Buying a Muskoka Fixer-Upper Home Yes or No?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


8 Tips for a Successful Muskoka Home Renovation

Karen Acton - Renovating your Muskoka HomeIn my role as a Muskoka REALTOR® I am frequently invited into homes and cottages to give an opinion of value. These properties are in various states of maintenance and repair and often have been renovated by the home owner. These renovations span the whole gamut, from elegant and value-enhancing to lamentable and wasteful. So here are some tips that I believe will be helpful if you plan to renovate your Muskoka Home.

Set a Realistic Budget

If you plan to do a home renovation you really should have a clear idea of what you can afford before you start looking in magazines and picking fixtures and countertops etc. Talk to a contractor about realistic costs. Even if you plan to do the work yourself be sure to have a contingency fund built into the budget to allow for the unexpected. In my experience, there is nearly always a “surprise” element to every project.

Things to make sure you budget for include:

  • cost of preparing the space before you start the actual work (disposal of old materials)
  • relocating plumbing and electrical
  • light fixtures
  • paint and PRIMER – often skipped but will save time and money if done right!
  • flooring – will the existing floor be damaged in the process and need replacing or refinishing?
  • Permits – most renos WILL need permits and skipping them means that you could have issues when reselling and in some cases, void your insurance.
  • HELP – can you do it all yourself or will you hire out some parts?

Will Your Reno Suit Your Neighbourhood?

While most renos are interior and you may think immaterial to the neighbourhood you do need to consider the investment you are about to make. If your dream is to install an ensuite bath with a steam room that is wonderful but none of the homes in your area have this kind of luxury feature, you should understand that it is purely for your enjoyment while you own your home. You will not likely get any return on the investment. In fact, in some cases over improvements can devalue a home.

Remember not to ignore your home’s style when renovating especially if the renovation includes an addition. If you have a traditional Muskoka waterfront property, then a modern addition with walls of glass may not look esthetically appealing and will not generally improve value. While it may be your dream to own, it may not be the dream of many protentional future buyers. Work with your builder and architect to come up with a design that gives you the features you want but still fits the rest of the home or cottage.

Avoid Going Too Trendy

People sometimes make the mistake of wanting to be too hip and trendy in their new home by picking the latest, hottest, coolest things. I would encourage you to consider that trendy often means short term. While some of the hottest and latest trends will turn out to be timeless many will burn out fast and not only will you stop loving them quickly but the next buyer of your home or cottage will see them as “dated”.

To keep any room “trendy” pick accent items you can add rather than physical and structural ones. That way when the trend is over you can replace them with something new.  A good example of this is shag carpeting.  Rather than doing wall to wall, do a more standard floor finish and add a shag area carpet  and perhaps some shag accent pillows.  When shag goes out of style, and it will, replace these accents with whatever is the next trend.

Buy the Right Materials

One of the biggest mistakes that you can make when it comes to home renovation is to try to be frugal when choosing materials. The bottom line is, you’re going to get what you pay for.  Inexpensive and cheap are definitely not the same thing. Price check and be wise but being cheap will often lead to having to spend more in the long run. Cheap fixtures and products end up looking that way and invariably you will be disappointed and probably choose to replace then with the product you wanted in the first place.

Remember that if you’re going to do it, do it right. If you can’t afford to do it right, wait and do it later!

Do the Prep Work

Do it the right way the first time. Whatever the job get yourself ready before you start. Gather the right tools and prepare the space before you dip a brush in the paint or hammer in the first nail. You will be so glad you did.  I know it is the tedious part of any project big or small but if you fail to be prepared you will end up taking longer than needed and perhaps compromising on the quality of the finished job simply because you were too eager to get started.

One of the most important prep steps is the measuring. The old adage “measure twice, cut once” is the mantra of the great contractor and you should make it yours.  You can burn through a budget quickly by making cutting mistakes in your lumber or trim work and if ordering flooring, buying too much or too little will lead to total frustration. If you are not sure how to measure properly ask someone who knows. A quick lesson will save you time money and frustration.

Paint and Light

People often make the mistake of picking the wrong paint for whatever particular project they may be working on. It is important to use the correct type of paint for the surface. The best advice will come from the professional at the paint store but choose better quality paints with the right finish for the job.

