Sustainable housing and real estate in Kitchener-Waterloo Region


Spring has come.

Winter is coming to a close and it is finally beginning to look like spring outside. Spring always brings with it one thing in real estate– open houses and increasing sales. You can properly tour a home and view it in its prime, as plant life begins to sprout again around it. It adds a certain beauty and appeal to the search process and allows visitors to truly see the property without the hindrances of deep snow. Many begin their home search in the spring time, with the expectation of closing and moving over the summer months while their children are on summer vacation.

If you are thinking a listing a property in the near future, take a couple things into consideration. The current average number of days on market has slightly lengthened and property value has slightly decreased. This means your home will take slightly longer than normal to sell and may sell for a slightly lower price than expected (closer to 2007 prices). 

Prudent Realtors will bring you a Comparative Market Analysis on your home to help guide you to price your property at a reasonable value. The Comparative Market Analysis takes recent sales data of similar homes in the area and compares them with the listing property to help determine a fair market value and develop a price that will make the property sell the quickest and for the most value. It will take some recently sold properties, some recently expired properties and some currently active properties that have similar characteristics or features and base the price upon these. Sold properties usually indicate pricing that was somewhat reasonable. Expired properties usually indicate inflated pricing or major problems with the property, although sometimes it is an unwillingness of a seller to budge on pricing or conditions or poor marketing done by the Realtor.

Unfortunately, difficult financial times are often associated with less than reputable business practices. In real estate this can translate to what we call “buying a listing”. Essentially the Realtor presents the seller with an overly optimistic sales price for the home, doubtful that it will actually sell for this price in the hopes that he or she can “buy” the listing by suggesting the seller will receive a higher sale price. They expect to talk the seller down every couple of weeks to lower and lower pricing.

Why would they do this? Sometimes homeowners have inflated perceptions of their home value, but mostly, it is done by unscruptulous Realtors who are desperate for listings.  The best way to protect yourself? Find a Realtor you can trust, and review all the materials they bring to you. If they suggest a certain price, ask them for proof to back this up.

Interview at least 3 Realtors and get their Comparative Market Analysis. Look at the criteria they are using to determine the value of your home. Are all three using the same comparable material, and where do they differ? Are they using current data (from the last 2 months)? Are they using reasonable comparable properties to your home? Are they taking into consideration the solds, expireds and active listings? If you are unsure, ask.

One high pricing may seem like a dream come true, but after weeks on the market, you may be singing a different tune. Protect yourself up front and ensure you are pricing the property properly. Listing too high will scare away potential buyers or limit them from even searching or viewing your property. Staleness will creep in, and as your price drops, fewer and fewer viewers will be attracted. Get the price right the first time and save yourself the hassle.

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What’s going on in the Kitchener-Waterloo region housing market?

Kitchener-Waterloo has been feeling the effects of the economy. There have been layoffs, or talks of layoffs in several industries, and many people are feeling very anxious. This anxiety has impacted the real estate, housing and building industries; slowing housing starts (the construction of new buildings) to slightly lower levels and decreasing housing unit sales. Buyers are finding a wide range of units to choose from and increased bargaining ability as the market remains in their favor. Sellers are finding their home is sitting slightly longer than usual on the market before being sold. Overall, conditions are still relatively comfortable, though perhaps not entirely optimistic for the next couple of years.

 

There were 269 units sold in Kitchener-Waterloo region in February. The number of single family-detached homes sold in February was 27.5% lower than February of last year. The number of all residential units sold in February was down 27.2% from February of last year. Even with this lower number of sales from last year, the total number of sales was up nearly 26.7% from January 2009 and up 28% from December 2008; with the warming weather likely to only bring increasing sales. There were 53% fewer multi-family units sold in February from last year, up from January 33% and up 60% from December. Farmland and vacant land sales increased across the board.

 

Year to date sales are down for all units by 28.6% from 779 units sold by the end of February in 2008 to only 556 units sold so far in 2009. 91% of unit sales were in resale homes, with 9% in new home sales. The majority of these sales happened in single family detached residential units.

