Planning a New Kitchen in Your Muskoka Home?

Sargeant49 important questions before you start

We all want a dream kitchen so before you start here are some tips experts have developed to help you get one. Start with a clear view of what you intend. Focus on the things you want and those you need. This will help you see where you can compromise if necessary and where to stick to your goals.

A kitchen renovation can seem overwhelming when you start the process. There are lots of elements to get right. It is not simply the design but all the other factors from appliances to how will it fit the style and décor of the rest of your home or cottage.

1.Define the vision. Ask the big questions before you do anything. You need to establish how you want your kitchen to function. Do you have a large family and want your new kitchen to be the place where you all spend time, eat meals do home work? Do you love to entertain and envision a stunning space to show off your culinary skills? Ask yourself some clear questions to help build your vision, do you love to cook or is it a necessary function? Will you need a desk or work space here?
By asking yourself questions before you start making decisions you identify exactly what you want and what you need out of your available space. By knowing what you want at the beginning you are less likely to get off track once you have started.

2.What are my needs? After you’ve defined the vision or theme of your new kitchen, you need to identify the nonnegotiable things that are at the top of your wants and needs list. Your needs are the things you cannot do without. Things like an eating area or a large window – the important things that will control your joy level when being in the new kitchen. Don’t over focus on things that will go out of fashion over time like paint colours or even appliances as they can all be changed. Hopefully, you won’t need to make compromises on these needed items.

3. Making a compromise or two. Once you have defined the vision and made sure the needs are in place it is time to look at your want list and perhaps some of the compromises that may be required. You may want a new gas range but it is not in the budget! The solution is simple, make sure the space for the dream stove is created now but buy it next year and use your existing one for now. Some compromises are a bit harder to make. You may have wanted a feature that the space available simply cannot accommodate and that is a tougher compromise to come to terms with.

4.Creating an efficient layout? The layout of your kitchen is a big decision, and you may need professional advice. It is best to sketch it carefully and note where the gas and electrical outlets are going to be for each appliance, and of course drainage for plumbed items. Kitchen designers like to create zones for cooking, washing and prepping which is a great tip for creating good flow.

Consider the space between cooktops and windows or tower cabinets, and between electrical outlets and sinks. Think about which appliances can sit near others, and remember to make sure doors can open safely. Don’t put islands too close to a run of cabinets as you will want to be sure to have a comfortable walkway. Many cabinet retailers will have software that can draw a plan for you and some will even visit your home or cottage to measure and check the positions of things.

5.Don’t forget the lighting and heating? It is very important that while you are still in the planning stage you consider the accompanying elements of your new kitchen design. The lighting and heating are important and it is vital to get it right, not only to create a welcoming atmosphere, but also to see clearly while you’re cooking! Decide whether you need direct lighting over the work surfaces and pot lights in the ceiling. Lighting has come a long way and there are some very glamorous options that can have a significant impact without a huge cost.

The heating system is like the kitchen cabinets and appliances, it’s best to decide on positions for these at the outset so that you can get services installed at the correct locations before the kitchen goes in. Once you’ve decided on the layout of your heating and lighting, as well as the position of your appliances and cabinets, try not to make any huge changes as it can be costly to reposition or divert your utilities once you’re at the installation stage.

6.Don’t forget about building permits? If you’re having structural, electrical or plumbing work done as part of the job, you may need to obtain a building permit before you start work. If you’re undertaking this level of work you may have an architect or a building contractor who will be able to tell you how to go about applying for the right sort of permission for the job.

7.What’s my style?Once you have determined all the practical aspects of your reno you can start to think about the fun stuff! You most likely have browsed the internet or the pages of decorating magazines but now with your vision, wants and needs list you can zoom in on the final “look” you want. Perhaps it’s a farmhouse kitchen with a huge harvest table or perhaps a sleek minimalist block with hidden appliances? Whatever you seek, with careful planning you should be able to achieve it and  stay within budget.

8.Hiring a contractor? Perhaps the weightiest decision you will have to make when undertaking a kitchen reno, is choosing the right people to do the work. Many builders will be happy to take on your whole project, with responsibility for the building work, cabinetry, electrical and plumbing considerations too. However, if you are not making any structural changes you may not need a building contractor. You can act as your own general contractor and coordinate the tradesmen you need to do your project. You may need to employ a cabinetmaker, a certified plumber or electrician, tilers and drywall and plaster experts as well as flooring and heating trades. Remember to ask for estimates and get references.

