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Set the tone and a fresh, festive table





A festive table can bring the sizzle to a party, spark conversations among guests and give you an excuse to pull out your grandmother’s silver and china.

Interior designers, florists and event planners offer their advice:

Candles are an inexpensive way to bring warmth and drama to a holiday dinner table set with elegant, neutral-toned linens.
Candles are an inexpensive way to bring warmth and drama to a holiday dinner table set with elegant, neutral-toned linens.  (Dreamstime)

Start with linens. “The foundation of your holiday table is the textile you choose for your runner, or tablecloth and napkins,” says Liz Curtis, founder of Table + Teaspoon, a San Francisco rental service.

Go with a neutral colour and pattern to create “an elegant, elevated feel for your guests,” Curtis says.

“I like to make my own runners out of beautiful fabric that I have turned into the length of my dining table by my local dry cleaner’s alterations department,” she says, noting that “a black-and-white patterned linen works as a base for anything you want to put on top of it.”

Table linens with neutral tones create an elegant, elevated esthetic.
Table linens with neutral tones create an elegant, elevated esthetic.  (Dreamstime)

Make it personal. “The holidays are a time to celebrate family, so the most meaningful decorations weave together the personal and the festive,” said Bronson van Wyck. He and his mother, Mary Lynn, own design and event production companyVan Wyck & Van Wyck.

Bronson, who is of Scottish and Dutch descent, uses tartan-patterned napkins and blue-and-white china. “Even patterns that don’t seem to fit the occasion work if they’re mixed and matched with confidence and whimsy.”

To add another personal touch, Wyck says: “I will sometimes embroider the initials of my guests onto napkins, which I then use as place cards” that guests can take home.

Incorporate nature. “Pomegranates and figs add the perfect punch of holiday red to a place setting, and nothing smells more beautiful than sprigs of evergreen scattered throughout the house,” says Maggie Burns, owner of Maggie Richmond Design, in Manhattan.

Robin Standefer, who owns the design firm Roman and Williams with her husband, Stephen Alesch, suggests decorating with plants, flowers, fruit and herbs.

“We take what’s around us — a branch, an apple, an herb — and make it into our tablescape,” she says of an approach that can be seen at the couple’s showroom-and-restaurannt hybrid, roman and Williams Guild, in SoHo. “No, it’s not going to be cookie-cutter perfect … That’s what brings lasting beauty and charm to your home.”

Break some rules. A table “should be loosely arranged for balance, but not perfectly symmetrical,” says said Ken Fulk, an event designer in San Francisco.

Glassware and silver should be arranged in the order they’re used, starting from the outside and working your way in, he said. “But we give ourselves some flexibility with glasses when there are more than five pairings. In those cases, we’re often mixing vintage glassware with crystal, and it looks so much prettier to arrange by style, size or colour.”

Invest in stemware. “Nothing speaks louder in a setting of celebration than the clinking of water or wine glasses,” Standefer says.

“A robust glassware collection can be high and low — glass you admire that you’ve found at a flea market or a set you invest in from the collection of an expert artisan whose work you follow,” she says.

Consider using food as decor ? the rich colours and inviting scents will compel guests to partake.
Consider using food as decor ? the rich colours and inviting scents will compel guests to partake.  (Dreamstime)

Avoid clichés. Liz Curtis, in San Francisco, says she’ll occasionally slice the bottom off a pear and stand it in the centre of a plate as decoration. Or cut a persimmon or pomegranate in half, with the sliced side up. “Every time I’ve put an orange or a pear or a quince on a plate, at least one guest ends up eating it,” she says.

Jung Lee, a founder of the event design company Fête NY, likes to incorporate tiny figurines. “Little vignettes or collections will spark conversation, especially when elements are not as literal,” said Lee, who added miniature owls to a holiday table she recently created.

Light the candles. “The easiest, least expensive way to add drama to the dinner table is to light some candles,” says Bronson van Wyck. “For the most flattering light, aim for a mix of tapers and votives scattered the length of the table.”

And don’t skimp. “For a warm, inviting glow, at least triple what you think you’ll need.”


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New pandemic protocols will change Quebec’s real estate business





Quebec real estate brokers got some good news Monday when COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

For the husband and wife real estate duo of Daniel Arsenault and Jennifer Smith of Royal Lepage Village in Pointe-Claire, it means they’ll be able to once again visit a potential client at their home, albeit two metres apart.

