Are home inspections all they’re cracked up to be? The simple answer is a big 'YES'.
Now that we are finally out of the pandemic panic market – home inspections are once again a common part of the conditions in a contract. No Realtor likes to waive an inspection, but during the COVID inventory crisis – home inspections were unfortunately a luxury clause.
FACTS: A home doesn’t pass or fail an inspection, and no home is perfect. There will always be improvements recommended in an inspection report. That is to be expected. Also, an inspection is not an insurance policy that nothing will go wrong – it’s an overview that helps create a to-do list of maintenance items you otherwise may not spot. Is that crack in the plaster a cosmetic fix, or a structural nightmare? Is that damp spot in the basement a leaky pipe, or a leaky foundation?
I encourage my clients to not only write a home inspection into their offer, but also to participate in their home inspection by asking questions. Better to ask now than get a surprise later! A trusted, experienced home inspector will have experience-based answers. I also prepare my clients for the report, reminding them that there WILL be improvements recommended – even in new builds.
Together, we review the report’s summary items and discuss each deficiency with respect to cost relative to the overall age and value of the home. Do these deficiencies seem reasonable based on age and what we have paid? Will we find these same issues in another home of similar age and value – or is this a deal breaker?
Shows like Fixer Upper and Masters of Flip (that ironically ended in divorce after numerous renovations) glamourize what can go wrong if you go ahead without a home inspection. All it takes is 30 minutes to transform a tear down into a show home – and unless you're Chip Gaines, you don't want to discover rotten beams... or worse.
Deals often fall on inspection, but they don’t have to. If the home you have an accepted offer on is truly your dream home – it all comes down to dollars… and sense. That’s always where a Realtor comes in.
Here we are, halfway through January, and I am knee deep in thoughts of spring and the predictably busy spring market. I do need to pause and reflect a bit as I look back on 2022, because I already feel like I am carrying the year’s positive lessons forward with me into 2023. These are lessons I learned from growth, change, adapting, and the turmoil that’s hard to avoid when one listens to the news.
After our whirlwind January wedding in Italy, COVID extended our honeymoon. The kids flew home, while we were forced into a simple domestic situation in a tiny Italian village. We ate and drank like one should in Italy. We went on picnics. I leaned out the window and hung clothes on the clothesline like I was born to do so. And I vowed I’d never use our clothes dryer again – if, and when we ever got home.
Home has always been important to me, and perhaps the ongoing pandemic taught us all the importance of having a safe place to call your own. I continued to do a lot of DIY projects – discovering a new love of wallpaper, and an obsession with perfect pantries, so far from my own. And, I finally began turning my kids’ art into a precious gallery wall.
Women really inspired me in 2022. The girls, women, students, and mothers who stood up to their oppressors – in Iran, Brazil, and the Ukraine. Incredible. I became fascinated with entrepreneur and businesswoman, Zita Cobb after our bucket list trip to Newfoundland’s Fogo Island. Cobb’s vision and passion for her home, and the respectful revitalization of Fogo Island is something to behold. I honestly left Fogo a changed, and better person.
2022 was filled with images of hope – even stories of hope coming out of the atrocities of a senseless war. The strength of humanity against all odds in something to behold. Far from a hardship, being “stuck” in Italy turned into one of the biggest lessons of my life. Choosing to find the joy at home, in our community, and the world – it’s how I want to move through 2023.
2022 was also a year for the record books, and my career. Perhaps it was looking at life through a lens of hope that attracted more like-minded clients and opportunities. Almost all of my business comes from referrals, and for that I am totally appreciative. I have a beautiful community of friends, colleagues, and clients who support, refer, cheerlead, and believe in me. After receiving my Private Office designation, I am also now surrounded by an international network of professionals who also have my back. (Receiving my designation in Las Vegas with my fun colleagues is a whole other story.)
Finally, 2022 made me even more grateful for my family, and their unwavering support. They are why my heart beats.
So, here we go, 2023. Buckle up! I will continue to drive for excellence and higher levels of customer satisfaction while pushing for solutions that will assist the underhoused and homeless.
Hope, joy, and compassion are like bulbs we plant in the fall in anticipation of a beautiful spring. Put the effort and vision into everything you do, and the results will be spectacular. At least I hope so. And if they aren’t – dust yourself off and get back to work.
