Planting a Vegetable Garden at your Muskoka Home

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We all know that fresh produce is the best kind and locally grown is a wonderful way to get it. How local do you want? How about home grown! Planting and growing your own vegetables is good for your body and your mind.  It will not only provide great fresh food for your family but while working in your garden you get exercise and reduce stress.

If you are new to vegetable gardening, it’s not difficult. Here are a few important things you should consider.  A little planning before you start to dig will save frustration and give you a better chance of success.

The right location

A good vegetable garden should be in a spot that gets plenty of sun, about six to eight hours each day. To figure out the sunny spot watch the sun and shade patterns in your yard on a bright day. This will guide you to the best location. The sun is highest in the sky in late June, so early in the year, like now, the days might be a bit shadier. Choose a level place as gardening on a hill is much more challenging, however if you need to, you can create terraces.

Size matters

Do not be too ambitious your first year. Keep your small garden as it will be easier to manage. You can always make it bigger next year. A 10’ x 10’ space can produce a good amount of fresh and tasty produce if it is well managed. Rows can be anywhere from 2’ to 4’ feet wide.  Remember that wide rows will need to have paths on both sides.

Prepare your soil

The earth you plant in is undoubtedly the most important ingredient in successful vegetable garden.  You should till or break up the top soil (your existing soil) at least eight inches deep, if not more. Once you have this layer all well cleared of weeds and aerated it is time to fortify it.  Get some compost  (the District of Muskoka offers it free each year) or you can buy it from a garden supply centre. You can also use a manure or a similar soil amendment with organic matter also available from your local landscape or garden centre. Mix thoroughly with your existing soil at a bout a 40% compost to 60% soil ratio. If you are building raised beds, you may need to buy some additional topsoil.

Choosing what to plant

The region of Ontario has a comparatively short growing season. You can plant cool weather veggies such as peas, spinach, broccoli and kale starting in late April or early May. Start lettuce in early to mid May. Warm weather plants like tomatoes, beans, peppers and squash can be planted in June. Though seeds are the most economical way to plant, for tomatoes, peppers and broccoli, it is best to buy small sets of seedlings from a garden centre.

For a small garden plot, choose compact varieties of plants. Bush beans and peas will be a better choice than vines. Some vegetable varieties are ready for harvest faster than others; pick the quick growing varieties if you can. You should be able to plant a second round of cool season vegetables in August.

After planting

Moisture is the key. A good mulch layer and water are the final ingredients. The mulch helps to keep the soil moist while adding organic matter to your soil over time. Seeds will need frequent water and moist soil to germinate. You can cut back on watering frequency as plants get larger, however water thoroughly so that more than the surface layer of soil gets wet.

The planting dates suggested here are approximate and a long Muskoka winter followed by a very wet early spring will require oblivious adjustments. A surprise late frost or an early summer can change things too for better or for worse! That is part of the fun of vegetable gardening. Don’t loose heart as when one crop has a bad year, another may do well. You never know exactly what to expect, but with good soil, water and some determination, you’ll be enjoying fresh vegetables grown at your Muskoka home throughout the summer.

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Buying a Muskoka Fixer-Upper Home Yes or No?

Have you been thinking about buying a Muskoka home to fix up and live in? There is a certain romance to the thought of taking on a home that needs a lot of work and making it yours with your own blood, sweat and tears.  Maybe you’re on the other side and thoughts of Tom Hanks and Shelly Long throwing their money into a “money pit” have you saying “No way, not for me!”.

A traditional fixer-upper is a property that will require significant renovations, reconstruction or redesign to be habitable or saleable at market value. They typically list and sell below the market value of homes of equal size and vintage in similar neighbourhoods.

So, you need to ask yourself if a fixer-upper is a bargain brimming with potential OR should it be avoided like the plague? The answer to this perplexing question will depend on several factors, including you!

