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Echoes of Christmases past are part of the magic of this 158-year-old Halton Region home

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As the Winchell family makes new holiday memories with their three young children, they are surrounded by echoes of Christmases past.

Their Halton Region house — fully modern on the inside — has a cut stone exterior that dates back to 1860, when families celebrated Christmas by lamplight and adorned their tree with homemade decorations.

Sheila and Brett Winchell with, from left, son Lennox 4, Pearl, 2-1/2, boxer Bowie and 2-month-old daughter Neve. The fireplace in their refurbished Featherstone Farmhouse was constructed from the original 1860s home’s timber and stone.
Sheila and Brett Winchell with, from left, son Lennox 4, Pearl, 2-1/2, boxer Bowie and 2-month-old daughter Neve. The fireplace in their refurbished Featherstone Farmhouse was constructed from the original 1860s home’s timber and stone.  (J.P. MOCZULSKI / Toronto Star)

Known as the Featherstone Farmhouse, the refurbished home is the work of Sedgwick Marshall Heritage Homes, a company founded in 2004 by Mandy Sedgwick and Mirella Marshall, who bonded over their mutual love for older houses while working on a volunteer project restoring an 1865 blacksmith shop in Halton Region. Marshall had been running a country shop on her farm; Sedgwick was working as a quarry dispatcher. They both lived in century homes and were concerned about the region’s old houses being torn down to make way for new housing developments.

“We decided to pool our money, buy an old house, redo it and sell and move on to the next, saving one house at a time,” recalls Marshall. “We knew we weren’t going to be rich, but we were restoring houses and putting them back into circulation.”

Since then, the company has restored about a dozen old houses. It’s expanded into consulting and design, renovations and custom homebuilding, with a team that includes an architectural technologist and carpenter. Segwick and Marshall now restore old properties for builders who buy sites with heritage-designated structures that must be preserved.

“We love doing this and want to make sure houses are saved and someone else can enjoy them for another 100 years,” Marshall says. “It’s a lot of fun and interesting stuff happens. These houses become our babies. We want to sell to someone who loves and appreciates the homes and we felt (the Winchell) family was the right fit.”

NOW: The 1860-era home was rebuilt with a modern interior. "It was breath-taking and has such history," says Sheila Winchell, with husband Brett and son Lennox, and daughters Pearl and baby Neve.
NOW: The 1860-era home was rebuilt with a modern interior. “It was breath-taking and has such history,” says Sheila Winchell, with husband Brett and son Lennox, and daughters Pearl and baby Neve.  (J.P. MOCZULSKI/Toronto Star)

The Featherstone Farmhouse was historically and architecturally important as a rare example of a five-bay — a design with five openings — Regency Cottage built with cut stone. It was set along a creek on land planned for a future park but because the structure was in such poor condition, it couldn’t be moved. The heritage authority recommended it be deconstructed and rebuilt. When the builder who owned the land offered it to Sedgwick Marshall, they accepted and bought a lot in a new subdivision and rebuilt its shell.

“A stone mason took it down, numbered the stone and put it back up to replicate the original. Inside, it’s all new,” says Marshall. They used new doors and windows, but recreated the front door detail and used wood windows to match the old house’s era. Moulding and basements were also recreated.

THEN: The original home was built on the bank of a creek and had fallen into disrepair.
THEN: The original home was built on the bank of a creek and had fallen into disrepair.  (Sedgwick Marshall)

The original house was built around 1860 by William and Lexey Kennedy. In 1865, it was bought by W.L.P. Eager, deputy clerk of the Crown and clerk of the Surrogate Court for Halton County who, in 1885, sold it to Emerson Featherstone. It remained in the prominent farming family for 122 years.

“The Featherstone Farmhouse is one of my favourite houses we’ve worked on,” says Sedgwick. “I love the Regency Cottage style and seeing it brought to life is very satisfying.”

Sheila and Brett Winchell fell in love with the replicated house at first sight three years ago.

“We’ve always loved heritage homes, with their beauty and so much charm,” says Sheila. “My husband and I would drive around older neighbourhoods looking at heritage plaques on the homes. We never thought we’d own one.”

