Curb Appeal 101 for your Muskoka Property

Front Door EntranceSpring seems to have arrived at last and maybe you’re thinking about selling your home or cottage so here are some of my tips to enhance that ever important “Curb Appeal”.

  1. Have a front door that pops!Your front door should be an exterior focal point so ramp up the appeal by giving it a fresh look. Try painting it a rich colour and consider updating the hardware or adding a new knocker. Depending on the style of your home or cottage you may want to add a seasonal touch. Hang a spring wreath or craft item that shows your visitors a little of your creativeness but do not be tempted to make it too cluttered. Pots of bright and fragrant flowers are always a great addition if your entrance way has room but don’t make it difficult to enter and exit.
  1. Add some bright flowers or plants to the entrance side. Remember, in Muskoka curb appeal does not always mean there is a curb, but the exterior is the very first impression a potential buyer will have of your property—I suggest planting perennials and spring bulbs around your home especially on the entrance side. The extra layer of foliage and colour will create a sense of depth, making your front yard appear larger.
  1. Road numbers should be easy to see. If you live in a rural area make sure you can clearly see the 911 number as you approach from both directions. If you are in town, walk across the street from your home to get a better idea of how easy it is to find your house numbers. Pick large numbers in a clear font that are the easy to read from a distance. Try to install them where they are not blocked by trees, foliage or verandas and position the numbers horizontally rather than vertically as they are easier to read that way. If possible consider lighting your street number to make it easy to find when it is dark.
  1. Consider a front garden sitting area. If you have a large front yard and find you rarely use it, consider whether it would be a suitable location to put a sitting area that can work as a fun and functional hangout zone. A bench curved around an outdoor water feature or fireplace is sure to become a favorite gathering place for friends and family!
  1. Keep it neat and tidy. If you’re planning to sell, remember that an untended garden screams “work” to a potential buyer. If you have a lawn, early spring is a good time to reseed or add sod where it’s coming back patchy. Cover flower beds with a natural mulch to help retain moisture and give the beds a finished look.
  1. Look up! Make sure the roof is in good repair.If the shingles are curling at the edges or have crumbling bits, it is time to investigate further. Have a professional roofer take a look. If you need a new roof covering, check references and get at least three competing estimates before hiring someone for the job.
  1. Clean windows and siding. Give your siding a fresh start this spring by washing off the dirt, road salt and cobwebs using a power washer or a regular hose with washing attachment.  The latter can get windows shiny and clean but remember to clean inside windows as well for the most sparkle. 
  1. Remember the garage and driveway. If you can see it, it should look as good as the home. The garage and driveway often take up a lot of visual real estate, so if they don’t look good they can seriously detract from curb appeal. Have any driveway cracks repaired or the gravel graded and topped up. Freshen up the garage with a coat of paint and consider matching the door to the front door of the home. Don’t forget the finishing touches and add some sconce lighting and flower boxes.
  1. Make the garden path a feature. If your home’s walkway is a straight line from the sidewalk to the front door, you may be missing out on an easy curb appeal enhancement; the curving path. Even a slight curve in a front walk helps move the eye through the landscape, making the front yard seem more spacious and welcoming.
  1. Keep it in the spotlight.A well-lit porch is a welcoming sight to come home to and more fun to hang out on. It can also make the space look bigger. If your porch has a single light, consider installing one or two additional lights. If you have a long pathway leading to your door, consider adding landscape lighting as well — your guests will thank you.

In this current, highly competitive market, details matter.  The first time most prospective buyers see your property is when it is listed on www.realtor.ca Ensure that the exterior photo your Muskoka property makes a great first impression!

 

 

The Upside to Downsizing Your Muskoka Home

DownsizeYour children are grown and finally gone and settled into their own adult lives. You have gone through the woes of “empty nest” syndrome and you are now in the position to think about what is next for you!

Do you keep the big home and hope that you get to host the family holidays? Do you even want to do that?  Most of us eventually decide that a smaller home with less maintenance and overhead is the wiser thing to do, so here are some pros and cons to help you decide if there is an upside to downsizing for you.

Most often when I see clients downsize, they tend to move into into a smaller home or condo. Smaller homes very often are on smaller lots and both of these options can mean being closer to neighbours.

On the downside you can see and hear your neighbours.  This may be a negative but you can help moderate the effect by upgrading the window treatments in your home for privacy and strategically place screening plants in your garden or on your patio or balcony to make you new location more private.

The upside is you can get to know your neighbours. In most cases when you downsize you will find you have more time on your hands.  Less work to do around the home so having new friends in the neighbourhood is a great way to spend some of that time. Be social, old friends are great, but making friends next door will enhance the everyday enjoyment you have in your new home.

