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‘They should know better’: Funeral home chain skirting new rule with misleading sales tactics

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Nearly two years after Marketplace exposed the common practice of aggressive sales tactics at the largest Canadian-owned funeral home chain, another hidden camera investigation has revealed new examples of upselling and rule-breaking by some staff.

Arbor Memorial was the subject of a 2017 investigation, which revealed huge markups, confusing charges and pushy tactics by sales staff on commission at branches in Ontario.

That investigation prompted the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO), which regulates the province’s funeral industry, to introduce new protections outlawing some of the behaviour documented by Marketplace.

“I took action right away,” said BAO registrar Carey Smith, who noted that Arbor management came to see him immediately after the investigation and promised to change its practices.

Carey Smith is the registrar of the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO), which regulates the province’s funeral industry. (CBC)

In particular, the BAO cracked down on two specific policies: charging a handling fee when customers choose to buy a casket from another provider; and the refusal of some staff to make inexpensive caskets available for funeral services.

But when Marketplace returned to five Arbor funeral homes in Ontario earlier this year, one of those new rules wasn’t always being followed.

New findings

At one location, a salesperson refused to sell the cheapest casket to our undercover producers, who were requesting a simple service followed by cremation.

“It’s not for visitation,” she said. “Not for your funeral service.”

Watch as an Arbor salesperson refuses to sell a casket on the showroom floor:

Marketplace returned to five Arbor funeral homes in Ontario with hidden cameras to see if new guidelines around upselling are being followed. 0:34

That surprised Smith; if a casket is in a showroom, that means it’s available for sale, he said.

“I’m disappointed … We’ve had assurances that this sort of conduct won’t happen,” said Smith. “They should know better.”

Arbor Memorial’s salespeople can receive a commission on products they sell, so a more expensive casket could result in greater compensation.At two other Arbor locations visited by Marketplace, the salespeople explained customers could purchase any casket they wished, but steered them away from the least expensive option — an $890 engineered-wood pine casket — and toward caskets closer to the $2,000 range.

Watch as an Arbor salesperson steers producers toward a more costly casket:

Marketplace returned to five Arbor funeral homes in Ontario with hidden cameras to see if new guidelines around upselling are being followed. 0:49

“It’s just a beautiful casket,” one salesperson explained. “Your aunt, or your mom or dad, lose a lot of dignity when they’re going through a sickness or illness, the least you can do is give them some of that dignity back…. It’s for them.”

While such sales tactics aren’t against the rules, Smith said it’s “playing on the emotions” of a grieving consumer and could be seen as “distasteful.”

“I don’t like people preying on people’s vulnerabilities,” he said.

Marketplace also showed the video to Shane Neufeld, a former Arbor funeral director who now runs an independent business in Winnipeg. His company charges a professional fee, but sells other products, like caskets, at cost.

“I think it’s interesting that they see that the path to dignity is to spend more money,” Neufeld said of the sales pitch captured by the hidden camera. “I don’t make that connection myself.”

Arbor responds

The latest investigation found that all five Arbor homes surveyed are following a new rule around the use of an outside casket. Previously, customers who brought in a container from another provider, such as Amazon or Costco, were charged a $595 handling fee by Arbor. That fee has been eliminated.

In a statement to Marketplace, Arbor Memorial said it has “openly embraced and adopted industry-wide changes” and “significantly enhanced training programs” over the past year.

Arbor also said the company’s “top priority is to listen to our families” and an ongoing, third-party customer experience survey found that 90 per cent of the families it serves are “very satisfied.”

The company operates more than 100 funeral homes across the country, along with a number of cemeteries and crematoria.

Understanding what’s required — and what isn’t

The funeral business is unique in that its customers are often at their most vulnerable and could be particularly susceptible to sales pressure. Comparison shopping is rarely considered and customers often arrive unaware of what really needs to be done for their loved ones.

One common misconception involves embalming, which is rarely required by law and in most cases offers no public health benefit. The procedure is used to give bodies a more lifelike appearance for viewing or visitation, but refrigeration of the deceased can often serve the same function in the immediate days following death.

As more Canadians choose cremation, embalming is increasingly being used less — though funeral salespeople may continue to push it.

Randy and Monique Wright were shocked to learn embalming wasn’t required after their experience arranging a funeral for Randy’s seriously ill mother at an Arbor branch in Winnipeg.

The salesperson made them believe embalming and a viewing was required, they said.

