Easy Ways to Save $1,500 Annually: Lower Electrical and HVAC Costs

Following holiday splurges, you may be looking for ways to save money. Did you know that with very little effort and often no additional investment, you can make changes around your home that save up to $1,500 annually? These tips will help you reduce your electrical, heating and cooling costs all year round.

Phantom Power
Phantom (or standby power) can account for up to 10% of your home’s energy use. The average Canadian household has 25 electronic devices that use phantom power, costing approximately $150 a year in wasted electricity (Hydro One). Unplug coffee makers, phone chargers, computers, etc. when they are not needed.

Toaster Oven
Toaster ovens use 50% to 70% less energy than a full-size oven and they won’t heat up the home to the same degree—a welcome relief on hot summer days.

Pitcher of water
Keep a pitcher of filtered water in the refrigerator to enjoy a refreshing sip without running the tap waiting for the water to get cold. This is also an economical alternative to bottled water.

Cold water wash
According to General Electric, an estimated 75% to 90% of all the energy your clothes washer uses goes to warming up the water. Cold water saves money and makes your clothes last longer. Typically, warm water is required only for bed sheets and items stained with sweat or blood.

Air drying
Dry your clothes on a rack or line when possible. This saves on electricity costs and extends the life of your appliance. Consider this: a basic dryer now starts at $725 with tax and will last about a decade depending on usage. If you do two loads per week, the true cost of each dry cycle is approximately $0.70 for the machine plus $0.55 for the electricity.

If you find your clothes feel stiff from air drying, add a few tablespoons of vinegar, Epsom salts, or baking soda to the wash.

Clean filters allow for better airflow and improved machine efficiency. Each time you use your clothes dryer, wipe out the filter first. Clean or replace the filter in your furnace according to the manufacturer's instructions.

ENERGY STAR appliances
When it’s time to purchase a new appliance, choose one with a high Energy Star rating. The rating is part of a voluntary partnership between the Government of Canada and industry to make high efficiency products visible to Canadians.

Water heater insulation
For as little as $6, you can reduce heat loss from your water heater. If the tank is electric, you can use polyethylene or neoprene foam pipe covers. If you have a gas water heater, your safest choice is fiberglass pipe-wrap (at least 1-inch thick) without a facing that is secured with either wire or aluminum foil tape (U.S. Department of Energy).

If the outside of your water heater tank feels hot, it is poorly insulated. For as little as $50, you can purchase an insulated foil wrap that will pay for itself within a year.

Ceiling fan
Since hot air rises and cool air sinks, a ceiling fan can reduce your heating and cooling costs. During the summer, set the fan to rotate counterclockwise to draw up cool air. During the winter, set it to rotate clockwise to distribute heat throughout the room.

Thermostat settings
Lowering your thermostat by one degree Celsius in the winter can save you $25 per month, depending on the size of your home. Enjoy similar savings raising the thermostat by a degree in the summer.

If your home feels drafty, it may have leaks. Seal any cracks in window and door frames, walls, ceilings, and floors.

LED lightbulbs
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average household saves about $225 in energy costs per year by using LED bulbs compared to incandescent and they last up to 25 times longer. LEDs also last longer than florescent bulbs, which release toxic mercury when they break.

Bonus tip: Compost kitchen scraps

Compost your fruit and vegetable peelings in your garden. This feeds worms and vital microorganisms in your soil reducing the need for fertilizer. You will also reduce the amount of garbage you lug to the curb each week! 

Canada Greener Homes Grant money
If you wish to save even more, the Canada Greener Homes Initiative reimburses homeowners up to $600 for pre- and post-retrofit EnerGuide evaluations and offers grants ranging from $125 to $5,000. Eligible retrofits include home insulation, new windows and doors, solar panels, roofing membrane, etc. To learn more, visit the Natural Resources Canada website.



Everything You Need to Know About Gifted Down Payments

As home prices and interest rates increased this year, some Canadian families are choosing to help their kids get a foothold in the real estate market. One of the ways they’re doing that is with gifted down payments.