One of the best reasons to buy a fixer-up home or cottage is for the location &/or lot. If you are determined to live in a particular part of Muskoka it may mean you have to “snap up” what is available and then fix up the home or cottage to suit your needs.  If the size and structure of the property are right for you, it likely makes more sense to renovate as opposed to a complete demolition and rebuild which can be more time-consuming and in most cases more expensive.

Renovating a fixer-upper is expensive, and you can’t often finance a renovation.  Typically it is not a project for a first-time buyer as usually all available funds are directed to the actual purchase.  Remember that a fixer-upper is a large project, not the usual renovation projects most of us plan to do over time after we move into new home.  So, to tackle a fixer-upper you need to have some capital tucked away to fund the project. Typically, it is a second or third-time home buyer who has a little DIY experience who takes on a fixer-upper home.

A buyer for a fixer-upper is sometimes someone looking for their “forever home” or they may be an investor seeking poorly-maintained properties to fix and flip. In both cases they have usually had several home purchase experiences under their belts and can rely on this to help them through tackling a large project like this.

As a buyer you need to consider your time, money and knowledge when taking on a fixer-upper. Will the time and money involved in fixing up a home or cottage be worth it in the end? If your full-time job is contracting, will the time spent on your own project be as valuable in the end as working on paid contracts?

Be prepared for surprises.  Buyers for this type of property often don’t spend money on a Home Inspection. Without a thorough inspection of the property you could miss costly remediation issues like mold, asbestos, or faulty foundations.

Also be sure to include time for due diligence to explore municipal regulations, zoning and permitting.  And, allow adequate time to carefully cost out the renovation – small things add up. Doing so could save a lot of heart ache or even financial loss.

A final consideration is whether you will need to hire a project manager or do it alone.  Will you hire a contractor for the entire project, or manage contractors and trades for the different jobs yourself? Hiring trades for everything can be a challenge to coordinate if you’ve never done it before especially if you don’t know the local trades people.  And remember, the good ones are often booked several months out.

As a local Realtor with many years of experience I am happy to help you find a perfect project home or cottage.  And, if you have your heart set on a “fixer- upper” with my contacts in the region I may be able to suggest trades people you will need to be successful in your venture.

Choosing a Great Muskoka Realtor

Closing you Braceridge Home Purchase - Karen Acton Royal LePageAs a Muskoka Realtor I cannot sell your home for you or help you purchase one until I have sold you on me! Here are some great reasons why you should consider using my services to ensure that your have a satisfying Realtor experience.

Education and Experience

You do not need to know everything about buying and selling real estate if you hire me. I have taken the required RECO courses and have many years of practical award-winning experience that you can benefit from. After all Henry Ford said, “When you hire people who are smarter than you are, you prove you are smarter than they are.”

Neighbourhood Knowledge

I know my area well. I not only list and sell in the Muskoka area I live here and have for many years.  I know about the Muskoka communities and if I do not have a specific answer for you, I know who to ask.

Concierge Service

I have a great network of other Realtors, Lawyers, Home Inspectors and Mortgage Lenders who I can call upon to help me assist you.

Handle All the Required Paperwork

In the 1970’s you could buy or sell a property using a one-page document but today with all the Federal, Provincial and Regulatory paperwork required you will need to deal with several sets of multi-page documents to achieve a successful sale or purchase. I can and will guide you through it all and make sure you understand what you are signing before you sign it!

Understand Market Conditions

Real estate markets are often in a state of flux.  While there can be periods of stability, that can change quiet suddenly. A loss of jobs in a community can make a large difference and turn a sellers’ market into a buyers’ one in just a few days. It is my job to be alert to these changes and advise you accordingly.

Value and Price Guidance

Contrary to popular belief, it is not my job to tell you what price to list your property for or what to offer on the one you want to buy.  However, it is my job to provide you with some actual market data to draw conclusions about CURRENT market values and give you my insights based on my experience. That way you can make an informed decision.