But it’s not completely business as usual as new pandemic protocols must be observed in the buying and selling of properties.

The traditional practice of holding open houses, in which properties for sale are showcased to the general public, will undergo tweaks.

“For example, if a family of five visits a home, only one person at a time is allowed inside,” Arsenault noted. “Given proper social distancing and limited numbers of people in a house at any time, proper sanitation, we’re pretty well back to business.”

In the new normal, virtual tours, or online visual tours of properties, will likely grow in popularity among both buyers and sellers looking to reduce person-to-person contact.

“We were doing it already, but more people will probably do it (now) is drone photography and 3-D virtual tours and floor plans,” Arsenault said. “That will become more of the norm because we want to make sure the people are qualified before visiting.

“In real estate, as in any sales business, you should qualify to lead. Now it’s much more so the case. We need to qualify that the buyers are financially prepared, that they’ve worked for a bit to decide what locations they want to go to.”

The onus on prospective buyers will be to filter info such as location, proximity to transportation lines and schools.

“So it’s a much more detailed analysis or qualification prior to committing to a visit,” Arsenault said.

Montreal’s red-hot real estate market has chilled like the rest of the economy since the city went into COVID-19 lockdown in mid-March. After 61 consecutive months of increases, the Montreal Census Metropolitan Area reported a 68 per cent decrease in residential sales transactions in April 2020 compared with the year earlier period.

“(The pandemic) is going to affect economy in ways we can’t even imagine,” Arsenault said. “Where there were 10 buyers before, now there might be five, so supply and demand might force prices down a bit.”

Arsenault said homes under $500,000 will likely remain attractive in a sagging economy.

“The low end of the market, in good locations, is insulated from (a downturn) … because if you’re in a bigger house and you need to downsize you’re going to go to the lower end. It’s more frugal.

“On the other hand, houses in a fringe location or are outliers in terms of size … is going to be a challenge. In other words, the house that was harder to sell before will be harder to sell now.”

Arsenault speculates that other factors, such as the type of housing and proximity to others, could affect the real estate market going forward.

“If you’re an elder person and planning to go into a retirement home, you’re holding off for now,” he said. “We have clients who are doing exactly that.”

Arsenault said the Montreal condominium market could also take a hit if buyers start looking for single-family homes with backyards and more space between neighbours.

“If people were on the fence, this will be a catalyst,” he said.

But other factors, such as proximity to medical services, must also be weighed if people move farther away from the city.

“We’re going to see fear of proximity,” Arsenault said. “No matter what the government is telling them, there is going to be a vast portion of the population that is going to be afraid to be around other people.

“Historically, after every major economic crisis, one of the trends was more people moving into smaller properties closer to major cities. So reduce your financial footprint.

“And now we have both happening at the same time. We have the financial crisis but we also have fear of proximity.”

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What Will Happen to the Real Estate Market in Calgary?





The City of Calgary has been weathering its own storm, long before the COVID-19 public health crisis roared into the spotlight. The city is heavily reliant upon the energy sector, and as a result, the local economy has been suffering from the fallout of sinking oil prices. Investment levels have been weak within the city, and Calgary’s construction sector has been dealing with a downturn of its own.

On the flip side, 2020 brought a promise of change for Calgary. The city’s GDP was expected to expand by 2.4% over the next three years as the energy sector started to show signs of stabilization. There was hope that this economic boost would help to lift demand within the city’s housing market, which has struggled with a surplus of real estate inventory. According to Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB) statistics, there was a year-over-year increase in sales of 4.35% in the first quarter of 2020, setting the Calgary housing market up for the best first quarter in years!

Unsurprisingly, the spread and implications of the COVID-19 crisis has derailed some of this optimism. The Calgary housing market has had to forfeit the gains it had made earlier in the year as many realtors, buyers, and sellers have had no choice but to press pause and stay home. Below, we dive into how the pandemic has impacted the Calgary real estate market, and what we can expect to see in the months to come.

The Impact of COVID-19 on the Calgary Real Estate Market

In early March of 2020, Calgary businesses and residents adjusted to a new normal amid social distancing measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19. While the real estate industry, deemed an essential service, was continuing to operate, REALTORS® were forced to pivot, forgoing open houses for virtual home tours and 3D 360-degree imagery.