A 2021 CIBC report said 30% of first-time buyers in Canada got a boost thanks to receiving money as a gift for a down payment on a home. James Harrison, Mortgage Broker at estimates that, in some markets, that number is a lot higher, with gifts ranging anywhere from $10,000 to more than $1 million. There is no limit to the amount that can be gifted.

“At least two-thirds of my clients are getting a gift of some amount,” he says. “Parents just want to help their kids buy, with the goal often being a 20% down payment.”

According to the CIBC report, in 2015, the average Canadian gift was $52,000. In 2021 it was $82,000. Gifts in Vancouver lead with the highest average in Canada, clocking in at $180,000, and Toronto a close second at $130,000.

What are gifted down payments?
A gifted down payment is exactly what it sounds like: a monetary gift from a parent, grandparent, sibling, or other close relative, towards the purchase of a home. It isn’t a loan; it’s non-repayable. The person doing the giving should have zero expectations of getting that money back, and will often be asked to sign an agreement to that effect.

How are gifted down payments different from co-signing?
When you give a gift, you don’t own any part of the property, but you also don’t assume any of the risk. If you co-sign, you are on the title—and 100% liable if the homeowners default on their mortgage. Co-signing can also impact your ability to borrow: whatever amount you have co-signed for will look like you borrowed it yourself.

Do gifted down payments have any impact on a mortgage approval?
No. Your income determines the max you qualify for, and the down payment is on top of that. Of course, the more of a down payment you have, the less you’ll need to borrow. So if you only qualify for a smaller loan, a gift can help you buy something bigger than you could otherwise afford.

“A gift can also get you from an insured purchase (less than 20% down) to a conventional one,” says Harrison. “Insured only gets you a max 25-year amortization, with strict debt ratios. But with 20% or more down, you could potentially qualify for a 30-year amortization with more give on the ratios. That can make a big difference in the total mortgage you qualify for.”

What are the rules around gifted down payments?
Everyone needs to sign a mortgage gift letter (each lender has their own template). Harrison says you must also provide proof that the gifted funds have been deposited into your account, and they should be there no later than 15 days before closing. For funds coming from outside Canada, lenders want to see those in your (Canadian) account 30 to 90 days before closing.

Depending on how gifted funds are used in the transaction, there may also be obligations to comply with Canada’s anti-money laundering laws, according to Canada’s Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre (FINTRAC). For example, if the gifted funds are provided directly to the REALTOR®, the REALTOR® would have an obligation to verify the identity of the individual providing the funds.

Can we use borrowed funds to gift money to our kids?
Yes, you can. However, it’s probably not as common as you think: only about 5.5% of gifting parents use debt to finance gifting. If you’re considering using your line of credit, just be careful about your debt load, especially if you’re looking to retire anytime soon.

Are there any tax implications to gifting a down payment?
In Canada, gifted down payments aren’t taxed. Immediate family members can provide the gift without either side being on the hook taxwise. Of course, it’s always prudent to check with a tax professional for info pertaining to your specific financial situation.

That being said, Harrison suggests to his clients they consider protecting the gift in the event the recipient splits from their partner. Otherise, half your gift could end up with the departing spouse/partner.

Getting into the real estate market can provide plenty of benefits, like housing stability, an investment opportunity for yourself, and numerous social benefits. Helping your immediate family members with a down payment, if you’re able to, can be a great way to get them into the market so they can begin their homeownership journey.

The information discussed in this article should not be taken as financial or legal advice. This article is for informational purposes only.



