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How real estate agents can protect themselves at work | REM




Another real estate agent has died, thanks to the vulnerability of working alone in an empty house.

The 33-year-old Annapolis agent was alone in an empty model home when he met a violent end. Someone came in, murdered him right there in his workplace, and left. No one has been charged.

I know what you’re thinking. “That’s Annapolis, not here, so it’s not really my problem.”

I don’t blame you. It’s hard to take something seriously when terrible things happen everywhere all the time. We naturally want to think bad things happen “over there” and “to them” and not to us.

But where I live in Winnipeg these things happen too. The unsolved murder of Irene Pearson for one, then there was this 2008 attempted assault where the agent escaped, and this 2007 sexual assault where the agent didn’t get away. Then there are the countless close-call stories that don’t make it into the news.

Like my friend who got a call from a guy who said he was moving to the city because of his business, needed a fast possession and wanted to see vacant homes in the Tuxedo area. She said she’d look up a list of homes and call him back at his hotel. She got his name, number and the name of his hotel, and promised to call him back at 4 p.m. After hanging up with him, she called the hotel to confirm such a person was even there. They had no one there by that name. Big red flag. She was smart to check.

And these are just stories from Winnipeg. You start looking up news stories from across Canada and your day gets a whole lot darker. Agents get attacked, robbed and murdered at work.

It happens.

A lot.

And it’s scary.

It’s also completely unnecessary.

I’m a passionate advocate for excellent customer service and going above and beyond the call of duty to serve my clients, but I’m also passionate about client property security and my own personal protection.

The fact is, real estate agents are at risk when hosting open houses. Thankfully, there is something we can do.

Limit access – even at open houses 

Years ago, near the beginning of my career, I walked up the sidewalk to a house with my clients in order to show them the house they were considering. We walked in and started looking around. Moments later, a guy – could be a neighbour, could be a thief, I didn’t know – opened the door, walked in and asked if he could look around too.

Umm… no? I explained it wasn’t an open house, but that I was showing my clients; this was a prearranged appointment. If he wanted a peek, he’d have to wait for the open house or make an appointment.

I was stunned that a complete stranger would just walk into another person’s home, feeling quite free to do so, and expect to be allowed to wander around unfettered. Really? I wondered how many others felt this way, and imagined more people casually wandering in while I was showing my clients another floor and completely unaware anyone else had come in. The guy left, and I locked the door. I’ve been locking the door ever since. I do this at open houses too, by the way.

I post a sign that says, “Welcome, I’m showing the home right now, please wait here.” This allows me to connect with the people looking and do what I can to show the property in the best possible light while protecting myself and my sellers from random people with who knows what motives and agendas from coming in and doing whatever they want.

One word: Vetting 

Prequalify potential buyers. We are not obligated to show a home every Tom, Dick and Harriet who “wants to see”. On the contrary, that’s a sure way to aggravate your sellers and put everyone at risk. Instead, we should identify buyers.

Luckily, the federal FINTRAC laws are on our side, requiring us to identify the buyers when there’s an attempted transaction. Use that. The minute someone steps into your car or onto your property, get some I.D.  Getting their driver’s license is a good start. If they don’t proceed, shred it. But if you have their information, at least if something happens to you, the property or the buyer’s possessions, you have a bit of recourse.

Wave bye-bye to lookie loos

Listen. Agent to agent, I know people sometimes get squirrelly about giving the smallest amount of information about why they’re calling. They don’t want agents asking whether they’re pre-approved, or other questions about their needs. So, asking for I.D could get people feeling downright antagonistic. Especially if they “just want to look”. Who wants that hassle? I get it.

Here’s the thing. People like that most likely aren’t serious buyers. More and more, those who are serious, actual buyers are understanding the need to be pre-approved, well-informed and even represented before they even begin house hunting. This is becoming the norm. The random lookie-loos who want to nose around strangers’ houses unencumbered on a Sunday afternoon are not worth the risk to your sellers or to you.

Here’s my suggestion. When someone calls wanting to look at a house, get their info. Then confirm the info. Meet them first at your office (or coffee shop) with the “how can I help you” attitude and if they don’t want to do that, recommend to them that their best course of action is to attend an open house when it’s offered.

Then don’t worry about whether there is an open house on that property or not. Just politely wave bye-bye and move on. Our seller clients will appreciate your professional approach. Mine most certainly do as they know when I ask for them to leave for a showing, I have confirmed the prospective buyer’s ability to buy. We are real estate professionals, not TV reality show personalities.

Don’t go alone 

The vulnerability of working an empty house is the solitude of it. Protect yourself by breaking that solitude. There a few ways to do that. Bring a friend or another agent with you. You could also pre-arrange a buddy check-in system where you check in with someone before, during and after your time there. If you miss a call, someone calls you or comes by in person. Introduce yourself to the neighbours and let them know you’re there. Have a sign-in sheet for every person who comes in to the open house. There are even personal safety apps.

There are options. Real estate agents don’t have to be completely vulnerable, even if we do choose to host open houses (or inspect houses or do whatever else we do that leaves us in buildings alone for hours).

Have you ever felt at risk?

