Saturday, December 19, 2009

T- minus 6 days, and counting!

Well, it has been quite a while since I have posted anything on this blog. I would like to think that is because I have been leading an extremely productive life for the last 4 weeks. I guess that depends entirely on your definition of the word "productive".

Of course, the majority of the past 4 or 5 weeks has been spent furiously preparing for Christmas - the "most wonderful time of the year" which can quickly become the most stressful, most expensive and most exhausting time of the year as well. So much is done in the weeks and days leading up to December the 25th, that when the day actually arrives, it is over before we know it and we are often so drained (both financially and physically) when it does arrive, that we barely get a chance to relax and enjoy the true meaning of the day.

Of course, I am a real sucker for Christmas. I love it - everything about it. I don't mind the shopping, the baking, the decorating and the endless visiting with family and friends. It is the one time of the year where everything just seems a little more magical. Of course, having kids definitely cranks the "magic" factor up a notch. I can still remember just how exciting Christmas was when I was a kid - my brother and I could barely sleep the night before because we couldn't wait for the morning. Usually one of us would wake up way too early, and lying in bed waiting for the clock to say 7:00 am (acceptable time to wake up mom and dad) was absolute torture!

It is hard to say whether my kids experience that same level of excitement and anticipation that we did when we were kids. For us, Christmas was the ONE time of the year when you actually got presents. Sure, you got a little something on your birthday, but for us, Christmas was the time that you got that one big thing that you had been wishing for. I don't think the same can be said for today's generation of kids, but is is still exciting to see their reactions on Christmas morning when they realize that Santa didn't forget about them.

So, as for my Christmas preparations, I think I am pretty much set. I would still like to do a little more baking since I seem to have given away pretty much everything I have baked so far. My husband has been rumaging around in the kitchen for the past couple of days looking for a sweet fix saying "didn't you keep ANYTHING????" So, I suppose I should bake the poor man a cookie or two.

Other than that, I am looking forward to spending some time with the family - just relaxing. This is going to be my parents last Christmas in Ontario, so it will be a little bittersweet to think that Christmases from now on will be a little bit different than I am used to.

Oddly enough, this is the first year in quite some time that work has been very busy for me in December. I am working with a great newlywed couple, shopping for their first house. Normally, this wouldn't be an exceptionally difficult process, but with the low inventory levels, we are struggling to find something that they truly love without having to fight off an angry horde of fellow homebuyers all bidding on the same home. I am feeling optimistic that we are closing in on their dream home, but if I could ask Santa for just one thing, it would be to find these folks the perfect home just in time for Christmas. I know it would make their holidays that much more joyful to know that their dream home has been found!

With only 6 sleeps left till the big day, I hope that all of you are finished with your Christmas preparations and that you can relax and enjoy all that is truly wonderful about the season - family, friends and a hint of magic.

Merry Christmas!

Jenn :)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Market Watch - October 2009

For the past several months, we have been reading many different things in the media about the state of our economy. By all accounts, it seems that the "recession" that many experts were predicting, never really came to fruition. While there is still a great deal of uncertainty with regards to interest rates, unemployment and market stability, as far as the "Real Estate Market" is concerned, it seems to be "All Systems Go".

The Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) has published their Market Watch report for the month of October 2009. The numbers that have been reported are truly astonishing. Not only has the market rebounded nicely, but there seems to be a dramatic upswing in process.

According to the Toronto Real Estate Board, 8476 sales were reported for October. This represents an increase of 64% over October 2008 and an increase of 3.4% over the 8196 sales reported for September 2009. The average sale price reported was $423,559 for October which represents an increase of 20% over the same month in 2008.

The most astounding statistics, however, are related to inventory levels. We are being told in the media that our inventory of homes for sale is low. How low, you ask? The actual numbers reported by TREB indicate that inventory levels are critically low. In October, 11,532 new homes were listed, compared with 14,530 in October 2009 (-21%). The number of active listings in October was 14,771 compared with 27,277 (-46%) for the same month one year ago.

Even though the sales numbers are astonishingly high, the buyers have a severely diminished bank of listings from which to choose. We are truly in a seller's market! Good news for those of you that are thinking about selling your home in the near future! How long will this market last? We cannot be sure, but experience tells me that we have 4-6 weeks left in 2009 before things start the inevitable year end slow-down for the holidays. Traditionally the market is flooded with new listings towards the end of January/beginning of February every year. As such, if you are thinking of selling, there is no time like to present to capitalize on the frenzied market conditions.

