Four common renovation nightmares and how to avoid them

Making sure your dream renovation doesn’t turn into a nightmare means doing some due diligence before signing on the dotted line.

Many potential problems can be avoided by simply choosing the right contractor to tackle your renovation project, says Danny Ritchie, president and co-owner of Ultimate Homes & Renovations.

“People need to do their homework a little bit more on the credibility and background of the company,” said Ritchie. “How long they’ve been in business, what their track record is, how much subcontracting they do.”

Here are four renovation nightmares you might encounter and, more importantly, how to avoid them:

1. Contractor takes a deposit then disappears
Consumer groups warn about smooth-talking, door-to-door contractors who offer to repair a roof or renovate a bathroom, accept a deposit and then are never heard from again.

Ritchie says people should never decide who to hire because “they like the salesman.”
He says get a business card, check them out first and then decide if it’s a good idea to hire someone who knocked on your door.

2. Costly “extras” start adding up
The price you are quoted is only useful if it spells out exactly what’s included. Otherwise, you might find yourself charged more during construction to get the renovation you actually wanted.

Ritchie says for a major renovation project, his company often provides the homeowner with a “scope of work” that includes 20 pages of specifications on the materials included, so there are no surprises.

“Even to the point of saying how many pot lights will be put into a kitchen, and not just (an amount) for electrical,” he said.

3. Renovation is taking forever
Ritchie says a disreputable renovator might tell a person “what they want to hear” when it comes to how long a project will take, regardless of whether that timeframe is realistic or not

“Quite often, I’ll tell a customer that it’s going to take three or four months to do this job, and they’ll turn around and tell me, ‘the other guy said he can do it in three to six
weeks,’ ” he said.

He adds a typical kitchen renovation takes two to three months – not two to three weeks – so be wary of anyone who promises such a tight turnaround.

4. Renovator doesn’t back up their workmanship
After a renovation is complete, there are bound to be a few things that might need a follow-up visit to fix or touch up, so a contractor who doesn’t respond will leave the homeowner in the lurch.

Ritchie says being a member of the RenoMark program is a good indicator that a company stands behind its workmanship, since the program’s code of conduct requires companies to offer at least a two-year warranty on a renovation.


Gerald Vander Pyl

Market Forecast Report

The forecast report provides a comprehensive look at key economic indicators that influence housing within CREB®’s region boundaries, from energy prices to employment and population trends, to name a few.

It also examines each market sector, explores housing by property type and clarifies how supply and demand is functioning at the district level.

To learn more and view CREB®’s latest forecast report, please click here.

Soft sales continue in April

Prices steady, but struggles in Alberta economy weighs on housing

City of Calgary, May 1, 2018 –

Changes to the lending industry and a challenging economic recovery are weighing on sales activity in Calgary’s housing market.

Supply levels have not adjusted to the weaker demand environment, and that is preventing price recovery.

“Slower sales do not come as a surprise, given the economy has not yet improved enough to offset the impact of changes in the lending industry,” said CREB® chief economist Ann-Marie Lurie.

“While the rising inventories are being monitored, prices have remained relatively flat as gains in some areas of the city have been offset by declines in other areas.”

The easing sales trend persisted through April in Calgary’s housing market. Calgary sales totaled 1,518 units in April, which is 20 per cent below last year and 25 per cent below long-term averages.

The detached sector has seen the largest decline, with year-to-date sales totaling 2,991 units, 27 per cent below the 10-year average.

Inventory levels in April totaled 7,324 units. This is a 32 per cent rise over last year, but well below the monthly high of 10,129 units recorded in 2008. Supply compared to demand has risen, but city-wide prices have remained relatively stable, totaling $436,500 in April, a monthly and annual gain of 0.21 per cent.

“The reality is that there’s selection heading into the active spring market,” said CREB® president Tom Westcott.

“For many sellers, they have to decide what price they are willing to accept for a lifestyle change. At the same time, buyers need to understand the supply dynamics and price movements in the specific area, as they may not align with their expectations.”

