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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Student rentals: Five ways to avoid problems


    Student rentals: Five ways to avoid problems

 

Student rentals: Five ways to avoid this
When investing in property near universities, chances are students will be its inhabitants. While there are some pros to this kind of investment (such as high demand, for example), there can be some drawbacks and other things to consider, Animal House being one of them.

CREW caught up with student rental property expert Benjamin Bach to see what five things investors should consider before taking the student housing property plunge.

1.Sub-letting. Canadian landlords are now following the U.S. norm of presenting students with one-year leases, as opposed to the eight-month kind that was once the norm and followed school terms in this country. Tenants can either pay for four months of vacancy, or find a sublet, which can have its risks.
“It depends on if there’s specific wording in the lease that deals with that,” says Bach, “but typically the tenant is on the hook for the lease and that’s where you’d have the tenant sub-lease it. There’s always risk: often times a landlord or investors has done their due diligence on their initial tenant, but the sub-tenant you’re now dealing with someone that somebody else has screened. It might not be as thorough a background check as you’d have performed, so there could be some issues there.”
He does note that some universities with summer programs are a safe bet for landlords weary of letting students screen their tenants. “In Kitchener-Waterloo (home to University of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier), there’s a pretty active co-op program that runs throughout the summer, so there are students around who want to sublet.”

2.Damages. The phrase “student housing” leaves many with scenes of Animal House dancing in their heads, but Bach says the hard-partying, property-damaging image of frosh doesn’t necessarily apply to all tenants.
“It is sort of a stereotype, but it goes back to who you’re renting to,” he says. “There are some student tenants who are a little rowdy, some who aren’t, and some who are studious and some who aren’t.”
According to Bach, developers are responding to potential property punishment with tougher buildings. “One of the interesting things we seen in Waterloo region and in some of the other markets is some of the new construction buildings are concrete .They’re built to withstand student abuse, so students aren’t punching holes in the drywall anymore.”

3.Location. Like any property, location is key. “In this case, you want it to either be walking distance to the schools or on a transit line. If you have a well-situated property and it’s nice inside, you’ll be able to rent it faster than properties that are a little further out. And with students you don’t just want to be close to the university, you want to be close to amenities for things like grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants, nightlife, and laundry facilities.”

4.Rent. Students are often relying on part-time jobs or financial assistance to pay the rent, and unlike other tenants where landlords can assess their ability to pay the rent, with students it can be a gamble.
“A lot of times with student rentals, landlords are able to get security with having a parent or guardian co-sign, so if your direct tenant doesn’t come up with the rent, you have someone else responsible for it,” Bach says. “Typically we see parents being OK with that for student housing, and it provides landlords with extra security because you don’t get a guarantor or co-signer for traditional apartment rentals.”

5.Amenities. Amenities are getting to be increasingly important, and properties are becoming more competitive. “Students are looking for more than just what would be in a dormitory, so more than just a bed and a desk,” says Bach, who recently drove by a newly-built student housing development. “I could see ping-pong facilities, and I know lots of these buildings are creating things like games rooms and movie screening rooms.”


A lot of investors are attracted to student housing because they hear about the higher cash flow and great returns, and that’s definitely the case in a lot of the markets, but investors should realise that often times there’s more management associated with student housing, and you’re typically going to be renting out the units more often, say experts. For example, the best case scenario is you will have a student stay with you for three years, but it will more likely be a year or two.
It’s also getting harder to finance student housing, with a lot of the banks reluctant to finance older student housing. And remember, says Bach, every market is different; for example, the KW student market is different from the student market in Vancouver which is different from Toronto’s. As long as investors realise there’s more management and more tenant turnover, they can expect good cash flow.

Source: Jemima Codrington

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Making Sense Of All the New Laptop Flavors