9.Choosing the finishes. Before the work has started finalize as many things as possible like sinks and faucets, countertops, and appliances as well as the tile and flooring. Don’t wait until your contractor needs the items and you rush to obtain them, rather get ahead of the time line so that you won’t be rushed at installation stage. This will ensure that you do not make snap decisions that you may later regret.

These 9 steps are a great guide to a successful kitchen renovation. No matter the reason for the reno, getting it right will bring you a great deal of pleasure and add value to your Muskoka home or cottage.

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Understanding the Financing Clause when Buying Muskoka Home

What is a Mortgage - Karen Acton Royal LePage Lakes of MuskokaOur market in Muskoka has been very active this last few years and sometimes the temptation to make offers unconditional can be very strong.

As a buyer, you may have been pre-approved and feel that it is safe to buy unconditionally only to be caught up by a lender’s requirement that you cannot meet.  At the last minute, you may even have to come up with a larger down payment.  If you are unable to do so, this could leave you not only losing your dream home but potentially subject to the consequences of a breach of contract.

As a seller, an unconditional offer is always very appealing but if that buyer cannot produce funds on closing the results cannot only be heart breaking, but you may be faced with losing the home you hoped to buy and possibly being in breach of your contract with the seller of your future home.

As a Realtor® I always strive to guide my clients with good advice and protect them from making a mistake. I know that when a buyer finds the perfect home or cottage they want it and don’t want to be outbid.  My job is to be the voice of reason. Unless you have the resources to buy with cash or a very large down payment that well exceeds most lenders’ requirements, a financing clause is simply the best option.

In a recent article Mark Weisleder a Partner, author and speaker at the law firm Real Estate Lawyers.ca LLP covered the following important points.

1. Pre-approvals are no guarantee you will obtain your financing

Too many buyers are cavalier about submitting offers without a financing condition, especially during the pressure of a bidding war. You must understand that even with a pre-approval, the lender must be satisfied with its own appraisal. The foundation for most appraisals is what would a willing buyer pay a willing seller, WITHOUT pressure? In a bidding war, there is almost always pressure on the buyer. This is why the appraisal will likely be lower than what the buyer offered and the lender will offer you less money than you hoped for. The answer is always to have an extra 5-10% of the down payment in reserve to protect you. In a condominium purchase, if it is conditional upon review of a status certificate, use that time to also make sure your financing is in order.

 2. Lenders can change their mind right up until the day of closing

Even if you are approved after you sign your agreement, the lender can still change their minds based on anything which they may learn before they advance funds. There are usually many conditions attached to any loan approval, such as verification of income, down payment, employment. Make sure you work with your mortgage broker to satisfy all of these conditions and requirements as soon as possible in the process. The worst words a lawyer can hear from a lender on the day of closing is “The file is in underwriting”. This typically means that someone else is reviewing the entire file because issues have arisen. In some cases this can result in the entire loan being cancelled, right on the day of closing. In our firm, since we receive and send funds via wire transfer, we are fortunately able to complete deals even when lenders are late transferring funds to our trust account.

 3. Always know the net amount you will receive from your lender

Every mortgage commitment is different. Some may contain up-front fees for arranging the loan, appraisals, CMHC fees and HST, interest to the interest adjustment date. All of these fees are deducted right off the top, before the balance is sent to your lawyer on the day of closing. The bottom line is you must know the exact amount that will be sent to your lawyer on closing, to make sure you have enough to make up the rest of the down payment, land transfer tax and legal fees. At our firm we remind clients to send us their mortgage instructions early in the process so that we can get them the net amount they will need to complete the transaction in a timely manner.

In Muskoka lenders sometimes have requirements for additional documentation. Things like water potability certificates, septic use permits, proof of properly installed water treatment (disinfection) systems, road access agreements to prove year round access, final occupancy permits and zoning even an inspector’s statement regarding the type of wiring and insulation. A mortgage can’t be advanced without insurance on the property, so a W.E.T.T. inspection may be necessary for wood burning devices. Ultimately the underwriter at the lending institution is responsible for making sure that the lender’s investment is protected.  Sadly, they are not concerned with how much a buyer loves a property or how much the seller needs the transaction to close.

