Tuesday, January 23, 2007

500 Ontario School Teachers Become Millionaires

500 property owners from Ontario chose to become millionaires by selling out to a Florida developer.

The US$510 million deal from a land developer was accepted by the residents of Briny Breezes trailer park in Palm Beach County, Florida.

Applause reportedly rang out in a large Quonset hut erected in the park as the owners voted 82 % in favor of the multi-million dollar offer. Each person who owns a trailer is slated to receive just over US$1 million in two years when the deal is completed.

Briny Breezes' 43-acre property is surrounded by high-end condominiums and beach front properties. Boca Raton-based Ocean Land Investments plans to build more condos on the site that will sell for around US$3 million each.

Ocean Land Investments sees the patch of land as a big investment.

The prime piece of real estate in Florida and perhaps in the south-east (United States).

The deal will make a group of school teachers from Port Colborne unexpectedly wealthy. About 15 years ago they each bought properties at Briny Breezes as a place to escape the Canadian winter.

They initial investment was around $50,000". Vote result means he will cash in for about $1.2 million.

Briny Breezes is a corporation and each of the owners hold shares. For that reason they had to vote on whether they would accept the deal.

Identity Theft in Canada

Privacy took center stage in Canada late last week as TJX Cos., the parent company of retail giants Winners and HomeSense, disclosed that as many as two million Canadian credit cards may have been accessed by computer hackers. Less than 24 hours later, the CIBC revealed that account information for 470,000 customers had been lost when a computer file went missing while in transit between company offices.

New RCMP's Headquarters in Barrhaven

The Liberals are being urged to support plans to move the RCMP's headquarters to Barrhaven.

Nepean-Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre and a few City Councillors have sent a letter to Hull-Aylmer MP Marcel Proulx demanding to know the position.

The Federal Government has finalized a deal to move the RCMP to the old JDS Uniphase building in Barrhaven.

Kanata Residents to Blame Kanata Hydro and Councillor

Councillor is telling Kanata residents to blame Kanata Hydro for the recent power problems.

5,000 Kanata customers spent a few hours in the dark Monday morning.

Councillor, the Chair of Energy Ottawa, says frequent blackouts in the area are probably the result of the former utility rushing through the installation of infrastructure during the time when Kanata was growing rapidly.

Councillor tells Ottawa is committed to fixing problems with the hydro system in Kanata.

Almost one third of Hydro Ottawa's infrastructure money is being spent in Kanata.

Kanata Residents to Blame Kanata Hydro and Councillor

Councillor is telling Kanata residents to blame Kanata Hydro for the recent power problems.

5,000 Kanata customers spent a few hours in the dark Monday morning.

Councillor, the Chair of Energy Ottawa, says frequent blackouts in the area are probably the result of the former utility rushing through the installation of infrastructure during the time when Kanata was growing rapidly.

Councillor tells Ottawa is committed to fixing problems with the hydro system in Kanata.

Almost one third of Hydro Ottawa's infrastructure money is being spent in Kanata.

Tories Plan $5,000 Grants for "Green" Home Improvements.

The federal Conservatives yesterday dangled the promise of $5,000 rebates for energy-efficient home renovations.

Natural Resources Minister announced the program yesterday at the Metro Home Show in Toronto, saying Canadians can apply for grants of up to $5,000 to make homes and businesses more energy efficient as part of a $300 million program.

All Canadians regardless of their income will be eligible and the size of their grant will depend on how much they can realize in gains in becoming more energy efficient.

Details of the program, such as how to apply, are not being released until April.

Big-ticket items like new windows, insulation, furnaces and energy-efficient appliances would all be eligible under the program. And he added measures as simple as installing a programmable thermostat would also make a huge difference.

The plan calls for homeowners and small business to first pay for an energy audit and the retrofit before applying for the rebate.

An energy audit of a house can cost $200 to $300. And new windows, for instance, can easily cost $5,000 for a small home.

I don't think you will get as many people taking advantage of it simply because of the upfront costs and then you don't know if you are going to get it.

Last year, the Conservative government scrapped a new five-year, $500 million program proposed by the Liberals called EnerGuide for Low Income Households, which would have paid the full cost of renovations to improve energy use for low-income earners.

The Tories continue to come under fire for their sudden interest in global warming when many of the programs announced in the past week – totalling $2 billion over several years – are dusted off or watered down Liberal plans killed in last year's Tory budget.