Making Sense Of All the New Laptop Flavors

Just when you thought it was safe to shop for a new laptop, a fresh problem stands in the way of laptop buyers: confusion. The shelves are now filled with shiny new PCs and Macs running revamped operating systems, but it's suddenly more complicated to choose a new laptop, especially for Windows shoppers.
So, for this year's fall laptop buyer's guide, I'll focus on sorting out some of the muddle. As always, this guide is for consumers doing the most common tasks. It isn't meant for corporate buyers or for hard-core gamers or serious media producers.
There always have been some core differences among the many Windows laptops and Apple's MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops. Computer makers using Windows tended to offer much greater variety and lower prices, while Mac models had better software, were much less prone to viruses and were generally more reliable and elegant.
Now, with the release of the new Windows 8 operating system, there is an even more fundamental difference. MacBooks remain traditional laptops, controlled by touch pads and keyboards. Apple has kept the Mac separate from its touch-screen computer, the market-dominating iPad tablet.
But Windows 8 laptops combine the two approaches, with two different user environments in the same computer. One is the traditional Windows desktop mode, best used with a touch pad or mouse and a keyboard. The other is the Start Screen mode, which operates like a tablet, has tablet-like apps and is best used with a touch screen.
So, if you're looking for a familiar laptop, focus on a Mac. If you like the idea of both approaches in one device, and can handle switching back and forth, pick a Windows 8 laptop.
If you opt for Windows, it gets more confusing. Windows 8 comes in two versions, plain Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro. Laptops with the latter have a handful of extra features that make it easier to connect with many corporate networks from home. So, if you need that ability, look for a laptop with the Pro version.
But there is an even trickier division. Some new Windows portables, like Microsoft's first computer, the Surface, use a variant of Windows 8 called Windows RT. Regular Windows 8 lets you run all the traditional desktop programs in Windows 7, like Microsoft Office 2010, Chrome, Quicken or iTunes. However, RT doesn't run these programs. Windows RT machines mostly run the new tablet-type apps that work in the Start Screen. They come with a special version of Microsoft Office, but it omits Outlook. So, if you want to use old Windows programs, don't buy an RT machine.
Windows 8 is a "touch first" operating system. It can be operated with a mouse or touch pad, but its newest, coolest component, the Start Screen, and the tablet-like apps sold for that environment via Microsoft's online store, are best used with touch. And there are some traditional laptops, like Acer's slender Aspire S7, with touch screens to complement their touch pads and keyboards.
However, many if not most Windows 8 laptops available right now lack touch screens. On a visit to a Best Buy store this week, I found the retailer promoting only three touch-screen ultrabooks, slim, light, well-equipped Windows laptops. There were a few larger well-equipped touch-screen models and one low-end model. All the others used standard screens.
Because I believe Windows 8's tablet-style mode works best with a touch screen, I don't advise buying a Windows 8 laptop without one.
Unlike Apple, Microsoft has no separate tablet operating system. Windows 8 was designed to run both tablets and standard computers. In my tests, I have found it runs well, maybe even best, on tablets, which can have add-on keyboards to handle traditional desktop programs. But there are a number of laptops, called convertibles, whose screens can flip, or slide, or twist, so they cover the keyboard and look like tablets.
Don't rely on these convertibles for extended use as tablets. The ones I've seen are too heavy and bulky for more than occasional use in tablet mode. If you use a tablet heavily, stick with an iPad, an Android tablet, or a Windows 8 or Windows RT machine that's actually a tablet.
Windows 8 and other system files appear to take up a lot more of your storage space than Windows 7. On the Lenovo Yoga laptop I reviewed last week, only 70 gigabytes of the 128 gigabytes of storage are available to the user. Get at least a 500 gigabyte hard disk or a 256 gigabyte solid-state drive.
Despite its new Mountain Lion operating system, the Mac hasn't changed nearly as much as Windows has. There's one version of the OS, for home and corporate use, and no stripped-down equivalent of Windows RT. While Mountain Lion borrows some features from the iPad, it doesn't attempt to mimic a tablet.
However, Apple has redesigned its top MacBook Pro models, and introduced confusion. Both the 13-inch and 15-inch Pros now come in two versions: regular display and higher-resolution—and higher-price—Retina display. Be sure you need the extra pixels before opting for the latter.
The least costly Mac laptop, the 11-inch MacBook Air, is still $999. And you can still buy some poorly equipped non-touch-screen Windows 8 laptops for about $300. In general, expect to spend between $600 and $1,000 for a well-equipped, thin and light touch-screen Windows 8 laptop.
It's an exciting time to buy a new laptop, especially for Windows lovers. But be careful to wade through the confusing options so you get what you need, nothing more or less.

Source: Wall Street Journal.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Here’s how you might be able to trim your property tax bill


Here’s how you might be able to trim your property tax bill


Bloomberg/Andrew Harrer
Bloomberg/Andrew HarrerEvery province has a mechanism whereby you can lower the assessment on your home and ultimately the amount of property taxes you owe.
There’s no question there is something appealing about lowering your taxes.
What if somebody told you a little research would accomplish just that? As annual property tax assessments arrive in the mail, some will no doubt be shocked, and a bit panicked, by the increase in their home’s value — something that may or not equate to a tax hike.
But there is something you can do about it, namely prove your home is not worth as much as the government thinks. It’s a process homeowners can consider in every province, says John Clark, vice-president of valuation and consulting with the Regional Group of Companies.

Everybody has to remember that a hike in assessment value does not automatically mean your taxes are going up. The Municipal Property Assessment Corp. in Ontario said this week assessments in Toronto will be up 5.5% in 2013 and have climbed 22.8% since 2008.