I hope that after reading this you will be cautious when buying or selling a Muskoka home or cottage. A good Realtor® will always put the interests of the client ahead of their own and encourage you to use a financing clause if there is any possibility you may need one.

Building a Muskoka Cottage

renovatingSometimes when a client is looking for a perfect Muskoka Cottage they can be disappointed since many of the best and most appealing lot/cottage combinations can be quite expensive. In some cases clients then start to think about finding a lot and creating the perfect cottage from scratch.

Here are some important considerations to ponder before you decide to change track and start looking for a vacant waterfront lot:

  • Is the lot “ready to go?” In Muskoka realtors usually use the language “partially serviced” or “fully serviced” in the listing details to indicate if all or some of the required services —electricity, water, sewage, cell, internet—is directly available to the site.
  • If a road access is not developed and utilities are not already available to the site the lot value will be significantly lower than a serviced lot, but before you snap up a bargain you NEED to first find out whether it is even possible to connect to these services and determine how much it will cost to hook up. When additional utility poles are required to bridge the distance from an existing service to the building envelope, the costs can be prohibitive.
  • If utilities are not available or are excessively expensive, you may want to look into what, if any services you can generate yourself. Electricity is most likely the largest obstacle and if road access is seasonal, private or non-existent, you may need to consider solar or wind as a source as well as traditional electrical generators. Most cottages have septic systems and draw water from the lake/river or a well. Consider these expenses as well.
  • Do not forget your design costs. To get a building permit you must have certified plans so even if you do not have custom drawings you will need to make sure any plan you buy is stamped. If you are planning to use older plans that have been given to you, you will have to pay to get them stamped and maybe modified to meet current code requirements.
  • Throughout the Muskoka region there can be lot levies to pay at the time of obtaining your building permit. Depending on the municipality and the level of services at the site they can range from $6000 -$15000 and must be paid in full before a permit can be issued.
  • If you are not building your own cottage and intend to use a local contractor you would be well advised to have several contractors bid on your project. Get references and have a contract drawn up. Make sure your builder has WSIB coverage for himself and any of his sub trades. You will be expected to pay a significant portion of the cost up front to offset the cost of material and labour. You may want to consider acting as your own General contractor and work on a time and materials basis with your builder by setting up accounts with the suppliers and paying for the material directly. You should also budget many hours of your time to oversee the project. Whatever you decide, get more than a hand shake! There are many excellent builders in this area but there also some who will take on a project beyond their capabilities and cause you no end of additional expense.
  • It is possible to manage costs by building in stages. Put up a basic cottage initially but have it designed to put an add-on wing in a few years.. If this appeals to you, the only thing you need to do at the start is make sure your final plan can be accommodated under the applicable zoning regulations.

In conclusion building your perfect Muskoka Cottage may be what you end up deciding to do, however it is unlikely you will actually save a large amount of money. The process can be challenging and at times very frustrating.

Ultimately, clients who build, do seem to have a great sense of pride in their cottage. There is no doubt building to your exact needs will make your Muskoka Cottage the place you love to spend endless hours with family and friends!

Remember I am always happy to help and can put my years of experience and contacts to good use on your behalf.

Buying Your First Muskoka Cottage

zeleznik 003So you think you are ready to buy your first cottage! As a Muskoka Realtor I am here to help you navigate through the process smoothly, so you can begin to enjoy cottage life.

The starting point for this adventure is to sit with your family and determine what it is you are really looking for. The considerations are many, from the size of the building and the lake, to the type of access you will want.

You have probably spent time in a cottage, either rented, or with friends or family. Think about the very best of those experiences. You may be surprised to find that the favorite memories of your cottage experiences centre on things you had not thought you wanted or needed.