Maximizing Property Appeal: The Impact of Home Staging on Real Estate Transaction
In the dynamic world of real estate, the presentation of a property stands as a critical factor in driving its sale. 
This is where home staging comes into play, serving as a powerful tool to enhance a property’s appeal. By thoughtfully curating a property’s aesthetics to appeal to prospective buyers, home staging can significantly elevate a property’s perceived value. This strategic enhancement not only captivates potential buyers but also often translates into swifter sales and potentially higher transaction values, thereby underlining the profound impact of home staging on real estate transactions.
What is Home Staging 
Home staging is the art of preparing a residential property for sale by enhancing its aesthetic appeal to captivate potential buyers. 
Originating in the 1970s in the United States, this practice has evolved into an essential marketing tool within the real estate industry. It involves more than just tidying up; it includes decluttering, rearranging furniture, optimizing space, and sometimes making minor repairs. 
Modern staging techniques have expanded to include professional photography, which captures the essence of the property in its best light, and virtual staging, an innovative approach where digital furnishings and decor are added to pictures of empty rooms, making them more appealing and relatable to buyers.
Psychological Aspects of Home Staging
The effectiveness of home staging lies in its ability to influence buyer perception. By strategically styling a property, staging allows potential buyers to envision themselves living in the space, thus creating an emotional connection.
This emotional appeal is a powerful tool in real estate sales. A well-staged home not only creates a warm and inviting image but also helps buyers overlook minor flaws, focusing instead on the potential lifestyle the home offers. It also sets the stage for buyers to imagine future memories and experiences in the home, which can be a decisive factor in their decision-making process.
Essentials of Successful Home Staging
Effective home staging is much more than just cleaning and decorating; it’s about creating a mood. Key elements include decluttering to create a sense of space, and depersonalization to help buyers imagine their own lives in the home. Strategic lighting is used to highlight the property’s best features, while décor is selected to create a welcoming, universal appeal.
The property’s exterior, or curb appeal, is equally vital in making a memorable first impression. Landscaping, a fresh coat of paint, and minor repairs can significantly boost a property’s exterior allure. In staging, every detail counts, from the color of the towels in the bathroom to the placement of furniture, each element works together to create an environment that buyers can aspire to.
Cost-Benefit Analysis of Home Staging
While there are upfront costs involved in home staging, these are often outweighed by the benefits. 
The investment can vary from a simple consultation and minor adjustments to a full-scale staging involving rental furniture and major landscaping work. However, the return on investment can be substantial. Staged homes not only tend to sell at higher prices but also often sell faster, which can be a significant advantage in markets where properties might otherwise linger. This quicker sale process can result in reduced carrying costs like mortgage payments, property taxes, and utilities, further emphasizing the financial benefits of home staging.
DIY vs. Professional Home Staging
For those on a budget, DIY staging can be a viable option. 
Key DIY tasks include deep cleaning, rearranging existing furniture, and making minor repairs. However, for properties in competitive markets or at the higher end of the price spectrum, the expertise of a professional stager can be invaluable. These professionals bring an objective eye and an understanding of what appeals to today’s buyers. They can also access rental furniture and décor to enhance the look of the home, something that might be beyond the scope of most homeowners.
Regional Trends and Future Directions
The approach to home staging varies by region, reflecting local tastes and lifestyles.
In urban centers, there’s a trend towards sleek, minimalist designs that appeal to a modern aesthetic, while rural and suburban properties may benefit from a more traditional, cozy feel. Looking ahead, digital advancements are making a mark on home staging. Virtual staging, where furniture and decor are digitally inserted into photographs of an empty room, is gaining popularity for its cost-effectiveness and convenience. Additionally, 3D virtual tours are increasingly being used, allowing potential buyers to explore a staged home online, which is particularly appealing in the current era of remote buying and selling. These technological trends indicate a future where home staging can be both more versatile and accessible.
Home staging emerges as a key strategy in real estate, offering a powerful means to elevate a property’s aesthetic appeal and marketability. By thoughtfully preparing a home for the market, sellers can effectively showcase their property’s full potential, often leading to quicker sales and higher returns.
Given its proven impact, incorporating home staging into the selling process is not just recommended but can be considered an essential step for those looking to maximize their property’s value. Sellers are advised to carefully assess their staging needs, considering both DIY approaches and the expertise of professional stagers, to ensure their home is presented in the best possible light to potential buyers.

15 Cozy Winter Decorating Ideas for After Christmas

After the Christmas tree, stockings and string lights come down, the house can look a little ... lackluster. Add a bit of cozy cheer to your home with these wintery — but not Christmassy — decorating ideas.