Remember that your lighting needs to complement the colour palate you use and that typically most people gravitate to light and warm colours rather than dark and bold.

Get the Right Tools

If you are planning on doing the renovation yourself make sure you have all the tools you need to do it properly. This means that you may have to borrow or rent what you don’t have. Do not try to make the wrong tool do the job. This can lead to expensive mistakes and sadly even to injury to yourself or damage to the tool you are trying to make do the job. Knives are not screw drivers and chop saws are not miter saws so please be careful and make sure you have the right equipment to do the job safely.

You may even need to rent stand lights so you can properly see what you are working on and space heaters to keep you warm in the addition until the new heating is connected.

Embrace the Chaos

Once you have done the budget, designed and purchased the materials, sit down in and enjoy your last moment of calm for a while. Then take a big breath and embrace the chaos. While it is always best to try working in a clean and tidy space you need to accept that a clean and tidy work space is not a clean and tidy home. You will have disrupted meal times, dusty surfaces and hard to find possessions for the duration of the project. So embrace it, find humor in it and don’t get mad at each other or the kids over things that cannot change until the job is done.


I hope these tips will be useful and not too negative. Renovating your Muskoka home or cottage can be an exciting and worthwhile endeavor and if done well, will bring you many years of enjoyment and a good return on your investment when the time is right to sell.

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!

Have a Clutter Free Home in 2014

De Clutter your Bracebridge Home - Karen ActonMany of us start out each New Year with a pledge to declutter.  This may be to declutter our homes our offices or even our lives. As a Realtor, I can certainly testify to the fact that decluttering your home will add value to it as well as giving you, a sense of achievement and well-being.

When your home is filled with clutter, deciding where to start can be quite daunting. So here is a great strategy for getting it done. Try the 5 minutes a day system.

Baby steps are important. For most of us five minutes will barely make a dent in the pile, but it’s a start. You will feel awesome once you have made that first 5 minute investment.  Tomorrows 5 minute project will be easy and the day afters even easier.

If you are overwhelmed by your clutter, here are some great ways to get started, five minutes at a time.

  1. Designate a spot for all your incoming papers. We often drop them in different spots — on the counter, table, desk, in a drawer or even left in our car. Make this the first place papers land and keep them there until you have time to process them.  Mail, receipts, school papers, warranties, manuals EVERYTHING.  Then you will always be able to find it and it is all in one location when you are ready to process them. Simple!
  2. Clear in zones. Pick one room to work on at a time and one location in the room to clear at a time. A countertop in a bathroom or a kitchen may be your starting point and move out from there. Remember,  5 minutes a day is ok if that is all the time you have.  The only rule you need to abide by is once it is clear of clutter you cannot put any new clutter on it as you move to the next area.
  3. Plan for a decluttering weekend. You may not feel like doing a huge decluttering session right now. But, if you take the time to schedule it for later in the month, (you can get psyched up for it) and if you have a family, get them involved too. Be prepared by gathering boxes and garbage bags. Pan a trip to the ReStore or Salvation Army to drop off donated items. You might not get the entire house decluttered during a weekend, but I expect you will make a great dent in it.
  4. Once the small clutter is dealt with it is time to tackle the bigger things. Look around your rooms and identify 5 things that do not really fit, and find places for them. These should be things that you actually use, but that you just seem to put anywhere, because they don’t have a designated storage place. Take a minute to think about where would be a good spot for each item and then always put them there when you’re done using them. Do this for everything in your home, a few things at a time.
  5. Create a “maybe” box. When you are decluttering you know exactly what to keep and what to throw away or donate. However there is always some stuff you don’t use, but think you might want or need someday.  If you cannot bear to get rid of that stuff put it in the “maybe” box. Store the box somewhere hidden, out of the way.  Now here is the important part of this process, put a note on your calendar six months from now to look in the box and see if there is  anything you really needed in there. I expect you will be able to part with it all by then.
  6.  Use a 10-day list.  Clutter is an accumulation of things we do not need but bought anyway! We do not want to put a huge effort into decluttering, only to reclutter immediately by buying more stuff.  Every time you want to buy something that’s not absolutely necessary, put it on the list with the date it was added. Make a rule never to buy anything unless it’s been on the list for more than 10 days. Often you’ll lose the urge to buy the stuff and you’ll save yourself a lot of money and most importantly clutter.
  7. Teach your kids (or grandkids) where things belong. Start teaching them the habit of putting things away and you will be doing them a huge favor for their futures. Of course, they won’t learn the habit overnight, so you’ll have to be patient with them.
  8. Clear out your medicine cabinet. If you don’t have one spot for medicines, create one now. Go through everything, the outdated medicines, the stuff you’ll never use again, the tatty looking Band-Aid, the creams that you’ve found you’re allergic to and the 10 year old sun screen. Simplify to the essential.

