You’ve heard of the term “curb appeal”. It refers to the initial impression buyers get when they first see your property from the street. If the impression is a good one, it sets the right tone for the rest of the home viewing. How do you boost curb appeal? Here are some proven ideas that you can get done in an hour or so:


• Wash both the inside and outside of the front windows. You’ll be amazed at the difference that can make.

• Sweep the walkway leading up to the front entrance. Add a new welcome mat. Also, wash down the front door.

• If possible, remove cars from the driveway. Let buyers imagine their own cars parked there!

• Mow the lawn. Lightly trim the hedges. Weed flower beds.

• Remove anything from inside window sills that may look unsightly from the outside. Try putting a couple of flowering plants there instead.

• Place any trash bins out-of-sight. For example, put them in the garage or neatly at the side of the house.

• If the entrance door hardware is old and worn, change it. New hardware can make a bigger difference than you might think.

• Make sure the outdoor lights are working, especially if you’re showing your home in the evening.

• Add some flowering plants to flower beds, or buy a couple of portable potted plants and place them strategically.

• Clean your mailbox. If it’s rusted, replace it.

• If you have a power washer, give the walkway and driveway a quick blast. Just be sure it will be dry before the buyers arrive.

These one-hour improvements may seem minor, but anything that helps buyers form a more positive first impression.

I am often asked why the cost of monthly fees in strata properties varies so much from complex to complex.

There are a variety of reasons. For instance, in a bare land strata the Strata Corporation is not responsible for exterior maintenance of the home. The individual owner is. So items like re-roofing or replacement of siding are not expensed out to the Strata Corporation. Owners do, however, endure the expenses on their own, just as an individual non-strata homeowner always has. Bare land stratas also noticeably different from the majority of condo or strata complexes as the homes are fully detached. Bare land strata owners do contribute to pay for grounds maintenance, road maintenance, snow removal, liability insurance, water use in the common areas, recreational facilities, maintenance of the complex fence or wall if it has one, garbage and often water, sewer and the like.

In attached stratas such as apartment blocks and townhouses, the homeowners contribute to pay for the same items I just mentioned, plus exterior maintenance on all the buildings in their complex.

Over and above these basic principles, the individual complexes have their own unique set of expenses. Depending on how plain or how lavish the landscaping is, the gardening maintenance costs will vary a lot. If the complex has a pool, hot tub, clubhouse or waterscaping, they all cost money to operate and maintain. That cost shows up in the strata fee.

Occasionally in apartment blocks you even see heat and/or basic cable TV included. You would think that apartments would be able to run at a lower cost than a townhouse complex because there is much more landscape maintenance in a townhouse or bare land strata complex. This is not necessarily so. Apartments have elevators to maintain and extensive hallways to keep clean and sprinkler systems to keep up etc.

One large variance I see between complexes is whether or not the water and sewer are included. Complexes that were more recently built tend to have their owners pay it separately. This pretty much came along with water meters. When comparing strata fees always be sure to check for water and sewer charges. It’s commonly $40 or $50 per month on top of your strata fee, if it’s not already included.

Last, but certainly not least is the subject of unit entitlement. Unit entitlement means that the strata fees are set by the square footage of habitable floor area. So, if you have varying sizes of units within an attached strata complex the smaller ones pay the least and the larger ones pay the most. A number of newer complexes in this area have abandoned that concept and have set the complexes up at the outset so that every owner pays an equal share. In many ways, that is the most equitable arrangement. Replacement insurance would be more fairly paid if calculated by square footage, but the remaining expenses being paid on a per unit basis does make sense.

You have been successful in locating the right home and removing all of your subject conditions (i.e. financing, home inspections, appraisals, etc.) Now what comes next?

Firstly, your Realtor will prepare the subject waiver forms and have you sign them. They are then forwarded to the listing Realtor for acknowledgment by the seller. This is important as it is written proof that you removed your conditions within the set time frame. If you fail to do so, your purchase contract could be voided. On a rising market such as the one we are currently experiencing, being late could be expensive. You will almost always be asked to increase your deposit at this time. This is the point at which the home officially comes off the market and the sold sign goes up.