“It would have been awful,” said Randy, noting his mother was an extremely private person who wouldn’t have wanted a viewing. “It would have made me sick.”

When Randy and Monique Wright were pre-arranging a funeral for Randy’s ailing mother, they said they were told by an Arbor salesperson that embalming was required. It was only after they saw Marketplace’s 2017 investigation that they learned that wasn’t true. (CBC)

The couple signed a contract. Then they saw Marketplace’s 2017 investigation into the practice of upselling in the funeral business.

“We were just aghast. It was like, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s us,'” recalled Monique.

The couple contacted Neufeld, who assisted the Wrights in cancelling their agreement. They said their complaint was never about the money; it was about being forced down a path they didn’t want for their loved one.

“It was about them taking advantage of us,” Monique said. “It’s unconscionable to me that they do these things. It’s despicable.”

Neufeld suggests that anyone in need of funeral services do what they would do for any other major purchase.

“The best and most effective thing for anyone is just to be educated,” he said. “Know in advance what you’re walking into. Do a little bit of research. It’s OK to call around.”

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Real Estate

The cost of renovating your bathroom in Toronto in 2021

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Home renovations can be a big task, especially bathroom renovations where you have to work with either an awkwardly shaped space, or one with lots of pipework and very little natural light.

Nonetheless, getting a bathroom renovation by Easy Renovation to change your existing bathroom layout, improve the ambience or add more natural skylights can be worth all the trouble. But determining how much a bathroom renovation would cost is important while setting a budget.

The pandemic has changed a lot of things with social distancing rules, working from home, and for some, being made redundant. Therefore, having a complete grasp of the financial implication of a bathroom innovation is very important.

Owning your dream bathroom can be made a reality and the good thing is, regardless of your financial situation, there are always available options. If you also decide to put up your property for sale in the future, a bathroom upgrade would be a great investment—as it would add significant value to the property. Your bathroom renovation project, like every home renovation, can either be very affordable or extravagant, but one thing is certain, you’re bound to have a more refreshed, stylish and modernistic space.  

Looking through detailed sketches of luxurious and expensive bathrooms can be quite tempting, especially when you’re on a budget. However, your bathroom can be equally transformed into something that looks just as modern, stylish and refreshing but without the heavy price tag.

Conducting a partial bathroom renovation means you only have to change a little part of your existing bathroom rather than tearing it down and starting from scratch. If you intend to carry out this type of bathroom renovation in Toronto, depending on the size of your bathroom, you can spend between $1,000 – $5,000. With a partial bathroom renovation, you can save money by tackling smaller problems that exist in your present bathroom—or you can just upgrade a few of its features.

Partial bathroom renovations are quite affordable and would leave your bathroom feeling new and stylish without being time-consuming or a financial burden—which is important considering the economic impact of the pandemic. Repainting the bathroom walls, replacing the tiles on the floor and in the shower area are examples of partial bathroom renovations which is the cheapest to accomplish.

A more expensive and popular bathroom renovation is the standard 3- or 4-piece renovation. This renovation type involves a lot more services that are not covered by a partial renovation budget. To execute a standard bathroom renovation in Toronto you need a budget of about $10,000 – $15,000.

Unlike with a partial renovation, you would have to make a lot more changes to various elements of your bathroom without the hassle of changing the overall design. You can easily restore your current bathroom into a modernistic and classy space that fits your existing style. Making changes to more aspects of your bathroom is quite easy since there is more room in your budget to accommodate it.

A standard 3- or 4-piece renovation includes everything in a partial renovation plus extras such as revamped baseboards, installing a new bathroom mirror, buying new lights, installing a new vanity, changing the toilet, and buying new shower fixtures.

If you’re one of those looking to make a complete overhaul of your existing bathroom, then the option of a complete bathroom remodel is for you.

Unlike a bathroom renovation, remodelling means a complete change of your current bathroom design and layout for one that is newer and completely unrecognizable. The possibilities when remodelling a bathroom are endless especially when you have a large budget of over $15,000. That way, you can get the opportunity to create the perfect bathroom for yourself.

In addition to all that’s available with a standard bathroom renovation, bathroom remodelling allows you to make bathtub to shower conversion, relocation of plumbing, relocation of the toilet, reframing the bathroom and even relocating the shower.

In conclusion, a bathroom renovation can be a very important upgrade to your home and depending on the features that you decide to include, in addition to the size of your bathroom, this would influence the total cost of the project.

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Real Estate

7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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Real Estate

‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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