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GM cuts will be painful but better now than during a recession: Don Pittis

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“It could have been worse,” will be of no comfort to those affected by the shutdown and job losses at General Motors. It has been a shock to affected families and to the communities where plants are closing.

“It’s going to affect the province, it’s going to affect the region,” said Oshawa, Ont., mayor John Henry after hearing that the historic Ontario GM plant that his community has hosted and supported for more than a century will be closing. Thousands of workers will be laid off. 

“If you look out the window right now and look at the weather, that’s the mood in the city of Oshawa,” Henry told CBC Toronto radio host Matt Galloway on an overcast Monday, shortly before GM’s official announcement. 

Silver lining

Despite the devastating impact on individual lives, the stormy grey clouds may have a silver lining. For the economy as a whole, the GM layoffs both in Canada and the U.S. could hardly have come at a better time.

For employees who are able and willing to move, experts in worker compensation said many people who are losing their jobs will be able to command good wages in an economy where many skills are in short supply.

“Canadian employers are indicating that labour shortages are becoming a growing issue,” said Brendon Bernard, economist at Indeed Canada, the online job search company.

Oshawa’s economy will suffer. But GM employees who can move will have better job prospects now than they would during a widespread economic downturn. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters) 

While the automotive sector has been shrinking in Ontario over the last decade, and there will inevitably be damaging spillover effects on an already weakened regional economy, there is still strong demand for skilled manufacturing workers, especially in Quebec and British Columbia.

While previous layoffs have come in waves during recessions, General Motors has made their move not at the bottom of an economic cycle but near the top. And that will make a big difference.

“Recessions are an especially bad time to lose a job,” said Bernard. Right now, unemployment remains at multi-year lows and the number of available skilled workers is actually shrinking.

“In both Canada and the U.S., the share of population reaching retirement age is rising,” he said.

Too cheery?

While GM’s press release may have been too cheery considering the lives of their employees at stake, there is no question that initiating changes now makes the best of something that could have been much worse.

“We recognize the need to stay in front of changing market conditions and customer preferences to position our company for long-term success,” said GM CEO Mary Barra.

Following Western Canada’s energy boom, a high loonie turned parts of Ontario’s traditional industrial heartland into a rust belt as plants closed down leaving workers in the lurch. (CBC)

Making such changes can be dangerous for a company. But continuing to do the same thing in an effort to preserve existing jobs has also proven dangerous, as happened in the U.K. when a failure to modernize led to the domestic auto industry’s downfall.

The theory of creative destruction insists that a strong economy must always be in turmoil, with vigorous companies stealing the workforce of those that are weakening.

One example from the early days of the Ottawa-based online retailer Shopify was when the company, hungry for experienced talent, brazenly scooped laid off employees right off the front lawn of IBM’s Ottawa headquarters, recalled Shopify founder and CEO Tobi Lutke in a 2013 interview.

“Why don’t we get some people out to the (IBM) office and put a recruiting booth out,” he remembers saying.

That’s exactly what they did, and when they were chased off the property by IBM, “luckily there was a government owned sidewalk nearby,” said Lutke.

Facing competition

In fact, with the increasing computerization of cars, the GM transition is part of a continuing move from metal bashing to something closer to what Shopify and IBM do, said Katie Bardaro, chief economist at PayScale, a company that monitors wages in the U.S. and Canada.

Based in Seattle, home town of Amazon and Microsoft, she knows that GM in its quest to create automated and electric powered vehicles will be competing for expensive software and engineering talent.

But she said laid off workers also have good prospects in the current tight labour market. While Canada’s unionized automotive employees are well paid, they are not your grandmother’s kind of automotive factory worker. Instead, she said they are skilled in such things as safety compliance, electronics and the management of computerized machinery.

A display screen of onboard sensors in a Google self-driving vehicle. The most expensive part of auto manufacturing now is technology and software. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

“There are a large number of skills that are far above nut tightening,” said Bardaro.

The current economy is also hungry for experienced white collar workers with a wide range of back office experience including lower level managers, accountants, and engineers who can transfer their skills to other businesses, she said.

