand or even a stack of books to keep it stationary.
  • Make sure your camera is eye level and your background is clear of distracting items.
  • With Zoom, gallery view is better than speaker video–that way you can see everyone and their reactions!
  • When five or more people are joining the event, it’s polite to mute yourself when you aren’t speaking.
  • The general rule of thumb is the more participants, the shorter the event should be. Expect participants to be present for 45-90 minutes.
  • Know when to say goodbye.

Virtual event ideas

Now that we’ve covered the basics of how to throw a virtual party, let’s explore some fun virtual event ideas and what you need to make them happen.

Scavenger hunt

What it is: A fun event for kids and adults alike, virtual scavenger hunts are the latest trend to hit the internet. Participants are instructed to find funny, obscure, and unique items all around their home and are rewarded with points for the most items found.

What you need: Pick a theme for your scavenger hunt and then create a list of household items that might fall under that theme. The host or moderator will oversee reading the list and controlling the stopwatch. Participants will have anywhere from 30 seconds to one minute to ransack their house for the identified item. Points are awarded based on how many items a participant has found. Fun, physical, and entertaining!

  • Aim for about eight to 15 people.
  • Create a list of things that everyone will have in their homes but might have a hard time finding (ex: Three triple “A” batteries) to make the rush of finding the items much more thrilling.
  • Remember to be mindful of the age of your participants.
  • Have a real prize for the winner. Ask all participants to pitch in $5 to $10 to buy the winner a gift card or something small.

Dinner party

What it is: Casual, fancy, or family-style, virtual dinner parties are the new night out! There are many different dinner party formats to consider. Will participants be cooking the meal during the call or just eating? Will it be a home-cooked meal or take-out? Will everyone be cooking the same meal or something different?

What you need: Chat with your participants to decide on the format as well as the theme of the night. The host will oversee setting up the video call, distributing the recipes or takeout menu to participants, and setting the agenda for the night. Beyond that, it’s as simple as showing up, eating together, and feeling connected.


  • This format typically works best with two to three households/families.
  • Themed dinner parties can be fun, where you dress up based on the meal you’re having.
  • Using a meal prep service or catered delivery can save time and ensure all participants have the same recipes and ingredients for the meal.
  • Have an end time planned.

Birthday party

What it is: There’s a pretty good chance you’ve already experienced some type of virtual birthday party in the past year. Sometimes it’s just a conversation, other times there are activities planned.

What you need: If you’re hosting a virtual birthday party, you’ll want to send out RSVPs at least three weeks in advance along with an agenda, the honouree’s address (in case guests want to send gifts in advance), and the link to the party. If you plan to send gifts or goodie bags, leave plenty of time to courier the packages. Lastly, have a schedule: introductions, a fun game, sing happy birthday, enjoy cake, and open presents. Despite the distance, it can still be an epic celebration!


  • Play virtual party games to keep things interesting.
  • No birthday is complete without cake. Send a cake to your virtual birthday honoree or some cupcakes to all party guests. Local bakeries or food delivery services like UberEats and SkipTheDishes can make this easy.
  • Don’t forget the digital decorations! Zoom lets you customize your background so take advantage.
  • Encourage partygoers to wear party hats or dress up based on a predetermined theme.

Cooking or cocktail class

What it is: Want to learn a new skill all while hanging out with the people you love? Try a virtual cooking or cocktail class. Enjoy all the benefits of an in-person cooking class from the comfort of your own kitchen.

What you need: From cooking basics to delicious cocktails, there are many professionals offering paid (and free) cooking classes virtually. But before you contract your chef or mixologist, poll your group to see what they would be most interested in learning. Once your event is confirmed, the host and chef/mixologist should coordinate to ensure all participants have a list of all the necessary ingredients, equipment, and tools to get the job done. On party night, enjoy the learning experience, and delicious food and drink.


  • Think about the length of the class, instructor fees, and the cost and accessibility of required ingredients.
  • Don’t choose overly complicated recipes that require special equipment or tools.
  • Keep the group size small, usually no more than eight to ten participants. This allows for one-on-one instruction if needed.
  • Don’t treat the class like a cooking show. The chef/mixologist is there to educate, entertain and converse with participants, so loosen up, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to chat.

Games night

What it is: Who doesn’t love a friendly game between friends and family to shake things up on a Saturday night? Grab a pizza, your favourite game, and a laptop–it’s about to go virtual!