And speaking of back to work – I have a spring market to get ready for!
Remember the 1986 film, The Money Pit? The romantic comedy starred Tom Hanks and Shelley Long as a young couple attempting to renovate a hopelessly dilapidated, but charming house – one that came with a ridiculously low price. It was funny, unless you were Tom and Shelley, and this was real life.
The expression ‘putting lipstick on a pig’ comes into play a great deal when buyers are looking to put a little sweat equity into a home. But what’s the difference between a fixer-upper and a money pit? Cosmetics.
Ridiculously low prices should your first red flag about what needs to be done to make a home liveable, and up to code. Major repairs or replacement of foundations, electrical panels, plumbing, the septic, or the roof can take your budget away from things like updating the kitchen and bathrooms. Instead of cosmetic fixes, you’ll be pouring your money into things you can’t see. The fun part of renovating is choosing tile, cabinetry, paint, and fixtures. Digging up an old septic, and repairing a crumbling foundation is no fun at all.
If you can do cosmetic changes to a home without breaking the bank - it’s a fixer-upper. If you have to start tearing out floors and walls to repair water damage, old wiring, asbestos, rot, unsafe chimneys, rotten windows, and moldy insulation - or, all of the above - you’ve got yourself a bit of a money pit.
The good news is, when the work is done, you’ll have a beautiful home either way. The best advice is to set a budget for your improvements BEFORE you buy – and stick to them. If you can, find a trusted contractor before you begin the process. And, a home inspection is also strongly advised. Often things like cracked foundations are hidden surprises. And, unlike discovering hardwood under old carpet – not all surprises are good when it comes to owning a 'charmer'.
The actual home from the movie, The Money Pit, sold in 2014 for $12.5 million. The Long Island home was eventually totally gutted and brought back to its original splendour, and then some. But some lipstick is way more expensive than others.
Of course, a Realtor is always there to steer you away from biting off more than you can chew. You don't want to end up arguing like Shelly and Tom, or chewing off all of your lipstick.
Finally, a little time to reflect on what's happening 'out there'. The June numbers are showing that the real estate market has shifted, and there is a sense that maybe that’s a good thing. Not only was the market travelling at an unsustainable pace, the frenetic pandemic market was also creating chaos - forcing buyers to make snap decisions many could come to regret as interest rates rise, and home prices fall. Add to that, today’s crazy inflation is making life difficult for everyone. As a Realtor, my job goes beyond hanging the ‘for sale’ sign and closing the deal. It's about helping sellers and buyers make wise, strategic, and informed decisions throughout the entire process. Emotions need to be kept in-check on so many levels. So, here’s some key advice in this changing environment: Use a Realtor. (Of, course.) And, upgrades matter.
If you’ve been thinking of selling your home, you can no longer assume it will be snapped up, regardless of what shape it’s in. Most buyers want to see a finished product, not a work in progress. Hardwood flooring and updated kitchens usually top the lists I see. And, you can bet perspective buyers will be lowering offer numbers in their head, as they wander around adding up the costs necessary to make things perfect.
The key is focus on impact, and first impressions. Use your senses. What’s the first thing you see when you walk into your home? If it’s the outdated tile you’ve always hated – show it to the door! Choose a classic tile that works with whatever existing flooring it butts up against. Now is not the time for a wildly trendy tile pattern. And that messy entryway closet configuration could be transformed into the modern farmhouse mudroom of your dreams. Just saying.
What do you smell? If it’s the carpet that keeps your feet (and your dog) cozy in the family room – it’s over-stayed its welcome. Replace or remove carpet everywhere, whenever possible. Buyers are sensitive to odours, and you can only Febreeze, or bake so many cookies on showing days. Plus, if there’s hardwood hidden under there – it’s a win-win!
Buyers can be touchy. Your electrical may be up-to-code, but is it up to date? Swap out those dirty beige sockets and old-school toggle flip switches for smooth, elegant rocker switches. And don’t forget dimmers you can slide with a finger. Updating a light fixture or two is also a good idea. You don’t have to spend a fortune to find great statement lighting these days.