Despite this, Stephen Dupuis, CEO of the Greater Toronto Home Builders Association and Urban Development Institute, gave the Conservative plan two thumbs up, while Toronto Mayor David Miller gave the announcement polite support.

The $300 million so-called ecoENERGY Efficiency Initiative spread out over four years has three components:
  • A $220 million retrofit program aimed at helping homeowners and small and medium businesses make the necessary energy efficiency improvements with grants up to $5,000.
  • A $60 million program to promote the use of the latest energy efficient practices in new buildings.
  • A fund of $20 million to encourage the industrial sector to accelerate energy saving investments.
Canada's 13 million homes and 380,000 commercial, industrial and retail buildings use 30 % of the country's energy, and are responsible for almost 30 % of greenhouse gas emissions.

The former Liberal government EnerGuide program as being administratively top heavy with too few dollars finding their way back to consumers' pocket.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Ottawa Housing is the Most Affordable

Ottawa is the most affordable cities in Canada for home buyers.

Ottawa ranks as the 5th most affordable city — behind three prairie cities and Quebec City.

The rankings were based on how many years it would take to purchase a house in each location, looking at median income and the median house prices in each location.

In Ottawa, where the median house price was $201,500 and median household income was $70,300, it would take 2.9 years of annual income to purchase a house.

Chlorinated Water in Ottawa May Raise Bladder Cancer Risk

Drinking, bathing or swimming in chlorinated water in Ottawa may increase the risk of bladder cancer.

The findings are the first to suggest that these chemicals can be harmful when they are inhaled or absorbed through the skin, as well as when they are ingested.

Chemicals, most commonly chlorine, used to disinfect water in your house or pool can produce by-products that have been tied to increased cancer risk. The most prevalent chlorination by-products, chemicals called trihalomethanes (THM), can be absorbed into the body through the skin or by inhalation.

To investigate lifetime THM exposure and bladder cancer risk, the researchers matched 1,219 men and women with bladder cancer to 1,271 control individuals who did not have the disease, surveying them about their exposure to chlorinated water via drinking water, swimming pools, showering and bathing. The researchers also analyzed the average water THM levels.

People living in Ottawa households with an average household water THM level of more than 49 micrograms per liter had double the bladder cancer risk of those living in households where water THM concentration was below 8 micrograms per liter. THM levels of about 50 micrograms per liter are common in industrialized societies.

Study participants who drank chlorinated water were at 35% greater risk of bladder cancer than those who didn't, while use of swimming pools boosted bladder cancer risk by 57%. And those who took longer showers or baths and lived in municipalities with higher THM levels were also at increased cancer risk.

When THM is absorbed through the skin or lungs, it may have a more powerful carcinogenic effect because it does not undergo detoxification via the liver.

If confirmed elsewhere, this observation has significant public health in Canada implications in relation to preventing exposure to these water contaminants.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Solar Power Eliminates Utility Bills in U.S. Home

Michael Strizki heats and cools his house year-round and runs a full range of appliances including such power-guzzlers as a hot tub and a wide-screen TV without paying a penny in utility bills.

His conventional-looking family home in the pinewoods of western New Jersey is the first in the United States to show that a combination of solar and hydrogen power can generate all the electricity needed for a home.

The Hopewell Project, named for a nearby town, comes at a time of increasing concern over U.S. energy security and worries over the effects of burning fossil fuels on the climate.

People understand that climate change is a big concern but they don't know what they can do about it. There's a psychological dividend in doing the right thing.

Strizki runs the 3,000-square-foot house with electricity generated by a 1,000-square-foot roof full of photovoltaic cells on a nearby building, an electrolyzer that uses the solar power to generate hydrogen from water, and a number of hydrogen tanks that store the gas until it is needed by the fuel cell.

In the summer, the solar panels generate 60 % more electricity than the super-insulated house needs. The excess is stored in the form of hydrogen which is used in the winter -- when the solar panels can't meet all the domestic demand -- to make electricity in the fuel cell. Strizki also uses the hydrogen to power his fuel-cell driven car, which, like the domestic power plant, is pollution-free.

Solar power currently contributes only 0.1 % of U.S. energy needs but the number of photovoltaic installations grew by 20 % in 2006, and the cost of making solar panels is dropping by about 7 % annually, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

As costs decline and the search accelerates for clean alternatives to expensive and dirty fossil fuels, some analysts predict solar is poised for a significant expansion in the next five to 10 years.