 

30% of these residential sales were priced under $200,000, and 78% of all the residential sales were priced under $300,000. There have been no sales over $750,000 so far this year.  The average sale price for residential properties was $244,419, down slightly from last year’s average of $254,564.

 

West Kitchener had the highest volume of sales last month with 130 sales, followed by West Waterloo with 73 sales. Waterloo East had the lowest number of sales with only 41 sales. In Cambridge, properties are moving the most in Hespeler, and least in North Galt.

 

Now is a great time for buyers. Interest rates are relatively low and as homes stay longer on the market, more bargaining becomes possible. Property values are still likely to increase over the long term (ie. More than 5 years).

 

If you are a (first time) home buyer, now’s the time to talk to a mortgage broker or banker to see if you can qualify for a mortgage and to take advantage of favorable interest rates.



Ways to save water around your home.
March 9, 2009, 8:39 pm
Filed under: Rebecca Sargent, Sustainability | Tags: , , ,

Canadians waste a lot of water. Each person here uses on average 329 litres of water per day, more than twice as much as the average person living in France and significantly more than those in less developed nations. Canada has an abundance of freshwater, with 7% of the world’s supply of total renewable water flow and 25% of the world’s supply of wetlands. It has the largest per capita supply of freshwater amongst industrialized nations. Despite this supply, many Canadian municipalities have reported water shortages because of socio-demographic pressures. 85% of the population lives within 300km of the American border, yet 60% of the water flows towards the less populated north. Our current water usage is not sustainable, and is taking incredible amounts of taxpayer money to clean and purify at over $4.5 billion per year. We need to find ways to cut our water wastes.

Canadians spend approximately 35% of their water usage showering and bathing and about 30% flushing toilets. A typical low flow shower head uses about 10 litres of water per minute (10 minute shower=100 litres).  A typical basic bathrub will hold around 150 litres of water, soaker or larger tubs much more (up to 500 litres or more). Building codes have required 6 litre/flush toilets since 1996, but older toilets can use as much as 20 litres per flush and the average person flushes 7 times a day.

These amounts can be reduced with simple measures, like switching to low-flow toilets and shower heads and fixing leaks as soon as they happen. One drop per second from a leaky tap wastes about 10,000 litres of water per year. Shortening shower time can also drastically reduce water usage.

Using a grey-water system in the home, a more expensive solution, can reduce home water usage by 35-40% annually. This system recycles water that has been used in your shower or kitchens and uses it for toilet flushing and irrigation purposes. Basically, it allows you to reuse the water from your shower in your toilet, drastically saving your water usage. Check out http://www.ecoshift.ca/, a Cambridge company for more details or to have your home assessed for waste reduction.

Canadians water their lawns on average 1.5 times a week in the summer months, often using hose water coming from their municipality. This water could come from the sky, by using rain barrels or rain water tanks to collect and store rainwater. Many designs are available and can suit most outdoor household needs.

Dishwashers use approximately 57 litres of water per load, EnergyStar appliances typically use much less water and energy. Only run the dishwasher when full to save water. Clothes washers use on average 150 litres of water per load, with EnergyStar or front loading appliances using significantly less water and energy.

When renovating your home or upgrading appliances, consider switching to EnergyStar or low flow options. How much do you spend on your water bill? How much can changing your daily living affect this? Small changes can make drastic differences. If you need advice on where to start, just ask me!



What is geothermal heating and cooling?

Heating and cooling of indoor space is one of the biggest energy wasters in our homes and businesses. What if we could let the earth do this naturally for us, reducing our heating and cooling costs by as much as 50-70%?

A geothermal heat pump moves heat into or away from the earth through a ground loop system (a system of pipes that run deep into the ground). It quietly and comfortably controls the temperature in the home, providing more consistent heat that stays on longer and changes the temperature more gradually. It also has the capability to heat water in your home in place of a traditional water heater. In the summer, the system works as a cooling system with no need for a separate air conditioning system.