Please feel free to visit my website to contact me if you are thinking about making a move. As the old saying goes, "He who hesitates, is lost". If history has shown us anything, those who react to change first, reap the greatest rewards. I'd love to share my experience with you to help you make the most of this dynamic sellers market.

Jenn :)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Welcome to the Future!

There's a song that is currently playing on country radio called "Welcome to the Future" by Brad Paisley. The basic premise of the song is just how far the world has come in the last 25-30 years. The clever songwriting mentions various things that, these days, we probably take for granted. If someone had mentioned them back in the 70s or 80s, we would have thought they were crazy.

Brad talks about having to get a ride to the local arcade to play his favourite video game as a kid, to now having that very same game on his cell phone. He talks about a long car trip to Florida when he would have given anything to be able to watch TV. He talks about his grandfather in WWII mailing hundreds of letters home to his grandmother, to now being able to live video chat with soldiers overseas. He mentions going from "burning crosses" to having an African American President. How very far we have come, indeed!

I had one of these moments in the past week. I was finishing up a deal with another agent and I faxed him the final paperwork to complete the transaction. He called me and told me that the fax machine at his office was down and could I please deliver the paperwork to his office directly. GASP!!!! Deliver paperwork myself?? But that would take time and effort! I don't think so....

I ended up scanning and emailing the document to him (whew!) and all was good, but this sparked a discussion with my husband on just how much easier our lives are now, compared to 25 or 30 years ago.

I got my first job when I was 12 years old. I was working in the real estate office where my mother worked, stuffing envelopes for our monthly mailouts, which eventually graduated into the night receptionist job a few months later. It was 1987 and the real estate industry was a very different animal back then. One of my most time consuming jobs was taking the large boxes of "dailies" that came in and filing them into binders in order of price. We didn't have a computerized MLS system, we had boxes of printed listings (dailies) that arrived at our office every morning (except Sunday - some things were still sacred then) and the receptionist had to separate them by district, by home type (condo, detached, semi) and file them in order of price. If an agent was working with a buyer, they had to come into the office (!!!), grab these books, and flip through them to find some suitable homes to show them. The really "with it" agents ordered their own sets of dailies and carried these binders around with them.

Can you IMAGINE how long that took?????? Not to mention how many trees had to die to print out all of those dailies! If I am working with a buyer these days, with about 3 clicks of my mouse, I can generate a list of every possible home in his desired area and price range and email it to the buyer, without having to print a single page.

Back then, we didn't have a fax machine. Paperwork DID have to be delivered by the agent themselves. There were no pagers. We receptionists wrote down messages and waited for the agent to call into the office to get them. (But that could take HOURS you say? Yes! Especially since the agents didn't have cell phones then!!) Had to send a document? You either had to rely on good old Canada Post (they don't call it snail mail for nothing) or spend the big bucks and send a courier, both of which take a whole lot longer than the 5 seconds it takes to send an email.

I could go on and on, all to arrive at the same conclusion. The world as we know it is changing at a lightening fast pace. We have to change with it or be doomed to be left behind in the dust. This is not only true in our business world, but also in our personal lives as well. I'm sure everyone out there has at least one relative that doesn't have email. While the rest of the family is catching up on Facebook - seeing pictures of each others kids, family vacations and new puppies - that one little old auntie without email is relegated to receiving your Christmas card at the end of the year with one family photo in it.

Every year, one of the areas of my business that I focus on is technology. What is the "latest and greatest" and how can I use it to make my job easier and to make myself appear more "connected" to potential customers? Because of the rapidly changing nature of technology, this is an area that you can never be fully on-top-of. Just when you have bought into something, something even better is already making its way to the marketplace. I am fortunate to work for a company that always seems to be the Leader when it comes to technology, as opposed to the Follower. This helps me be as "on-top-of-it" as possible when it comes to being able to provide the absolute best service possible to my clients with all of the latest and greatest in technology.

Just think, without all of the wonders of technology, you wouldn't have been able to take a couple of minutes out of your busy day to read my thoughts. Yes, maybe the world was a simpler place 30 years ago, but imagine just how crazy your day would be if you had to sit down and hand write a letter to a relative, call all of your child's friends and invite them to a birthday party, go to the library to research statistics for that business presentation or help your child type out their book report on the good old fashioned typewriter! Life as we know it today may not be "simple", but we've definitely got it easier than the previous generations.