A copy of your agreement of purchase and sale needs to go to the lawyer or notary immediately, unless there has been a long possession and closing negotiated. Your Realtor handles this on your behalf. A final decision needs to be made as to whose name(s) the property will be registered in and whether or not it will be a joint tenancy or tenants in common. This tenant word is a strange twist in our land registry system. It sounds like a rental term but it definitely is referring to the type of ownership.

Your Realtor has already ordered a title search for you but your lawyer ornotary will do another when they receive your purchase contract, and yet another just prior to the title going into your name. This is to be sure no new liens have been registered against the property since you made your offer. The registering of new liens is not common, but it is essential to be careful about this.

Now is the appropriate time to contact the telephone, gas, hydro and cable companies and let them know you need to cease service at your current address and commence at your new address on the appropriate date.

You need to get quotes and book the moving company or moving truck. Also, get quotes on homeowner insurance. You must place your insurance and bring proof of that insurance to your lawyer or notary so that your mortgage monies can be advanced for the purchase.

This is a good time to evaluate your life insurance too. I recommend you have at least enough to cover the mortgage in the possible event of your demise. You need this to protect your family. You can wait until after you move to notify others of your address change but it is easier to do it before you are caught up in the disruption of moving. After that, start packing!

When a real estate purchase is made there are an assortment of dates all parties to the contract must comply with.

The first important date is the Open for Acceptance Date. This is the time allotted for the Seller to accept the offered price and terms the Buyer has made on the offer. If the Seller doesn’t want to accept the offer they usually make a counter offer to the Buyer. When they counter offer they often change the Open for Acceptance Date so that the Buyer has enough time to consider the counter offer. On this busy market the time allowed on the Open for Acceptance Date is commonly one day or less.

The next date Buyers and Sellers are concerned with is the Subject Removal Date. Sellers can have subject conditions on their sale but it is usually the Buyer who has the subject conditions. On each of those conditions there needs to be a deadline. If the Buyer fails to remove their conditions by that Subject Removal Date deadline then the contract becomes null and void. Of course the Buyer is legally obligated to make all reasonable efforts to remove their conditions in a timely manner. In other words, a Buyer cannot just allow the time to run out because they’ve changed their minds about the purchase and are just looking for a way to get out of the contract.

The next date of importance is the Completion Date. This is also known as the closing date. Be sure not to confuse this date with the possession date. What happens on the completion date is the title of the property goes from the Sellers’ name to the Buyers’ name. The Seller (or the Sellers’ solicitor) receives the money from the sale on that same date. This money includes all the Buyers’ down payment and mortgage monies. Most commonly the Completion Date precedes the possession date by one or two days.

The Possession Date is the final day in the sequence of the transaction dates. This is the day that the Buyer is entitled to receive the key to the home and to take physical possession of the property.

One other date is always present on a Contract of Purchase and Sale and that is the Adjustment Date. The Adjustment Date is the date on which the Buyer assumes the full responsibility of all property taxes, water, sewer and garbage bills, strata fees where applicable, local improvement rates, levies, etc. Usually the adjustment date coincides with the possession date. Sometimes it’s the same as the completion/closing date. Either scenario is acceptable as long as all parties to the contract are in agreement.

Backup offers occur when two or more Buyers want the same property. Obviously, the Seller cannot sell the property to both Buyers. So the Seller accepts the offer that pleases them most, and accepts a second offer subject to the first offer collapsing, which is called a backup offer. A situation could also exist where there is a third offer accepted subject to the first two sales collapsing, and so on.

You may wonder why a Buyer would want to be in a backup position. The reason is that if anything happens that the first Buyer fails to remove their conditions of sale by the agreed upon date, then the backup Buyer’s contract automatically moves into first position. If the backup Buyer sincerely wants the property, they think it’s worth waiting in the backup position in the hopes that the first contract fails. Backup offers can be written so that the Buyer can withdraw at any time if they want to. Often Sellers won’t accept a backup offer with a “possible to withdraw” clause in it. They are more apt to accept a backup offer where a Buyer cannot withdraw, as this type of offer gives the most security to the Seller.

