Ensuring that your property is accessible for the disabled adds an extra layer of appeal for marketing. An accessible apartment isn’t only attractive for those with a disability that prevents mobility, but for a growing population of seniors in Toronto as well. In addition, under the law, you must provide accessible housing to tenants who are disabled, except in the case where refitting the property would cause undue hardship. But there are costs associated with such a renovation.Read more
We’re rolling out the red carpet for new clients at Highgate Property Investments this month with promotions for home buyers, sellers and landlords seeking property management services. While we can go on about how great we are in our marketing, the only way to really sell our services is to show you what we can do for your bottom line.Read more
With winter comes a host of risks for your property, including potential freezing damage in pipes, too much snow load on roofs and decks, and more. (more…)Read more
There’s tons of material out there to help you conduct the actual business of being a landlord – from rental rate calculators to advice on maintenance and repairs. But being a landlord also requires a certain amount of emotional intelligence and the proper cultivation and maintenance of relationships, both with tenants and everyone else peripherally involved in your business.
The most important relationship – your tenants
Having a good interpersonal relationship with the people who rent your property is vital. The better your relationship, the more likely they are to treat your property with respect, pay the rent on time, and just generally be good tenants. Many landlords maintain that this is nothing more than a business relationship, and shouldn’t be treated as more to avoid potential issues. But the risks are worth the rewards. You are dealing with someone’s home, whether or not they are renting it from you – and this in itself makes your relationship personal.
First of all, make sure the lines of communication are always open between you and the tenant. Give them your phone number, email, and contact information for anyone they can reach in hours that you may not answer for an emergency situation, such as a pipe bursting or a problem with a major appliance. The benefit to them is peace of mind, and the benefit to you is knowing that potentially damaging situations like water damage will be dealt with immediately.
Once you’ve opened those lines of communication, use them. Do a check-in call once every few months to make sure everything is going well. This can help you get on top of minor items, such as a leaky faucet, before they become major repairs. It also shows the tenant that you are interested in making sure their rental is in tip-top shape.
Gauging the reasonableness of tenant requests
One of the most-cited issues with landlords is a failure to address issues that a tenant has. Granted, the request has to fit on a scale of being within reason – you can’t be expected to change a lightbulb, for example, but if the lightbulb is lodged at the top of a 10-foot ceiling, you may want to consider helping out the tenant. Time-wise, you should budget some time each month to show up and deal with what may seem minor issues. Emergencies should always be dealt with within 24 hours of the original call, contractors permitting if you need to call one in.
Many renters haven’t been homeowners before, and may not know how to perform basic maintenance tasks over and above cleaning. The more of these “grey area” requests you handle for a tenant, the more goodwill you’ll build with most of them, and the more willing they’ll be to perform tasks that you’d like them to do, such as cleaning behind a fridge. There are some people you can never please, but don’t automatically shunt a tenant into this category if they are asking for something that you consider to be basic.
While you should be kind and personable to your tenant, it’s preferable to not take up their space too often. Having a landlord come around can be a nerve-wracking experience for a time-pressed professional who washes their dishes once every few days, and more so for a family with children. Never randomly drop in on them – you should call and set a time if you want to visit the property for any reason, preferably at least a few days in the future to give them time to clean up for your visit.
Relationships with contractors
It’s hard to find a good contractor. When you find one, treat them like they are gold – because to you, they are. Try to always hire the same contractor for a specific task to build a recurring relationship. For example, if you have carpets steam cleaned between each tenancy, hire the same company. The smaller, the better, as long as they have the capacity to get to your job in a timely manner. That way you’ll get to know the same people with each job, and can build a rapport with them. Honest professionals tend to hang together, so if you need a contractor for a different task, ask your go-to people for references before you hit the Internet to search for someone. Where possible, you should try to line up a contractor for anything you can’t fix yourself in advance – that way you can gauge reliability, availability and trustworthiness before you call them into your property for an emergency.