Learn to love the uncluttered look. Once you’ve gotten an area decluttered, you should take the time to enjoy that look. It’s a lovely look. Make that your standard! It will de-stress your life and if you decide to sell your property it will enhance its value and saleability.


Do You Need a Generator at Your Bracebridge Home?

Karen Acton - Do You Need a GeneratorAfter the significant power outages last week across much of Muskoka many people are considering a generator to protect their homes during these events. So if that is you, here are some pointers on how to go about it.

Step one is deciding on the type of generator to install – manual or automatic.

Manual System

A manual generator system requires you to physically make the connection between the generator and the electrical system of your home. There are generally two ways to do this.

The first is by installing a generator essential circuits panel beside your existing home panel. This panel will likely have some specific circuits on it like the ones that operate your essential systems like your sump pump, fridge and freezer, heat and perhaps television and microwave. It will not typically operate your entire household.  When the power is out you switch the main panel over to the essential panel and then turn on the generator and those specific circuits will have hydro.

The second way is to install a Generlink which is easily installed outside your home at the hydro meter base.   When the power is out you plug the generator into the Generlink and your entire system in the home will have power. However, as most generators will not generate sufficient electricity to supply your whole household at once, you need to be very conscious of what you have turned on in your home.  During an outage it is wise to turn off things (right at the panel) that you don’t really need that draw a lot of electricity. A good example is the hot water tank.

When hydro is restored an LED on the Generlink will light up. Now you can unplug the generator and get back to business.

Automatic Systems

Just like it sounds an automatic generator system takes all the guess work out of things. When the power fails the generator senses no power and starts up. The generator has an automatic transfer switch (ATS) which switches to generator power and, depending on the system, either the whole home is on the generator system like it would with the Generlink; or an essential circuits panel will be powered by the generator. When power is restored, the generator senses power is back on and turns off.

How Do You Decide?

Well as you would expect a manual generator system is less expensive, but requires you to do a little work to get things back up and running.  If you are a full time resident this is not likely a problem and so it is a great option for you.

The automatic generator system is definitely more expensive but does not require any work by the homeowner. This is an ideal system if you work away from home or are away for longer periods of time; or if you own a cottage with only weekend use.


Generators need to be worked on by Generator Technicians. If a generator system fails due to an electronic or engine issue, a generator technician needs to be called in to troubleshoot the problem. The generator also needs annual maintenance by a certified generator technician.

Remember, whatever system you choose it must be inspected. This is a system that is directly connected to your electrical panel and not a job to be taken lightly. A reputable electrical contractor will take out a permit with the Electrical Safety Authority  and gladly show you the Certificate of Inspection.

If you are new to the area and do not yet have a good contact or recommendation for an electrician, please do not hesitate to call me. I am always happy to share my experience with you.

Preparing to Sell Your Bracebridge Home

Bracebridge Homes for Sale - Karen ActonThousands of homes in Bracebridge are sold each year, and while each transaction is different every owner wants the same thing — the best possible sale price with the least amount of effort and NO hassles!

Unfortunately, real estate has become a fairly complex business with many more obligations and rules to be followed. Disclosure statements, longer listing forms and sale agreements, and a range of environmental concerns have all emerged in the past decade. In addition, the home-selling process has changed. Buyer representation — where REALTORS® represent homebuyers — is now the standard.  A Buyer’s Representative is obligated to get the best for their clients – is not only the best value but the most information too.

The result of these changes is that while thousands of existing homes may be sold each year, the process is not as easy for Sellers as it was 10 or 15 years ago. Surviving the selling process in today’s real estate world requires experience and training in such fields as real estate marketing, financing, negotiation and closing — the very expertise available from a REALTOR® like me!