One of the things a larger home often has is storage space that smaller homes and condos usually lack.

On the downside storage becomes a premium. The double vanity in the old bathroom, the large hall closet, the full basement with a large utility room: these places may be gone in the new home. To counter-act this you may want to consider closet organizers and perhaps a bathroom makeover.

The upside is you can purge and then indulge: You may need to be a little brutal with yourself at first but pare down your “stuff” to only the things you need and love. Then give yourself permission to acquire only products you love as time goes on.  They may cost a little more but your new and efficient life style means you can afford to spend a little more on your favourite perfume and toiletries and use them every day rather than having 2 or 3 kinds and keeping the favorite one only for special occasions!

Most large family homes have formal sitting areas and family rooms. Often there is a craft room and a work shop. Lots of “hidey holes” for family members to have “me time” that may not exist in a smaller home.

The downside is that it is harder to have your own space. As a retired empty nester, you may have developed separate interests and activities from your partner so you will need to be intentional about giving each other the time and space needed to continue to do these activities.
The upside is that by being more exposed to your partner’s hobbies you may find you both enjoy them.  In addition, you will have a smaller home and fewer rooms that need cleaning so more time to spend together.

One of the biggest factors to consider when downsizing is what to keep and what to let go of.

The downside is your furniture may no longer work. Even if you’ve made careful decisions about what items you will keep and take to the new home there could be issues. A light-filled room can highlight stains you hadn’t noticed, the color or style may be all wrong for the space, and the way you find yourself using a room may mean that your furniture feels like a mismatch.

The upside is you are liquidating capital in the process and so can afford some new items: You have the perfect excuse to go shopping for new furniture and that is always fun!

The garden is usually a big adjustment whether you love to garden or not. Moving from a large home that likely has a larger garden to a smaller one with just a little one or even a condo with none can mean a big change.

The downside is your backyard shrinks, and your lifestyle changes along with it. For many this is a relief not a problem but if gardening is a passion for you, the solution is not as hard as you may think. There are often neighbours who can no longer manage their gardens who would love to allow you to help. Put a message on the community Facebook page and see how many replies you get. If you’re used to lazing by a back-yard pool and know you’ll miss it, consider a hot tub or a swim spa instead.

The upside is you have more time for you. Mowing the lawn will no longer be a time-consuming chore and the cost of the spring and fall turn around will be cut down considerably.  Remember, with some creative furnishings and plantings, a compact backyard can still meet your needs for a restful outdoor escape and a place to entertain family and friends.

By the time, you are ready to down size you have very likely been used to a large kitchen and cooking for a family. A smaller home or condo will usually mean a much smaller kitchen.

The downside is a compact kitchen changes the way you cook. When you have had oodles of counter tops and lots of storage perhaps even a pantry, cooking a family meal is relatively easy. A smaller kitchen will require you to clean as you go, plan your meals and shop for ingredients more often. It also means you need to reduce the quantities of serving dishes, glassware and kitchen gadgets that you keep.

The upside is that you can have fun learning new recipes. Embrace your downsized lifestyle and eat out more often. Meet friends out for dinner instead of having them over and when it comes to family events go to their home or make it pot luck and paper plates!

Another adjustment you will likely have to face is that your rooms need to serve more than one purpose. If you had a sewing room in your old home, you will most likely have to set up in a spare bedroom and pack things up for company.

The downside is rooms must serve more than one purpose. As an empty nester, you will have had the luxury of turning rooms the children once occupied into craft rooms, man caves, home offices and the like. When you downsize you will need to adjust to multipurpose rooms and make do, particularly when hosting guests.

The upside is less space less junk. You will be less tempted to accumulate stuff and buy only what you need or genuinely love.

Laundry rooms are often sacrificed in a downsizing move. Laundry rooms become laundry areas and in a condo may even be a community facility.

The downside is you need to plan your laundry day. If your kitchen and laundry become one or you need to leave your home to do laundry, figuring out what to do with baskets of washing can be a challenge. The typical laundry room is a prime dumping ground for all manner of items, such as shoes that need cleaning and stained items that are soaking in the sink, ironing board and so much more. You must find a way to eliminate this or “hide” it until laundry day.
The upside is small loads of laundry done frequently: Piles of laundry will become a thing of the past. Staying on top of washing, folding and ironing will become the norm.

Perhaps the biggest change and even the most difficult one to adjust to is how to handle house guests.