It’s a small thing, but you should always send out cards around the holiday season to your contractors, and buy a small gift for your tenants. Tenants especially will remember this and be more likely to refer you to their friends.
How to deal with complaints like a champ
Once you’ve assembled your superhero contractors, it will be easy to deal with tenant emergencies and complaints – but only if you’ve been smart enough to do it in advance. If a tenant calls you unusually upset about something you think is relatively minor, try to put yourself in their shoes – is it minor to them? Toronto is home to many professionals in positions which carry with them a high stress level, and most tenant requests have to be viewed in this light. Deal with the complaint as quickly as you can, and check in with the tenant after the fix is in to make sure they are happy.
If you would like to get a company to do all of this for you, contact Highgate today! We have established relationships with trusted contractors and are ready to manage your property on a moment’s notice.
Property Renovation and Maintenance in Toronto
How much money do you need to sink into renovations before you rent out a property? Some landlords overspend, some landlords barely do anything – but how do you draw the line on your budget?
Keep your goals in mind
You have two purposes for renovation – functional ones to ensure everything is working properly, and cosmetic touch-ups to attract potential renters to the property. Functional renovations are necessary, but cosmetic touch-ups are where many landlords can get bogged down in expensive details. Do just enough to stage the property for renters and no more. Today’s rental market is a landlord’s market, so you don’t have to bend over backwards to attract renters with expensive items like granite countertops and a new paint job unless you are dealing with a luxury property.
Room priorities: Bathroom and Kitchen
The two rooms you want to focus on are the same ones you would focus on if you were selling the home – bathrooms and the kitchen. Both should be clean, free from pests such as mice and silverfish, and be easy to keep clean for your tenants. If there is evidence of pests, have an exterminator in to ensure a pest-free experience.
This is where you want to spend your renovation budget – if the bathroom and/or kitchen look like they are from the 1990’s, they’ll need updating. You don’t have to go high-end as mentioned before – fixtures and cabinets from IKEA or a similar place will do the job. Don’t try to do the work yourself if you’ve never renovated a kitchen or bathroom before – hire a professional to do it right.
Make the property a blank slate
If your goal is to attract long-term renters, they may want to paint and do other cosmetic enhancements themselves. You can go two ways here – paint with neutral colours where paint jobs are required, or wait until you find a renter and ask them how they want it painted. You’ll only want to do the latter if you have a tenant with a long-term lease of at least a year. Make sure you have final approval on all paint jobs and renovations in your rental property contract – you don’t want a tenant exiting their lease with black walls in the apartment. If you are going to paint, consult this article on colours which attract renters.
Renovate for durability and update old appliances
When renovating and refreshing a rental property, keep in mind that even the most fastidious renters aren’t going to treat it with the same care that they would treat a home that they owned. This means getting rid of fixtures that will break easily such as sticky door handles, replacing carpets with hardwood flooring where feasible, and choosing durability over appearance for materials such as tiles and cabinets. As far as appliances go, remember that if they break down you are responsible for repair, so replace appliances older than 10 years such as washers, dryers and refrigerators. If your rent includes hydro, make sure you are choosing energy-efficient options.
How much should I budget for renovations?
This really depends on the property, but if you have a detached home that needs updated appliances and updating in either the kitchen or bathroom, start with around $10,000 for a budget. Before you buy retail, check out Habitat for Humanity’s Restore – you’ll often find high-end fixtures and cabinetry here for a fraction of even the cost at IKEA. They also occasionally get in appliances, although you probably want to buy these new.
If you’re looking to renovate your rental property, Highgate offers renovation services – and we know what to renovate and what to leave alone, which makes our advice very valuable. We can also manage your rentals with our property management services, but we offer the renovation services on their own if you choose to manage your own property. Get in touch with us to arrange for an estimate.