Be Your Buffer

As your representative it is my job to filter out all the spam! When I list your property, I will not be the only one showing it, so I will prepare your listing with all the details, documents, and information a potential buyer needs so they can make a decision easily and without waiting for answers. When you are buying I will methodically determine exactly what type of property you like and then only take you to properties with a high probability of meeting your criteria.

Negotiation Skills

Whether you are buying or selling it is almost impossible to keep your emotions out of the mix. I am your “cool calm and collected” negotiator.  I will stand between you and your equally emotional counterpart and negotiate for you the best price and terms possible.

Your Person

Once you have an accepted offer I am not going to disappear from the picture. I will continue to be standing beside you answering your questions. When you have general questions and don’t want to bother your lawyer or mortgage broker, call me. When you want to know where to buy a fridge or hire a great plumber or contractor call me. I will be happy to help.

Realtor for Life

This one may sound a bit cliché but I really do want to earn that title. Many of my past clients call me for a re-evaluation of a home or cottage that I assisted them with years ago. They do not intend to sell but simply want to manage their assets and need to know.  I am happy to offer this service to them. I am often asked to assist family or friends of my past clients in Muskoka with buying or selling; or to find a Realtor for them in another community that will give them the same level of service they enjoyed with me. I work hard to earn this level of loyalty from my clients as I do sincerely love my profession and want to be your Muskoka Realtor for life!

 

5 Things to consider when investing in a Muskoka Property with a friend

Friendship HandshakeBuying a cottage or a rental investment property in Muskoka can be a smart financial move. As you pay down the debt, you build equity in a property that will in all likelihood appreciate in value over time.

There are the tax benefits in most cases as you can deduct your rental expenses from any income you earn, including items such as mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, repair and maintenance costs, and property management, all of which saves you money at tax time. The primary benefit of course is the revenue stream it will generate. However, as owning investment property requires an investment of time and effort as well as money, choosing to share that burden with a friend can make sense. This is definitely appealing but it will come will with some challenges.  Here are five things to give serious consideration to before investing in real estate with a friend.

 1. Your Mortgage Rate Will be Tied to Both Credit Reports

When applying for financing on a property purchase both you and your friend’s credit history will be used.  If one of you has bad credit it can negatively affect the mortgage terms, including the interest rate that you pay on the loan. Remember that even a minor change in interest of even 0.5% will make a big difference in the amount due every month on your mortgage and in the total interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan.

2. You Risk Your Good Credit Rating

When both you and your friend are listed on the mortgage, you are both responsible for making payments. If the mortgage falls behind for whatever reason, the lender will report both of you to the credit agencies for non-payment even if it is not you personally in default. Because both names are on the mortgage, your friend’s non-payment could end up costing you big on your credit report and significantly affect your future potential to borrow money for your personal requirements.

3. You May Have Challenges Getting Other Loans

Assuming there are no issues and you and your friend split the mortgage payment each month 50-50 with no defaults you still need to know that each of you alone is responsible for the entire mortgage payment.  To a new lender, say, for a car loan or a personal home purchase, this can have a substantial impact. They will include the whole payment amount of that mortgage in the debt-to-income ratio calculation and it may make it difficult to qualify for other loans.

4. No “Easy Button” for Moving Out

If you rent an apartment or house with a friend, it’s usually easy to walk away if the two of you no longer get along, or if you just decide to move. Not so with a mortgage. Since both of your names are on the title of the property and the mortgage, you are both responsible for making the payments. To get one of the names off the mortgage and deed, you have to sell the house on the open marker or one to another. Selling on the open market can take time and sometimes even result in a loss if the market conditions are not ideal.

It’s a good idea to have a written agreement in place that details your agreed-upon exit plan should one of you decide to move on. The agreement should also cover what happens if either of you dies. Does the survivor become the sole owner, or does he or she need to buy out the heirs of the deceased partner? What percentage of the property you each own? Will the property be sold, and if so, how will the proceeds be divided?

Another good idea for financial protection is for both parties to purchase life insurance on the mortgage in case of death.