The full impact of these measures and business closures were most felt by the Calgary economy and real estate market over the month of April. Overall home sales plummeted almost 63%, new listings were down 54%, and the average price of a Calgary home fell more than 8%. These trends were mirrored in the communities surrounding Calgary; over April only 60 sales were reported in Airdrie, and 17 homes were sold in Okotoks.

Amid an environment of business closures, social isolation and depressed consumer confidence, it comes as so surprise that demand within the market is falling, and that sales activity is on the decline. Chief economist for the Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB) Ann-Marie Lurie commented in the CREB market update for April: “Demand is also falling faster than supply. This is keeping the market in buyers’ territory and weighing on prices.”

In April of 2019, the average price of a home was $460,953 – by the end of April 2020, the average home price was sitting at $422,655. The steepest price plunge has been seen in homes priced over $600,000.

Reignited demand in the Calgary market will help to re-balance the market and flatten the curve in terms of dropping real estate prices. The question remains as to when those waiting out the pandemic will feel safe enough, and financially ready to return to the market.

Calgary’s Return to Business-as-Usual

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has already announced a multi-stage rollout for the province to emerge from its COVID-19 lockdown, with some businesses given the green-light to open as early as May 14th. The success of this plan, Kenny comments, will depend on the capacity of Albertans to continue to heed rules put forth by public health officials, including limiting public gatherings of over 15 people.

With the local economy and daily life within Calgary already on the path to recovery this month, there is much hope that by summer, there will be enough of a climb in demand within the housing market to start reversing some of the dips caused by the public health crisis.

Hope for the Calgary Real Estate Market

Mid-way through April, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government would be pledging $1.7 billion to clean up orphan wells across the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. As well as providing environmental relief, this move will bring a much-needed boost to the struggling prairie provinces.

Effective immediately, this incentive will help to provide thousands of jobs within the receiving provinces, also helping large corporations (some of the region’s main employers) avoid bankruptcy in the midst of the public health crisis and the plummeting oil prices. With this investment helping to maintain 5,200 jobs in Alberta, there is optimism that this will also provide a modest boost for real estate within the province’s major markets, including Calgary.

Prior to the outbreak, despite its high unemployment rate, the city of Calgary continued to grow in population, attracting residents from other areas of Alberta. As the city maintains its reputation as one of Canada’s top 10 affordable real estate markets, it will continue to pull homebuyers in, who will be even more keen to take advantage of low prices and low interest rates post-crisis.

Other financial incentives and programs introduced since the onset of COVID-19 will also help to soften the economic blow to homeowners in Calgary. Mortgage deferral programs will also prevent spikes in new listings which can further imbalance the market during periods of high unemployment. With listings declining proportionately with sales over the second quarter, says Lurie, this will make the market less competitive for those selling their homes in Calgary. “Given the nature of this crisis, the situation is evolving rapidly. If additional government policies and programs are enacted, it could help soften the economic burden faced by Albertans”, Lurie says.

While so much uncertainty remains regarding the economic, political, and real estate climate within Calgary, hope and a spirit of resilience remains strong.

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Edmonton’s real estate market looks to bounce back after sales drop due to COVID-19





As much of Alberta tries to recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19, Edmonton’s real estate sector is among the industries hoping to bounce back.

After facing a major decline in home sales in April, many realtors say they are looking forward to a relaunch of their own.

“Mid-March we got that announcement that everybody needed to stay and work from home and that sort of dropped off, and then we really saw the effects of that impact happening in March in April,” Jennifer Lucas, chair of the Realtors Association of Edmonton, said.

Buyers and sellers started expressing safety fears about touring homes. In the latest report released by the Realtors Association of Edmonton, sales of single-family homes were over 55 per cent in April, compared to the same period last year.

The average sale price of single family homes is $410,200 — a drop of just over 4.14 per cent from last year.

With no exact timeline for a market rebound, there has been some indication that things are changing.

“We’re starting to see now that the government has introduced their phase-in plan for the economy, that people are starting to feel comfortable with the protocols we’ve put in place… they’re starting to get their houses back on the market and we’re getting a lot more calls from buyers to start looking at houses,” Lucas said.

“There’s no question this last week, week-and-a-half we’ve had tons of conversations with buyers and sellers that are definitely looking to get going,” realtor Ryan Boser with Sarasota Realty said.

While many realtors switched to virtual showings and assessments during heightened COVID-19 restrictions, they said making such a large transaction could benefit from a more personal approach.

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