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Real Estate

5 ways to reduce your mortgage amortization





Since the pandemic hit, a lot of Canadians have been affected financially and if you’re on a mortgage, reducing your amortization period can be of great help.

A mortgage amortization period is the amount of time it would take a homeowner to completely pay off their mortgage. The amortization is typically an estimate based on what the interest rate for your current term is. Calculating your amortization is done easily using a loan amortization calculator which shows you the different payment schedules within your amortization period.

 In Canada, if you made a down payment that is less than the recommended 20 per cent of the total cost of your home, then the longest amortization period you’re allowed to have is 25 years. The mortgage amortization period not only affects the length of time it would take to completely repay the loan, but also the amount of interest paid over the lifecycle of the mortgage.

Typically, longer amortization periods involve making smaller monthly payments and having a much higher total interest cost over the duration of the mortgage. While on the other hand, shorter amortization periods entails making larger monthly payments and having lower total interest costs.

It’s the dream of every homeowner to become mortgage-free. A general rule of thumb would be to try and keep your monthly mortgage costs as low as possible—preferably below 30 per cent of your monthly income. Over time, you may become more financially stable by either getting a tax return, a bonus or an additional source of income and want to channel that towards your principal.

There are several ways to keep your monthly mortgage payments low and reduce your amortization. Here are a few ways to achieve that goal:

1. Make a larger down payment

Once you’ve decided to buy a home, always consider putting asides some significant amount of money that would act as a down payment to reduce your monthly mortgage. While the recommended amount to put aside as a down payment is 20 per cent,  if you aren’t in a hurry to purchase the property or are more financial buoyant, you can even pay more.

Essentially, the larger your down payment, the lower your mortgage would be as it means you’re borrowing less money from your lender. However, if you pay at least 20 per cent upfront, there would be no need for you to cover the additional cost of private mortgage insurance which would save you some money.

2. Make bi-weekly payments

Most homeowners make monthly payments which amount to 12 payments every year. But if your bank or lender offers the option of accelerated bi-weekly payment, you will be making an equivalent of one more payment annually. Doing this will further reduce your amortization period by allowing you to pay off your mortgage much faster.

3. Have a fixed renewal payment

It is normal for lenders to offer discounts on interest rate during your amortization period. However, as you continuously renew your mortgage at a lower rate, always keep a fixed repayment sum.

Rather than just making lower payments, you can keep your payments static, since the more money applied to your principal, the faster you can clear your mortgage.

4. Increase your payment amount

Many mortgages give homeowners the option to increase their payment amount at least once a year. Now, this is very ideal for those who have the financial capacity to do so because the extra money would be added to your principal.

Irrespective of how small the increase might be, in the long run, it would make a huge difference. For example, if your monthly mortgage payment is about $2,752 per month. It would be in your best interest to round it up to $2,800 every month. That way, you are much closer to reducing your mortgage amortization period.

5. Leverage on prepayment privileges

The ability for homeowners to make any form of prepayment solely depends on what mortgage features are provided by their lender.

With an open mortgage, you can easily make additional payments at any given time. However, if you have a closed mortgage—which makes up the larger percentage of existing mortgages—you will need to check if you have the option of prepayments which would allow you to make extra lump sum payments.

Additionally, there may also be the option to make extra lump sum payments at the end of your existing mortgage term before its time for renewal.

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Real Estate

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: What you need to know





Your home is likely the biggest asset you’ll ever own. So how can you protect it in case something were to happen to you? To start, homeowners have a few options to choose from. You can either:

  • ensure you have mortgage protection with a life insurance policy from an insurance company or
  • get mortgage insurance from a bank or mortgage lender.

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: How do they each work?  

The first thing to know is that life insurance can be a great way to make sure you and your family have mortgage protection.

The money from a life insurance policy usually goes right into the hands of your beneficiaries – not the bank or mortgage lender. Your beneficiaries are whoever you choose to receive the benefit or money from your policy after you die.

Life insurance policies, like term life insurance, come with a death benefit. A death benefit is the amount of money given to your beneficiaries after you die. The exact amount they’ll receive depends on the policy you buy.

With term life insurance, you’re covered for a set period, such as 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. The premium – that’s the monthly or annual fee you pay for insurance – is usually low for the first term.

If you die while you’re coved by your life insurance policy, your beneficiaries will receive a tax-free death benefit. They can then use this money to help pay off the mortgage or for any other reason. So not only is your mortgage protected, but your family will also have funds to cover other expenses that they relied on you to pay.

Mortgage insurance works by paying off the outstanding principal balance of your mortgage, up to a certain amount, if you die.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes directly to the bank or lender to pay off the mortgage – and that’s it. There’s no extra money to cover other expenses, and you don’t get to leave any cash behind to your beneficiaries.

What’s the difference between mortgage insurance and life insurance?

The main difference is that mortgage insurance covers only your outstanding mortgage balance. And, that money goes directly to the bank or mortgage lender, not your beneficiary. This means that there’s no cash, payout or benefit given to your beneficiary. 