How to Decorate After the Holidays
We get it: It can be hard to part with your Christmas decorations at the end of the holiday season. Once they’re taken down, it just feels like there’s something missing from your home, doesn't it? If you’re experiencing some post-holiday blues, try these simple decorating tips that’ll help you transition into winter. Start by putting away anything overtly Christmassy: Think Santa figurines, stockings, candy canes, bows and — of course — the Christmas tree. Then, replace those items with more subtle color and texture in the form of fresh greenery, plush fabrics and metallic accessories. Some of your existing holiday decor may fit the bill, but if not, we’ve got easy and inexpensive ideas for every room.

First up
After you’ve taken the Christmas tree down, consider adding some unadorned greenery to your home for a burst of fresh color and scent. You may even be able to forage it from your backyard! A pair of potted pine trees and tree cuttings hung on the wall lend a wintry feel to this dining room.

Add Plush Faux Fur
Decorating for winter is all about layering cozy textures, and faux fur is one of the coziest options of all. Add a couple of faux fur throw pillows to your accent chairs or a perfectly draped blanket over your sofa to create a space you’ll want to snuggle up in all season long. Gray or brown fur will lend a rustic touch to your decor, while white fur will look more modern and call to mind a snowy landscape.

Take a Cue From Winter Clothing
Think about your favorite winter clothing — like a thick, warm cable-knit sweater — and try to capture its look and feel in your home decor. Incorporate cozy, sweater-like texture into your space with pillows, throws or even ceramic vases like the ones seen here. You can make your own cable-knit-inspired vessels by cutting old sweaters to size and adhering them directly to glass or ceramic vases with spray adhesive or starch.

Repurpose Holiday Lights
You don’t have to pack up the string lights as soon as the holidays are over; put them to use in creative new ways to give your home a warm glow all winter long. Try hanging string lights, a sheer curtain and faux ivy from a curtain rod to create a dreamy backdrop behind your bed, like YouTube creator Karen Kavett did here.

Spruce Up the Mantel
After the Christmas stockings come down, the fireplace mantel can look a little bare — but it doesn’t have to. Dress it up with some simple, seasonally appropriate decor; greenery and a grouping of candles is a can’t-go-wrong look that’s easy to pull off. Here, designer Brian Patrick Flynn piled eucalyptus on the mantel in lieu of the more typical pine or spruce garlands.

Introduce Metallic Accents
Bring a few metallic accessories into your home to replace some of the shine that your Christmas ornaments previously provided. Candles, vases and glassware in gold, silver, copper or bronze will add just the right amount of sparkle to your space.

Hang a Wintry Wreath
Swap your Christmas wreath with an understated door decoration that can stay up all winter long. Stick with natural elements like greenery and pinecones, and steer clear of anything too Christmassy like bows, ornaments or jingle bells. This DIY wood slice wreath is a great option; you can make it with fresh greenery and replace it as it dries out, or use faux greenery that’ll last year after year.

Go Mad for Plaid
Buffalo check, tartan and other plaids are staples of holiday decor, but they can also be used year-round to give your home a classic, cozy feel. Adding plaid pillows and throws is an easy way to incorporate the pattern into your home, but if you’re ready to make a larger commitment, look for furniture upholstered in plaid fabric or even plaid wallpaper.

Put Blankets on Display
A blanket ladder serves two purposes: It instantly cozies up any room and frees up storage space elsewhere for the new goodies you got for Christmas. Build this easy DIY blanket ladder to fill a bare wall with your fluffiest blankets, or shop our favorite blanket ladders.

Pretty Up With Pinecones
Like greenery, pinecones are a popular holiday decoration that don’t scream “Christmas,” so they can be reused throughout the season. Simply fill a clear vase or candleholder with pinecones for an easy table centerpiece, or make a pinecone wreath. If you can’t find the pinecones in your yard, you can purchase them from a craft store.

Store Firewood in Style
Keeping a stash of firewood inside not only makes it convenient to build a roaring fire any time, but it also serves as a warm, rustic accent for your space. Try storing firewood in a woven basket for even more inviting texture, or shop our favorite firewood storage options.

