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How this Leaside family’s reno plans pivoted for an unexpected addition





Melissa and Brian Finley had a perfect plan.

With two rambunctious little boys, they were outgrowing their semi-detached, three-bedroom with the tight galley kitchen and short basement. The couple debated moving to a bigger house, but in the 2016 real estate bubble, that would have meant forking over upwards of $2 million to stay in their beloved Leaside neighbourhood.

NOW: Melissa and Brian Finley with sons Emmitt, 5, Paxton 3, and Camden, 7 months, in their renovated, open-concept kitchen. “I love it,” says Melissa.
NOW: Melissa and Brian Finley with sons Emmitt, 5, Paxton 3, and Camden, 7 months, in their renovated, open-concept kitchen. “I love it,” says Melissa.  (Moe Doiron / Toronto Star)

Renovating was the only logical choice. Working with 3 Stones Custom Homes, they designed a new layout that would add 800 square feet to the main and second floors, and dig out the basement so the marathon mini-sticks tournaments could continue as their sons grew up.

Melissa, 33, who works in marketing at OLG, was especially thrilled to imagine the master bedroom of her dreams, including a spacious ensuite bathroom and huge walk-in closet featuring an island and a laundry room. They hired designer Andi Wheelband, co-owner of Two Birds Design to help get all the details right.

After much consultation, plans were drawn up. Contractor Rovimat Group Inc. was on deck. All that was left was to apply for the building permits and get started.

Then the family got some unexpected, but happy, news: Melissa was pregnant. “All of a sudden we had to decide whether to leave the plans as-is, and have two boys bunk together, or put in a fourth bedroom.”

Melissa and Brian, 37, a detective with York Regional Police, chose to go back to the drawing board — literally — to squeeze in a nursery. Melissa credits designer Wheelband for making it work without sacrificing the elements she wanted. The island in the closet was scrapped, the laundry room became a closet in the hallway with a stackable washer and dryer and the ensuite bathroom became more compact but still features a tub, shower with bench, large window and two sinks.

Today, they have a master closet that’s not far off from what Melissa imagined and 7-month-old Camden slumbers under a skylight in his very own bedroom next door. (The room abuts the shared wall and the master closet, so there was no option for a window.) Brothers Emmitt, 5, and Paxton, 3, each have their own rooms facing the front of the house and a three-piece bathroom at the top of the stairs is designed for the boys to share.

Downstairs, Melissa worked closely with Wheelband to create a spacious and functional main floor. The original house positioned the living room at the front of the home and the galley kitchen with a cut-out to a dining room just behind it.

With the expansion at the back of the home, they were able to create a generous living room with plenty of seating and a wall of windows that flood the open space with natural light. A powder room and wide mud room is adjacent to the back door, allowing for an out-of-the-way place to hide hockey bags and outerwear. It also serves as the entrance to the unfinished basement play space/guest suite.

At the front of the house, a formal dining room seats eight and boasts an electric fireplace at table-level for added ambience, a wine fridge and bar.

But the real showstopper on the main floor is the kitchen, which sits between the living and dining rooms. Flanked by two pathways and custom white Shaker cabinetry, a massive four-by-9-1/2-foot quartz island with Blanco Silgranit sink takes centre stage. It’s where the boys eat their meals and guests socialize. “When we were designing, I knew I wanted the kitchen to be central. We entertain a lot and people tend to migrate here,” says Melissa. “I love it.”

Wheelband worked with Impressions Kitchens to create a classic space that’s dressed up with cladding and brass elements. The appliance triangle dominates one side of the island while the other acts as a buffet and is set off by the original brick wall.

“We worked to maximize space as much as possible with deep and shallow cabinets and drawers. We even tucked some below the overhang in the island,” said Wheelband.

Melissa considers the $40,000 for the kitchen and dining room money well-spent, and chose to draw the eye to the island with three pendant lights from Crate & Barrel, which came in at $700 each.

She was inspired to undertake her own DIY design project late in pregnancy, creating a custom media console for the living room by adding doors, baskets and cupboards to two Ikea Kallax bookshelves and resting them horizontally. She finished them with brass hardware from Amazon and Greek-style decals from Etsy shop O’verlays.

“When I came in to see the renovation in progress, I realized how long and bare that living room wall would have been. I wanted a white media console, which is hard to find, and I couldn’t find one long enough,” she said.

After the initial planning hiccup, the renovation began in October 2017 and finished in April 2018, just ahead of the birth of Camden. The family lived in a rental down the street during the six months of construction.

The pregnancy added some urgency to the operation, but Melissa says they were pleasantly surprised by how smoothly construction went. “People told me horror stories of renovations in older homes, but we had no major issues. The only unexpected thing was that we had to run new beams. It put us a month behind, but it was fine.”

Sometimes the best-laid plans get even better endings.