What you need: A game to play–and there are lots to choose from! Bingo, 20 questions, trivia, charades, mad libs, and truth or dare are some traditional games you can easily play online without a third-party app. If digital group gaming is your thing, try Jackbox Games, All Bad Cards, Heads Up, or Among Us which all have apps, virtual rooms, or links that allow you to game together.


  • Take age into consideration when selecting a game.
  • For games with no time limit consider using a stopwatch to call a hard stop, otherwise, your game could go on forever.
  • Don’t forget the snacks!
  • At the end of the day, the best virtual events are those that help your employees, friends, or family feel connected, important, and appreciated. We’re lucky to be living during a time where technology has closed the gap in distance and made us feel closer than ever.

Why You Should Get Involved in Community Gardens

Community gardens are a growing addition to many urban neighbourhoods. They provide a space for bartering, collaboration, education, and sometimes pizza! Across Canada, communities are extending their shared spaces to include pizza ovens, beehives, yoga classes, and gardening lectures.

Most gardens encourage family members of all ages to participate. The multi-generational approach allows for ideas and resources to be shared with greenhorns and green thumbs alike. And as more and more Canadians show interest in pursuing self-sufficiency and food security by growing their very own menus, it’s time to get involved!
Just keep in mind that COVID-19 may impact how some gardens operate. Your local municipality should have more information on their website.

History 101: The wartime victory gardens

During WWII, “victory gardens” (homegrown vegetable gardens) were promoted by the U.S. and Canadian governments to help alleviate food shortages. Any available greenspace was cleverly converted into a garden. In 1943, Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt famously ploughed up the front lawn of the White House to plant her own victory garden. Michelle Obama followed suit, championing the movement supporting sustainable food sovereignty and independence.

I have a pair of gardening gloves. Now what?

While every community garden operates differently, garden plots are generally individually allotted or shared. Plot ‘owners’ are responsible for providing the seeds or plants, watering, and maintaining their allotment. The collectives rely on donations of tools, seeds, rain barrels, and sweat equity.

Community gardens usually have an appointed administrator or volunteer responsible for assigning plots, waivers, sharing updates, and reminders to members about their roles. Many have a Facebook page or forum while some are operated by the city’s parks and recreation committee. Check your local municipality’s website for contact information. If a garden doesn’t exist in your area, here’s some essential information on establishing one.
Some gardens designate plots that are collectively maintained for the purpose of donating all produce to a local food bank or homeless shelter. Other gardens choose to donate a portion of their private harvests in a similar manner.
Other gardens charge a nominal fee, like Banff Community Greenhouse in Alberta. The greenhouse is so popular, organizers had to implement a lottery system for the plots. There’s a $40 annual fee for seeds and a $20 damage fee which is returned at the end of the season if the plot is properly maintained.

The benefits of a community garden

Community gardens let volunteers network with their neighbours, get outdoors, and enjoy 100% local food. In Toronto, Guelph, and Hamilton, fruit and vegetable “gleaning programs” divert produce from becoming waste, which helps support local food banks.
At McGill University’s rooftop garden in Quebec, the “edible campus” bounty is shared with 100 local seniors who enjoy the ultra-fresh vegetables courtesy of Santropol Roulant’s community program. United by food and friendship, the program is one of many creative initiatives across the country. In the County and City of Peterborough, Ontario, 43 community gardens are located in municipal parks, schoolyards, churches, private properties, and communal boulevards making the gardening experience both accessible and inclusive to the region’s residents.

Plotting Ahead

There are many ways to emphasize the ‘community’ aspect of community gardens. Have a scarecrow-making contest, for example. Suggest casual outdoor potlucks for neighbourhood garden members with a guest speaker. Host a recipe and cookbook exchange or preserves swap. Seek out virtual workshops and Zoom lessons. Creating a private or public group forum on Facebook is free and opens a channel of constant communication for members with questions about how to deal with aphids or how to grow pole beans. The public forum Grow Food Toronto (on Facebook) is a valuable resource for all “cultivation activists” with more than 2,500 members providing ideas and inspiration for planting lots of food—and sharing it.
If you’re interested in starting up your own community garden, resources like Sustain Ontario’s Community Garden Network are designed to support community garden leaders and to help coach them in best practices, strategies and share grant opportunities.

Update on Canada’s 2021 Mortgage Rates

The Bank of Canada has kept its overnight lending rate target at its effective lower bound of 0.25 percent for more than a year to support the country’s economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, as the country enters its second year of the pandemic, the Bank appears unlikely to change its tune anytime soon.