Go All in on Green
While red and green is a decidedly Christmassy color combo, using green on its own can create a woodsy atmosphere in your home that works all winter long. Spruce up your home with accessories in forest, hunter or pine green, or paint your walls in one of these rich hues if you're up for a larger project. A small powder room, like this space designed by Kate Marker Interiors, is a great place to experiment with bold, moody color.

Showcase Winter Sports Gear
Make your home feel like a rustic ski lodge by incorporating winter sports gear into your decor. In this bedroom, designer Brian Patrick Flynn created a unique gallery wall by hanging vintage snow shoes behind the bed.

Create a Coffee Station
A hot cup of coffee, tea or cocoa is so comforting on a cold winter day. Make your beverage routine a little more special by setting up a coffee station on your kitchen countertop or dining room sideboard. Set out a few of your favorite mugs, and organize stirrers, creamers and other essentials in pretty containers. Arrange everything on a nice tray to pull it all together.

Pick Cold-Hardy Plants
Don’t forget your outdoor spaces. Brighten up your porch, deck or patio with cold-hardy potted plants like thread-branch cypress (pictured), Japanese yew or cast iron plant. To ensure your plants will thrive all winter long, pick varieties that can survive a climate one or two zones colder than where you live.

Bring a few metallic accessories into your home to replace some of the shine that your Christmas ornaments previously provided. Candles, vases and glassware in gold, silver, copper or bronze will add just the right amount of sparkle to your space.


Re-Do Your Shelves With These 10 Style Tips

Styling a shelf with vignettes of prized possessions is a prime opportunity to convey your style and personality. Shelves are not only home to books, but family heirlooms, art, photographs and travel mementoes. We’re sharing 10 shelf styling tips that will upgrade how you show off your favorite books and accessories. 

1. Read The Room
Styling a shelf with objects that mirror the textures and color palette of your room creates a cohesive look. This home’s workspace bookshelf has a soft, neutral palette, sculptural shape, natural materials and earthy colors that suit the zen wood shelves and white walls.

2. Add Art
On this Paul McCobb wall unit, art is layered in alongside a TV monitor and coffee table books for color and personality in this Toronto condo.

3. Make Room For Collections
Using a shelf as a platform for a curated collection of artwork and decorative ornaments creates a mini gallery and an intentional viewing arena within the home. In this condo shelf, Debra Campbell displays her collection of limited-edition Barbies, including a Hudson’s Bay Company version (complete with a poodle dressed in a matching coat).

4. Stack Books Horizontally And Vertically
Stacking books in two directions add visual interest. In the two-bedroom Toronto condo of Alessia De Gasperis-Brigante, the singer-songwriter known as Kai, she switches up the orientation of her collection.

5. Add A Little Green
Wood, ceramics, glass and a green plant inject a calming note. For a quieter look, designer Nyla Free turned the book spines inward and removed the covers in this home.

6. ive Objects Room To ‘Breathe’
Resist the temptation to cram shelves so your shelf design doesn’t feel cluttered or overwhelming. Leave some negative space between the groupings.

7. Try Color Blocking
Not only can you color block books, take a chromatic approach to the shelves themselves and paint the interior a contrast hue that highlights the contents. In designer Nathalie Tredgett’s London townhouse, she uses peach as a foil for the dark lavender built-ins.

8. Vary The Height Of Objects
Grouping objects in an array of heights, size, and shape keeps shelves from looking too uniform and creates variety for an appealing design. Include taller objects like large vases or candle sticks.

9. Curate!
The beauty of shelves is that they elevate the everyday object, so treat couture and designer accessories for the art pieces they are. In the wardrobe of this Montreal apartment, iconic fashion finds like Chanel’s quilted bag and cap-toe pumps are easy to access — and appreciate — behind a glass door.

10. Finally, Stand Back
To get an overall sense of compostion, pull back and see how objects balance big items like art or TV monitors. Taking a photo can help reveal if items need to be added or removed, or walk away from the bookshelf and come back later to assess the composition.


MLS® property information is provided under copyright© by the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board and Victoria Real Estate Board. The information is from sources deemed reliable, but should not be relied upon without independent verification.