Are you ready?
Once you decide to sell your Bracebridge area home it may take several weeks before it is made available for sale. Contact a Bracebridge REALTOR® to help you look at your home through the eyes of a prospective Buyer and determine what needs to be cleaned, painted, repaired and tossed out.

Ask yourself: If you were buying this home what would you want to see? The goal is to prepare your home to look good, maximize space and attract as many Buyers as possible. During this “getting ready” it is also a good time to ask why you really want to sell.

Selling your home is a big decision and there should be a good reason to sell — perhaps a job change to a new community, or the need for more or less space. Your reason for selling can impact the negotiating process so it’s important to discuss your needs and wants in private with the REALTOR® who lists your home.

How do you maximize value?
The general rule in real estate is that Buyers seek the least expensive home in the best neighborhood they can afford. In terms of improvements, this means you want a home that fits in the neighborhood but is not over-improved. For example, if most homes in your neighborhood have three bedrooms, one and a half baths and 1,500 sq. ft. of finished space, a property with five bedrooms, more baths and far more space would likely be priced much higher and likely be more difficult to sell.

Improvements should be made so that the property shows well, is consistent with the neighborhood and does not involve large capital investments. Often over improved homes cannot recover the costs in a sale. Remember if you are improving your home for a sale the improvements should reflect community preferences not your personal ones.

Cosmetic improvements – paint, wallpaper and landscaping – help a home “show” better and often are good investments. Mechanical repairs – to ensure that all systems and appliances are in good working condition – are required to get a top price.

Ideally, you want to be sure that your property is competitive with other homes available in the area which is something I can advise you on as your REALTOR®. I see numerous homes every month and can provide suggestions that are consistent with your marketplace to help you get the most without spending unrecoverable dollars!

Spring Clean your Muskoka Deck!

It’s that time of year when the deck is starting to poke its nose out from under the snow and saying “ Wouldn’t you love to be sitting out on me?”

Spring Clean Your Muskoka DeckAs a Muskoka Realtor, I understand that a great deck is a wonderful feature of your home or cottage and giving it a good spring cleaning will add to your enjoyment of it and ultimately to its value. If you are planning to sell your property, having a great looking deck will definitely increase buyer interest and help in the selling process.

An easy and fast solution to clean your wood deck and allow you to jump into spring a lot faster is as follows.

Start by washing:

  • Thoroughly wet the deck with plain water first.
  • Use ½ cup of any kind of laundry detergent in a gallon of hot water.  If using an ultra-concentrated detergent, use less. You may want to experiment with the concentration of water and laundry detergent to see what works best for you.
  • Use a garden hose with a plant food feeder to apply a plentiful amount of the mixture.
  • With a sturdy brush on a longer handle to save your back, scrub the deck and rails.
  • Rinse with clean water.


  • Apply a layer of oxalic acid (wood bleach) you can find this in many hardware stores. Sherwin Williams makes a good product. Sprinkle it on like applying dry rub to barbecue to work a lot better.

Consider your safety. Make sure you are using gloves and eye protection and wear a filter mask over your nose and mouth. You can get all of these safety items at your local hardware store.

  • Brush the bleach over the wood and rinse the deck with plain water from time to time to keep it wet.
  • After scrubbing for a short amount of time you will notice that the wood begins to look much cleaner.
  • Follow this bleach and rinse process a few more times to complete the whole deck.
  • Do a final rinse with fresh water and let dry for at least 2 days.



  • Apply a wood preservative. Pigmented (coloured) varieties tend to last longer than the clear wood preservatives. Don’t use too much of the preservative. Avoid puddling and wipe away excess with an old cloth.

Be sure to use the correct type of preservative for horizontal surfaces (decks and furniture). This type is usually semi-transparent and is made for light applications.

Don’t use wood preservatives made for vertical surfaces (walls and fences). This type is usually very thick and opaque.  It will end up being tracked onto the floors in your home and will wear down quickly.

  • A normal garden hose or pressure washer can be used for the final rinse. A pressure washer isn’t always needed, but it makes the entire process much easier and the end result is often superior.

Once your deck is ready you can set out the furniture and call your friends to enjoy the beautiful Muskoka sunshine!