“Research has shown that for certain jobs, you actually see a bigger pay increase if you leave your job and move to another job, regardless of whether you left from your choice or you were laid off.”

That’s small consolation for workers now contemplating the uncertainty of losing well-paying jobs they thought were nowhere near an end point. But it’s better than if the news had come a few years from now when the job market isn’t so strong. 

Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis

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Window repair or replacement is the responsibility of the condo corporation

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If the windows in your condo are hazy, drafty, or have rotting frames, it’s an indicator that they need repairs or outright replacement.

However, under the Condominium Act, it is the responsibility of the condo’s board to carry out such changes as a replaced window is a common element.

“Under the Condominium Act, a declaration may alter the maintenance or repair obligations of unit owners and the corporation but cannot make unit owners responsible for repairs to the common elements,” said Gerry Hyman is a former president of the Canadian Condominium Institute and contributor for the Star.

“A declaration for a high-rise condominium invariably provides that the unit boundary is the interior surface of windows. That means that the entire window — whether it is a single pane or a double pane — is a common element. Necessary repairs or replacement of a broken pane is the obligation of the corporation.”

According to Consumer Reports, selecting an installing windows replacement can be very overwhelming for homeowners. Therefore, if you aren’t covered by your condo’s corporation, it would be necessary to hire professional hands.

Wood, vinyl and composite windows need to be tested on how they can withstand various natural elements. For wind resistance, a window can be very tight when it’s warm but get quite cold too—especially when it begins to leak a lot.

Whatever the case may be, the bottom line remains that replacement windows can save you heating and cooling costs, but it’s best not to expect drastic savings.

Additionally, while getting a new window might help you save on your electric and gas bills, due to their expensive cost, it may take a long time to offset their cost.

Mid-last-year, the government withdraw a $377 million Green Ontario program that provided subsidy on windows to installers and repairers. Window companies had to install energy-efficient windows in order to qualify for the government subsidy that pays for up to $500 of a $1,000 to $1,500 window.

Due to the largely generous subsidies from the government under the Green Ontario program, a lot of window dealers were fully booked for months—even after the program had ended.

“We’re fine with the program ending, we just need more time to satisfy consumers,” said Jason Neal, the executive director of the Siding and Window Dealer Association of Canada, the industry group representing window dealers in a report.

According to Neal, the Progressive Conservatives acted hastily, making massive changes with no prior notice.

“No notification was given to us by anyone,” he said, noting he learned about the change through one of his dealers.

“It’s created a ripple effect.If they had just given us notice we would have pushed that down the line from the manufacturer right into the dealer right down to the consumer.”

Neal noted that he wasn’t particularly sad to see the Green Ontario program end, as it was “the worst rebate program in the history of the window industry.”

“It’s been horrible,” he said. “$500 a window has created such hysteria.”

However, despite the program ending about a year ago, numerous homeowners have been contacting window dealers consistently with concerns that they might not be able to afford replacement windows without the government’s subsidy.

“I understand their concern,” said window dealer Chris George. “I would suggest they reach out to their local representative of the government in their riding and let them know about their concerns.”

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7 Vancouver Real Estate Buying Tips

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The real estate market in Vancouver is turning around for good for everyone looking to purchase a home.

Previously soaring prices are now beginning to ease up, making it a perfect time for buyers—with real estate agents already getting ready for a very busy spring and summer season.

However, before splashing cash on a new property, there are some very important tips you need to know to ensure you make the most of the buyer’s market.

Here are some few expert tips that would guide you when purchasing a home in the sometimes frustration Vancouver seller’s market.

  1. Get adequate financing

It is very important that before you make the move to purchase a property, you put into careful consideration your credit score.

Normally, home buyers with lower scores use the secondary mortgage market to finance their purchase, as they’re more likely to pay a higher interest rate.However, it is advisable to get loan approval long before purchasing the house. This way, you are fully aware of how much you are able to spend—but never be tempted to borrow the maximum amount of money available.

“What’s your mortgage payment that you’re comfortable with? And take into the fact the taxes you’re going to have to pay, if it’s a strata – what the maintenance fees are, if it’s a home what type of maintenance are you going to have to pay in the future?” said Phil Moore, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver in a report.