The downside is you have to plan well for company. Larger homes often come with guest rooms for visiting family but downsizing means you need to get creative to squeeze in more than one guest at a time. Bunk beds, wall beds, sofa beds and air mattresses are all options. It’s up to you how many guests you want to accommodate at once —and sometimes it will take a visit or two to see what will work.

The upside is smaller groups of visitors means more one-on-one time with them: If only a couple of family members can visit comfortably at once, quality time together is assured.

The decision to go from a large family home to a smaller one is not easy to make, but in my experience it is usually a good move with no regrets. I would be happy to help you with any questions you may have about the process and, of course, with the search for that new smaller abode.

Is Your New Muskoka Home Making You Second Guess Your Decision?

Karen Acton Mew Home BlueAre you feeling little blue now that you are all moved into your new Muskoka home? Well don’t fret, it is not an unusual feeling. In a recent study as many as 1 in 4 homeowners said they went through a period of regretting purchasing their current home.

Why you may wonder? Well think about it, you spent months dreaming about a new home, you made plans in your head about things you would or could do in a new home. Now that you have selected one, most of these plans will have to be refined or even deleted. After all, your new home is a reality now, and not all of your plans and dreams will fit the actual spaces you have and some of the things you have been dreaming about will not be affordable.

Regardless of how much you might feel the urge to, you can’t just take a house back and get a refund. Even if you could the next one you picked would likely have similar issues for you. So what is the solution? I have taken a google tour and combined my findings with my experience and put together some tips to help you ease anxiety and start appreciating your home’s positive side.

It is OK to wallow a little.  Accept that it is totally normal to have second thoughts after committing to mortgage payments, moving expenses and the challenges of resettling your family. Instead of feeling disappointed that the house may not living up to your expectations, give yourself a break and wallow a little….but just a little! Call a friend and vent over a coffee or a glass of wine for a short time, even have a cry and let it all out, if that is what you need. Remember that these feelings will be more likely to pass if you deal with them so get it all out.  Try making a list of all the things you would like to change about your house and save it. One day years from now, you might look back on it when you’re packing up to move out of the house you have come to cherish, and laugh.

Put a positive spin on things. Pick out some art, with a warm and welcoming message, and hang it somewhere so you’ll see it each day. Muskoka is home to numerous lovely shops that sell all kinds of attractive items that have positive messages. Reading the sentiment you wish you had about your home will begin to rub off and shift your feelings about the new space.

Bring some familiarity.  Keeping some elements the same from one home to the next can help a new place feel more familiar, and it cuts down on stressful decision making. Don’t forget that part of what’s exciting about buying a home is the potential to make a fresh start, so be sure to leave room for the new and different too.

Do things slowly.  Settling into your new Muskoka home can be overwhelming. Don’t pressure yourself into doing it all at once. It is OK to leave some boxes unpacked in the basement for a week or even more! Start with the areas that affect your daily routines the most like the kitchen, medicine cabinet, and clothes closets. When they are neatly organized in a familiar way you will start to feel more settled. And when things start out neat and tidy and well organized, they are more likely to stay that way and more importantly you will feel like you are home.

Embracing the new. There are many traditions from around the world relating to inhabiting a new space. You could say a blessing for your new home or invite a spiritual leader to do it, you could symbolically sweep out traces of the past owners with a good old fashioned broom or even cleanse the air in each room with a sage bundle. Many of these symbolic rituals can help make the home feel like it is yours.

Buy flowers.  We buy flowers for the ones we love, so buying them especially for your home can be a surprisingly meaningful gesture. Don’t wait for things to be perfect to treat your new home to a beautiful bouquet do it NOW and as a bonus you will get to enjoy them too.

Be half full not half empty If you own a home, especially one in beautiful Muskoka, you have a lot to be grateful for. Try keeping a gratitude journal daily for a week listing all the things you appreciate about your new home. Form big things like the fact that you own it, to little things like you have enough closets for all your clothes, or the water pressure is great! You will be surprised as this journey will likely remind you of exactly why you wanted this home when you made the purchase.

Get help. Nothing drastic required, but if things are not coming together as easily as you would like, it may be time to call in reinforcements. Ask a design-minded friend over for coffee and pick their brain about the best furniture arrangement for your new living room or perhaps hire a designer to help make bigger changes. Having a trusted second opinion about your space can help move things forward.

Accept the imperfections. Yes, you made a huge investment and you were hoping that things would be perfect, but just like people, no home is perfect. Focus on getting to know your home’s quirks and making the most of its positive qualities instead of holding it up to an impossible glossy-magazine ideal. Even a custom-built home can turn out to have imperfections that the owner did not anticipate when it was designed.