The Bank announced on March 10 that it would keep the overnight rate at 0.25 percent, possibly until 2023, during a regularly scheduled announcement. Furthermore, since August 2020, the conventional five-year mortgage rate has remained unchanged at 4.79 percent.

James Laird, co-founder of and President of CanWise Financial, explains the latest news on the Canadian mortgage market and how it may affect consumers in 2021.

What the latest Bank of Canada rate announcement means

In the mortgage industry, the Bank’s decision to keep the overnight rate at 0.25 percent was not unexpected, according to Laird. What’s more important, he says, is the Fed’s reaffirmation of its commitment to keep rates unchanged for another two years.

“That was notable because there was a lot of good news in the beginning of the year,” Laird explained.

Despite some positive developments in early 2021, such as the ongoing vaccine rollout and gradual economic recovery, Laird claims that unemployment in certain industries remains high. Many part-time and hourly workers in the hospitality, tourism, and retail industries were laid off as a result of the pandemic. Before changing rates, the Bank, according to Laird, will want to see the situation significantly improve.

“They pointed to that in the last announcement and said, ‘You know what? Even if there is good news on many fronts, we will continue to monitor this factor before changing our stance of keeping rates low until 2023,’” Laird said. “That will be something to keep an eye on.”

Despite the fact that mortgage rates have been and will likely remain low for some time, Laird explains that this is not the primary driving force behind Canada’s burgeoning real estate market. Instead, he attributes it to the pandemic’s influence on lifestyle changes. Many of us have reconsidered our living arrangements, especially those who now work from home, according to Laird, and this has prompted people to purchase a home that is better suited to their current needs.

“No one says, ‘I wasn’t planning on buying a house, but now that rates are low, I’m going to buy one.’ “It’s never happened before,” Laird said. “It’s other lifestyle factors that make you want to buy a new house or make changes to the one you have. Rates are only one factor in the equation.”

While the overnight rate that influences the mortgage market is expected to remain unchanged for the time being, fixed-rate and variable-rate mortgages have been gradually diverging in the first months of 2021. The overnight rate has a greater impact on variable rates because banks use it as a benchmark to determine their own prime rate, which is used to create variable mortgage rate offerings. Variable rates have remained virtually unchanged as a result of this. Fixed-rate mortgages, on the other hand, have been rising in price, prompting Laird to say that demand for variable-rate mortgages has increased.

“Now that fixed rates have risen a little, we are seeing more demand on the variable side,” Laird explained, “because the spread between variable and fixed rates is wider than it was before because variable rates haven’t changed at all.” “Fixed rates are still the most popular, but compared to a month ago, more people are opting for variable [rates].”

If you’re a new or current mortgage holder

Given the unusual economic conditions, the process of selecting a variable or fixed-rate mortgage may seem more daunting to prospective homebuyers. The decision to go with a fixed or variable rate, according to Laird, should be influenced by the holder’s own personal circumstances and strategies.
“There will never be a time when we recommend that everyone take fixed or variable. It all depends on the consumers’ situation, their household, and the type of people they are,” Laird explained.

Consumers who are more risk averse may want to opt for a fixed-rate mortgage rather than a variable-rate mortgage, according to Laird. If you have the financial flexibility to manage a variable rate if it rises, and you don’t mind a little risk, a variable rate could be a good fit for you.

Existing mortgage holders may be enticed to break their terms in order to chase a lower rate and save money for other projects if ultra-low mortgage rates become available. When it comes to fixed-rate mortgages, however, Laird points out that there are usually not many savings to be had because the penalty for breaking the mortgage could be equal to the savings—the lower the current market rates are, the higher the penalties for breaking the mortgage can be, he says. The proper steps in determining the best course of action are to obtain a mortgage penalty quote from your provider and then speak with your mortgage broker to work out the math.

“If you’re nearing the end of your term, it can make sense,” says Laird, “especially if you think rates will be higher by the time your renewal comes up.”

What’s on the horizon for mortgage rates in 2021

In terms of the future, Laird says it’s difficult to predict when the real estate market will cool down. Demand for Canadian housing has been rapidly increasing since mid-2020, and Laird expects this trend to continue throughout the spring market.
Variable rates are expected to stay the same in 2021, according to Laird, while fixed rates are expected to rise moderately. This year, he explains, optimism about vaccine distribution, unemployment levels, and a return to normalcy will play a role in rate forecasting.