With life insurance, however, you get mortgage protection and more. Here’s how it works: every life insurance policy provides a tax-free amount of money (the death benefit) to the beneficiary. The payment can cover more than just the mortgage. The beneficiary may then use the money for any purpose. For example, apart from paying off the mortgage, they can also use the funds from the death benefit to cover:

  • any of your remaining debts,
  • the cost of child care,
  • funeral costs,
  • the cost of child care, and
  • any other living expenses. 

But before you decide between life insurance and mortgage insurance, here are some other important differences to keep in mind:

Who gets the money?

With life insurance, the money goes to whomever you name as your beneficiary.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes entirely to the bank.

Can you move your policy?

With life insurance, your policy stays with you even if you transfer your mortgage to another company. There’s no need to re-apply or prove your health is good enough to be insured.

With mortgage insurance, however, your policy doesn’t automatically move with you if you change mortgage providers. If you move your mortgage to another bank, you’ll have to prove that your health is still good.

Which offers more flexibility, life insurance or mortgage insurance?

With life insurance, your beneficiaries have the flexibility to cover the mortgage balance and more after you die. As the policy owner, you can choose how much insurance coverage you want and how long you need it. And, the coverage doesn’t decline unless you want it to.

With mortgage insurance through a bank, you don’t have the flexibility to change your coverage. In this case, you’re only protecting the outstanding balance on your mortgage.

Do you need a medical exam to qualify? 

With a term life insurance policy from Sun Life, you may have to answer some medical questions or take a medical exam before you’re approved for coverage. Once you’re approved, Sun Life won’t ask for any additional medical information later on.

With mortgage insurance, a bank or mortgage lender may ask some medical questions when you apply. However, if you make a claim after you’re approved, your bank may ask for additional medical information.* At that point, they may discover some conditions that disqualify you from receiving payment on a claim.

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Real Estate

5 common mistakes Canadians make with their mortgages





This article was created by MoneyWise. Postmedia and MoneyWise may earn an affiliate commission through links on this page.

Since COVID-19 dragged interest rates to historic lows last year, Canadians have been diving into the real estate market with unprecedented verve.

During a time of extraordinary financial disruption, more than 551,000 properties sold last year — a new annual record, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. Those sales provided a desperately needed dose of oxygen for the country’s gasping economy.

Given the slew of new mortgages taken out in 2020, there were bound to be slip-ups. So, MoneyWise asked four of the country’s sharpest mortgage minds to share what they feel are the mistakes Canadians most frequently make when securing a home loan.

Mistake 1: Not having your documents ready

One of your mortgage broker’s primary functions is to provide lenders with paperwork confirming your income, assets, source of down payment and overall reliability as a borrower. Without complete and accurate documentation, no reputable lender will be able to process your loan.

But “borrowers often don’t have these documents on hand,” says John Vo of Spicer Vo Mortgages in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “And even when they do provide these documents, they may not be the correct documentation required.”

Some of the most frequent mistakes Vo sees when borrowers send in their paperwork include:

  • Not including a name or other relevant details on key pieces of information.
  • Providing old bank or pay statements instead of those dated within the last 30 days.
  • Sending only a partial document package. If a lender asks for six pages to support your loan, don’t send two. If you’re asked for four months’ worth of bank statements, don’t provide only one.
  • Thinking low-quality or blurry files sent by email or text will be good enough. Lenders need to be able to read what you send them.

If you send your broker an incomplete documents package, the result is inevitable: Your mortgage application will be delayed as long as it takes for you to find the required materials, and your house shopping could be sidetracked for months.

Mistake 2: Blinded by the rate

Ask any mortgage broker and they’ll tell you that the question they’re asked most frequently is: “What’s your lowest rate?”

The interest rate you’ll pay on your mortgage is a massive consideration, so comparing the rates lenders are offering is a good habit once you’ve slipped on your house-hunter hat.

Rates have been on the rise lately given government actions to stimulate the Canadian economy. You may want to lock a low rate now, so you can hold onto it for up to 120 days.

But Chris Kolinski, broker at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based iSask Mortgages, says too many borrowers get obsessed with finding the lowest rate and ignore the other aspects of a mortgage that can greatly impact its overall cost.

“I always ask my clients ‘Do you want to get the best rate, or do you want to save the most money?’ because those two things are not always synonymous,” Kolinski says. “That opens a conversation about needs and wants.”

Many of the rock-bottom interest rates on offer from Canadian lenders can be hard to qualify for, come with limited features, or cost borrowers “a ton” of money if they break their terms, Kolinski points out.

Mistake 3: Not reading the fine print

Dalia Barsoum of Streetwise Mortgages in Woodbridge, Ontario, shares a universal message: “Read the fine print. Understand what you’re signing up for.”

Most borrowers don’t expect they’ll ever break their mortgages, but data collected by TD Bank shows that 7 in 10 homeowners move on from their properties earlier than they expect.

It’s critical to understand your loan’s prepayment privileges and the rules around an early departure. “If you exit the mortgage, how much are you going to pay? It’s really, really important,” Barsoum says.

She has seen too borrowers come to her hoping to refinance a mortgage they received from a private or specialty lender, only to find that what they were attempting was impossible.

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