Are you hearing a rumble from the kitchen? Maybe your magnet-adorned refrigerator is trying to tell you something. Buyers will start doing the math if the appliances need to be swapped out. Look for a deal at Big Box stores. Manufacturers will often offer savings and free shipping if you bundle up 2 or more appliances.
And let’s talk about taste. Good, timeless taste. Traditional white subway tile may not be your thing, but you can’t go wrong with the classic shape if you are swapping out a backsplash or creating a new one. Same goes for counter tops. You might be attracted to the swirly, blue-veined quartz - but step away, and think neutral. Neutral is always a safe bet.
The current market shift is called a ‘correction’ in my world, but I prefer to call it a cooling. Higher interest rates and a reduced pandemic panic have had a negative impact on home sales – but not on buyer motivation. The market is still strong, it’s just beating the heat with a little cool down. Take advantage of this beautiful weather and work on your home’s first impressions. Get creative and add a home office on an empty wall. Paint the front door. Declutter. Put some elbow grease into your yard. And get in touch if you’d like me to walk you through the first steps toward buying or selling. Strategy and common sense are always in style.
This is my last full day of living this fairy tale in Italy. What began as a surprise elopement with the kids in tow, has evolved into a love affair with all things Italian. I am smitten, and longing to return even before I head to Rome’s FCO Fiumicino Airport.
After COVID dashed several attempts to gather friends and family for a castle wedding in the British countryside – Will and I decided to elope in Tuscany – our twice cancelled honeymoon destination. Disguised as a family vacation, the kids were in the dark about our wedding plans until the night before. Our day was truly magical. The anxiety and stress leading up to getting on the plane floated away into the Tuscan countryside. With Omicron and pandemic numbers climbing, and 5 PCR tests to pass – I’d pretty much thrown in the wedding towel – but Will determinedly declared we’d make a “game day” decision. How do you say, ‘game on’ in Italian?
So, what is it about Italy that has me crushing on absolutely everything from the gorgeous shutters to the bumpy lemons? The food, of course. The wine we’d pick up for a few euros a bottle. Those are both givens. But for me, it was more about the slowing down of time that had me so mesmerized with how life could and should be. Italian culture and ‘la dolce vita’ are all about a sensible, natural, beautiful work-life balance. Embedded in the Italian culture is the philosophy that work should be secondary to the enjoyment of life. Truly contradictory to our work hard - play hard lifestyle. I’ve never had a month off, because I didn’t have time – or, I didn’t make time. But, oh, what lessons I have learned.
My memories of sipping cocoa-dusted cappuccinos from a beautiful cup, in a beautiful piazza – instead of hitting a drive-thru for a coffee to-go in paper cup with a plastic lid – followed by spilling the coffee down my work clothes as I drive and dash to my next showing. I already know I won’t have to time for sitting and sipping anything with spring market preparations underway – but as I write this – I make a promise to myself to go back to that cappuccino moment whenever life spins into instant coffee mode.
I also vow to buy high-quality coffee, and to enjoy one cup – instead of an entire pot of the bargain brand. Local coffee bean roasters will be my new best friends. I will shop in small batches – and if I can find my bean grinder, I’ll take the time to grind my coffee beans.
Savour everything. I will eat slowly, and enjoy every bite. I will pause between courses. I will sit and relax before jumping up and loading the dishwasher. A dishwasher! I have even enjoyed washing dishes by hand in Italy. What’s with that?
Vino. Meghan, don’t just drink wine – stick your nose in it, smell it, swirl it around in your glass, and swish it around in your mouth. Taste the soil, the sun, the history. Pour your favourite red into a jug and set it in the middle of the table. I admit, it will be hard to NOT have a glass of wine with the midday meal, because there’s no afternoon napping where I am heading.
Dressing to impress. For Italians, it’s more than just looking the part – it’s living and breathing the finest fabrics and tailoring – elegantly and effortlessly. The way the Italian men and women toss on a scarf is an artform! I vow to take the time to find my style and show to the world. (No offense to my Lulus and Wellies.) Just before we left on this adventure, I hired guru stylist Tara Wickwire to overhaul my closet. In reflection, I highly recommend a closet refresh. I love quality over quantity in all things in life, and Tara had me rethinking and recycling. Looking back, I guess it was a little advance ‘dolce vita’ training. Slow shopping. Slow dressing.