“People think my assessment went up 10%, my taxes will go up 10%,” says Mr. Clark. “If your assessment goes up exactly at the average [of all homes in your city], you see no tax increase. If the average went up 26%, and you only went up 10%, your taxes would go down."


It is when your house’s value increased at a higher rate than others that you might be facing an increase in your taxes.
Mr. Clark fights assessments all the time and says every province has a mechanism whereby you can lower the assessment on your home and ultimately the amount of property taxes you owe. The cost of appealing an assessment varies from $30 in Ontario to as high as $1,000 in Quebec.
Before you appeal, start by making sure you know what date in time your assessment is based on and then decide whether the value is fair compared to similar homes in your area. Some jurisdictions will provide free information on comparable properties in your area.
One key thing to consider is whether you’ve done some major renovation that the people who do the assessments know nothing about. You might be opening up a can of worms.
“Check the facts that the assessment authority provides in their records and make sure they are correct,” said Mr. Clark. “Sometimes it’s just best to keep your head down.”
But you shouldn’t be too worried an appeal is going to raise your assessment, something that does happen but is rare. “They are not vengeful but you don’t want to go in screaming like a banshee. You always have the right of appeal and on housing it’s much easier than commercial property because the [appeal] fees are lower and there is more data to base your opinion on.”

Source: Financial Post

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Demographics will take edge off housing downturn: CIBC


Demographics will take edge off housing downturn: CIBC

Fotolia
Demographic forces over the next decade are expected to limit the damage to the housing market

A downturn in the housing market may not be as bad as feared because the important 25-34 age group will continue to buy houses — some with help from their well-off parents, says a senior economist at CIBC World Markets.
The analysis takes aim at a theory that population growth won’t be strong enough to sustain demand, putting downward pressure on housing prices that have risen dramatically during a years-long period of low interest rates.
“This demographically driven fear is much ado about nothing,” Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC World Markets, said Thursday.
Demographic projections suggest there will be fewer Canadians under the age of 25 and between the ages of 45 and 54, but Tal notes those groups account for a small portion of home buyers.
This is actually the first generation that the parents are better off than the kids and those parents will write a nice cheque
Tal said the group aged between 25 and 34 — the age group that makes up the vast majority of first-time buyers — will continue to grow.
While that growing population of young people may have to postpone buying a house for a couple of years due to their student debt level, their parents can help them out, Tal said from Toronto.
“Many of those young people, they’re lucky, they have wealthy parents,” Tal said in an interview after his housing report was published.
“This is actually the first generation that the parents are better off than the kids and those parents will write a nice cheque,” he said. “The student debt level is not significant enough to really kill the housing market.”
This group of young people also have the option of living with their parents while paying down their debt and saving for a down payment, he said.

Tal said once they move out, the younger generation will be “extremely dynamic” in terms of self-employment and being employable, which will help them buy houses.

“They will be employable, they will work and they will make money.”
But Capital Economics economist David Madani said while the 25-34 age group is helping drive sales they are more vulnerable to downturns.
“Right now, if a younger person has put down a small deposit on a home, let’s say in the last couple of years, obviously they are the most exposed to a price decline,” said Madani, Canada economist at the Toronto-based Capital Economics.
“So they could see the little amount of equity that they do have in their homes go up in a puff of smoke. That leaves them significantly under water.”
Madani said average house prices in major cities such as Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa and Calgary could drop by 25% in the next couple of years.
The Canadian average price for homes sold in July 2012 was $353,147, down two% from the same month last year. Excluding Greater Vancouver from the calculation, the average was up 1.1% from a year ago.
It’s harder for younger people to buy homes because mortgage lending rules have been tightened, he said.
“I’m sure there’s some fraction out there whose folks belong to richer families and therefore their mum or dad gives them a deposit,” said Madani.
“That’s all well and good, but what happens when house prices begin to fall?”
But Tal also sees immigrants continuing to contribute to home ownership in Canada.
With more of an emphasis on skills when they come to Canada, they will be more employable and have money to buy houses, he said.
“In fact, after 10 years in Canada the propensity among immigrants to own a house is higher than among native born Canadians,” Tal said in his report.
He expects a correction, or lowering, in housing prices will not be seen as “being up in the sky” and should follow inflation.
Tal added that growth in the housing market could be even stronger due to immigration.
Overall, the CIBC economist said the next decade will see an annual population growth of 0.9%, in line with growth seen in the past decade — a period of strong demand for residential real-estate and a sharp jump in housing prices.
“It’s not about everything is rosy, it’s about what is after the storm clouds.”
He said the 1991 downturn in the housing market was accompanied by a severe recession and demand for housing went down.
Source: Canadian Press