U.S. Housing Starts Up 4.5 %

The pace of U.S. home construction climbed 4.5 % in December, a 2nd-straight monthly increase that ran contrary to analyst expectations, but for all of 2006 the rate of new home building posted the biggest decline in 15 years.

The housing starts closed out the year at an annual pace of 1.642 million units in December compared to 1.572 million units in November.

Economists had forecast December housing starts to fall to 1.560 million units from November's originally reported pace of 1.588 million units.

For all of 2006 housing starts totaled about 1.8 million, that was down 12.9 % from the 2005 total, the biggest decline since 1991.

Building permits, which offer a clue to future construction plans, rose 5.5 % to a 1.596 million unit pace.

Economists were expecting building permits would register a 1.500 million unit pace, close to the 1.513 million unit figure reported for November.

Permit applications for the year were down 14.9 %, the biggest decline since 1990.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Toronto Tenants Group Demands Landlords Be Licensed

You've seen them on restaurant doors and windows. How would you feel about seeing them on apartment buildings?

A Toronto councillor is suggesting the city implement a ratings system for landlords to let prospective tenants know if a building is in good condition - and whether you should live there.

It's similar to the red, yellow and green 'pass/warning/fail' system now used in Toronto eateries.

Councillor believes it's the only way to force landlords to literally clean up their acts and be more responsible toward their tenants.

We will divide buildings in the city into "A," "B" and "C" and "D" buildings. The "D" buildings will pay very high license fees, let's say $400 bucks per year ... per apartment unit.

Lobby groups on both sides of the issue will be at the building on Friday for a special committee meeting, but if Moscoe has his way, his licensing plan will be implemented within two years.

Syed is hoping he'll be long gone before then.

Housing Continues Blistering Pace in 2006

Canada's real estate sector continued to defy predictions of a slump in the market last year, as sales of existing homes continued at near-record levels.

Realtors sold 336,271 homes in 2006, a figure that was just 242 units off the record set the year before.

Moreover, several major cities reported record sales in 2006, including Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City.

The high selling pace continued through the fourth quarter and right into December.

Sales surged in Calgary and Toronto, while the smaller centers of Edmonton, Saskatoon, Sudbury and London all set new quarterly records.

Abnormally warm weather gave the market a further boost as the year drew to a close. There were strong gains in Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, giving December the fourth-highest monthly level on record, while Calgary surpassed all previous monthly records.

But there was a downside to the numbers. Selling prices are not going up as fast as they were.

The average Canadian resale house sold for $294,270 in 2006, up 10.6 % over 2005 levels. But that increase was lower than in recent years, and headed lower.

Moreover, the average monthly selling price rose by only 8.1 % in December, compared with the same period in 2005, the smallest increase in the year.

The same trend showed up in the quarter. House prices rose by 9.2 % year-over-year, the first sub 10 % rise in a year.

Price increases have been getting smaller as new listings increased in many markets.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

U.S. Housing Market: Soft Landing

Although the U.S. economy has slowed down, in large part because of a continued weaker housing market, what now is that a soft landing seems more assured as lower energy prices have supported employment growth and consumption.

The correction in the U.S. housing market may be leveling off but it was still too early to make a judgment call.

Some people were of the view in November that the housing correction was going to be a big drop with no end in sight. Well, things don't seem that way now and we don't see a dramatic correction taking place.

In fact, the end of that correction may be in sight and everybody, including us, needs to keep an eye on this issue.

Bank of Canada Keeps Key Rate at 4.25 %

The Bank of Canada (BoC) kept its main interest rate unchanged for a 5th meeting, saying there's less risk to the economy of an export slowdown.

The target rate for overnight loans between banks remains 4.25 %, the highest since August 2001 and 1 % point less than the U.S. Federal Reserve's target.

Canada's economic growth will accelerate to a 2.5 % annualized pace in the first half of the year, central bankers said today, after declining to 1.6 % in the second half of 2006 as exports to the U.S. slowed. Domestic demand has remained strong and exporters have adjusted to a drop in demand from the U.S., Canada's biggest market, the bank said.

Policy makers seem to think that the worst is behind the Canadian economy. It may well suggest there is little scope for any further reduction in interest rates.