If you are a Buyer, in a competitive position with other Buyers for the backup position contract, then I don’t recommend you include the “possible to withdraw” clause as it greatly weakens your offer in the Sellers’ eyes. Of course this would prohibit you from buying another property until you find out for certain whether you were successful or not with your backup contract.

If you are a Seller and have an accepted offer on your property, and you also have accepted backup offer(s), you must be very cautious about granting any renegotiation of the terms, dates, or conditions on your first accepted offer. Renegotiation on the first contract could put you as a Seller into a position where both the original and backup Buyers have an enforceable contract. This would mean you have sold your property to two Buyers. Not good. The Seller should definitely seek careful legal advice before renegotiating that first contract in any way. Backup buyers in such a situation should also obtain legal advice.

Another interesting point about backup offers is that they can be for any price that the Seller agrees to. There is no rule that says they must be equal to the first position offer.

2007/01/18 Originally published in the Vernon Morning Star.

By now all homeowners will have received their recent Property Assessment Notice. Shown on that notice is the British Columbia assessment appraisers’ opinion of the market value of your property, as at July 1st of last year. However, it also takes into account any changes to the property’s physical condition as of October 31st. An example of such a change would be if the home had added or enlarged a sundeck or put on an addition on the home or finished the basement.

To arrive at an opinion of the market value of your home the assessor studies the recent sales figures from homes like yours in your immediate area or in a similar area. They do their best to compare zoning, size, age, condition and features. But remember, the assessors cannot go through every home, every year. The sheer magnitude of the task prevents it. So when they are comparing your home to homes that sold recently, they likely have not had a physical visit inside your home nor any of the sold properties used in the analysis. Add to that the fact that the opinion of value is several months old and therefore not up to date, and the result then is that the assessment is often only an approximation and is often inaccurate. One should never rely on the assessment information when trying to ascertain a fair sale or purchase price. It’s just too risky.

If you feel that the assessment notice shows too high a value then you can appeal your assessment. But first, call the assessment office and have a chat with your assessor. They may have some valid data you are not aware of that will support their opinion. If that is not the case, you must provide a written notice of complaint to the local B.C. assessment office not later than January 31st. After receiving your written complaint there can be an independent review before a Property Assessment Review Panel (PARP). If there is market data you feel is relevant to the question, you can provide that information to the Review Panel.

The accuracy of the assessment is important because it’s this dollar value that is used in the formula which calculates your property tax bill each year. The city, or municipality figures out the dollars they need each year to fund schools, hospitals, fire and police services and to repair, maintain and improve roadways, utilities and cover every other similar expense. They factor that cost against the assessed values. This is known as the mill rate.

The system is considered fair to all, as the higher your assessed value is the more taxes you pay and the lower your value, the less taxes you pay.

Few people appeal their assessment when the assessed value shows lower than its real market value. Obviously if you are successful in having the assessed value raised it results in a higher tax bill. The only advantage would be if you were selling and your buyer happens to consider the assessed value important. Just so you know, this is seldom the case.

Most homeowners don’t have the financial capacity to buy a new place before they sell their present home. Buyers who have not yet sold their current homes often make offers on homes subject to or conditional upon their present home selling. The trouble with that is that Sellers don’t want to take their property off the market and wait until the buyers’ home sells. Doing that would make them much too dependent on a sale they have little or no control over. So, the answer to the question is to add a time clause to their purchase contract. The time clause states that in the event the Seller receives another acceptable offer the Buyer or the Buyers’ agent will receive written notice that they must remove all their “subject to” clauses from the purchase contract, or forfeit the deal.

The benefit to the Seller is that they have greatly increased the likelihood their home will sell. Now, either receiving yet another offer on their own home or the Buyers’ home selling will result in a sale. Being under contract with that “subject-to-the-sale-of” buyer also keeps that Buyer from continuing to look around and perhaps choosing a different home.

The negative to the Seller, is that it nearly always diminishes the number of showings they get. The shorter the time clause the less true this becomes. I recommend 24 hours not excluding Sundays or statutory holidays as that impacts the number of showings the least. The MLS system leaves the listing in the fully active group of listings for the same reason.