$670,000: Price the Finleys paid for their house in 2009

$400,000: Cost of renovation

1,200 sq. ft.: Original 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom semi-detached home

2,000 sq. ft.: Size of new main and second floors, with four bedrooms and four bathrooms


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Renovating your home? Ask yourself these 8 questions first.





(NC) You might be surprised to learn there are many health hazards around the home, particularly when taking on any kind of renovation project— even for something as easy as painting a room. But by educating yourself and taking the right precautions, you’ll help keep you and your family safe.

Here are eight important safety questions that Health Canada encourages you to ask yourself before starting your project:

  1. Could the products I am using be harmful? Be sure to follow all use and safety instructions on the label, including how to store and dispose of any leftover products. Remember to look for hazard symbols.
  2. Should I be worried about lead-based paint? Your home probably contains lead-based paint if it was built before 1960. If the paint is in good condition and is not on a surface that a child might chew or that is subject to wear and tear, it’s best to leave it alone or cover it with paint or wallpaper. But if the paint is cracking, chipping, flaking or peeling, or is on a surface that a child might chew or that is subject to wear and tear, you’ll need to remove it carefully to avoid kicking up lead dust.
  3. Could my house contain asbestos? Before 1990, asbestos was commonly used for fireproofing and insulating against cold weather and noise. You can reduce your risk of exposure by hiring a professional to test for asbestos before doing any renovations or remodelling. Avoid disturbing asbestos materials yourself.
  4. Are low-emission products available? Paints and renovation products, like flooring and particleboard, often have a noticeable smell. This odour can indicate that the product contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some chemical products are labelled as “low emission,” which means they give off fewer VOCs and are safer for your health.
  5. Should I ventilate while I renovate? Yes – ventilation can help improve indoor air quality by removing pollutants from the home and by bringing in fresh air from outside. This is especially important when renovating or when using chemical products in the home.
  6. How should I dress? Labels on products used for renovations will include information about what to wear and precautions to take. This could include using gloves, safety goggles or masks and keeping the products away from other hazardous materials.
  7. Can my family take part? It’s best to keep children and pets safely away from the renovation area. Pregnant women should also avoid taking part in renovation projects.
  8. How do I dispose of leftover materials safely? As your project wraps up, continue to keep safety in mind. Read the label or contact your municipality for advice on how to dispose of any leftover chemical products.

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Here’s How Halton Real Estate Patterns Have Changed Over the Years





We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again, the real estate market is constantly fluctuating. In a recent inhalton article, it was noted that the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) called 2018 “a volatile year” for the housing market.

Although 2019 is expected to a little bit better in terms of sales and average selling prices in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), we still have some 2018 statistics and facts that may come as a shock to some Halton residents.

According to a recent RE/MAX Ontario-Atlantic Canada press release, migration patterns of residential homebuyers in the GTA have shifted west. This, according to the release, is due to the Halton Region’s and Toronto west’s market shares rising between 2013 and 2018.

The release notes that the Halton Region captured 10.1 per cent of total market share in 2018, leading with a 2.3-per-cent increase over 2013. On the other hand, Toronto West climbed almost one per cent to 10.5 per cent. The release also looked at market sales in the Peel Region, Toronto Central, Toronto East, York Region, Durham Region, Dufferin County, and Simcoe County.

Over the past five years, there have been many factors that have contributed to Halton’s increase market shares.

“Growing demand for affordable housing buoyed new construction and contributed to rising market share in Halton Region over the five-year period,” Christopher Alexander, Executive Vice President, RE/MAX of Ontario-Atlantic Canada, said in the release. “Product was coming on-stream at a time when the GTA reported its lowest inventory in years and skyrocketing housing values were raising red flags. Freehold properties in the suburbs farther afield spoke to affordability.”

As a result of people flocking to the Halton Region in order to avoid these skyrocketing housing values, an increase of construction and development has become quite common for the region.

According to the release, new housing starts in Halton was averaged to be around 3,100 annually between 2013 and 2016. Between 2013 and 2017, almost 39,000 residential units came on-stream in Toronto’s Downtown and Central Waterfront areas.

Another real estate pattern that has changed, that may not come as a shock, is the average price to buy a house.

The average price for a home sold in Toronto’s west end in 2018 hovered near $755,658. The ever-increasing prices, as noted by Alexander, will have an impact on what type of properties will be more popular in the future.

“Freehold properties remain the choice of most purchasers in Halton Region and Toronto West,” Alexander said. “The same is true to a lesser extent in Toronto Central, but condominiums continue to gain ground. Just over one in three properties sold in the GTA was a condominium in 2018 and that figure is higher in the core. As prices climb in both the city and suburbs, the shift toward higher-density housing will continue, with fewer single-detached developments coming to pass.”

