Category: Real Estate

How can I stop birds from colliding with my windows?

“I ‘d like to prevent birds from flying into my windows,” writes Phil Larose in Toronto. “How can I do this? Is there an ultraviolet light that I can shine on the inside of a window that will deter birds? I’ve heard they can see UV light.”  Birds flying into windows is indeed a serious, tragic issue – and the numbers are staggering. The Globe has previously reported that one to ten million birds are killed each year in Toronto due to collisions with buildings and other structures.

Carolyn Ireland, The Globe’s Real Estate reporter, looked into your question:

Migratory birds do face greater peril as glass towers continue to rise in Canadian cities. Birds are dying from collisions with windows because they do not perceive glass; they see the sky and tree canopy reflected back at them.

Fortunately, the increasing awareness of concerned humans like you has helped to bring about solutions that really do work, according to Michael Mesure, founder and executive director of FLAP Canada.
FLAP, or Fatal Light Awareness Program, has been helping to create safe passage for migratory birds since 1993.

Architect and FLAP partner John Robert Carley uses Feather Friendly Film DIY tape at his own house. The peel-and-stick tape leaves a subtle pattern of dots on the outside of the glass. Humans barely notice it but to birds the visual cues and contrast signal a big cautionary sign.

Mr. Carley, who has advised Toronto city council on the issue, says it’s vital that the solution be applied to the exterior of the glass because that’s the first surface the birds see.

Other effective technologies include paracord lines which hang from the top of the window and sway in the wind, and black fibreglass screening that hangs several inches in front of the glass.The critical areas to protect are up to five stories above grade because most birds aren’t flying much above the tree canopy.

By the way – those commonly-seen hawk-shaped silhouettes do not deter birds. As for your question about ultraviolet light, it’s true that birds can see that part of the spectrum of natural sunlight that humans can’t.

FLAP says UV technologies hold promise but field studies show more work needs to be done before these solutions can be rolled out. Mr. Mesure laments that it’s difficult for individual condo owners to implement any of these solutions on their own.

Regulations are in place for new construction, but some builders are finding loopholes because they think buyers are fearful of anything that might interfere with their unobstructed views. “Their customers are also going to be unhappy if they find dead birds lying on their patio,” Mr. Carley says.

The Feather Friendly pattern provides more than 98 per cent clear viewing, the architect adds. The more buyers choose bird-friendly builders, the more they will pay attention, Mr. Carley says.

Office workers and condo residents at older buildings can also agitate to have their management provide a retrofit solution.

Mr. Mesure is heartened to see that people love birds  – and if they collectively pull together on this issue, developers, building managers and politicians will respond. “They believe in this,” he says of Canadians. “If anything, it’s amazing what power in numbers can do.”

Follow Carolyn Ireland on Twitter, and read more from The Globe’s Home and Design section.

Where is the best place in Canada to invest in real estate?  

Dave Dhingra in Milton, Ont. asks, “Where is the best place in Canada to invest in real estate?”  Real Estate editor D’Arcy McGovern says that’s a tough question to answer, mainly because it really depends, ” as do all investing decisions – on how comfortable you are with risk.” McGovern explains:

Personally, I don’t look at homes as investments – but as shelter influenced by lifestyle choice. A more sophisticated investor has other considerations. It’s a complicated calculus of risk and reward, so I called  Don Campbell, the senior analyst for the Real Estate Investment Network and quite possibly the best-known real estate investor in the country. He has a lot to say on the matter.  “The answer is a complex mix of economics, geographic location of the investor, management style of the investor,, as well as the stated goal of the investor,” he says.

“Is the priority cash-flow income replacement or capital gains? And what is the investor’s timeline for investing?” Campbell says that, if you are managing your investments on your own, it is important to make sure it is within a maximum two hour drive from home. “If you want a combination of cash flow and capital gains, the Tech triangle of Ontario will be a strong performer.  If you are okay with higher volatility, but with higher than average cash flow and a very good chance at very strong capital gains over the next 10 years, Edmonton will be the place.”

Follow McGovern on Twitter, read our Real Estate section and check out our new dedicated Alberta coverage.



Is Alberta’s housing market going to crash?

“Is Alberta’s housing market going to crash?” asks Manny Williams in Toronto. Calgary-based energy reporter Jeff Lewis says, “Nobody is full-out panicking just yet.” He says that’s because prices have so far not reacted much to the collapse in oil prices – “the average price of a single family home this month was $518,449, down 0.42 per cent compared to the same period a year ago, according to preliminary figures collected by the Calgary real estate board.” Lewis explains:

All signs point to a softening market, especially if oil-patch layoffs deepen. Cutbacks in the energy sector are already taming expectations, and experts say Alberta’s economy is poised to slow considerably compared to the manic growth of recent years.

Sales of single family homes plunged 38 per cent in January, while new listings shot up by about 39 per cent. That follows a weak December, during which sales fell roughly 8 per cent from the previous year and listings rose. It’s scarcely any better for condos. Sales are down 35 per cent so far this year, and listings are up a staggering 60.5 per cent compared to a year earlier.

Some Calgary realtors don’t expect a repeat of 2010, when housing demand plunged in the wake of the financial crisis. This week’s rate cuts at major banks could also buoy sales. But a sustained period of lower oil prices is sure to make would-be buyers a bit more cautious.

