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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The Pros and Cons of Listing your Muskoka Home During Holiday Season

Holiday TreeIt’s tinsel time but don’t worry if you are thinking of selling your Muskoka home. While there are some challenges at this time of year, there are also some little-known advantages to selling through the Holiday Season!

The Challenges

  • Some salespeople close-up shop and take a break rather than take on new business.
  • People in general are distracted by friends, family, presents and parties. To be honest it can be an exhausting season and the prospect of attempting to sell you home may be overwhelming.
  • The condition of your property, roof, septic system (if you have one), and landscaping are difficult for buyers to assess in the winter. Pictures from other seasons and receipts/permits are helpful.

The Advantages  

So, let me show you where the advantages lie.

Buyers with Time to Look

Although it is a busy time of year, many people have time away from work during this season. If they are looking to purchase a home, they will gladly use this time to look at a new listing.

A Lot Less Competition

When you are selling at the height of the spring or summer seasons, you need to work hard to stand out from the crowd, especially in busy markets like we have seen recently in Muskoka.  During the winter there are often far fewer properties available and very few “new” ones, giving motivated buyers fewer prospects to consider.

You can take of this opportunity to be one of a special few!

It is an Emotional Season

It is the season of less work and more play. Folks are full of merriment and generally feeling happier and more relaxed. When buyers are happy, they are often in a better mood to negotiate and more likely to act. This definitely means that the process can be easier on all parties.

The new year is also a time of reflections and fresh starts. Many buyers will want to have that fresh start in a new home just like you would like to sell the one you are currently in and have your own fresh start.

A Special Kind of Romance

A home can have a unique appeal during the Holiday season especially here in Muskoka with beautiful snow as our backdrop. If your target market is families, you can tastefully decorate so it lives and breathes the perfect family Christmas. If you have a great starter home, then dress it with the cozy warmth of a romantic home for two.

Buyers can get more emotional over the holidays, so appealing to the heart strings isn’t taboo. Embrace the season and try to connect with others who love it.

Leftover Fall Demand

The Fall selling season is over, and some people who recently sold their homes are still looking for their next home. Additionally, there are still buyers who missed out in competition during the busier summer months who are still looking to purchase their dream home.

Rental Market Opportunities

The rental market is often in flux at this time of year. Leases are up, and people are working out their next steps. Will it be a new place to rent or is it time to buy? You could be one of the few good choices they have.

Money, Money, Money

The end of the year often heralds financial changes. Taxation requirements, investment maturities and annual bonuses are often calculated, and people’s thoughts turn to where to invest. Real Estate is always a popular choice.

There are many reasons buyers might want or need to purchase a new home before Auld Lang Syne kicks in. Make it a smooth proposition for them and bundle your property as the solution to their problems.

However you choose to celebrate or even if you celebrate the holidays, this is a great season to consider listing you Muskoka Home with a hard working Realtor. Call me today and let me help you have a Happy New Year.

 

It’s time to get your Muskoka Home ready for the cold weather!

Fruit Flies - Karen Acton Muskoka RealtorIt’s finally here the first nip in the air that signals a change of season. From the first days of September, which probably still feel like summer, to the last, when you will be able to notice a chill in the air and even a frost or two. September is a time of transition. Get your home ready for the season ahead by choosing some of the tips from my “to do” list, from adding cozy layers to scheduling necessary maintenance.

Make things cozy. With the first few chilly nights under our belts think about swapping out lighter-weight bedding for flannel sheets and fluffy duvets. This will allow you to keep the furnace turned off for a week or two more!  Bring added warmth to your living room with throws and pillows in rich fabrics and deep colours. Remember that area rugs and curtains not only make a room feel cozier, but they also can help your home feel warmer and can help reduce your energy bills.

Order in your winter fuel. Get a jump start on the local demand by calling the fuel oil or propane supplier your use and getting your tanks topped up. If you use a wood stove for actual warmth or just for coziness, now is a good time to order a delivery of firewood. Remember, don’t store large quantities of wood directly against your home or cottage as it can encourage pests, but do keep it protected from rain and snow.

Vacuum radiators, baseboard heaters and heating grates. Prepare for the heating season by vacuuming up dust from radiators, baseboard heaters and heating grates. If you have radiators with covers, remove the covers and vacuum beneath them before replacing.

Check safety devices.  Take a few minutes to do one of the most important tasks you can for your family…test the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and replace batteries as needed. Don’t forget to check the expiration date on your fire extinguisher and replace if needed.

Clean and store your AC units. If you use window air-conditioning units, now is the time to either remove them or cover them outside with protective insulation. Removing the units is better as it allows, you to close the windows and this will minimize winter heat loss. Use a shop vac to clean the dust and debris out of the vents before covering them for storage.

Cover or store outdoor furniture and BBQ. If you plan to leave your patio furniture or BBQ outside through the fall and winter, cover them well and stow them beneath an overhang that will protect them from rain and snow.

Add weather-stripping. Newer windows may not need weather-stripping, but it will help most older windows retain heat and stop drafts. Doors, including the patio doors you will not use too often during winter, also need to be sealed if they are older.  Check areas with previously applied weather-stripping and remove or replace as needed.

Inspect the roof and gutters. This one may need to be done at the end of the month or even next month if the leaves are late changing this year!  Clean out the gutters and downspouts, pull out any sticks or other debris blocking the gutters, and make note of any worn-out seals around vent pipes and chimneys. If you do not feel comfortable on a ladder, or have a home of two or more stories, hire someone to do a quick inspection for you. Schedule any needed repairs now so that your home will be ready for winter.

Schedule chimney and furnace maintenance. Make sure your fireplace and heating system are clean, safe and ready to go by having a professional look at them now. Having your chimney cleaned will also ensure that you don’t try to start a fire when an animal nest or creosote build up is inside. If you don’t have a chimney cap yet, speak with your chimney sweep about adding a one. The metal cap with screened sides can prevent critters from getting in and helps protect your roof from burning embers.

Maintain the washer and dryer. Cleaning out the dryer vents can be a DIY job, but if you don’t feel comfortable doing so (or if you’ve been putting it off), you may want to hire a pro to do washer and dryer maintenance for you. Washing-machine hoses need to be replaced from time to time, and a cracked hose can cause a leak — which can mean costly damage to your home. Clean dryer vents and hoses will help your machine work more efficiently and reduce the risk of fire.

With these important things looked after, you can look forward to the change of seasons knowing that you’ll be safe and warm in your Muskoka home.

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!

 

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.