So far this year, apartment and attached sales have eased to levels that are comparable to 2016. However, rising supply in both markets have pushed months of supply to the highest levels recovered over this four-month period, which is preventing any significant shifts in pricing trends.

Click here to view the full City of Calgary monthly stats package.

Click here to view the full Calgary region monthly stats package.

Housing Market Inventory on the Rise

Prices remain stable compared to last year

As expected, slow sales this quarter have persisted through March in the City of Calgary. This is not a surprise, after stronger growth in sales at the end of last year following the announced changes to the lending market.

First quarter sales totaled 3,423 units, nearly 18 per cent below last year’s levels and 24 per cent below long-term averages. Easing sales and modest gains in new listings caused inventories to rise and months of supply to remain above four months.

“Economic conditions are slowly improving, but it has not been enough to outpace the current impact of higher lending rates and more stringent conditions,” said CREB® chief economist Ann-Marie Lurie.

“We are entering the most active quarters in the housing market with more inventory, which could create some price fluctuations. However, the improving economy is expected to prevent overall prices from slipping by significant amounts.”

While prices trended down on a quarterly basis, they remained relatively unchanged over last year’s levels due to modest gains in the detached sector offsetting declines in the apartment sector.

The citywide benchmark price for detached product averaged $502,000 in the first quarter. This is slightly lower than the fourth quarter of last year, but comparable to levels recorded in the first quarter of last year. In March, the detached price reached $503,800, 3.6 per cent below pre-recession highs, but one per cent above the lows recorded during the recession.

“The market today is better than what we experienced at the peak of the recession,” said CREB® president Tom Westcott.

“You can find good value if you’re looking to buy a home, and you can also get good value if you’re selling. Being well-informed, in any economic condition, is the key, because there are differences in the market depending on what type of property it is and where it is located.”

Detached market inventories in the first quarter of 2017 were low compared to historical standards. This year, detached inventories have averaged 2,573 units over the first quarter, 10 per cent below first quarter averages recorded during 2015 and 2016.

Spring will have more inventory than last year, slowing progress on price recovery. However, the amount of price adjustment will vary depending on competing supply by location and product type.

Click here to view the full City of Calgary monthly stats package.

Home safety tips for summer

Heading out of town this summer? Get your home vacation-ready with a few simple security tips.

Lock it up: It may seem obvious, but it’s important to ensure all windows and doors are locked before you head out of town. If you have a home security alarm, make sure the battery is charged and that it’s set properly before you leave.

Adjust utilities: If you will be traveling for an extended period of time, turn off your main water supply valve. It’s a simple decision that can prevent a potential flood and water damage.

It is also recommended to set programmable thermostats for the summer heat. When outdoor temperatures are high, it’s best to have your air conditioner set to keep your home slightly cool while you’re away.

Set timers: Make it look like someone is home when you’re away with the help of some timers.

Time house lights and radios for hours of the day that they would typically be used, like in the evenings when residents are home from school or work. Timers not only make electronic usage look more realistic, they will save you money on your next electricity bill.

Monitor mail: Before you jet off, make sure you have a game plan for mail delivery.

A pile of newspapers on the front step and envelopes stuffed in your mailbox advertises that your home is vacant. Contact your local newspaper and post office about holding mail delivery until you are back. Alternatively, ask a close friend or neighbour to collect your mail regularly when you are gone.

Remove spare keys: When a home is targeted for theft, spare keys are the first thing that intruders will try to find. Make sure to remove any spare keys from the outside of your property before you head out of town.

If you have a friend or neighbour who will need access to check on your home, leave the key with them instead of the front step.

Enlist home check-ins: The best way to make your home look active is to have someone you know at the property.

Ask a close friend or neighbour who you trust to check on your home, inside and outside, on a regular basis. They will be able to ensure that everything in your home is safe, collect mail, water plants and keep an eye out for any suspicious activity around the property.

Add value before you sell

The housing market has aligned with your budget and you’ve decided to sell. This is an incredibly exciting time, but also stressful as working towards getting your home in tip top shape for maximum return may leave you with more questions than answers:

Where do I start? What should I fix? And, can I do it myself?