Image Credit: Bill Wren, Flickr
A community thrives on its occupants coexisting, but even when neighbours get along with one another there will always be disagreements. When it comes to fences and your rights and responsibilities as a property owner there can be some confusion and it is important to know where you stand regarding the construction of new fences as well as repairs to old fences.
A New Fence
When constructing a new fence, it’s extremely important to consult your neighbour beforehand to establish if the costs will be shared and how upkeep and repairs will be settled. It becomes much easier to solve any later disputes if the original agreement is in writing as well, so it is recommended that both parties fill in this form from the City of Toronto before any materials are purchased or any construction begins.
A Pre-Existing Fence
If a fence is already in place and requires repairs or has been damaged, the responsibilities of both property owners can be a grey area. If both owners cannot come to an agreement to divide the costs in a fair manner, they can contact third parties to determine the best course of action. As part of the Ontario Line Fences Act, property owners can file an appeal to have Toronto city officials called ‘Fence-Viewers’ come inspect the boundaries and situation to mediate and legally assign responsibilities to both property owners as needed. The form to request their involvement can be found here, though it is always recommended to do everything possible to solve the dispute before consulting fence-viewers as there are often costs associated with their involvement. This is still a far less expensive option than resorting to involving lawyers, or even going to small claims court.
Other Factors to Consider
Oddly enough the exact positioning of the fence on the property isn’t much of an issue and has no bearing on who holds responsibility for the fence. It is often impractical to place the fence directly on the property line, so just because a fence may be more on your property than your neighbours does not indicate that the repairs are only your problem. It is also important to note that there are many regulations regarding fence size and placement in Toronto and that these rules must be abided by. If fence-viewers become involved and a fence doesn’t comply with city standards, there may be additional costs to alter the fence or you may be required to replace it with a new fence entirely.
Finding a reasonable solution with your neighbour will always be the less expensive option as opposed to finding outside mediation or taking any legal action. But if peaceful resolution isn’t possible there are other options that can be explored to hopefully find a timely and fair solution for all parties.Read more
The CMHC Improvements Program — Making Toronto Real Estate More Affordable for Home Buyers
It wasn’t long ago when a home that “may need a little TLC” was enough to make a homebuyer turn the other way. Now, in Toronto’s tight market, where affordability is a growing concern for home buyers, even homes in dire need of repair and renovation are stirring up bidding wars.
CMHC’s Improvements Program, (formerly known as the Purchase Plus Improvements Program) is a little-known option that qualified buyers can take advantage to improve their odds of affording a fixer-upper. How does it work? The program allows you to tack the cost of renovations to the overall purchase of the home and include it in their mortgage loan amount. Qualified buyers have that ability to borrow up to 10 per cent of the estimated value of the home after renovations.
To give you a better idea of how the program works, let’s say you’re interested in purchasing a home listed at $650,000. The home has great bones, however, would require renovations to the kitchen and washrooms. It’s estimated that this home’s value, once improved would have a market value of $700,000. As a result of the estimated increase, you can borrow up to 10 per cent, or $70,000 of the new value. This is a great program for first-time buyers who would otherwise be unable to afford renovations because the majority of their money was used toward a down payment.
To qualify for the program, borrowers must provide a quote from a contractor and submit it to the CMHC and their mortgage lender before closing on the house. In order for the CMHC and lender to approve the amount, your Agreement to Purchase must include the condition that states you would like a contractor to perform an inspection of the home. Once approved, the amount will be added to the mortgage loan. Upon closing, the improvement amount is forwarded to your lawyer who is authorized to release the funds when the proposed renovations are complete. Because buyers do not have immediate access to the funds, it is recommended they open an unsecured line of credit in the interim.
There are a few provisos that buyers need to keep in mind—things that are not permanently affixed to the structure of the home, such as appliances are not covered under the program. Additionally, the CMHC would not approve a renovation that would convert a section of the home into a separate apartment.
