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Fort McMurray’s Julio Florez is “a true treasure” | REM





Fort McMurray, Alta. Realtor Julio Florez has won so many awards he has trouble keeping track of them.

Recently he hit the mother lode as the national winner of the first-ever A.E. LePage Realtor of the Year award, presented to him at Royal LePage’s national sales conference as homage to his productivity, community service, leadership and brand engagement.

A dedicated fund raiser for the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation serving women and children who have experienced domestic violence, earlier in 2018 Florez was also named Realtor of the Year for the Prairie region. (As for his other various accolades past and present, when reminded by REM that he’d won these, he replied, “I did?”)

Florez, who has an associate broker’s license, has been with Royal LePage True North Realty in the notorious oil boomtown of Fort McMurray for the entirety of his 14-year real estate career. He’s participated as a director on the local board and provincial association and is well known in the community for his work with everything from charities and soup kitchens to sports teams, the arts, the hospital board, new immigrants and youth.

He’s happy to be considered an inspiration and his colleagues certainly seem to have no trouble singing his praises. Says one: “I’m not sure I have known anyone else who simply naturally attracts admiration from people. Julio is first in line to volunteer to do almost everything.”

Julio Florez (Photo by Greg Halinda)
Julio Florez (Photo by Greg Halinda)

On a charity fund-raising trek in Peru a few years back, even the contents of Florez’s pack turned out to be an indication of his character.

“I had one of the smallest packs of anyone, but out of it I pulled things for everyone – water, Band-Aids, anything at all that was needed,” he says. His carryall was pretty much a bottomless source of goodwill. His fellow travelers took to calling it the “magic pack.”

Florez’s broker, Marian Barry, says: “He’s a true treasure. His positive attitude is contagious. Over the years I have received so many compliments on his willingness to help others.” She recalls that Florez was “a strength and a calm” for all during the record-breaking wildfire that ravaged Fort McMurray in 2016, resulting in the reported loss of about one-fifth of the municipality’s housing.

Barry continues: “On a personal note, Julio suffered an incredible loss with the death of his son two years ago. How he maintained his composure and good nature, I don’t know.”

Florez clearly is no stranger to hardship and heartache. Originally from Bogota, Colombia, where he served with distinction on the national police force, he was appointed as a deputy district commander with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Cambodia.

“Terrible,” he recalls. “Ever since then I have realized the importance of helping others. There was no food to buy. I would see people spending hours beside a pond trying to catch a frog to eat.”

Even he wound up eating snake. He had been having it for lunch for quite awhile in fact, before someone explained to him that that’s what it was. “It tastes good,” he says, laughing.

He wound up in Canada over 20 years ago and was soon supervising an oil plant camp in Fort McMurray, the heart of Canadian oil production. Later he worked for the municipality as a network analyst. He credits his interest in finance and his love of learning with giving him the confidence to eventually jump into real estate and rise quickly through the ranks, to the point where he has often been among Royal LePage’s top salespeople provincially and nationally.

“I am a huge fan of this beautiful country,” Florez says, adding that to prove it, he has a Canadian flag painted on his left big toenail and is planning to get another one tattooed on his calf.

“Coming from Cambodia and Colombia, the tranquility, the sense of peace and safety we have here, is huge,” he says. “Most Canadians would think that living in Fort McMurray is not ideal, but it’s a great community. We were hurt by the fire, but we continue to move forward.”

He recalls that the local Canadian Tire outlet was a trailer when he first arrived in town. Now it’s “a beautiful store.” The local recreation/leisure centre is among the largest in the country, and the community has plenty to offer, he says.

When he was a new agent in 2005, the real estate market in Fort McMurray was crazy busy.

“There was huge demand. Places were selling so fast,” he says. “Times have changed with oil prices coming down so much. The value of condos has come down 50 per cent since the peak prices of 2012 to 2014. Rental prices as well are down 50 per cent. And single-family homes are down about 20 to 25 per cent.”

It’s no skin off this optimist’s nose.

“New rules come and go. We find a way of adjusting.”

The Fort McMurray market is unique, with a large proportion of residents sticking around for just a few years while working for the oil companies, some with housing programs provided. Florez has noticed that there tends to be a five to 10-year rotation.

“You have to identify this type of market and you must keep in contact because when they sell you want to be there,” he says.  “I work a lot. I put in the time. It’s a job that requires proper follow-up and putting the customers’ interests above everything.”

Florez is impressed with the Canadian real estate system, believing it to be among the best organized in the world.

“We have to care for the industry, give back to it, get involved in organized real estate,” he says. “We have to co-operate with each other and think about what kind of profession we want to leave our children.”


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Real Estate

7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary





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





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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Real Estate

10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers





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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