Earlier this month, Lewis reported:

Cracks are emerging in Calgary’s once red-hot market for commercial and residential real estate, adding to fears that rapidly sinking oil prices will trigger a broad slowdown beyond the energy sector.

After years of riding high, home sales in the southern Alberta city dropped 7.5 per cent in December from a year earlier, while new listings surged 42 per cent – the first sign of a potentially weaker market in 2015, according the Calgary real estate board. At the same time, lease rates at downtown office towers are falling and some of city’s marquee buildings are grappling with an unfamiliar problem: empty space.

Read his report here, and follow Jeff Lewis on Twitter

Are there no forums for Canadians to share their experience with real estate agents?

Dora Repar in Mississauga, Ont. asks,  “Are there no forums for Canadians to express their experience with real estate agents” She laments that agents “facilitate one of the biggest financial transaction in a typical Canadian’s life,” and hopes there is a forum. Globe Real Estate editor D’Arcy McGovern found out that there is not – for two reasons:  “First, Canada is big but real estate is local. Second, resistance from real estate agents.” He explains, and offers some advice on finding a great agent:

You know the old axiom: Three things matter in real estate – location, location, location. Concerns about a real estate agent in suburban Ajax make little difference to a homebuyer in False Creek. Add to that the fact that the industry is largely self-regulated through provincial and territorial bodies like the Real Estate Council of Alberta and individual metropolitan real estate boards, and the difficulties of creating a national clearinghouse become apparent.

A proposal to create a ‘rate your realtor’ website was brought before the Canadian Real Estate Association’s last annual general meeting, but was voted down. CREA Saskatchewan Regional Director Cliff Iverson told Real Estate Magazine at the time that the proposed five-star system was intended to promote professionalism and gather consumer feedback but ran into resistance from agents who thought it would be unfair and cast them in a poor light. “I think the one main theme we kept getting was negative comments being offered up by the consumer,” he told REM.

Toronto agent David Fleming says there are a lot of hard questions that get in the way of creating a Realtor rating site. “Who is going to moderate and monitor it? How do you prove that a person who comments actually used the services of that agent, and isn’t a competitor, or a spurned ex-girlfriend? Or do you even limit the comments to those that have used the Realtor’s services? Do you just keep it as an open forum? Then you open the door to somebody commenting based on appearance, reputation, rumour, advertising, etc.”

That leaves consumers with some second-best options. The various councils and boards have mechanisms to handle consumer complaints. And there are numerous private blogs dedicated to airing real estate gripes, though none with a truly national scope.

“Frankly, I would put more stock in a friend or family member’s opinion over some anonymous comment online,” says Calgary agent Mike Fotiou. “Ask them who they’ve worked with and whether they’d recommend that agent to you.

“I’d also check with the provincial regulator and verify that the agent is licensed and whether there have been any disciplinary actions taken against them. If someone has had a bad experience, a complaint can be lodged.”

Follow D’Arcy McGovern on Twitter, and check out The Globe’s Real Estate story on how to choose the perfect agent.


Help! I have cockroaches. Can I terminate my lease?

Reader Trent Redekop in Vancouver wrote to us after moving into an apartment and finding unwanted roommates:  “I found out that it has many cockroaches. Can I terminate my lease?” Globe Real Estate Editor D’Arcy McGovern says your question reminds of him a recent trip to Puerto Rico, “where our ‘luxury beach-side condo’ came with some uninvited guests. The crunch of toonie-sized roaches underfoot while walking the halls in the dark of night is… memorable.”

Gross – but is it cause for a lease termination? McGovern explains:

I can certainly understand why you might be thinking of pulling up stakes. But unfortunately, it’s not grounds to terminate a lease unless under very specific circumstances. I asked Sandra Steilo, with B.C.’s Minister Responsible for Housing to explain.

“In any property, eradicating an infestation is a joint effort that relies on the full co-operation of both landlord and the tenant,” says Steilo.

“Working cooperatively and having a strategy in place is vital. Failing to fulfill responsibilities could mean that one party has to reimburse the other for expenses. The [BC] Residential Tenancy Act requires a landlord to maintain a rental property in a state that is suitable for occupancy by a tenant and meets all housing, safety and building standards required by law. If a landlord does not act in a reasonable and timely manner to deal with the problem, a tenant can apply for dispute resolution for compensation.”

She says that dealing with an infestation is considered part of maintenance, and is not grounds for terminating a lease, “unless it is expressly stated in the tenancy agreement.”

Steilo says that in the event of a dispute resolution, you will require acceptable proof, which could include photos, written documentation of communication with landlord, any third party reports or even a witness statement.

“The Residential Tenancy Act provides recourse to both parties,” she explains,” including dispute resolution services when tenants and landlords are unable to reach an agreement on their own.”

The dispute resolution process is a formal civil proceeding, similar to a court proceeding, designed to balance the rights of both tenants and landlords, says Steilo. “It is an opportunity for each party to tell their story and present evidence to an independent arbitrator.”

She says there are structures in place to protect a landlord’s rights as well – “if the landlord felt that the tenant provided a false claim and filed for dispute resolution, the landlord would need to show evidence that they had responded appropriately to the issue and provide written or photographic evidence of the steps taken to assess the problem and establish that there was not an infestation.”

More information on the dispute resolution process can be found here or tenants can call the Residential Tenancy Branch at 1-800-665-8779.

Read more from Globe Real Estate, and if you’re in need of a silver lining, at least you’re not these people.