Bank of Canada has kept rates unchanged since May because a high dollar slowed exports, helping control inflation in an economy overstretched by record demand for new homes and energy. His next move may depend on how exports fare this year or if there's a shift in the job market, where unemployment is the lowest in three decades.

Consumers have spent their new paychecks on new homes, driving prices up 11 % in November from a year earlier. Consumer spending and home prices create the risk that inflation may move above his 2 % target.

Inflation minus eight volatile items such as fruit and gasoline rose 2.2 % in November from a year earlier, led by food and shelter costs. Permits for new buildings rose to a seasonally adjusted record C$6.3 billion in November, suggesting housing costs may increase further.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

December Housing Starts Weaker Than Expected

Housing starts in Canada fell in December to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 211,500.

The consensus estimate had been for 225,000, while the rate in November was 229,300 units.

Despite the weakness, the month capped a year when housing starts were the highest level in nearly two decades.

New home starts are estimated at 227,400 in 2006.

Housing starts are expected to remain strong in 2007, but are forecast to decrease to 210,900 units.

After two strong months in October and November, the volatile multiples segment fell in December and single-detached starts continued to trend downward, reaching their lowest level of the year.

Home Sales in Ottawa Hit New Record in 2006

Ottawa Realtors sold a record number of homes in 2006 as the region enjoyed a strong employment market.

The Ottawa Real Estate Board reported that Realtors sold 682 homes in December, up from 615 in December 2005, making for a year end total of 13,783. That broke the previous record set in 2004 of 13,152 homes sold.

Overall, it was a very healthy year for Ottawa's residential real estate market. The average sale price of a home continued to trend upward, and the still-growing condominium market drove sales numbers all year long. Condos are also selling more quickly than they did in 2005, while residential sales stayed on pace with the previous year.

The average price of the homes sold in December through the MLS system in the Ottawa area was $247,833, while the average for the year was $255,889.

Also on Tuesday, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. reported construction starts on new homes totaled 5,875 last year, up almost 18 % from 2005. CMHC Ottawa market analyst Pascal-Yvan Pelletier attributed the increase to a strong employment market and greater demand for more affordable housing types such as row housing and condos.

Housing Starts in 2006 Reach Their 2nd Highest Level

New home starts are estimated at 227,400 in 2006, surpassing the level in 2005, reaching their second highest level in nearly two decades. However, the seasonally adjusted annual rate of housing starts decreased to 211,500 units in December from November's 229,300 units, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

Growth in 2006 housing starts was driven by low mortgage rates, solid employment and income growth, and a high level of consumer confidence. Even with the slowing trend in residential construction in recent months, new home starts estimated at 227,400 units in 2006 surpassed the level reached in 2005.

After two strong months in October and November, the volatile multiples segment fell in December and single-detached starts continued to trend downward, reaching their lowest level of the year. Housing starts are expected to remain strong in 2007, but are forecast to decrease to 210,900 units."

December's seasonally adjusted annual rate of urban starts declined 9.0 % from November to 180,000 units. Urban multiples fell 13.9 % to 93,400 units in December, while singles decreased 3.0 % to 86,600 units.

All regions saw urban starts fall in December compared to a month earlier. The largest declines were in the Prairie region and the Atlantic region where urban starts fell by 20.5 % and 17.9 %, respectively. Weaker activity in the urban multiples sector drove the decreases registered in both of these regions. British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec recorded smaller declines of 7.1 %, 3.6 %, and 1.5 %, respectively.

Quebec Residential Construction Up In December 2006

According to the results of latest monthly survey conducted by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), residential construction in Quebec was on the rise in December. In all, 3,548 housing units were started in urban centers with 10,000 or more inhabitants, for an increase of 3 % over December 2005. The December result brought the annual total to 39,486 starts, down by 4 per cent in relation to the level recorded in 2005 (see table).

As expected, the slowdown that began in 2005 continued in 2006. Modest economic growth, the increase in mortgage costs and the decrease in pent-up demand are all factors that reduced demand for homeowner housing. On the other hand, steady migration and the aging of the population supported demand for multi-family housing and allowed the new home market to end the year at a still rather high level.