For new homebuyers, the Improvements Program is a fantastic opportunity to build up thousands in equity instead of purchasing a more costly renovated home—and transform that fixer-upper into a dream home.Read more
As the mercury continues to drop, families across the GTA begin to haul the heavy coats, mitts, toques and scarves out of storage. Preparing our bodies for the harsh Canadian is always a tedious task and a sad reminder of the cold months that lay ahead.
Just like our bodies, our houses need special attention during cold winter months. We all know that heating costs go up this time of year; however, there are steps we can take to save money as well as make our homes more energy efficient. Toronto Property Managers and Landlords, in particular, are faced with challenges, as we might have multiple properties to care for as well as tenants that need to comply with our energy saving initiative.
Some ways to save on energy costs in the winter are simple and require minor changes to habits while others may involve the purchase and installation of energy efficient units.
In Toronto, heating can account for up to 60 per cent of your electricity bill.
The following tips can help save you a lot of money, while not compromising the comfort level in your home.
- Replace your old thermostat with a programmable one to manage your heating automatically. Energy savings will quickly pay for the cost of the thermostat in the first year.
- When we’re sleeping or not home, a lot of energy goes into heating rooms that are not occupied. By setting the thermostat to 18°C when you’re asleep and –20°C when you’re not home, you can reduce heating costs by up to 10 per cent.
- How long have you had your furnace? Take a look at the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating. The higher the rating, the more efficient the model. If it’s not up to snuff, replace it. You can receive a $250 credit from the Save ONenergy HEATING & COOLING INCENTIVE.
- Once you have an efficient furnace, make sure to maintain it properly. Furnaces that are well-maintained run at full efficiency take less energy to run and can save you heaps on your energy bill. Clean or replace the filter monthly and have it serviced by a licenced HVAC professional once a year.
- Draft space? Air leakage can account for as much as 25 per cent of your total heating costs. By caulking and weatherstripping windows, doors, dryers and other vents, you can decrease air leakage significantly. Even little things like installing insulated plates on electrical outlets can make a big difference.
- Up to 25 per cent of heat loss is through windows. Older houses were with single pane windows, which are ineffective in keeping the warmth in and the cold out. As a temporary solution, plastic window covers can help reduce drafts and can be purchased at most hardware stores. You can replace the windows altogether with Low-E double paned windows. These windows contain argon gas between the panes which acts as a great insulator in both the winter and summer months. Although they can be pricey, they’re worth the investment in the long run.
- Don’t waste heat. Close doors and shut off heat registers when you’re not in the room.
- When you turn on your furnace, do not switch your thermostat to a hotter setting than you need. It will not heat the room any faster.
Increase the amount of insulation in your home to keep it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. The attic and basement represent as much as 15 – 30 per cent of your home’s overall heating and cooling losses. Make sure you add attic vents so hot air can escape.
- Let the sun shine in. During the day, keep your curtains open to heat your home naturally.
Whether you’re looking to cut costs in your home or rental property, sharing the vision with your family or tenants can be helpful. Setting habits that fall into your kids daily routine can be fun and will give them a sense of responsibility. As for your tenants, engage in conversation with them through letters, emails, or direct calls. Be sure to ask for their feedback as this will build a stronger relationship with your tenants, and will allow for higher buy-ins in future initiatives.Read more
The Ugly Duckling — Transforming an Unattractive Investment Property into a Beautiful Swan
If you’ve been itching to purchase an investment property in Toronto, then you probably know that pickings have been pretty slim lately. Move-in ready houses with curb appeal are often the subject of bidding wars and come with a hefty price tag. The thought of owning a property that will generate immediate rental income is ideal, however, after weighing the pros and cons, and taking price into consideration is it really worth it?