1) Get rid of the mess

Make it your primary purpose to ensure prospective buyers aren’t overwhelmed by the state of your untidy home—there’s nothing more important. Decluttering opens up the space, makes a home feel bigger and allows buyers to envision the space as their home. So straighten up that laundry room and put away your children’s toys. It’s a quick, low cost, high impact step that can result in big value.

2) Know the neighbourhood…

…and your market! When considering how much money to put into your home improvements, do your research on the market value of not only your home, but your surrounding area. Over or under improvements may be detrimental to ROI and could hinder the chances of your sale. So if you live in a starter neighbourhood or a super executive market, remember who you’re prospective buyers might be and keep your renos consistent with their expectations.

3) Trust the professionals

The DIY network may be your favourite television channel, but if you decide to take on a painting project, you may risk devaluing your home by hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Consider hiring a professional instead to make sure you meet the high quality standards potential buyers expect. Not in your budget? Totally understandable, but before you grab that paint brush, visit a couple paint stores and ask to speak to one of their paint specialists.These folks know their stuff and can give you some great advice on what colours/paint schemes to use when preparing your home for resale.

About property tax assessments

How much is your home worth?

It’s a simple question with a complex answer, but one thing’s for sure, if you want to find the current value of your home, you can’t rely on your property tax assessments alone!

Here’s our breakdown of city assessments and how they can be used to understand property value:

First, what are city tax assessments? 

Each year in January, home owners know to expect their property tax assessment from The City of Calgary. These assessments are created annually to place a value on properties for municipal and provincial property tax purposes, ensuring that tax distribution is fair and equitable.

Second, how are they produced?

Assessments are based on market value, property characteristics and property condition. Each property is assessed using a real estate appraisal method that compares each property to other properties with similar characteristics that have recently been sold. Estimates are created from information collected in the prior tax year, and include the property’s market value and condition at that time.

Third, are they accurate?

Since property tax assessments are created specifically for tax purposes, they do not accurately reflect a home’s current market value. The City relies on filed historical information to create the assessment, not a current physical property inspection.

And finally, how do I find out what my property is worth? 

To find the current value of your property, work with me to leverage my quality real estate experience and expert know-how for accuracy. Give me a call.

A transition in the making

Detached sales activity boosts February housing market

After the first two months of the year, Calgary’s detached sector continues to drive a slow transition in the housing market. February sales totaled 1,342 units, which is still 19 per cent below long-term averages, but an improvement over the past two years.

As sales kept trending upward, detached inventory levels continued to ease in February. These conditions caused months of supply to fall to 2.4 months, putting less downward pressure on pricing. Unadjusted detached benchmark prices totaled $501,900 in February, which is one per cent lower than prices recorded last year, but slightly higher than January figures.

“There seems to be a new sense of optimism these days,” said CREB® president David P. Brown. “Some sellers are feeling upbeat about the changing landscape and the improved chances of selling their home. Other people are looking at the spring market with caution and wondering if we’re going to see a higher than expected surge of listings. While there’s less product on the market right now, sellers still need to be realistic with their pricing.”

The amount of excess inventory eased in the overall market in February, setting the stage for a transition to a more stable market this year. Months of supply totaled 3.4 months, down from five months over last February. At the same time, the sales-to-new-listings ratio trended from a near record February low of 39 per cent last year to 55 per cent this February.

With sales improving and new listings and inventories contracting—two key measures of market balance, there’s good evidence to show that the housing market has started a trend toward more balanced conditions.

“The transition in the housing market appears to be underway,” said CREB® chief economist Ann-Marie Lure. “However, it is important to note that this change is primarily being driven by improvements in the detached market and stability in the labour market.”

“It will take some time for these conditions to translate into all housing segments and achieve price recovery,” said Lurie. “But all indicators continue to point toward a slow transition from a contracting market toward one that is stabilizing at lower levels.”

Click here to view the full City of Calgary monthly stats.


Knowing your local snow clearing bylaws may not be cool, but it’s necessary

Winter is coming, and with it the one chore that many homeowners dread: shoveling their snowy sidewalks and driveways.

