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Wrap up your garden well this month and it will open up like a present in the spring

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It’s time to get serious about protecting your garden investment. Consider it the same as making a deposit into your RRSP: Do it now and reap the rewards later.

If you wrap up your garden in November, you’ll get a great-looking garden come spring. Let us explain:

Instead of bagging leaves, rake them onto your garden and let the earthworms turn them into plant-loving nitrogen.
Instead of bagging leaves, rake them onto your garden and let the earthworms turn them into plant-loving nitrogen.  (www.MarkCullen.com)

Lawn. The most important fertilizer application of the year is the one you should do right now. By applying a slow-release nitrogen, high-potash formula like 12-0-18 to your lawn now, you beef up the root zone of the grass plants for better performance next spring. There are no short-term benefits in this. Your lawn won’t spring to life and give you great joy this fall. Instead, your lawn will be much less susceptible to snow mould, mildew and, more to the point, it will bounce back with vigour come spring.

Clean the cutting deck of your lawn mower, spray oil on it and disconnect the spark plug. Add stabilizer to the gas tank, or empty it.

Perennials. No winterizing necessary. But this is your last chance to dig and divide all mature perennials and move the divisions around your garden. Or give them away. See our October 20 column:L https://www.thestar.com/life/homes/2018/10/19/plant-dig-your-way-to-a-beautiful-garden.html

Fruit trees. The deeper the snow, the more susceptible young fruit trees and crab apple trees are to rabbit and mice damage. Put a plastic, spiral collar on each tree until it is about five years old or has matured to about six centimetres in diameter at a height of 20 cm. A mature fruit tree has tough bark that does not interest hungry rodents.

Cedars, upright junipers and yew hedges. Wrap them in a layer of burlap to prevent wind damage from top to bottom. Secure with garden twine. Wrap a second layer of burlap to prevent sun damage, which usually occurs in late winter/early spring when the sun reflects off the snow. Mark did not wrap a new yew hedge last winter and he had to look at burnt foliage all season. We learn from our mistakes (and laziness).

Mound roses. Many roses benefit from mounding soil about 60 cm up the main canes of the plant this time of year. Fresh triple mix or garden soil insulates the green canes from the freeze/thaw cycles of the winter which can wreak havoc on hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras and miniature roses. Shrub roses and some of the new Pavement roses are winter hardy and do not need coddling.

Water deeply. Wet roots are well-winterized. The extremely dry winter air sucks moisture from more than your skin: It can dehydrate the root zone of your garden plants, especially those located under the protection of your roof soffit and eave. Let your garden hose drip water around each plant until you are certain that the root zone is well hydrated. Then turn off your outdoor faucets from the indoor control.

Containers. Empty containers of existing soil by adding it to your garden. If you live in an apartment or condo, give the soil to a friend who has a garden. It is good stuff, just not good enough to use again next year in a container. Replace with quality container mix in the spring. In the meantime, turn each pot up side down to avoid cracking in the cold winter — or find an enclosed place to store them.

Leaves. We don’t rake leaves into craft paper bags and put them out to the curb for the city to take away anymore. Now, we rake leaves onto our garden and let the worms take them down into the subsoil where they are converted into nitrogen-rich earth worm castings. If you have a lot of leaves, run your lawn mower over them at its highest setting and rake excess mulched leaves onto the garden. If you have a big garden, steal the leaves that your old-fashioned neighbours put out for the municipality to pick up. They will never notice and if they do, they won’t care.

Bring in your garden hose and any garden statuary and bird baths that might risk cracking in the frost.

And now you’re done. All that’s left to do is read about gardening until next spring. See you here.

Mark and Ben Cullen are expert gardeners and contributors for the Star. Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkCullen4

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Renovating your home? Ask yourself these 8 questions first.

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(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

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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

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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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