Lauren Mark is 26 years old and may have just bought her retirement home.
In many ways, her 1.5-bedroom, two-floor loft in Mississauga is as perfect for her life now as it will be 50 years from now. A mall is right across the street. The community is friendly; the security guards at the condo ask if she needs help carrying groceries. By the time she isn’t driving any more, Toronto might have finally extended the subway that far west. And on a summer day, it’s almost as good as Florida: “If I go on my balcony, I feel like I’m at a resort,” she says, describing her view of trees, pools and tanning chairs.
Thinking this far ahead isn’t the norm, but as the average life expectancy rises and a greater percentage of Canadians hit retirement age, it may just be the next big thing in design. An emerging initiative called New Aging is all about proactively planning the future you want rather than letting circumstances decide for you.
And if Matthias Hollwich, an architect and author of a New Aging manifesto of sorts that is slated for publication in 2015, has his way, homes and neighbourhoods would be designed to give us what we need at any age so we never have to enter a nursing home.
“Aging is a gift that we receive with life. If you don’t like aging then you are basically dead,” says Hollwich, co-founder of New York architecture firm Hollwich Kushner Architecture DPC. He speaks with the zeal of a revolutionary, a visionary who just wants everyone to live a happy life for as long as possible. To do this, he says we should accept aging early (he is 43 but declared himself old several years ago) and prepare for aging the same way that we would plan a vacation: You wouldn’t take a trip around the world without first considering how to get there, where to stay, who to bring and leave behind, and what you want to experience.
And he applies his theory in his own life: He rents an apartment in Manhattan, but plans to purchase a property with friends by the time he turns 50, a space complete with private studios, a large communal living area and an extra apartment for a caregiver.
A New Aging home adheres to the principles of universal design, which considers the needs of people of every age and ability. For example, entrances, pathways, bathrooms and kitchens should accommodate someone with a walker or in a wheelchair. The philosophy also involves thinking about how the space could transform to meet new requirements over time: Equal-sized (rather than hierarchical) bedrooms would allow a caretaker to stay after kids grow up and move out; a spacious living room could be converted to share space with a bed one day; a future elevator could be added to the blueprints of a new house.
Hollwich and his team have designed several New Aging community prototypes for locations in the Europe, Africa and North America, but these concepts have not been built. However, all of his work is infused with an awareness of aging, including the 1,840-unit apartment building that is under construction in New Jersey, which will feature details such as barrier-free travel, direct access to public transit, kitchen surfaces that are the right height for wheelchairs and fully accessible bathrooms.
Ronny Wiskin, who founded Reliable Independent Living Services in Toronto and specializes in renovations that allow homeowners to age in place, says that building a house for the future is a smart investment. “More and more people are aware nowadays because of this large aging demographic – where we’re looking down the road saying, ‘Holy smokes! Grey is becoming the new blond and how do we help them to live comfortably where they want to live?’” Wiskin says.
Mississauga’s Lauren Mark may not be able to age in place in her condo (it’s too small for raising a family), but she’s thinking she’d rent it out and then move back later in life. “All of the things that you require on an everyday basis are right there – so that was huge when I was looking into buying it,” she says.
Deborah Biondino, a 27-year-old social-media manager, and her husband, Michael Bernardi, bought a townhouse in Laval, a suburb of Montreal, last winter and Biondino has the intention of spending the rest of her life there. The three-bedroom, 1.5 bathroom townhouse isn’t ideal for someone with limited mobility – but Biondino is already planning renovations. “I want to make the shower bigger and have a seat put in,” she says, adding that she wants to remove the dangerous step and transform the shower so it’s flush with the floor. All the bedrooms are on the second floor, which might be difficult to access in the far future, but Biondino has already thought of a solution: “The house can definitely have a bedroom put on the first floor. We could put up walls between the dining room and the living room and split that into equal-size rooms,” she says. Biondino liked the house because, although big enough to accommodate a family, it isn’t so big that it’s difficult to maintain. “I didn’t want too much of a yard space,” she says, “I’ve seen how my grandfather, who has a huge yard, has already started downsizing.”
While New Aging is more an idea than a movement at the moment, Hunter Tura, president and CEO of Bruce Mau Design in Toronto, says the universality of aging means it could become integral to popular design philosophy.
“Sustainability is a great analog to [New Aging],” says Tura, who is working with Hollwich on the New Aging book. “What was once a kind of niche thing now really is a kind of industry standard. – I’d like to see the same thing happen over time to consider the needs of aging people.”
Interesting! Article from The Globe and Mail.