Even a walk in the Tuscan countryside has a way of luring us into the Italian dream. The trees. The terra cotta rooftops. I have revelled in the beauty, the scenery, the architectural details, and the Renaissance art. I know we are returning to snowy, dark and long Canadian winter days – but despite the weather – I am committed to creating a sweet life in my home and garden. I will be mindful of simple things – from meals, to flower arrangements, to what I wear to work.
I think ‘dolce vita’ has always been a part of my DNA, and I thank my ‘mama’ for that. She stressed the importance of incorporating simple pleasures into our home – fresh flowers, a beautiful table setting, local market ingredients in the summer months. This is now my internal challenge to refine and practice. To slow down – not to be interpreted as lazy – but to put more intention into work and life.
Thank you, Italy for showing me your many layers, and faces, and kindnesses. Thank you for the extra baggage I am taking home, ever grateful that I own pants with stretchy waistbands. Thank you for reinforcing what love is. Amore. We didn’t just get married in Italy, we got married to Italy.
One last thing. The bells. Church bells ringing, echoing down cobblestone streets and across the gentle hills. Bells all throughout the day were my only point of reference – I lost all sense of time in Italy. I woke up. I went to bed full, and happy. What happened in between was serendipitous and life changing. Stop, and really listen the next time you hear church bells. Time is all we’ve got, so make time to take time, and spend it wisely. Preferably in a Euros state of mind. Inizio partita!
I had a visit yesterday with my dear 86-year-old client – a retired nurse, who has just downsized to a condo. She served tea in a beautiful cup with time-perfected almond sugar cookies and applesauce cake. I could have sat there all day.
Selling her family’s forever home was an emotional time for her. The house was, naturally, filled with memories of her husband and her family. She knew she would be missing her neighbours plus the everyday familiarity of the squeak in the hardwood floors, the faucet that never quite gets cold enough, the way the light shines in the bedroom on sunny morning, and the bird that lands outside her kitchen window. Despite all this, she embraced the staging to-do list like a pro. Step by step, and with the encouragement of family, she embraced the selling process with total trust. She knew it was time to leave her staircase behind.
I am delighted to say that my client’s fresh new space has brought her so much joy! She’s pleased as punch with the new furniture from her very first Wayfair online order. The new pieces are set against a backdrop of tradition – memories from a happy life in her recently sold home. The home she raised her children in.
This lovely woman is amazing and brave and kind! I feel so honoured to go from being her Realtor, to being a friend – not only to her, but to her entire family. She calls me her 'angel’ but really, she’s mine – reminding me of the importance of slowing down and listening – really listening to people’s needs, and meeting them exactly where they are emotionally.
I am so grateful to the beautiful people I have had the pleasure of working with over the years. I seem to attract clients who I am sad to say, ‘goodbye’ to after daily connection during the frantic buying and selling process. I weave people and families – even their pets – into my own life. I become an intimate part of their lives during one of the most emotion times they will ever experience. I take that responsibility very seriously, and I feel honoured to be so trusted.
My friend has made her new stair-free, modern space very much her own. We sat sipping tea and sharing life’s ups and downs. I ate way too many cookies, but it was her stories that filled me with a wealth of sweet wisdom. I felt happy knowing I’d done my job well. I also felt grateful for my new friend.
This will be her first Christmas in a condo. I know her neighbours will find comfort in the smell of freshly baked cookies wafting out into the hall. I know I did.
Summer flew by with families reuniting, and friends hugging it out. With fall, comes the fall routines I know many of us were desperate for. So I don’t know about you – but I’m not ready to head inside. And, I’m also not ready for large gatherings or even hopping on a plane just yet. In a nutshell, the pandemic has offered me the opportunity to appreciate my home as a sanctuary, as well as a nest. I’m happier than ever in my space.
As these evenings take on a ‘red wine over white wine’ vibe – I still find myself heading outside with my book – the only difference being a few layers, a flashlight, and a cozy blanket. I’m watching the weather and planning a few backyard dinner parties – swapping out summer candles for colours that match the mums, mini pumpkins, and gourds. I love fall!
It seems the days of sweaty kitchen parties and jamming in as many friends as the house allowed has taken a backseat to smaller gatherings, deeper conversations… and carbs. Am I right? It’s pie season, and I’m even going to add ice cream to my enormous slice. Life is short!