“If you believe those things will happen, you should expect fixed rates to rise higher. If you’re pessimistic, you shouldn’t expect fixed rates to rise significantly,” Laird said. “We’re all individuals, and we each decide on our own rate strategy. That’s exactly what we discuss with our clients.”

DIY Bird Feeders and Birdhouses to Make Your Yard Sing

A bird house is one type of home with a view that comes with no mortgage! With spring in full bloom, we’re sharing some backyard birding tips, as well as information on birdseed and how to make a bird feeder or birdhouse. This spring and summer, create a safe and happy haven for birds, and enjoy your new feathered friends!

A feast for a finch

Feeding wildlife is generally frowned upon, but backyard birds are an exception. You can feed birds guilt-free because they don’t become reliant on feeders. Feeders should be cleaned on a regular basis, placed near but not too close to trees or shrubs, and at least four metres away from windows to help keep birds safe. Choose high-quality seeds such as sunflower or niger seeds instead of seed mixed with oats, rice, corn, or wheat, which can attract pests and provide fewer nutrients to birds. Look for birdseed that is suited to the birds in your area at your local garden or hardware store.

Build it and they shall come

Birdhouses are another option for attracting feathered visitors to your yard. Birds that nest in a natural nook, such as a tree cavity (such as chickadees or bluebirds), may choose a birdhouse if one is available. If you’re not sure what kind of birds might live in your yard, use the NestWatch Right Bird, Right House tool to look for feathered tenants and learn about their housing needs.

Build a DIY birdfeeder with the kids

Make this easy DIY bird feeder project with the kids using items you probably already have around the house! Cleaning out a used milk carton and cutting out two squares on opposite sides of the carton are the first steps. Allow the carton to dry before painting it a colour of your choice and adding shingles to the roof with popsicle sticks. Make two small holes on either side of the carton and insert a wooden dowel or plant stick to provide a place for birds to stand. Make sure to keep an eye on your homemade bird feeder and, if necessary, replace or repair it.

If you’re worried about pesky critters like squirrels or chipmunks being attracted to your birdfeeder, this list of DIY hacks can ‘squirrel-proof’ your creation and leave the feed for the intended audience: the birds.

Tea for two and two for tea

This teacup bird feeder is fun to make, easy to put together, and will look lovely in any backyard. Begin by selecting a lovely teacup and saucer from your own collection, or go to a thrift store to find one. Before letting it dry, adhere the cup to the saucer with craft glue (like e6000) and a glue gun, then hang it up with twine. Fill the teacup with your favourite seed and wait for the birds to arrive for an afternoon tea party hosted by you.

Birdhouses that keep up with the trends

A-frames are making a comeback, and this one for backyard birds will stand out in your garden. A handheld drill, craft knife, glue, a wooden dowel, birch wood, and balsa wood are all needed for this modern birdhouse DIY, which can be found at a hardware store. Because the wood can be cut with a craft knife and then assembled with glue—no saw or nails required—building this birdhouse is simple for anyone of any skill level.

Leave it to the pros (and the crows)

Preassembled birdhouses can be found for as little as a few dollars at craft stores like Michaels. For a natural look that will weather in your yard, leave the birdhouse bare. Use non-toxic paint or stain to add colour to this kid-friendly DIY that doesn’t require any tools or glue. Use sandpaper to go over painted or stained surfaces to let the wood show through for a natural but colourful birdhouse. Watch the birds flock to your yard by hanging a single or coordinated group of feeders.

Whether you put up a birdhouse or a bird feeder in your yard this spring, you’ll love seeing who comes to visit. Set up a camera and watch who comes by if you really want to know who is coming to visit!

Easy Ways to Reduce Trash in Your Home

It all began with a photo of a small trash jar. Bea Johnson, the founder of the zero waste lifestyle movement, challenged people to reduce their carbon footprint by eliminating or drastically reducing garbage that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

Johnson’s family generates less than a litre of waste per year, and her how-to book Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste was an instant best-seller. She shares her five rules for producing as little waste as possible in it:

  • Refuse things you don’t need
  • Reduce what you do need
  • Reuse or upcycle items you consume
  • Recycle any materials you cannot reduce or refuse, so they can be transformed into other things
  • Rot or compost everything else

Many people are enthusiastic about the zero waste lifestyle, and they use the hashtags #zerowaste and #zerowasteliving to share their ideas and success stories on Instagram. It’s a significant step toward a greener future, especially given that Canada is one of the world’s most wasteful nations. We generate 510 kilogrammes of waste per person per year, which is sent to over 10,000 landfill sites. About 2.8 million tonnes of plastic waste are included in this figure.