Hopefully, all this wonderful technology leaves us with more time at the end of the day to enjoy those "simple" things - relaxing and spending time with family and good friends. Because really, that IS the future.

Jenn :)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Forget Me Not

Well, I think I have managed to escape the recent bout of illness that has wound its way through my family. Erin (youngest daughter) and Marc (darling hubby) got the worst of it. I had a few days of general "feeling crappy-ness" and Makenna (oldest daughter) ended up with nothing more than a sore throat. Now, I know the cold and flu season is only just beginning, but seeing just how many sick people there are around me, I was quite happy to escape 3 or 4 days of bed-ridden yuckiness.

For the first time in several weeks, I am sitting alone in the peace and quiet of my basement office, and I have NOTHING on my agenda for the entire day. NOTHING! I am quite excited about this prospect, but I know that even though I have nothing planned, laundry, house cleaning and cooking are sure to find their way onto my day planner. SIGH. I will enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasts.

One of my favourite things to do on a "lazy day" is scrapbook. When I was pregnant with my second daughter, I started scrapbooking. I found it an incredibly relaxing (if a little expensive) hobby. My kids love nothing more than pulling one of their scrapbooks off the shelf and reading a story that is just about them.

My childhood memories are mostly jumbled in a box in my mothers basement. We rummage through a shoebox full of old pictures, half the time we can't remember where or when the picture was taken or the particular memory associated with it. The wonderful thing about scrapbooking is that it offers you the chance to journal those memories (as they happen!) right into your scrapbooks. When your child (or grandchild!) looks at those photos years later, they will know exactly what was happening at the exact moment that photo was taken. It is a wonderful gift for future generations.

Now, with the age of digital photos upon us, we are no longer faced with shoeboxes of memories, but rather file folders of pictures stored on a computer. They are trapped in a technology that, while reliable, can be somewhat unstable. What would happen if your computer crashed and you lost those files? What if your CD full of photos got stepped on and broken? Also, what good are those photos if you can't pull them out and share them with others?

I know that scrapbooking is not for everyone. Many people consider it to be "too crafty", "too time consuming" or "too expensive". While all of those things can be somewhat true for traditional scrapbooking, I have recently discovered "digital scrapbooking" and I have to say - I am HOOKED!

Creative Memories offers an absolutely amazing software package for creating and printing your own digital scrapbooks. You can download a free version of their "Storybook Creator" software right from their website. They do have another version that you can purchase that offers more options and design flexibility, but you can create a lovely, and inexpensive, memory book simply using the basic trial version. (I created my very first digital scrapbook using only the "free" version). For around $65 (including shipping!) I received a beautiful hardcover 8 x 8 bound book that looked like something I would buy at Chapters. It contained over 100 images (just to print the photos alone would have typically cost me around $25) as well as my own journalling and a personalized cover with a photo. The entire book took me around 2 hours to create and they had it shipped to me within 4 days of placing my order on the website. If I decided I wanted to have another copy of the book for my mother, it's as easy as re-ordering the same book online. How cool is that?

I have since created many other memory books (of couse, I upgraded to the "fancy" version of the software for $55 - totally worth it for a crafty nut like myself) but I still have so many more photos to go through (I really have to stop taking so many!). I have made it my goal to at least complete one family "yearbook" for each year. I really want to make sure that my kids are able to look back on their memories without having to search through old boxes of photos and ask "who is that?" or "where was this taken?"

Tomorrow is my 7 year wedding anniversary. It really is true what they say - once you have kids, it is almost like you wake up one morning and they are heading off to university. Time flies by so quickly. It seems like only yesterday I was planning my wedding, and now here we are, an "old married couple" with 2 kids. Even though you think you will remember every detail of yours or your child's life, as time moves on your memories fade. I have already forgotten so many things that I had thought were engraved in my mind forever. If it wasn't for the memory books that I had created, so many of these milestones would be lost.

If you have ever thought about giving scrapbooking a try - I encourage you to go for it! It is easier and cheaper now than ever to make scrapbooking a hobby, and it is a great way to pass a lazy Sunday. I guess I have now found something to do to fill the rest of my afternoon!