Some of the most important considerations are:

  • Distance from your home – A long drive after work on Friday afternoon may not seem like a big deal now but it needs to be factored into the decision making process. It will affect the amount of time you spend at your cottage. Will you continue to love and enjoy your property if the drive to Muskoka becomes a trial with jobs and children?
  •  Size of cottage – is the size of your family established or will there be children in your future? Do you want to be able to rent it and if so, what is the best number of bedrooms for a rental?
  • Size of the lake or river – often buyers want to be on a large lake and are willing to pay a premium for it. However, in reality they do not have a large boat and never utilize all of the lake. A smaller lake or substantial river is often quieter and for most families will be more than sufficient. And they usually come with smaller price tags!
  • Accessibility – Do you plan to use the cottage in the winter? Are you prepared to pay private road fees, if any? Would water access work for you?
  • Stunning view or level to the water? – Remember that Muskoka is famous for its rugged beauty so there are far more lots with some elevation than there are level ones.
  • Privacy – Everyone wants privacy so it is a feature that will increase the cost. How private do you need it to be? Great memories at the cottage often include activities with other cottagers!
  • Services – To some, the cottage experience is a rustic, 1 bathroom, lake water no dishwasher cabin. To others, the cottage is a place of relaxed luxury, with en suite bathrooms, 5 appliances, a drilled well and high speed internet? Muskoka has it all; you just need to know what you want.

In general, you can expect properties on larger lakes to be more expensive than those on smaller ones. Properties that have level to moderately sloped lots tend to have a higher asking price than those on steeper lots. A western or southern exposure will have a higher price tag also!

It is worth remembering that the building itself, is of secondary importance. Buildings can be repaired, renovated, and rebuilt over time. In many cases, the building represents only a small part of the property's value. So choosing the right lot and waterfront is of primary importance.

Finding the perfect cottage is a highly personal adventure, everyone has their own dream. I can help you to determine your wants and needs, and select appropriate properties for you to view. Rest assured you will know the right cottage when you see it. I would love to help you make your cottage dream come true! Call now to get started.

February in Your Muskoka Home – How to Outsmart Winter!

Furnace FIlterEven in this La Nina winter, when things are not as harsh as a typical Muskoka winter, February can be long, cold and grey. Here are some tips to help you outsmart the weather by making your home inside a clean, bright, cozy and healthy haven. And since this is a leap year, you’ll have an extra day this month to get it all done.

Put a pot of soup on the stove Nothing will make your home or cottage smell better then the savory fragrance of a pot of homemade soup. Pick a family favorite or try something new and rest assured it will drive away the winter blah’s.

Show your home some love Valentine’s Day is Feb. 14, so why not give your home a little extra TLC? Pick up a bouquet of fresh flowers just because, hang a new art print on the wall or host a cozy gathering with lots of candles and twinkle lights.

Plan a trip Even if you don’t book one, give your self an afternoon vacation scrolling through vacation sites or a travel magazine. Let your mind have an adventure in an exotic destination and totally ignore the grey skies outside.

Jump-start the spring cleaning Think of the advantage of doing it now! When the nice weather comes in just a few weeks you will be bale to get out and about and not be stuck indoors. Grab a mop, bucket, vacuum and duster and get to it. You will be glad you did.

Purify the air Winter means closed doors and windows and the furnace or fire on. This makes for a warm and cozy home but unfortunately means the air will get pretty stale and not very clean. So change the furnace filter and on the better days open a window for a little while to let in some clean air. It’s a great idea to invest in some air-cleaning houseplants or set up an air purifier too.

Do a home safety check This should be done several times a year and it only take a few minutes. Check the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors replacing old batteries and the units themselves it they are older. It is recommended that you change the units every 10 years as the sensors wear out. Refresh the emergency kit and the first aid kit. Don’t forget to check the expiration date on fire extinguishers and replace if needed.

Refresh or Create the Power Outage Kit La Nina years are often plagued with ice storms so power outages are definitely more likely. Have a kit with flashlights, fresh drinking water (at least 1 gallon per person per day for at least three days), foods that can be eaten without cooking and don’t forget food and water for your pets.

Make some great freezer dinners  A prepared dinner can be a great help when you have unexpected plans. If there is a nice bright February day get out and enjoy it and come back to a homemade dinner that’s already prepared! It’s a win, win for you and your family. A single afternoon spent cooking big- batch meals (think chili, soup, casseroles) can make it so much easier to get dinner on the table when you don’t feel like cooking.  There are lots of great ideas on line try Googling “Crock Pot” dinners.

Protect entry floors The muck and gunk of a soggy winter is especially hard on your entrance way. Road salt, sand and melting snow can wreak havoc on floors. Protect your flooring by using interior and exterior mats, and a tray to collect wet boots. Invest in a stack of washable rugs, so you can always keep a fresh, dry rug in the entry.