Here’s how to get started living a waste-free lifestyle:

Just say no

Small, everyday items, such as plastic produce bags, disposable coffee cups, and plastic straws, can quickly add to the trash heap, so refuse anything you don’t absolutely need. Instead, use reusable alternatives like grocery tote bags or ask your local coffee shop’s barista to refill your coffee mug. Due to current COVID restrictions, some larger chains have suspended refill services.
You should also politely decline hand-me-down clothing, furniture, and decorative items that you know you won’t use or enjoy.

Purge your stuff

Donate items you don’t wear, use, or need to reduce your overall possessions. You’re not only reducing waste, but you’re also giving back to the community. Once you’ve gotten used to purging, try to stick to the “one in, one out” rule, which states that for every item you bring into your home, something similar must leave.
Make a date with your closet and bookshelf, and donate or donate anything that doesn’t “spark joy,” as Marie Kondo suggests. Holding a clothing swap, selling items online, and shopping at thrift stores are all sustainable options.

Reuse often

Instead of throwing things away, reuse them. Rinse out your glass spaghetti sauce jar and use it to store other foods, for example. Instead of paper towels, use microfiber cloths. They are machine washable and cost less than $5 per pack at your local dollar store. You get the picture.

Let materials have a new life

It’s great to recycle paper, glass, metal, and plastic, but don’t just throw things in your blue bin and hope they’ll be recycled. Learn the recycling rules in your area; otherwise, items will end up in the landfill. In fact, only 9% of Canada’s plastic waste was recycled in 2019, with 86 percent ending up in landfills. Contamination occurs when food remains in containers or when paper and plastic are mixed together, resulting in the entire recycling bin being destined for the landfill because it cannot be repurposed.
We only recycle about 11 percent of our waste in Canada, owing to a lack of markets for all of the plastic we recycle.

Break it down

Composting your household waste saves tonnes of garbage because most landfills contain around 60% organic matter. Our flower beds and vegetable gardens benefit from the nutrient-rich fertiliser it provides. If your community has a green bin programme for organic waste, it’s simple to fall into the habit of throwing food scraps in there.

Some easy ways to go zero waste

  • Use your own containers to buy food in bulk.
  • Buy shampoo and soap in bars instead of bottles.
  • Wash windows with newspaper (this also helps reduce streaks—an added bonus!)
  • Plant a vegetable garden to cut down on plastic-wrapped produce from the grocery store.
  • Make your own stock from chicken bones or veggie scraps instead of buying it.
  • Swap out plastic toothbrushes and cotton swabs for compostable bamboo ones
  • Buy toilet paper that’s individually wrapped in paper, not plastic.
  • Invest in a bidet, like Tushy or Brondell, and avoid the need for toilet paper in general. If more people adopted bidets into their homes, somewhere around 15 million trees could be saved! Contrary to belief, a bidet uses less water than toilet paper. A bidet uses roughly one-eighth of a gallon of water, while it takes about 37 gallons of water to make a single roll of toilet paper.
  • Cover leftovers with a plate, not plastic wrap.
  • Shop at farmers’ markets where they’ll take your egg cartons and berry baskets back.
  • Use reclaimed or eco-friendly materials in your home renovations.

In a room-by-room breakdown, Bea Johnson offers more great trips and hacks. While adopting a zero-waste lifestyle will not happen overnight, there are simple steps you can take to get there. See how many small, eco-friendly steps you can take to get started on your zero-waste lifestyle!

A Smart Home Guide for Beginners: Where to Start

Devices, appliances, and environmental systems around our homes have become WiFi and internet enabled as the Internet of Things (IoT) has grown exponentially. This has resulted in smart home technology, which allows you to control nearly everything electrical in your home from a single device (typically a smartphone or tablet), regardless of whether you are inside or outside. This is an understandably complex and perplexing new world. It is, however, simple to embrace with a simple start. Let’s look into the fundamentals of setting up a smart home.

What is a smart home?

Smart homes are made up of all the devices (including appliances) that can be controlled and automated remotely over the internet via a home wireless (WiFi) network. From home security systems and kitchen appliances to something as simple as a lightbulb or an electrical outlet, smart home devices are everywhere.Your smart home system can be controlled using an app installed on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, which allows you to connect and control your smart devices. You’ll never forget to run the dishwasher or turn off the lights again with hands-on monitoring, control, and automation.