The benefit to the Buyer is that they can put their existing home on the market, comfortable that they know where they will be moving to. Many people are afraid, and often rightfully so, that their home will sell and there may not be a suitable home to buy on the market at the time they need it to be. Making offers subject to the sale of their home offers the required protection. People in such a situation, can make the listing of their home conditional upon having a binding contract on the house they wish to buy. This adds protection to.

Sound complicated? It really isn’t. Your realtor can be extremely helpful here by setting up both listing and selling contracts with the right conditions to protect Buyers and Sellers.

Selling a property through Realtors in most places in North America including in British Columbia, requires a sellers Property Disclosure Statement.

The form British Columbia Realtors use contains, amongst many other  revealing questions, a clause which reads as follows. “Are you aware of any material latent defect as defined in Real Estate Council of British Columbia Rule 5-13(1)(a)(i) or Rule 5-13(1)(a)(ii) in respect of the Property or Unit”.  Rule 5-13 is explained as “Material latent defect that cannot be discerned through a reasonable inspection of the property, including any of the following:

a defect that renders the real estate,

Dangerous or potentially dangerous to the occupants

Unfit for habitation”

Bottom line, if you are a seller and you fail to inform a buyer about any defects in the home or property you are selling, you could wind up in court.  If you think the age old rule of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) still protects you, please know that it may not in the case of a latent defect.  It is only useful for patent defects which I will explain in my next article which is to be published February 21st, 2010.

A few examples of latent defects would be perhaps a missing vapor barrier in the walls or ceiling, blocked drains, insufficient ventilation or the like.            Buyers are expected to “reasonably inspect” what they are buying.  This would reveal patent defects but not necessarily latent defects.  Private buyers especially should be aware of this.  Realtors will have a Property Disclosure Statement filled out and signed by the sellers.  But, with private sellers you don’t automatically get that same protection.

Home Inspections are always important.  I recommend them to every buyer as do most, if not all Realtors.  But if you’re buying privately, it’s that much more important.  Private buyers would be well advised to obtain a written statement from a seller, either getting the seller to reveal any defects or stating that there are none, whichever is appropriate.

Whether buying privately, or with the helping hand of your favorite Realtor, you want to be sure that the Property Disclosure Statement, or written statement from the seller are incorporated into and form part of the contract of purchase and sale.  Doing it that way gives you as a buyer, a greater ability to have recourse against the seller, should you discover that knowledge of latent defects has been withheld from you.

There are several bare land strata developments in the Vernon area. Most are adult communities. Some of the earliest bare land strata adult communities were Uplands, Hillview Meadows and Sandpiper. Other examples are Quail Run and Quail Vista.

The bare land strata concept is best described as a larger piece of land that has been subdivided into several strata lots. The road within the development is known as common property. In addition to owning their lot, all the strata owners have a proportionate share of ownership in that roadway. The same proportionate share of ownership would apply to other common property such as the complex swimming pool or clubhouse.

Locally, residential bare land strata is most commonly freehold ownership and is rarely leasehold. The developer subdivides the parcel into several strata lots and submits it to Land Registry. Each strata lot gets its own lot number and the whole development will be registered under a certain Plan number. The developer has a fee simple ownership on all of the lots at the outset. The developer can then sell the lots to buyers who will subsequently be freehold owners.

Each owner pays their own individual property taxes. Their taxes are based on their individual lot and its improvements, together with their share of the common property. Each lot within the bare land development is assessed separately.

As with all strata developments when a strata plan is filed at the Land Title Office a strata corporation is established. The owners of the strata lots in their strata plan are the members of that strata corporation.

The duties of the strata corporation are to manage and maintain the common property and to keep records, such as the list of owners and their addresses. They must hold annual meetings and see that a strata council is formed each year. That strata council has to enforce the rules, regulations and bylaws. Financial records must also be kept. They must show the strata fees collected and publish how each dollar is spent or saved.

As with all strata, the owners have to vote on items such as rentals and age restrictions, etc. Other than the owners having to comply to the Strata Property Act they are free to vote on any issues that concern their complex. Minutes of all meetings are required to be kept.

In a bare land strata each owner is normally responsible to insure their individual home and also to maintain and repair the home inside and out, including roof and siding.

This is a very abbreviated summary of the bare land strata concept. This column attempts only to cover the basic idea.