Jenn :)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's Not Easy Being Green

Last night, I was invited to attend the premiere of a new show in Toronto with a friend. The show was a musical called "Toxic Avenger", and I have to admit, had I not been invited to attend, this is not likely the type of show I would have chosen to buy tickets to. The basic premise revolves around the two main characters "Melvin and Sarah". Melvin is, well, your typical Melvin. He's a skinny, wimpy nerd that is constantly harassed by the town bullies. He has the hots for the town librarian, Sarah, who also happens to be blind. (A blind librarian you say?? Well that's part of the fun!)

Melvin is also a big advocate for a cleaner, greener environment. Unfortunately for Melvin, he lives in the filthiest, most polluted place on earth - New Jersey. One night, the town bullies harass him for the final time, and they end up dumping him in a vat of toxic slime. He emerges as a 7 foot tall, freakishly green superhero and proceeds to kick the butts of the aforementioned bullies and sets out on a quest to save New Jersey from becoming a toxic wasteland. Much hilarity ensues, and I have to say, this is probably one of the best shows I have seen in a long time. The score was phenomenal (a rocking good time, as they say) and the 5 person cast, 3 of whom play multiple characters, was fantastic (they re-define the meaning of a quick costume change!!!) Be forewarned, however, this is an adult musical. Not a place to bring the kiddies!

After all the fun, we are left with a very powerful "green" message. If we keep abusing our planet the way we do, the whole world is going to look like New Jersey someday. And we don't want that, now do we????

I know that within the past several years, we have all been making an effort to be more "green". Low energy light bulbs, more recycling efforts and those horribly annoying re-usable shopping bags (I can NEVER remember to bring them into the grocery store and I always have to leave my cart full of groceries and dash out to retrieve them from the trunk! But hey, at least I am trying!) As they say, every little bit helps, but is there more we could be doing?

There are many ways that we, as individuals, could step a little lighter on the earth. Of course, this goes back to the old "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" motto that has been drilled into our heads for many years now. Our new "green" efforts must go further than putting our newspapers in the blue bins at the curb, and there is no better place to start than at home.

Consider purchasing newer "Energy Star" rated appliances to replace those old power suckers in your kitchen or laundry room. Improve your insulation and replace or repair older windows and doors to reduce your heating costs. Bring your lunch to work in reusable containers. Use environmentally friendly cleaning products or make your own using readily available household products (Click here for some ideas!)

If you are interested, I have composed a 12 part "green living" e-campaign that is full of tips on how you and your family can reduce your "footprint" on our planet. If you are interested in subscribing, please click here to fill out the comment form on my website (with your email address, please!) and let me know that you would like to receive my "Go Green" e-newsletter.

It may not be easy being green, but it's not easy living in a toxic slime ridden planet that resembles New Jersey either. I guess the bottom line is, that if each of us made one change to reduce our "footprint", that is one more step towards preserving our planet for future generations.

Jenn :)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

No Use Crying Over Sold Signs

Well, it has certainly been an eventful week! There is no better feeling than looking back at the week behind you and being able to say "maybe I wasn't perfect, but I did good". It was definitely a roller coaster of emotions - some good, some bad and some, a little over the top.

I was able to sell a house for some very important clients this week - my parents. They have now entered the "retirement" phase of life (and I am more than just a little jealous), and the time has come for them to move from the home which I helped them buy almost 12 years ago. As we moved through the process, everything was exactly as it had been with other clients in the past. We focus on what needs doing, we do it, and we move forward. After so many years selling real estate, it can be almost a robotic process.

They worked very hard at getting the home ready for the market, and once all of the major work was done, I helped them "stage" the home for showings. By the time I was finished, the house looked so fantastic, they almost didn't want to move. Almost.

To make a long story short, within a couple of days of being on the market, I found a buyer for the home myself. From the moment I introduced this family to my parents home, I wanted it to be theirs. I just knew that they would love the home the way my parents did. When it came time to put everything together, all went smoothly and both my parents and the new buyers were so thrilled with the way everything worked out.

My great surprise came when I realized that I was far more emotionally involved in the process than I thought. It was now time for me to accept that my parents were moving on to the next phase of their lives, and that they were no longer going to be 5 minutes away when I needed them. I actually cried in front of clients for the first time ever. It was definitely a new experience for me. But I digress....

During the relatively smooth offer process on my parents home, I was also knee deep in negotiations for another client of mine. This sale would not come so easily and smoothly, however.

The home in question was purchased by my client as an investment. It needed a great deal of work when he purchased it 2 years ago, however he had rented out the home during the time he owned it, and, as a result, the home showed very poorly. We eventually scratched out a deal after a somewhat painful negotiation process.