And while snow removal is often the last thing homeowners want to do on a chilly winter day, officials say it is important in protecting the public’s safety.

“Sidewalks need to be kept clean for public safety, [and] a snow removal bylaw shares that responsibility without adding to municipal costs,” said Charlene Ruttle, Cochrane’s manager of municipal enforcement.

“It’s important that everyone take responsibility for and contribute to community safety.”

While snow removal bylaws in Calgary and the surrounding area do not follow a one-size-fits-all theme, they do share some similarities. For example, snow removal bylaws in Calgary and neighbouring municipalities place the onus of clearing snow from residential walkways and sidewalks on homeowners or tenants.

The bylaws in these areas also prohibit residents from transferring accumulated snow and snow-related debris from their sidewalks or driveways onto roads or public places adjacent to their property.

There are also differences between municipalities. For example, not all municipalities give their citizens the same amount of time to clear snow after a snowfall. Longtime Airdrie resident Angela DuQuesnay didn’t know that, like Okotoks and Calgary, her city allotted for a 24-hour time period of snow clearing.

Instsead, she thought Airdrie’s snow clearing time period was double that, as is the case with communities like Cochrane and Chestermere, where residents are given a bit more time to avoid the cold and snuggle up indoors before having to dig out their snow shovels.

Penalties are another area in which differences between regional snow removal bylaws stack up. Residents of both Okotoks and Cochrane face potential fines in these scenarios. In Cochrane, this could be compounded by the addition of potential jail time of up to six months.

Meanwhile, communities such as Chestermere, Calgary, and Airdrie implement a system wherein failure to clear snow on residential properties may result in local officials using work forces to clear the snow and ice, and expense the associated costs to homeowners. If unpaid, these costs can then be tacked on to the owners’ property taxes.

Officials encourage homeowners and renters to familiarize themselves with municipal bylaws in their respective communities.

As for DuQuesnay, while she “hates” shoveling snow, she’s always quick to reward herself afterward.

“It’s back-breaking work,” she DuQuesnay. “If you get it done, you can do whatever you want afterwards. You’ve earned it.”


Sometimes, it is difficult to see the potential in used furniture pieces. That’s why people will go out and buy new – we look at a used item and we see it looks old and tired or dusty and dirty.

Here are a few simple ideas that can help you rejuvenate, customize and repurpose the old furniture you have or the used items you have purchased.

1. Clean it

Although cleaning an old piece of furniture can take a bit of elbow grease, you may be amazed to see what you find simply by giving an item a good cleaning. That old, faded outdoor patio set might look new with a good power wash and scrub with soap and water.

But be mindful of the materials you are cleaning and what products are safe to be used. Make sure you do your research on what cleaning products work best for the materials you are cleaning. Although vinegar may be great for cleaning a window or mirror, it can quickly and easily stain a marble countertop. You can quickly ruin the finish and the overall integrity of materials such as wood and stone, so do your research before you start cleaning.

2. Paint it/stain it

Painting an old dresser can dramatically change the entire look of the piece. Paint is generally an inexpensive, easy and fast fix that can create a beautiful result.

There are a variety of different finishes and painting techniques that allow you to be creative with your own sense of style. Choosing to paint a dresser turquoise may not be everyone’s choice, but it may be just the dramatic punch you have been looking for.

If you would like to enhance the grain of a wood piece as opposed to covering it, staining is a better option. Test a few stain variations before you apply it to the piece – removing a stain that turned out too dark can be near impossible. If you simply want to treat the wood and bring it back to its natural beauty, try a furniture balm as they are the most gentle way to restore and refurbish tired-looking wood.

3. Repurpose it

When making a change around the house, think outside of the box. An old dresser can make a gorgeous one-of-a-kind vanity, or even a unique table for your entryway. An old door can easily be repurposed into a great desk by simply adding some table legs. The old night stand you found at a yard sale might just be the perfect living room side table. Let your mind be creative about which furniture items can be used in every room of your house.

Before buying new, use your imagination when it comes to your old furniture. You may find with a little creativity and a little effort you already have what you’ve been looking for all along.