Always be careful of the type of loan you secure and ensure that you can comfortably afford it over a long period of time.

  1. Get a real estate agent

Buying a property without professional help is a very risky move and can be likened to choosing to represent yourself in court without a lawyer. While you might trust your negotiation skills, only realtors are permitted to present offers directly.

Therefore, it is necessary to get a professional real estate agent in the area to represent you. So, screen a few agents and select the best one who has in-depth knowledge of the markets and has a great reputation.

“They’re there to protect you. They’re there to walk you through each step of the process,” Moore said.

  1. Sign up for automated alerts

Most—if not all—realtors have access to the Vancouver real estate board’s database which is updated approximately two days before the public MLS website.

Therefore, you can request from your realtor to sign you up for automatic real-time alerts of all new listings. Doing this gives you an edge as you’re among the very first to know about new properties.

  1. Do a thorough inspection

After receiving an alert for a new listing, it is necessary to push almost immediately for an inspection from your realtor. In this current market, buyers now have time to make an inspection.

Making a quick inspection eliminates any surprises—as there could be major maintenance or repair issues that could spring up. Therefore, you can now table your offer based on the outcome of the inspection, with clauses about claiming your damage deposit back if everything isn’t as was advertised.

Additionally, if you notice that renovations were done, you need to be sure that it was permitted work and carried out appropriately. Failing to do this would ultimately lead to further cost down the line and simultaneously affect the resale value.

  1. Have a back-up plan

There’s always the possibility that everything may not go as smoothly as you’d want. From the inspection being a failureto the property not living up to your expectations—or not being able to agree on the closing date that matches with your needs.

However, a professional real estate agent will definitely help you get past all of these things. If you plan on selling the property as you buy, you can table that and make it part of the deal.

“You’ve got an option, especially in a buyer’s market: you can put in an offer subject to selling your place. So maybe you want to have a place lined up,” Moore added.

Additionally, building contingencies into your buying plan is necessary. Things such as unexpected delays in closing the deal, closing cost and moving costs that could result in added living expenses if that’s your permanent home.

  1. Don’t fall for the buyer frenzy

The Vancouver market buying frenzy that caused a serious climb in the prices a couple of years ago has ended. Thus, it is important not to get caught up in bidding wars with properties that have been deliberately under-priced—with the hope of initiating multiple offers.

“Some of the sellers have been on the market for over a year and they’re eager to sell. So what I’m saying to consumers is: you have a lot of choices, you’re in the driver’s seat, let’s go out and take a look at what’s available,” said Moore.

  1. Never be wary of multiple offers

When purchasing a property, don’t be afraid of multiple offers as you have the same opportunity as anybody else.

Typically, there are just a few offers below the asking price: a couple priced fully, and two or three above the asking price—depending on how close the fair market value is from the asking price.

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Do you know what kind of condo you’re buying?

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(NC) Condominiums can come in all shapes and sizes. But it’s important to know that not all condos are created equal when it comes to warranty coverage.

Whether you’re buying a condominium townhouse, loft-style two-bedroom or a high-rise studio, they are all classified as condominiums if you own your unit while at the same time share access (and the associated fees) for facilities ranging from pools and parking garages to elevators and driveways, otherwise known as common elements.

The most common types of condos are standard condominiums and common elements condominiums. The determination of how a condominium project is designated happens during the planning stage when the builder proposes the project and the municipality approves it.

When you’re in the market to buy, you need to know how your chosen condo is classified because it affects the warranty coverage under the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act. Standard condominiums have warranty coverage for units and common elements, but common elements condominiums only have unit coverage.

How could this affect you as the owner? If your condo complex has underground parking and, for example, there are problems with leaks or a faulty door, the condo designation will determine whether there’s warranty coverage.

If your unit is a standard condominium development, then the common elements warranty may cover the repairs. If it’s a common element condominium development, then repairs might have to be covered by the condo corporation’s insurance, which could impact your condo fees or require a special assessment on all the owners.

To avoid surprises, you should have a real estate lawyer review the Declaration and Description attached to your purchase agreement to be sure that you know the designation and boundaries of the unit you’re looking to purchase. Find more information on the types of condos and their coverage at tarion.com.

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