Where am I going with all of this??? Ah, yes. The point...and I do have this:

What really hit home for me this weekend is just how important it is to put the extra time and effort into "staging" your home properly before putting it on the market. This is something I have obviously always known, but the stark contrast between the ease of the 2 sales was glaring. In the first case, the buyer fell in love with the home from the moment they walked through the front door. There were, quite simply, no objections. "It is beautiful. We love it. Where do we sign?"

In the second case, the love was not there. It was my job to make the seller fall in love with the offer, which is a far more difficult process. Because of the condition of the home, the buyer had objections left, right and center, and my seller had to come to terms with that. It all worked out in the end, but a little more time and effort before the listing process, would have made for a much smoother sale, and more money in the seller's pocket. Without a doubt.

For some staging ideas and tips, check out this article that I have posted on my website!

Well, it is 2:42 am, and sleep still eludes me, so I will leave you with one last tip for the night. Just say NO to coffee after 8pm!!!!! Caffeine is not your friend!

Jenn :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blogging, Working and Chicken Soup

Well, it seems like everyone and their GRANDMOTHER is blogging these days, so I figured I had better jump on the cyber-bandwagon. Hopefully everyone will think that I actually have something interesting to say.

My world has been so full of craziness lately, that it is nice to actually take some time to sit and organize the thoughts running around in my crazy head.

The last of my babies has gone to school full time, so the bulk of my activity has revolved around getting back to work. I have been a Realtor for almost 13 years, but have been taking it easy for the last 6 years or so, to allow me to stay home and focus on the kids.

Well, it is back to reality for me, and I have to say, there really couldn't be a better time to be going back into the Real Estate market full swing! The fall market is one of the hottest we have had in years, with projected sales expected to be at (or above) levels that we haven't seen since 2006. Average prices are up and inventory levels are down, making it an ideal time for folks who are "on the fence" to think about maybe getting that house ready for sale.

Check out this article, written by the President of the Toronto Real Estate Board:

Recently, I also had the pleasure of helping my parents prepare their house for sale. I really enjoyed the chance to be "hands on" and help them stage their home. A lot of people really underestimate the POWER of properly preparing and staging their home for buyers. After seeing the "before" and "after" pictures of my parents home, well, I can tell you the difference is like night and day. If you are thinking about putting your home on the market, it is well worth your money and time to put an effort into staging it properly.

Lastly, it seems that the whole world is "coming down with something" these days. As I write this, I am listening to the sounds of my youngest daughter coughing and hacking away while her father makes his home made chicken soup to help her feel better. For those of you that don't know, my husband is a phenomenal cook, and without him, we would starve (or eat a lot of frozen pizzas)

So, as a THANK YOU for reading my first blog (in an effort to make all you "sickies" out there feel better), I am going to share with you his recipe for home made chicken soup - sure to cure what ails you!! Just don't tell him I told you, OK???? :)

Marc's Home Made Chicken Soup Recipe

1 3-pound chicken, neck reserved
3 1/2 quarts water
4 carrots (2 coarsely chopped, 2 thinly sliced)
4 celery ribs (2 coarsely chopped, 2 thinly sliced)
1 unpeeled onion, quartered
1 large, unpeeled garlic clove, smashed
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 large fresh bay leaf
6 parsley sprigs
2 thyme sprigs
Kosher Salt
1/2 pound thin egg noodles
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. In a large stockpot, combine the chicken, neck, water, coarsely chopped carrots and celery, onion, garlic, peppercorns and herb sprigs. Bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer over low heat for about 30 mins. Transfer chicken to a plate. Discard skin. Pull meat off the bones. Cut into small pieces and refrigerate.
2. Return bones to the pot. Simmer for about an hour. Strain the broth into a bowl and rinse out the pot. Return the broth to the pot and boil until reduced to approx. 8 cups. (about 30 mins) Season with salt.
3. Add the sliced carrots and celery to the broth. Cover and simmer until just tender. (12 mins) In a saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain and cool under running water. Add noodles, chicken and chopped parsley to the soup pot and bring to a simmer. Ladle into soup bowls and serve hot!

Note: You can add other veggies that you may have lying around. If you like your soup with a little kick, try adding some red chili flakes.

Makes approx 6 servings. Prep time, 45 mins. Total cooking time, 3 hours.