Closing day for a house deal is a stressful experience for buyers and sellers, having to deal with movers, lawyers, real estate agents, insurance companies and lenders to make sure everything is in order. However, no matter how well you plan in advance, you must be prepared for closing issues. If you handle them the right way, your deal will still close and more importantly, both the buyer and the seller should be satisfied with the result.
Here are some of the problems I have experienced on or just before closing:
Where is my privacy?
In one case, the seller advertised the home as having large evergreens in the backyard, giving year round privacy. The sellers moved out a week before closing and gave their neighbour the permission to trim the branches on the neighbour’s side of the fence. The neighbour proceeded to remove all the branches, taking away the entire privacy of the backyard. The buyers noticed this just before closing and were extremely upset.
A solution was proposed by a landscaper, to just plant eight cedars in the space, creating instant privacy. Cost was about $1,200 which seller paid. Problem solved.
There is a skunk underneath the front porch
The buyers found a family of skunks under the front porch on the day before closing. The seller’s lawyer said that it was not the seller’s responsibility to remove the skunks from the property. It is difficult to tell who would win if this went to court. Instead, the seller paid a pest control company $250 to remove the skunks. These companies also specialize in trapping raccoons and removing termites as well. Problem solved.
The furnace is not working
Most real estate agreements state that the home systems and appliances will be working on closing. When buyers go in to do the final visits, problems arise if they notice that things aren’t working. The best way to resolve this is to immediately get an estimate to fix the problem and then offer the seller the option of fixing the problem themselves or giving the buyer a credit for the repair.
There is an outstanding permit at the City
When there is an outstanding permit, it typically means that the owner of the home has started work at the property that required a building permit. However, they did not have the inspector come and sign off when the work was finished. The buyer must have proof that the work was in fact done correctly or else the buyer will be responsible to fix this after closing. If the permit related to work done by a prior owner who was not the actual seller, then it is possible that title insurance will solve the issue. Otherwise, it is best to contact the City, arrange for an inspector to come out to conduct whatever inspection is necessary to close the permit. This may require extending the closing date for a few days to get it done.
I can’t get in the front door
I have seen situations where the seller leaves one key for the buyer and the rest of the keys on the kitchen counter. Problem is that there are two locks on the front door. In this situation buyers should immediately call a 24 hour locksmith to give them access into the home. The cost will be the seller’s responsibility.
If you relax and look for common sense solutions, most closing day issues can be overcome to the satisfaction of both buyers and sellers.
Mark Weisleder is a lawyer, author and speaker to the real estate industry.
If you’re in the market for a house and know what other houses in the area are selling for, would that help you to make an offer?
This question is at the heart of the lengthy proceedings between the Competition Bureau and the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB). The Bureau wants anyone to be able to know what houses sell for by giving them access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) owned by real estate board. TREB says the information is private.
In a Supreme Court of Canada decision given last week, the parties were basically told to keep fighting.
The selling prices of homes are currently the property of real estate boards. When buyers or sellers use an agent, they agree that the purchase or sale price will be available to others using an agent to buy or sell. They have not agreed that the broader public should also have access to this information.
Real estate agents argue that since they pay to build and maintain MLS systems, people should not be able to get that information for free. It is the same, they argue, as asking Bell Canada to let others use their network for free to offer consumers lower phone prices.
The case was first heard at the Competition Tribunal in April 2013. TREB argued that privacy laws mean this information can not be made available without the permission of the buyers and sellers involved. The case was thrown out on the basis that since TREB is not competing with anyone, it is not abusing any position in the market.
The case then went to the Federal Court of Appeal where judges decided late last year the case should go back for another trial in front of the Competition Tribunal. This was confirmed by the recent Supreme Court decision.
So after two years of legal bills in the millions of dollars, we are back to where we started, with another hearing likely within a year.
I still can’t figure out why the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has not come out and said where it stands. This would probably lead to a settlement. In prior decisions, the Commissioner has said selling prices are private and no real estate agent can advertise what your home sold for without your permission.
Some believe that if selling prices are widely available, you could figure out how to buy a home yourself, without an agent. I don’t think it will make any difference. Selling a home by yourself isn’t easy. Buyers will find out the same thing.
On a separate privacy issue, I am often asked whether you can take pictures of appliances when visiting a seller’s home. In my opinion, a seller is inviting you to look over the house, including any appliances, they shouldn’t complain if you took pictures to make sure that you are receiving on closing what you expect to receive.
Even though there is a lot of information out there, it is not easy to buy or sell your home by yourself. Be careful.
Mark Weisleder is a lawyer, author and speaker to the real estate industry.