Thursday, 8 November 2012


Simple Energy Saving Tips for your Home

Simple Energy Saving Tips for your Home
With energy costs eating up a larger portion of our income more than ever before, it is very important to take all possible measure to conserve energy. Here are some tips to help you save energy, save money, and do your part for the environment.
Heating and CoolingAbout 60% of energy costs in a typical home are tied up in heating and cooling and 20% in hot water. So, these are the first places to look when it comes to saving energy.
Consider installing a programmable thermostat. In summer set the thermostat at 24°C while you are at home, and 28°C when you are away. Every degree you raise can reduce your cooling bill by about 2.5%.
In winter, set the thermostat to 21ºC during the day and to 18ºC when you are sleeping and 15ºC when you are out.
Wrap your electric water heater in an insulation wrap. This reduces 8-10% of hot water heater energy usage.
Apply caulking and weather stripping around drafty doors and windows to keep the cold air out in the winter (or hot air out in the summer). Proper weather-stripping, caulking and insulation can save 5 to 15% of that heat loss.
Shade your outdoor central air conditioning unit with trees or shrubs making sure you do not block air flow around the unit. This can reduce 10% of your electricity use.
Clean the furnace filter monthly and replace it every three months. Check air vents regularly to ensure nothing is preventing the air from circulating freely.
It's a simple scientific fact: heat moves toward cold. In winter, heat moves toward the windows and doors and if your home windows are not insulated properly, up to 50% of all heat inside a home could be lost. Having thermally-isolated windows and a thick window covering will help reduce heat loss considerably.
LightingKeep fixtures and bulbs clean. Dirt can absorb as much as 50% of the light. Always turn off the lights when leaving a room, even if it’s only for a few minutes. It’s just a myth that it takes more energy to turn a light on than to leave it on.
Try to position floor or table lamps in a corner. This allows light to reflect from the walls, making the room brighter without turning on more lights.
Replace traditional light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL). CFLs use up to 75% less energy than comparable standard light bulbs and can last up to 10 times longer.
Kitchen and BathroomsSwitch non-essential chores from the peak times to earlier in the day or even overnight when electricity demand and rate is less.
Install water efficient low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators and install an ultra low-flow toilet or an early closure valve. Take showers instead of baths – they use less water.
Keep refrigerators and freezers out of direct sunlight, and allow at least 5 centimetres all around (or as recommended by the manufacturer) to allow heat to escape from the compressor and condensing coil. Allow hot foods to cool before putting them in the refrigerator.
The stove is another big energy guzzler. If you put aluminum foil on the bottom of the oven to catch drippings, make sure the foil does not block any of the oven’s circulation holes and don’t put foil on the oven racks.
Use an electric kettle to boil water – not the stove, which is less efficient. Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator before cooking, unless the label says otherwise.
Turn off the oven just before finishing – the oven will remain hot long enough to complete the job.
Don’t use a bigger pot than you need, and match it to the right size element.
Home Office and Living RoomEven when appliances are turned off, they continue to draw electricity. Unplug them when not in use. Turn off unnecessary lights in the house (they produce a lot of heat which works against the air conditioning.)
Using screen savers doesn't save any energy. Activate energy saving settings on your computer or turn off your monitor when you are away from the computer.
Use area rugs on cold floors. If your feet are cold, your body will feel cold so rather than turning up the thermostat, put on a sweater.

Open draperies during the day on south-facing windows and let the sun heat your rooms naturally. Close your drapes and blinds during the night to reduce heat loss.
Installing ceiling fans can help to lower energy use in both the summer and winter. In summer, set your fan counter clockwise to produce a cooling breeze. In the winter, set it clockwise to push warm air accumulated near the ceiling down back into the room.
Dishwashers and Washing MachinesIf your dishwasher has the option, choose air drying rather than heat drying. If not, stop the machine before the drying cycle starts and open the door to let dishes air dry. By doing so, you can reduce the dishwasher’s energy use by 10%.
Avoid running small loads in your washing machine. You can save 1% on your energy costs by loading your washing machine to capacity before running the cycle.
Wash laundry in cold water whenever possible. Rinsing your clothes in hot or warm water won’t
make your laundry any cleaner. Select your washing machine’s cold water rinse and save 4% in
energy costs.
Energy saving is a hot topic! Talk about it with your friends and family. Discuss and share ideas and learn about how each of you can do better. Most likely you will come up with some creative ideas that are fun and can save you up to hundreds of dollars each year. Learn about how this topic fits into broader scale environmental initiatives and the role we as energy consumers could play to save mother earth.
Source Canada Realty News