5. Disagreement Over Responsibilities

A great friendship can be quickly tested if there are any disagreements over who is responsible for a property related undertaking.  Payment of utilities and taxes, maintenance, hiring support help when required, budgets for work required and other items that need attending to in a timely fashion are all potential sources of conflict.  To avoid this, include in your written agreement details regarding the breakdown of expenses, how repairs and maintenance will be handled (who will do the work, and how the costs will be shared), plus how deductions will be claimed (e.g., who gets to claim the mortgage interest deduction or whether you split it in some way).

The Bottom Line

Buying an investment property with a friend will have lots of benefits:

  • It should be easier to qualify for a mortgage
  • you get to share all the monthly expenses, including utilities, maintenance/repair costs and the mortgage payment.
  • you get to build equity as you pay down the loan.

This kind of purchase will also have some challenges and it is important to make a well thought-out and informed decision.  Do your homework ahead of time, and make sure you and your friend both have the income to meet the monthly expenses of the investment without relying on any potential income from it.

Most importantly, protect your friendship and avoid trouble down the road by having a written agreement.  It is a good idea to hire a lawyer to write a comprehensive agreement that details who is responsible for what, what happens if one of you wants to move on, and how the property will be handled if one of you passes away.

If you and a friend have been pondering this type of partnership I would be delighted to help you find the perfect property, call or email me today!

Getting ready to sell your Muskoka Home This Spring

Curb Appeal - Karen ActonMy years as a Muskoka Realtor have taught me many things and one of the most important things I have learned is that buyers have choices even in a “Hot Market” and they make decisions about a property almost as soon as they see it. Here are some tips for getting your property sold and making sure that you are not being eliminated in the first 5 minutes of exposure to a buyer.

You only get ONE first Impression

Remember that buyers have choices and you want them to choose your home not the one down the road. They make decisions about a property within a blink of an eye. So you want your home or cottage to look spectacular from the moment they first see it whether that is on-line or in person.

Staging is about condition more than décor

Your home needs to look and feel good but remember buyers are savvy and most often are represented by a Realtor – they will deduct from the offer price their own “perceived value” for things that need repair or maintenance. Repair anything that needs it, replace any fixtures that look dated and clean like your life depends on it. Elbow grease is cheap and adds tons of value. Remember, buyers are buying their new house not your old one.

 Update the kitchen

This is usually the most important room in the house to a buyer. If they fall in love in the kitchen they will often compromise in other areas on their “must have” list.  Remember fresh clean and bright are always in style. Even if the budget will not allow for big changes clean and clear countertops, add new door knobs on the cabinets and drawers and if possible consider new flooring and countertops.

 Bathrooms are the second most important room in the house

If you have the budget for it, upgrade what you can, at least in the main bath. The same principle of fresh clean and bright applies here too. Consider changing the old cabinet-style sink for a pedestal or furniture sink and remember storage is vital. Make sure linen storage is organized and accessible.

Make bedrooms neutral

Do not assume that a buyer will be able to envision their belongings in your rooms.  Very often they can’t especially when they are faced with strong colours and lots of clutter. You have a five-minute opportunity to get this house sold so if doing some simple fixes in paint colour and or décor will help, it is wise to make the effort.

 It’s NOT Personal

Your plan is to move so pack up the personal stuff before you list. Go through each room and take a moment to remember and then pack the sentimentality away.  What stirs your heart can cloud the judgement of a potential buyer. Remove and store as many personal items as possible including family photos, certificates awards and diplomas.

 Pack it NOW

Get a head start on your move. Start deciding what you want to keep/donate/discard. Pack it up and get it out into a storage space. Your closets and cupboards will look bigger and more organized. Storage space is one of the most frequently requested interior features.

The nose knows!

More and more people are suffering from allergies. Worldwide, sensitization rates to one or more common allergens are approaching 50 per cent.  So it is quite possible that a future buyer will be a sufferer.  Remember when you live in your house you will not be able to smell what others do.  The best option is no smells at all rather than the cloying smell of a chemical air freshener.  Open windows when the season allows, if you have pets, remove them from the property for the duration of the sales process if possible and definitely for showings. Hopefully you have family who will help out with this. A good vacuum cleaner will help remove pollens and dander and you will need to do it often and always prior to a showing.