I think we are all tired, and maybe there is a bit of post-traumatic stress happening all around us. (Hence the pie and ice cream.) The world has become so polarized, and it’s hard to make sense of it all. We have chosen to hang on to the leader who got us through some rough seas, so maybe we weren’t ready for more change. I’m okay with that.
I am also beyond grateful for the friendships that have kept me afloat through the highs and lows of this wacky, soul-testing period of time. I think many individuals and families have shifted to a quiet life… maybe for the foreseeable future. I’m just happy we can hug again.
As I plan this first fall backyard dinner, I know there will be something savoury and roasted, and local harvest veggies. Maybe the brisket recipe I’ve been dying to try? There will be enough scratchy blankets for everyone, and liquid encouragement to stay outside as long as humanly possible. There will be lots of laughter, and as I look around the table seeing familiar faces lit up by candlelight – I know there will always be love.
I read an article lately about the Japanese concept of ‘ikigai’ and how it stacks up to the concept of happiness. In Japan, there are many words that could loosely be translated back to ‘happy’ but Ikigai (and don’t ask me how to pronounce it) translates to “that which makes life worth living” or simply, 'having a meaningful purpose in life'. The article questioned whether happiness was too lofty a goal, and perhaps our constant striving for happiness was in itself, self-destructive.
I think a lot about purpose, and I love this definition: Purpose is waking up in the morning knowing you’re on the right path, regardless of what other people say.
When I was 39, I had everything I ever wanted – 3 great kids, and a successful knock-it-out-of-the-park career. I’d found purpose in my work with the homeless, and I was my own boss – but I still felt as if something was missing.
I burned through self-help books looking for answers, when I didn’t even know what the question was. But I knew I wanted to experience something radical to shake things up. That soul-seeking journey led me to California, where I checked in for 2 weeks at Chopra University – Deepak Chopra’s new-age whole health retreat. Can I just say, I had no idea what I was in for!
Two weeks of quiet introversion – and even a period of enforced greasy hair – gifted me the calm to realize I’d been living too fast, and I was consumed with checking off life's boxes. Chopra’s methodology taught me while I was so busy being overly productive and making sure I was pleasing everyone else, that I rarely ever checked in with myself. That alone was worth the price of admission.
We listen to opinions all day long – unconsciously, and consciously. People with good intentions want to tell us how we should do things, or how we should feel, think, and act. It’s scary to disagree or go in a different direction when you are a ‘people pleaser’.
While I was in California, I learned the biggest sense of purpose for me is connection. Once I started connecting to others more deeply, a few things happened. Judgement disappeared. And conversations had more meaning.
Some of the lessons I try to follow are:
If you want love from people… then love people. If you want more money… then help people make money. If you want more joy in life… then give joy to others.
The more we can give, while enjoying the process, the more we’re going to love our lives.
Last week I was awarded the Diamond Elite status by company Engel & Völkers. As we all know, 2020 was not the easiest workplace environment for anyone – so to be recognized for my real estate achievements during a global pandemic was rather nice. I sat in my sweats, eating a burger, as I watched my name and my beloved city of Halifax flash across the virtual ceremony’s screen – and I admit to feeling quite proud. It wasn’t so much about the sales and the glory, as the way I was able to help people find a place to call home in very turbulent times.
Living your true purpose – that’s where the happiness is. And helping others brings me joy. My family bring me joy. My dog brings me joy. This pandemic has been a life lesson that has challenged all of us. And it’s been hard to find purpose and meaning when touching your face is suddenly life threatening, but it’s just a very big pothole on this journey with my sidekick, ‘ikigai’.
My life is valuable and I am making an impact. Tell yourself that every once in a while.
Someday I’ll look at my Diamond Elite award plaque, and I’ll forget about the gallons of hand sanitizer and smiling through a mask, and just think about how lucky I was to have a purpose.
There was a time, not too long ago, when buying a home was like a romantic courtship. Buyers could enjoy falling in love, numerous candlelit dinner dates, and plenty of time to get to know one another before making a commitment. This current market has changed all that – with today’s buyers experiencing more of a speed dating type of romance. Whirlwind would be an understatement!