Other advantages of smart home automation, aside from the convenience of having everything at your fingertips, include:

Increased comfort: With better lighting and thermostat control, your home will always be at the perfect temperature when you arrive home or wake up in the morning.Better energy efficiency: Having more precise control over unused appliances and devices means consuming less energy.

Increased security: You’ll never have to worry about your belongings when you’re not at home with home security and camera integration.

Added security: Don’t worry if you leave something on the stove or oven unattended; you can turn them off remotely!

Better understanding: Smart home systems can give you a lot of information about your habits and how you use your devices around the house.

Where should I start?

When designing your smart home, the most important factor to consider is a smart system app or hub. While most systems apps don’t require a physical hub to give you control over your devices, a smart hub makes voice commands much easier. The following are some of the most popular smart system apps and hubs:

Amazon Alexa; Google Assistant; Samsung Smart Things; Wink Hub. 

If you’re primarily interested in home security and environmental control, you can contact a home security or monitoring company, or even your cellular or internet provider in some cases. Home monitoring is available from Bell, Telus, Rogers, and ecobee, with some even including additional automation features.Note that the services listed above require a monthly plan, and you may be charged a fee if you want to add more devices or appliances.

Smart devices to get started with

The next step is to choose some smart devices to connect to your smart system so that you can get started right away. When installing smart devices, the main difference you’ll notice is the extra steps required to connect them to your WiFi network. It may appear complicated at first, but manufacturers always include simple setup instructions, and if you run into any problems, they usually have excellent customer service to assist you.When looking for these kinds of products, it’s always a good idea to look at customer feedback and reviews on multiple retailer’s websites. You’ll also want to double-check that they’re compatible with your smart system app to avoid the hassle of having to manage your home through multiple apps.

Smart home hub: You’ll still be able to control everything through your smart system app, but the voice command capabilities of this option mean you won’t always need your phone to control your home. Some hubs, such as Amazon Echo and Google Nest, also function as speakers, allowing you to listen to your favourite music whenever you want.Range of prices: $50 to $400

Smart thermostat: This device is more than just a programmable thermostat replacement. Have you forgotten to turn down the heat when you leave for the day? It’s no problem! Your home’s heating and cooling can be controlled and automated from anywhere. Some smart systems can even track your habits and adjust the temperature automatically as a result.Range of prices: ~$40 to $300

Smart light bulbs: You can now control the intensity, timing, and even colour of these intuitive LED options, which are not only more energy efficient than their incandescent counterparts. Simply replace your existing bulbs, connect to your smart system, and leave the rest to your fingers.The price range is $5 to $60.

Smart switches: A modern alternative to traditional switches and dimmers, smart switches eliminate the need to replace bulbs and provide complete remote control of your room lights. Imagine never having to get out of your comfortable bed or dinner to adjust the lights!The price range is between $20 and $80.

Smart outlets and power bars: Yes, even an outlet or a power bar can be smart! Simple objects such as lamps, fans, and basic coffee makers are transformed into remotely programmable and automated devices using these devices.Range of prices: $11 to $40

Smart cameras: If you use a regular CCTV (closed circuit television) camera system, you know how frustrating it can be to sift through hours of footage. Smart cameras’ intuitive motion sensor technology allows them to record only when motion is detected. They can also notify you of any motion detected and you can even view the video feed in real-time using a mobile device or computer. Now if you’re on vacation and someone attempts to gain entry to your home, you can immediately contact authorities.Price range: ~$50 to $500+

Smart door locks/deadbolts: With a smart lock, you’ll never have to worry about fumbling for your keys with an armload of groceries. The mobile phone in your pocket will unlock it as you approach the door. Some locks are also code-enabled, while others can still use a traditional key in the event you forget your phone. You can also text one-time entry codes to family, neighbours, or even service providers if urgent entry is needed.Price range: ~$85 to $350

Smart range/stove/oven: Replacing your existing stove with a smart stove is a culinary game changer. You can pre-heat, adjust, and shut it off remotely. A smart oven’s intuitive cooking technology can even make automatic adjustments based on what you’re cooking so you end up with the perfect dish, every time.Price range: ~$850 to $10,000+

Once you’ve made your home smart and are comfortable with your smart devices, which can be found at most big-box stores, you should definitely look into what these other smart appliances have to offer. Of course, there is a learning curve here, and upgrading your home’s technology is a big change, but the benefits of convenience, energy savings, and overall comfort and security make it worthwhile. Best of luck!