 Let there be light

Make sure every light bulb is energy efficient and at the highest wattage the fixture will take. Clean all the fixtures for maximum sparkle. Turn on lights before you leave for the showing so every room is bright for the buyers to see.

 Curb appeal

Before a potential buyer will even think about viewing your property they will often drive by it and half of them will do it at night. That means you need to put considerable thought into creating great curb appeal. Never underestimate its power. Curb appeal done well is like gift wrapping on a present. The National Association of Realtors says, “Great curb appeal sells more than half of all houses that go on the market.” Outdoor lighting is important. Light up the porch or entrance way making sure that the address numbers of the house are illuminated and visible. Consider lighting pathways and perhaps a spot light feature of the property like a beautiful tree or the front façade.   Curb appeal includes the outdoor living features on the property too.  This is one of the most undervalued aspects of market preparedness that will add dollars to your bottom line. Ninety five per cent of people surveyed said outdoor living amenities are vital. Outdoor allure also includes balconies, decks and patios.

As a Muskoka Realtor I see many beautiful locations and I know that savvy home and cottage owners  take advantage of these fantastic settings as well. Remember – Give your potential buyer what they don’t know they want, but when they see it they can’t resist. It’s  a great way to help generate offers faster.

How to Buy a Muskoka Home While Still in Your Twenties

Karen Acton 20 somethingsI have got to give it to you the millennial generation, you are an educated, tech-savvy group and you typically knows what you want. The last few years I have been noticing that many of you “twenty-somethings” have decided that what you want is to buy your first home.

Of course, there are apps galore on just about everything out there, but swiping right isn’t going to get you into your first home – though it probably will help you locate the ones you want to see!

For a more realistic and practical approach however, these five time-tested tips may work better for you.

Are Your Ready to Commit

It has likely been said more than any other piece of home-buying advice out there… Buying a home may be the largest and most important purchase you’ll make in your entire life. You need to know you’re ready for that type of commitment. Millennials have been deemed a nomadic bunch – so, it’s important to note that most home buyers stay in their homes for at least five years – and, that’s just so they can recoup the costs of their purchase.

Buying a home also means you must be ready to get your hands dirty. Handy work like replacing smoke alarm batteries, maintaining landscaping and even changing air filters typically falls in a homeowner’s hands not to mention painting and decorating.

If you can commit to this then you just might be ready!

Understand Your Finances

When it comes to buying a home, a mortgage broker will consider every part of your financial picture. From your current income to your bills and spending habits to the savings you have for your down payment. Since a lender is going to have to verify your finances its good that you know exactly what they will find before they get there. Find out how much money you have coming in and going out and how much you will be able to devote to a monthly mortgage payment.

When you’re considering your finances and budget, also consider the fact that homeownership expenses do not end with the monthly mortgage payment. Home owners are responsible for insurance, property taxes, utilities and any money it costs to cover routine maintenance or unexpected home repairs.

Consider Credit and Savings

Your first brush with credit may have been when you were inundated with credit card offers on your first day of college classes. By now you have probably established some type of credit – and, hopefully it is good. Lenders will consider your credit score when it comes to mortgage approval. Remember – the better your credit score, the better interest rate you’ll be offered. You can improve this score by making sure you carry small or no balance on your cards and pay them on time every month.

In addition to your credit a lender need to see your savings. When you’re buying a home, you’ll need to have money available for the down payment as sufficient to cover closing costs.

Have you saved the money you’ll need when it comes time to buy?

Get Preapproved

I am sure you can see that buying a home is largely a financial process, so it only makes sense that the mortgage process may be a long one, right? So, before you start to look at possible homes it is wise to seek out several lending institutions. They will compete for your business if you have got all your affairs in order, so you can shop around and settle on the one you’d like to use.