Enter the ugly duckling: The legal triplex that is in need of some TLC. It’s in a fantastic neighbourhood, however, it contains a unit that smells like several unappetizing meals were cooked in it and has carpet that dates back to the early eighties. Overall, it’s not a pretty sight, and you’re uninterested. These are signs of poor property management. Before you move on to the next house, consider this: The property wasn’t built with a smell reminiscent of burnt dinners past, and at one point, that carpet was new. The point is, if you ask anyone involved in property management, we can tell you about some of the most luxurious spaces that have been destroyed in a matter of months due to one bad tenant — we can also tell you have quickly we’ve cleaned them up and made them move-in ready by the next month.
If you’re willing to look past the cosmetic issues and focus on numbers, taking on a property that was poorly managed isn’t such a bad idea. This can often save you money on the initial investment, and after hiring a reputable property management to turn it around, you will then be able to increase the rent and earn a profit.
Signs Poor Property Management
1. Units Not Prepared For Renting – If the state of a unit makes you ask yourself “Who would want to live here?” after viewing it, then you know it’s been poorly managed.
2. Not taking accountability – If the previous managers blame the condition of the property on a bad area or bad tenants, they’re trying to draw your attention away from the real problem – bad management.
3. Vacancy – if there are six units, and two of them have been vacant for months, that’s never a good sign.
4. High Turnover – If the previous landlord couldn’t keep tenants because a) they were unhappy with the living conditions or b) they weren’t paying their rent, then those are both signs of bad property management.
As an investor, signs of bad management can mean dollar signs in the future. Unfortunately, you can’t change the location of a building or a property’s layout without major renovation. You can, however, change your property management company. It should be common sense to anyone that apartments should be clean, painted and livable by decent people’s standards if you want to rent them to decent people.
Returns on property investments shouldn’t require rocket science. Simplified, well-maintained properties yield great results. This includes responsible tenants who are properly screened, which results in higher rents, no vacancies and low-turnover. By hiring a reputable Toronto property management company, you can turn an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan, and attract the type of tenants you want to rent to. Toronto is a huge metropolitan city, and although there may not be thousands of investment properties to choose from, there are thousands of responsible, income-generating tenants to choose from. Sometimes the best returns are the ones that come from the most unexpected sources.Read more
With energy costs on the rise, several Canadian homeowners are looking more cost effective methods to heat and cool their homes. Heat pumps use compressors to transfer heat from one space to another. During the cooler months, they warm your home by drawing heat from the outside environment indoors and in the warmer months, they cool your home by pushing the warm air from the inside environment out. Because heat pumps work by transferring heat instead of generating it, they are an energy efficient alternative to furnaces air conditioners, and operate at a fraction of the cost of conventional HVAC appliances.
In cities where seasons go from one extreme to another, heat pumps offer a multitude of benefits. The majority of condominiums in Toronto use electric heating systems. Because heat pumps can reduce the amount of electricity for heating by as much as 30% to 50%, they are possibly the best HVAC option terms of energy efficiency and ease of comfort. In fact, many newer condos come equipped with heat pumps, as they create comfortable environments by maintaining a regulated temperature within the unit throughout the year while minimizing the building’s overall carbon footprint.
Whether you’re a homeowner who is looking for more cost effective ways to heat or cool your home, or a property manager of a rental or a condominium corporation, you can take control of electricity costs by upgrading your building’s HVAC equipment, learning about when and how to use electricity (peak times of the day), and streamlining operating processes.
There are programs available through the Government of Canada that benefit both homeowners and property managers by offering financial incentives for energy efficient projects. These can be used with all types and sizes of electricity saving projects including lighting system upgrades, installing new equipment controls for further savings. They can also assist you with training tools and resources for tenants. By taking control of your electricity use, owners and property managers can:
- reduce electricity consumption
- manage when and how to use electricity
- increase property and resale values
- reduce greenhouse-gas emissions
- reduce operation costs while keeping tenants happy and comfortable
To find out more information on heat pumps and their benefits, consult a government certified Red Seal HVAC technician, or visit the Government of Canada Natural Resources website.