In my experience as a Realtor no one would say their home is perfect. Enjoy and accept the things you did not see or expect during the showings you had before closing and soon you’ll
love the new Muskoka home that you were so excited to move into.

5 Do’s and 5 Don’t When Renovating For Resale

renovating for resale - Karen ActonRealtors are often asked about what renovations need to be done to maximize resale value. In many cases I will tell my clients that other than some paint to freshen up things and a good declutter it is better to not spend money on a property simply for resale. Many Muskoka home and cottage renovations will only net a small portion of the cost to complete them. However that is not always the case, especially when a home owner intends to live in and enjoy the home for several years before selling. There are some renovations that will definitely add value to resale and some that will not.

My 5 Do’s

1. Kitchens. Updating your tired kitchen is one of the most lucrative methods of increasing the value of your home; however, there are some things to consider when planning a kitchen remodel.

It is important when making design decisions and selections for plumbing fixtures, appliances, cabinets and countertop materials, to determine whether you are designing things to suit your own taste or choosing the best design for a return on your investment. Either option is perfectly acceptable, but you should understand that your design may not be the most effective one for making a profit. Try to strike a balance between the two that you can feel good about.

For example, using the existing kitchen layout and affordable cosmetic materials is a sure way to keep the cost of remodelling your kitchen manageable. When you start tearing out walls, bumping out the exterior home footprint to gain a few feet, or moving plumbing fixtures and appliances, the cost of the remodel will jump and your dollars will be less efficiently spent.

2. Adding living space. A straightforward addition of a new living space is typically a very good investment providing your property is in an area where the addition will not make you the “Cadillac on Chevy row”. That is, do not over improve the size of your property for the neighbourhood!

Larger square footage usually equals and increases your home’s value if the increase gives you additional rooms rather than bigger existing ones. This is NOT a small project, so if you are going to incur these expenses, it’s important to get some good advice on the effectiveness of the improvement. Again remember that you may be planning to enjoy this space for some time before you sell, but do not be tempted to make it so customized to your needs that a buyer will not appreciate it when you are ready to move on.

3. Curb appeal. You cannot make a second first impression! The front approach to your home or cottage is more than just a first impression; it is the only impression available to just about all of your home’s potential buyers.

Don’t despair, there are a number of very affordable things you can do to improve curb appeal, and a few more expensive ones that can likely pay off as well. Simply cleaning out overgrown brush and making a few new planting additions to your landscape can go a long way toward improving curb appeal. Making sure foot paths are level and have no loose stones is an inexpensive but vital improvement too. Repainting is another low-cost, high-impact improvement.

Bigger projects such as changing out old windows or the front door are things that potential buyers will notice and value. Occasionally more extensive renovations, such as added dormers and front porches, can prove wise, from an investment standpoint but you need to remember to not over improve for your neighbourhood.

4. Master suites.  Home buying decisions are in the hands of adults, and while they will want to be sure there is adequate space for children and guests, most adults care about the environment where they sleep. Updating a master bedroom or remodeling and adding a new master suite is usually money well spent.

5. Bathrooms. We all notice bathrooms, and all the bathrooms are important in your home or cottage. However, priority should be placed on the powder room and master bath, followed by a guest bathroom and any other secondary baths.

The same rules apply to a bathroom renovation as to the kitchen. Cosmetic changes are a safe bet for getting a good return on your investment. If the tub is in good condition but a dated colour, it can be painted – white or bone is easy to co-ordinate with a new toilet and sink. Make sure that the room is freshly painted, the colours simple and contemporary and the tile in good shape… no nasty black grout!

My 5 Don’ts

1. Kids’ spaces.  I do not want to be the Grinch here, but not all buyers will have children or children in the age group yours may be. Avoid creating specialty “Kid Zones” in your home and on your property. That rock climbing wall, which most kids would flock to, might actually be a negative to a buyer who sees no use for this feature and thinks only of the cost for removal. Make sure the spaces you create for your kids will pack up and leave when you do!

2. Pools.  Backyard pools are loved by millions, and while this appreciation is well founded, they should be constructed for their many virtues that are NOT investment related.

In Muskoka where we have an abundance of waterfront to visit and enjoy and long hard winters, a pool is very unlikely to increase the value of your home as such, is unlikely to pay for itself. Given our short summer season, many buyers may perceive the pool as a negative with ongoing maintenance work and related expense, or a significant cost to remove.

3. Wine rooms.  Currently a very popular item, the wine room may seem like a cool investment but unfortunately it is not a good one from a return perspective. It will capture the interest of only a very small percentage of potential buyers and wouldn’t appeal to someone who does not love wine. In fact it could represent a waste of space and a cost to retrofit, to many potential purchasers.