In recent years, as a result of increasing prices, many buyers, including younger buyers, empty nesters, and retirees have shifted towards Simcoe County where the average price ranges from $528,942 to $746.

“As the millennials move into their homebuying years, they will displace baby boomers as the dominant force in the GTA’s real estate market,” Alexander said. “Their impact on housing will have a serious ripple effect on infrastructure in the coming years, placing pressure on transit systems, roadways, local economies and their abilities to attract investors and new businesses, parks and greenspace development.”

However, there has been a demand for condominium apartments and townhouses areas like City Place, King West Village, and Liberty Village. There has also been gentrification in many Toronto neighbourhoods such as Oakwood-Vaughan and Dufferin Grove as they offer smaller freehold properties at more affordable prices.

Over the next 10 years, the increase in demand is projected to re-ignite homebuying activity in Toronto East, York, Peel, and Durham Regions regardless of the affordability, lack of available housing, and fewer transit options that may be apparent now.

What do you think of these shifting real estate patterns in Halton and the surrounding areas?

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How sweat equity and a little home DIY can help you avoid a down payment on mortgage loan





Saving a down payment is challenging for many first-time home buyers, and even if they manage it, more obstacles lie ahead.

After choosing a lender and getting approved, buyers still have to find a good house that fits their budget. Looking at fixer-uppers can expand their options, but not everyone can afford major improvements after such a big purchase.

Buyers could find a solution in Home Possible, a low-down-payment conventional mortgage from Freddie Mac. These loans offer an attractive option for borrowers willing to apply a little elbow grease: a sweat equity provision that can eliminate the need for a cash down payment.

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Sweat equity allows buyers to “earn” their entire down payment by improving a home before purchase, says Danny Gardner, senior vice president of affordable lending at Freddie Mac. Buyers do the work themselves, and the change in appraised value after the renovations becomes a credit they can apply to the purchase.

Some conditions apply: Using the sweat equity feature requires home improvement know-how and money to purchase materials. The sellers also must be willing to let someone work on their house before buying it.

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But in the right situation, this feature gives first-time home buyers more bang for their buck, particularly in markets where move-in ready starter homes are hard to come by.

Young homeowners love to DIY

America’s desire to bootstrap home improvements could be attributed in part to something known as the “HGTV effect,” which refers to a recent surge of popular home improvement reality shows and YouTube channels featuring do-it-yourself experts.

Thirty-eight percent of all home renovation projects are DIY, according to NerdWallet’s 2018 Home Improvement Report.

Younger homeowners are especially eager to roll up their sleeves – those under age 35 complete more than half of all their own home repair and improvement projects instead of hiring a professional. As a result, they spend several hundred dollars less on a typical project, the report found.

With sweat equity, DIY-obsessed home buyers may be able to channel that energy into a more affordable home.

Who can use the sweat equity feature?

Buyers interested in the sweat equity feature should talk with a lender that offers Home Possible loans. The option is open to any borrower who meets general financial guidelines.

“Home Possible is a great loan program,” says Keith Kampe, vice president of sales at Flagstar Bank. “The only challenge is getting people into it, because there are income limits.”

The program sets household income limits by census tract, an area that’s usually similar to a neighborhood in size. Freddie Mac has an eligibility tool that lets users see the limits by property address.

No matter how you slice it, buying a house requires some money upfront. For sweat equity borrowers, each dollar spent improving the property before purchase pulls double duty as a credit toward their down payment.

But before they can break out the power tools, sweat equity borrowers have to find the right house and a seller who’s comfortable with the unique arrangement.

“There has to be a lot of trust there between buyer and seller,” says Joe Zucht, a loan originator at NBKC Bank. Those looking to buy from a friend, family member or their current landlord may already have that trusting relationship, he says.

If both parties are on board with a sweat equity arrangement, the buyer’s real estate agent will draft an offer that describes all planned improvements and explains what will happen if the deal falls through. Once the agreement is signed, the work must be completed by the buyer before the loan closes – in other words, before he or she owns the house.

Sweat equity borrowers should also be ready for an appraiser to look over their shoulder throughout the process. The appraiser will estimate the value of the remodel and verify that the materials and workmanship match what was promised in the contract.

It’s important for sweat equity borrowers to choose their presale improvements strategically, weighing the money and effort required against the down payment credit they’ll earn. Buyers should also be realistic about their DIY skills and avoid biting off more than they can chew.

While some changes are merely cosmetic, others are capital improvements that can significantly increase the property’s value, extend its useful life or adapt it for new uses. These are typically bigger projects that could include installing a new roof, renovating the kitchen or adding a garage.

Even though it’s a more intense commitment, Gardner says buyers who hope to capture the full benefit of their sweat equity should “focus on capital improvements because once you become the owner of that home, you can always make the cosmetic improvements.”

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