In a normal real estate climate, homeowners would look at an average of ten houses before making a purchase – but what happens when the inventory is so low you have ten suitors bidding on ‘the one’. The key is to have all of your ducks in a row, so you can go in with the cleanest offer possible. Working with a mortgage broker is extremely beneficial. Many online ‘pre-approvals’ can be misleading, much like a dating site where everyone posts a Photoshopped picture of themselves from 20 years ago. The harsh reality can be alarming.
And, everyone remembers ‘the one that got away’. That first heartbreak or break up can be devastating, but you (hopefully) learned from your mistake and moved on. If you allowed your heart to do the thinking instead of your head – the charm of the 1000 sq. ft. bungalow could have worn off when the twins and a dog came along. Your REALTOR is there to dust you off and offer advice akin to, ‘Stop wallowing and get back out there’. And, to remind you to focus on your original list of must-haves and deal breakers. Did you offer because the home was Mr. Right, or Mr. Right Now?
Your Realtor should also be like your best friend. I won’t be the Realtor who says, ‘They were never right for you’ AFTER the breakup. My job is to steer buyers in the right direction, right from the beginning – with a clear mind, and a strategy for finding the house of your dreams. Watching a buyer fall for the ‘hot’ downtown condo with the rooftop party room is never easy, when their original ‘must-haves’ were the best school district and a big backyard.
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is also blind as a bat sometimes. But where would we be without love? February may be the shortest month, but it’s also the perfect time to put yourself out there. You’ll be staying at home alone on a Friday night watching Netflix in your rental apartment – forever – if you don’t make an effort. And, whether you are looking to get in, or out of a relationship, choose a real estate advisor who will be there for you – every bumpy, rose petaled step of the way.
Well, here we are, the Monday-est Monday of all time! I doubt there has ever been this much enthusiasm for a fresh start. I for one am ready to embrace this shiny new year, although I’m hanging on to some of the nice impressions 2020 left on me – like the comfort of knowing my home, my nest, was the safest place for us to be. The 'year we will never forget', now in my rear-view mirror, was a reminder of why I do what I do.
Some of our oldest, fondest, and most ingrained memories begin at home. The rituals of bed making and table setting. Sunday evening roasts and Kraft boxed pizza kit night. I watched The Queen’s Gambit over the holidays and flashed back to playing chess with my dad before school. We’d sit at the pine kitchen table, the smells of my mother’s incredible cooking filling the air with warmth and love. That pine table sits in my dining room now, and there’s nothing I love more than seeing my flock gathered around it. If only I could remember how to play chess.
We lived in a number of houses growing up, and they were all 'homes'. Nesting is the difference between a house and a home. Nesting is an instinct that adds comfort and evokes feelings – sometimes tangible, like smells or music – or sometimes intangibles that drift under the surface, until a randomly disconnected event suddenly takes us back to a long-forgotten place. A familiar pull on the heartstrings, and we are led back into the safety of the nest, or to the barn where I rode as a girl, with its apple orchard out back. I see a box of Cap’n Crunch and I'm watching Saturday morning cartoons on our 2-channel TV, constantly adjusting the rabbit ears to get the picture just right. (I'm that old.) One of our homes had a pair of his-and-her Gremlin hatchbacks in the driveway. How could anyone forget the ugliest cars ever made... and we had two of them!
Residential real estate is driven by emotion. Ultimately, value is determined by what the buyer will pay. Buyers fall in love with the hopes and dreams of a space, a neighbourhood, a future to fill with memories.
Selling is about letting go of the physical space, while keeping the memories and experiences exactly as they were. Your home is your story. We won’t all love the same book, just as we don’t love the same cars – and we don’t all see houses with the same vision. The hardest thing I ask sellers to do when preparing to list, is to pack away their ‘stuff’ – always with a gentle reminder that another chapter of their story awaits.
With this new year barely hatched, I already know this much: I will never forget my dad’s English breakfast complete with mandatory blood pudding. Ew. And, my mom ironing our sheets is something I take with me to bed every night when I snuggle into my wrinkled but cozy percale.
What drew me to becoming a Realtor was helping people find their story, which is the true art of nesting. This year, more than any other, I am putting my Nesting Instincts to work – for myself and my family, for my clients, and hopefully for all those still searching for a place to call home.
Happy this year!