4. Removing features. Do not remove features for investment reasons. If you never use the fireplace in your basement, removing it might make perfect sense to you and your family. Just make sure you understand that the next homeowner might wish it were still there, and the money you spent demolishing the fireplace and reworking the space will not be reclaimed.

5. Minor additions. A small addition that results in the addition of a few square feet is very unlikely to increase your value. If you are not creating additional rooms but are simply expanding a bathroom or secondary bedroom you may be setting yourself up to lose money. The reason is simple. If you bump out a  bedroom wall by a few feet, that bedroom might be much more comfortable for your personal use, but the cost of the foundation, roof, framing, drywall and finishing will be substantial for a small gain in square footage.  Typically, a 3 bedroom 2,500 sq.ft. home will sell for very little more than a 3 bedroom 2,600 sq.ft. home when all the features and finishes are similar.

If you are thinking about a renovation of your Muskoa Home or Cottage, with resale in mind, I would be happy to meet with you and share my experience with the current market place. So please feel free to call me!

Making the Move to Muskoka – How to Make it Easy!

Karen Acton Muskoka Realtor - Moving to MuskokaIf you are ready to make the move to Muskoka or you have decided to relocate across the country or just across town, moving can be stressful even given the best circumstances. The best way to make it less stressful is to have a plan. Without a clear plan, packing up a household, getting a family prepared and setting up the necessary services at both ends of a big move can be a harrowing experience.

The internet is a great resource. I spent a little time “Googling” and combined that with what I have learned from watching clients making the move, and have come up with some planning tips to help you make the “Big Move” a smooth and stress-free event.

1. Have a moving file. As soon as you even start thinking about moving, create a moving file. You can do it with paper in a binder or use your computer, tablet or even phone. Gather all related papers in one place, such as:

  • Moving companies
  • A calendar and a timeline for doing things – your Realtor can help you with this
  • Your master packing list – Pack now (things you will not need until after you have moved) and pack later (things you will be using right up to the moving date)
  • Contact information (for both the old & the new homes) for utilities, post office, schools, doctors, bank accounts, credit cards, insurance providers, etc.

Your moving file will be your most important tool and the source of your peace of mind. Keep it with you at all times.

2. Be brave and purge before packing.  Don’t be tempted to drop an entire drawer of stuff into a box. This is the perfect time to declutter so be bold and just do it! Every item you decide to move should be moved for a reason — either you use it or you love it. Be ruthless with yourself and your kids so you don’t have to move more stuff than necessary. Remember, you will likely be paying movers based on the amount you have, and the more you move, the more you’ll have to unpack later.

3. Create a master packing list. Buy a big black marker pen and number each box as you pack it and write the number big and bold on all four sides. Don’t list the contents on the box. Instead, keep the details for each box on your master packing list in your moving file. Be specific when detailing the contents, so you’ll waste less time searching for things later.  Use masking tape and a marker to tag electronics cables for easy setup later.

4. Protect valuable items. Pack your jewelry and legal documents yourself in an unmarked (or misleadingly marked) box and carry it with you personally if possible. It is unlikely that you would have an issue with a professional mover but it is probably unwise to label a box “valuables” or “jewelry” especially if you are putting it in other people’s hands.

5. The moving day box. Plan for the actual big day of the move by putting together a moving day box with essentials that can be kept in your car. Moving is kind of like camping, so pack accordingly. Include:

  • Your moving file
  • Toilet paper, soap, toiletries, medications, chargers and batteries for electronics (invest in chargers that plug into your car’s lighter), paper towels, bath towels and bed sheets, so you can settle in quickly
  • Basic cleaning supplies
  • A small tool kit
  • Healthy snacks, paper plates, cups, utensils and a coffeemaker
  • Pet food, bowls, leash, pet bed
  • First aid kit

6. Don’t forget to involve the kids if you have any making the move with you. Get them involved by helping them pack their own travel bag with toiletries, pajamas and a few days’ worth of clothes. If your child has a favourite, comforting toy, bring it with you rather than packing it out of sight and out of reach.

7. Moving is hectic with pets especially if there will be several pit stops along the way. Moving day will be chaotic, with lots of open doors. Before moving day have ID tags made for your pets with your new address and be sure they wear their collar and new tags every moment of the move.

By having a detailed plan, you can focus on your family and the emotions surrounding a big change. Being well prepared is the best way for moving day to go off without a hitch. Hopefully, your process will be smooth, your trip a great adventure and your new Muskoka home a place you will love for a long time to come.