Large windows draw natural light into the Winchell family's modern dining room decorated with a nod to the home's past.
Large windows draw natural light into the Winchell family’s modern dining room decorated with a nod to the home’s past.  (J.P. MOCZULSKI/Toronto sTar)

When their second child was on the way, the Winchells found they’d outgrown their first home in Oakville. Sheila found the stone cottage during an internet search, after it had been on the market for less than week.

“We got an appointment to see it the next morning and made an offer the same day,” she says. “It was breathtaking and has such history. The builders did an incredible job on it. It was so easy to fall in love with it. I had tears in my eyes as I went through it.”

Now, the family is looking forward to enjoying their third Christmas in their home with their brood that includes son Lennox, 4, and daughters Pearl, 2, and infant Neve, 2 months.

The Winchell's modern, open kitchen includes design elements ? like the raised panel cabinetry ? that are a tribute to the structure's heritage.
The Winchell’s modern, open kitchen includes design elements ? like the raised panel cabinetry ? that are a tribute to the structure’s heritage.  (J.P. MOCZULSKI/Toronto sTar)

“Traditions are really important to me,” says Sheila. “We decorated the tree December 1 and put up decorations. We’ll spend Christmas morning at our house and after the presents are opened, we’ll go to Midland for my family’s celebration.”

There’s a year-round tradition the Winchells also enjoy: making the short walk to the park and the site to where their house’s stone structure once stood and passing the plaque that tells its history.

“The owners have the best of both worlds,” says Marshall. “They have a brand new home with an amazing story.”

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‘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. HomeYou’ve been selected.Only $1.49/week for your first 4 months.Special offer just for you. Unlimited access.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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A Simplified Guide for Toronto First-Time Home Buyers

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Toronto is the largest city in Canada, the fourth largest city in North America, which makes it an exciting place to live in.

But as with other major cities, finding the perfect place to move to can get tricky. If you’re planning on buying a home for the first time in this city, it is indeed a big decision and there are things you should know in advance.

Don’t worry, this guide will help explain the basics of what you as a buyer should know when you decide to buy a home. It will make you feel like a true expert during the buying process.

Decide what type of home you are looking for

There is no right answer to what makes a good home. It all depends on your preferences and needs as the resident. It is, therefore, a good idea to determine as early as possible which features of a home are important to you. If you are buying a home and moving in with someone, it can be a good idea for both of you to make a list and compare.

Toronto is a city that offers different styles of living accommodations and its neighborhoods are quite versatile and diverse, same as the people living there who come from all parts of the world.

The most common forms of housing and real estate opportunities in this city include bungalows, two-storey houses, split-level homes, and the very popular Toronto condos. Due to the high property values, the city boasts of construction of many condominiums as they are a more cost-efficient choice and provide a plethora of benefits.

When you decide on the type of home you want to buy, it is good to do some research and learn the biggest differences between them.

What to think of when choosing homes in Toronto

There are certain things you need to consider when choosing your home in this city. 

Being close to the things you need to visit every day makes life a lot easier. Pay attention to the proximity to shops, preschools, schools, and your job. In addition, access to good public transportation is crucial. Being able to move around the city easily and the opportunity to commute is important to many.

Know that having a balcony can significantly increase the value of your home and improve your well-being. Being able to move easily in the area is something that many people underestimate, but can be very convenient, and this is why you should see if there are good cycles and walking paths. 

And finally, make sure that the house is well designed which is a quality that does not disappear with the age of the house or with renovations. 

Set your budget

Before you start the search for your new home, you must know how expensive of a home you can buy. It is preferable to know in what price range to look for. The budget is usually decided based on your mortgage and how large are the monthly costs you can handle.

A mortgage is always about a balance between risk and income for the bank. The higher the risk for the bank to lend to a particular home, the more expensive the mortgage will be. When it comes to the bank’s reasoning when applying for a loan, it is in principle always a question of whether you as a borrower will be able to repay the mortgage.

The bank also takes into account your financial history. If you are a person who has managed your finances well, the chance increases that you will get your mortgage approved. If, on the other hand, you have a bad reputation with banks, it is weighed in as an aggravating circumstance.

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