The geothermal heating system is made up of 3 main components:  the ground loop system, the heat pump furnace unit, and the distribution system. The ground loop is a system of polyethylene pipes which extract heat from soil beneath the frost line deep into the earth. In the cooling mode, the pipes return heat to the earth. The heat pump furnace unit moves heat from one place to another, and the distribution system channels it around your home through duct work and vents.

A geothermal system starts at about $20,000. With federal and provincial incentives and rebates, you can receive about $7,000 back on your system ($3,500 under federal rebate, matched in Ontario), provincial sales tax can also be waived, resulting in a further savings. Ontario also has programs for those who qualify for between $8,000 and $9,000 in possible rebates. See below for links to rebate programs.

Geothermal heating and cooling is best for new home construction or in rural areas since these present the fewest construction barriers when installing the system. Low levels of electricity are required to move the heat about, but electricity is not required to create the energy. There is no combustion taking place, therefore there is no need for a chimney or flue and there are no combustion hazards or concern for carbon monoxide gases.

Since the entire system is either indoors or below ground there is little potential for vandalism or destruction from weathering that can occur with other cooling systems. Other than at installation, noise from the system is minimal.

The initial costs are about two times as high as normal heating systems, but when you consider that the system is also responsible for cooling, the costs don’t seem nearly as high. Payback for the system can occur from savings in only 2-7 years, depending on which fuel/or system you are trading from. Most systems come with 10 year warranties, but can last much longer (20-30 years). The pumps have an average life span of about 20 years. The earth energy pipes are typically warranted for 25 years, but have a useful life of 50 years if maintained and installed properly and depending on local conditions. The best time to think about geothermal heating or cooling is when it is time to replace your old furnace. With rebates and incentives, the cost is not significantly higher than traditional systems and can result in great overall savings.

There are some concerns over the use of geothermal energies. These systems are different than the air to air heat pumps that were installed in the 1950s and 60s. They have become much more efficient and environmentally sound, and the more they are installed and used, the more options will start to come out and the cheaper they will become.

There are environmental impacts to consider when heat mining (which is what geothermal essentially is doing) and an environmental impact assessment (EIA)should be done in advance of any development to make sure the ground is suitable for this type of extraction. You are getting heat from deep aquifers in the ground, and in this process certain minor emissions of gases from the earth are possible. Geothermal heating is said to produce approximately 79 g/kWh of CO2 when the electricity is generated.  Compared to the 955 g/kWh of CO2 emitted from coal generated electricity, this is significantly less.

There is also the possibility of waste water pollution if the waste water is not treated properly. Solid wastes of calcite and silica are also possible to deposit in the pipes as travertine and siliceous sinter build up. These can cause blocking of pipes and boreholes and reduce the permeability of aquifers being developed. The environmental impact assessment should detail ways to help reduce these negative impacts. If done properly, the system should be significantly less wasteful and environmentally impacting than traditional systems.

Geothermal heating and cooling is not for everyone, but for new home construction or rural properties it can make a lot of sense. It is best when used in combination with other renewable energy systems so that the electricity needed to move the heat can be created renewably and so the environmental impact is less and the home is more self sustainable.

How geothermal works: http://www.nextenergy.ca/how-it-works.html

Check out http://www.earthheat.ca/ to find an Ontario installer.

ecoEnergy rebates:

http://www.geosmartenergy.com/specsheets/retrofit-qualify-grant.pdf

http://www.geosmartenergy.com/specsheets/grants-residential.pdf

http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/residential/personal/home-improvement.cfm?attr=4

Ontario rebates:

http://www.energy.gov.on.ca/index.cfm?fuseaction=conservation.homeretrofit

http://www.geosmartenergy.com/specsheets/General%20App_rebate.pdf

Ontario power authority (rebate of up to $550):

http://everykilowattcounts.ca/residential/coolsavings/

Cambridge Hydro (rebate of up to $1,500), call them directly at (519) 744-9799 to find more details.

If you would like more details on rebates and incentives, please talk to me.