Single-detached home building registered an increase of 1 % in the province. In fact, 1,175 dwellings of this type were started this past December, compared to 1,161 during the same period the year before. This result was due to the significant increases recorded in the census metropolitan areas (CMAs) of Ottawa-Gatineau (Quebec part) (+24 %) and Montreal (+6 %). Elsewhere across Quebec, the other CMAs showed negative results in this market segment. In urban agglomerations with 50,000 to 99,999 inhabitants, housing starts were down slightly (-4 %) in relation to December 2005. In the smaller centers (10,000 to 49,999 inhabitants), however, construction was more active, with a gain of 6 % in the last quarter of 2006 over the same period in 2005.

Urban multiple starts posted a slightly better performance than single starts, with a gain of 4 per cent in December over the same month in 2005. Trois-Rivières (over 100 per cent) and Gatineau (over 100 per cent) registered the most remarkable gains.

Starts of this type fell by 37 % in centers 50,000 to 99,999 inhabitants in December, compared to one year earlier, and by 5 % in the smaller urban agglomerations (10,000 to 49,999 inhabitants) this past quarter, in relation to the same quarter in 2005.

The good performance of the multi-family housing segment in December and throughout 2006 was mainly attributable to semi-detached and row home building. With an increase of 20 % over December 2005, it can be said that this type of housing continued to gain in popularity, while condominium construction lost some ground (-33 %).

Virtual Real-Estate Kiosk

Signature Real Estate of Culpeper, in conjunction with Aware Concepts LLC of Front Royal, unveiled a "Virtual Realtor" kiosk Tuesday at Manassas Mall.

The kiosk, which is in front of H&M and PacSun clothing stores, is aimed at encouraging shoppers to check out real estate ads, get tips on buying and/or selling a home, all at the touch of a screen.

The machine features two large display screens, with a 16-inch by 12-inch upper full-color display to show home listings and pictures much larger than in any print advertisement.

People can enter their contact information at the kiosk to inquire about a listing or express interest in selling.

After information is entered, the person can get a quick response from a Signature. The machine is updated 24 hours a day through the Internet connection.

The machine immediately sends, via a wireless Internet connection, an e-mail and text message to the agent connected to a listing so he/she can respond almost immediately.

The machine also offers home-selling tips, including when is a good time to sell, first impressions, myths, moving preparation and other pointers.

The main goal was to educate people about the real estate market in a non-threatening mode.

Norma Mayo, co-owner of Signature, said she thinks the kiosk will get her company more exposure in the community.

Mayo said she found out about Aware Concepts at a state Realtors Association conference and has been working with the company for several months on designing the machine.

Maria Fay, Mayo’s business partner, said what’s good about the kiosk is that it will help people get much quicker responses to requests, as opposed to answering or placing an ad in a publication.

Anyone who uses Signature’s real estate services will have their home listed in the kiosk at no extra cost, Fay said.

Aware Concepts placed its first virtual Realtor kiosk at Apple Blossom Mall in Winchester, but the one in Manassas Mall is the company’s first custom-built machine.

Company plans to place more kiosks in other area malls in the near future, including Fair Oaks Mall, Springfield Mall and eventually the Potomac Mills mall.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Housing Market Predictions for 2007

Daring prediction: Interest rates will rise. While the headline focus is on central bank administered rates and how they have increased, longer-term rates are probably more important — and those rates are too low. Low interest rates continue to contribute to rapid inflation of asset values, which, through expanding wealth effects, is starting to get transmitted into overall price inflation. To alleviate this, interest rates must rise enough to reverse some of that asset inflation and dampen wealth effects.

Biggest fear:
Further expansion of excessive wealth effects would increase future inflation and require a later, more painful process of disinflation. The evolving slowdown in the U.S. housing market is just a small part of a frothy global picture.

Biggest hope: That a one-half percentage point increase in mid-term and long-term interest rates can generate a soft landing in asset markets.

Best call: Interest rates would not increase by very much more during the year, and the five-year mortgage rate would average 6.55 per cent during the second half of 2006 — just slightly below where it stands right now. A year ago, I was predicting that five-year rates would, however, rise by half a point during the first half of 2007 — and I continue to expect this.

Worst call:
That the Toronto condominium market would enter a serious correction in the second half of 2006, as a result of a prior excess of investment buying. Instead, new condo sales may well match the 2005 record.

Biggest surprise:
The continued strength of the industrialized economies (including Canada) in the face of increased energy costs. In Canada, the percentage of adults who have jobs has been sustained at a record level. I see this as the consequence of interest rates that are still too low.