February is also a great time to stat thinking about selling your Muskoka home or cottage. If you think that 2016 will be the year you plan to sell, call me. I would be delighted to sit with you and help you make a plan of things to do during the last weeks of winter in preparation for a great spring market.

Investing In Muskoka in 2016

Green - #1Investing in a vacation property is a big decision and one that, if you do not make wisely, will likely cause more heartache and stress than joy and relaxation. So here are 10 things you should consider before you start this venture:

1. Why are you buying it?

A vacation home isn’t always just about a place to retire or relax. It can and probably should be an investment. Maybe even an investment which generates income when you don’t want to be there. You need to determine how this purchase will fit into your overall investment portfolio. Will it “grow slowly” as the market value increases or will you operate it as a profit maker each year?

If it is mainly for a profit making investment, you need to consider what a renting family is looking for, as much as what you may be looking for!

2. Keep your emotions in check

Buying a vacation home is fraught with emotions and therefore risk! Do not let this be an emotional decision, as it could lead to heartache and stress. Before you start on your journey make sure that you do a thorough check on your finances. Can you carry the operating costs? Do you know what the carrying costs will even be?  If you still have a mortgage on your primary residence can you carry both properties?

3. Where do I buy?

In Ontario, Muskoka, Parry Sound and Haliburton Highlands are the traditional summer vacation locations, and for many people winter locations too. They are within reasonable driving distance of major cities like Toronto, Ottawa and London and are therefore easy to access and enjoy. The important thing to think about is the time and hassle it takes to get there and how often you will actually use it. You’re more likely to head north to cottage country for the weekend if it is only a few hours away, than if it takes 5 or 6 hours to get there.

4. Consider pooling resources

One way to ease the burden or to get a nicer property is through joint ownership. Your brothers or sisters might want to go in with you. Friends may want to do the same. The key is to make sure everyone understands the rules of the road, including a fair way to split up prime time use, what happens when one party wants to sell and who inherits the property. If you are thinking of taking this route, please make sure you have legal advice. Setting up a family trust or a company with share holders can work very well but if not properly established can lead to serious upset.

5. Beware of tax implications

Buying a second or recreational home has tax implications when you sell, as the sale of this property could be subject to capital gains, and advice from a tax accountant or lawyer should be sought.

6. Location is key

Buy a cottage that is set back from the lake or up high on a hill and your potential rental income could drop by half. Vacationers are willing to pay extra for that week or two they spend in paradise. Views and private lakefront are traditionally two of the main features people look for. Consider the trade-offs. You may go for a lesser property on a great lot rather than a larger property on a steep one or without a view.

7. Condo vs Cottage

Do you have a big family and like to be surrounded by friends? Or are your vacations a chance to get away from it all? Thinking about this will help you decide whether you need a small condo, or fully detached cottage with lots of space.

Make a list of your important features. Things that were important in your family home may not be as important in a vacation property. Do you really need tons of closet space for your two suitcases? Will a galley kitchen do since you plan to be eating out a lot?

8. Check out the neighbourhood

Once you’ve decided what to buy and where, stay in the area for a few days and look around. Rent a cottage on the lake or a condo at the resort you are interested in. You’d be surprised how many people buy from blueprints only to have a rude awakening later.

You may have vacationed in the area before but not really gotten to know anyone. Talk to neighbors and locals. What do they think of the area and what is it like in the off season? Can you walk beautiful trails and get to shops in a reasonable time? Are there cross country ski or snowmobile trails in the area for winter fun? Is this a good fit for you and your family?

9. Look for hidden costs

What will it cost to pump the septic, have propane delivered, get the roof shovelled off after heavy snow, keep the lane open in winter? If you are buying a condo, does the condo association allow rentals and if so under what conditions? Must they be long-term periods of several months or can it be weekly? Does the condo association have an adequate reserve fund to pay for future repairs? If not, you could be hit with a special levy once you move in.

10. Cheap doesn’t always mean bargain

Buying on impulse is probably the worst thing you can do. Just because you enjoy your summer in Muskoka, step back and consider all the factors. Don’t be blinded by a seemingly great price. Do your due diligence. Hire a great Realtor!