Just like every buyer is different, so is every lender. Some may be more lenient when it comes to credit history. Some credit unions or banks if you are a current customer may offer lower rates than other lenders.

Consider all options before choosing a mortgage lender.

Work with Realtor You Trust

The ever-important last piece of the home-buying puzzle. This is one area where I would not advise following a DIY mentality. Professional real estate sales representatives have the training and know-how to lead any first-time home buyer to a home that’s right for them. A trusted Realtor will help you make up your “needs and wants” list when it comes to a home; they will help you consider your long-term goals for your new home; and, they will search for homes, show you homes, negotiate and walk you through the entire offer and closing process… right down to the point where those new home keys fall into your hands.

There will be plenty of DYI to do once you own your new home, especially when it is your first time, a guide through the process only makes good sense. Let me be your guide!

To see current listings in Muskoka click here

5 Tips to Make Your Plan to Buy a Muskoka Home a Reality

pexels-photo-461024.jpegDid you start your New Year off with a plan to buy a Muskoka home? Well here are some tips to help you whip your financial resume into shape to improve your home-buying odds.

1. Keep your employment stable
Your employment history and income are the two biggest factors most bankers and mortgage brokers are going to look at once they have verified your deposit. While a new job may be a great career move and very exciting prospect it is not what they will want to see on an application. This is especially relevant if you are changing career paths completely. A mortgage lender wants to see stability and if you plan to buy in 2018 you should consider this before accepting a new opportunity. A steady job history and few or no gaps in employment over the past two years are ideal as it helps lenders more easily
forecast your future income.

There are times when it can be beneficial. If you’re moving from a commissioned or hourly job to one that is salaried with equal or more compensation, it may help your application, as banks tend to prefer applicants with steady, predictable incomes.

If you do get a new job while home shopping, let your bank or broker know as soon as possible. It doesn’t mean you won’t qualify for the mortgage, but you are much better off being transparent than having them find out and not advance funds at closing.

2. Keep tabs on your monthly spending
Credit cards are almost a necessity in building a credit rating but keep the maximums low. Even if you pay off your credit card every month, you could be flagged for high credit utilization if your credit report is pulled mid-cycle. In addition, if the available balances are high then many banks will factor that into their calculation when working out the amount of debt you can service.

Monthly subscription services are very common now and are certainly convenient, but they can add up and affect your qualifying ratios.
3. Build yourself a solid credit history
One of the first things a lender will look at is your credit history which is different from the credit score. A bank or broker is going to want to see that you have a history of paying off debts, like credit cards, on time because it signals that you’re less of a risk and a responsible borrower.

If you don’t have credit, securing a home loan may be significantly more challenging and maybe even impossible or very expensive.

4. Monitor your credit score
Your overall credit score can have a significant impact on your ability to buy a home. A low credit score can negatively affect how much money a lender is willing to loan you, as well as your interest rate.

Just a few percentage points difference in an interest rate can cost you thousands over the life of a mortgage. Monitor your credit closely, especially for fraudulent activity, to prevent any surprises that could delay the loan application process. There are many services available that are both free and subscription that can be used to see your score. Most of these sites give tips on how to improve it too, but remember the very best way is to pay on time and in full.

5. Save your money!
Avoid taking on large new debts — whether it’s buying a car or planning a large vacation consider waiting, even if you’re already preapproved.

Your debt-to- income ratio, or how much money you make compared to how much debt you have, can significantly affect how much money a lender is willing to give you. Keeping debts to a minimum can help make the home-buying process go a lot more smoothly.

Just like proofreading your resume before you apply for a job, improving your financial resume can help better your chances of buying a home.

Take advantage of online tools and resources. Speak with a bank or mortgage broker who can help you determine how much home you can afford. Find a Realtor who will guide you through the process and be willing to take the time needed to do it right. Remember that often the difference between a good credit profile and a bad one if just a few moths of personal discipline and the reward will be fulfilling your dream to own your own home.