 

Fighting the Muskoka Fruit Fly!

Fruit Flies - Karen Acton Muskoka RealtorSeriously there is no such creature as a Muskoka Fruit Fly however we do get fruit flies in our Muskoka homes and cottages. So exactly where do they come from and how do you get rid of them?

We might think they come in on the fruit we buy, however most often, they come in from outside when they smell the delicious fragrance of your fruit ripening. They have a crazy short life span, going from egg to adulthood in 8-10 days, which means they reproduce at a ridiculously fast rate. They thrive in moist damp places like your sink or compost bin. They are attracted to fruits and other foods-particularly ones that are fermenting or rotting.

So how do you prevent them from getting to the fruit bowl? First and foremost seal your doors and windows.  The flies enter your home from the outside when you open a door, or through poorly sealed screens on your windows. While it is possible that they came in with the fruit – if you like to buy very ripe fruit – but they most likely came in when they smelled your fruit getting ripe. The point being, it is very important to make sure your home is properly sealed with no splits in window screens, or doors left open if you want to avoid these pesky little critters.

Second, if you compost make sure you have a tight fitting lid on your kitchen container. To control fruit flies in your house, you need to block the odors of ripening fruit. Remember to take the compost out to the compost pile or green box regularly too.

Third, remember they breed in damp places. If you have sinks that are not in constant use, like the guest bathroom, make sure the plug is firmly in place to stop them breeding in the drain.

Lastly, try covering fruit bowls and plates. Look for mesh food covers like your granny had or go for a decorative glass dome.

If the preventative measures fail and you find yourself faced with these flying aggravations you can try one of these trap recipes to rid your Muskoka home of them. Fruit flies are especially drawn to ripening bananas, which give off amino acetate. Vinegar and red wine also seem to be strong lures. So it is not surprising that they form the base of many of the trap recipes I found by googling and have included below. There are many sites listing various ideas so I have gathered up a few that looked most practical.

Apple Cider Vinegar Trap

Fruit flies can’t resist the smell of fermentation, and since apple cider vinegar is from fermented apples, it’s a dream drink to them. Heat the vinegar beforehand to release more of its irresistible fragrance.

You Need

1 mason jar or something similar

a funnel (you can make one yourself)

½ cup of Apple cider vinegar

A drop of dish soap

A piece of ripe or overripe fruit (optional)

Heat up apple cider vinegar and pour it into your jar- it just needs to be deep enough for the flies to drown-and add a drop or two of dish soap. The dish soap will break the surface tension of the liquid so the flies can’t just sit on top and fly away when they’re done. If you find you need a little extra temptation, drop in a ripe piece of fruit and let it breakdown. If they don’t drown, place the whole thing in the freezer for 20 minutes. There is no need to remove the old contents if you want to reuse this trap but it may look unappealing after a little while.

Fruit in a Jar

Fruit flies like fruit, so what better to lure them into a trap than…fruit?

You Need

1 glass jar

Plastic wrap

A toothpick

Some very ripe or overripe produce

Soapy water

Put several pieces of very ripe or almost rotting fruit in the bottom of a glass jar, and cover with plastic wrap – a rubber band works to secure if needed. Poke holes in the wrap with a toothpick, and set the jar where you notice the fruit flies seem to come from or congregate. You may want to set one outside the doorway on a warm sunny say. The flies will be drawn into the trap but won’t know how to get out. At least they can enjoy a nice little feast until you decide the jar is full enough. At that point, submerge the jar in a bucket of warm soapy water and let it be for about 10 minutes to ensure the flies won’t be coming back. Rinse out, refill, and repeat! This is a great way to get rid of produce that you accidently let sit too long.

The Die Happy Trap

Believe it or not flies can get intoxicated just as we can. They are very drawn to red wine and will congregate to it if any is left out. They will either drown, or you can use the freezer or soapy water technique to finish the deed.

You Need

About an inch of red wine left in the bottle

Several drops of dish soap (optional)

No explanation needed, once intoxicated they will drown in the wine or be too tipsy to fly out of the bottle!

There are many more variations on these and a few strange ones using things like milk and pepper, but I chose to offer these three as I felt they would be easy to do and seemed the most scientifically sound. As your Muskoka Realtor I love to help and I hope this has been a useful blog.