Thursday, 24 May 2012

Closing gifts


I'm always looking for new ideas to give to my buying or selling clients on "Closing Day".   Clients gifts are a practise that I've done off and on over the years and I do admit I need to get more consistent with it as I haven't given them out to all of my clients.  Sometimes I just give a break on the commission to my Sellers, which they appreciate, but it's also nice to give a little tangible momento to my Buyers or Sellers so that it reinforces their positive feelings about the transaction as a whole, and about me.  Sometimes if I'm really lucky, a client will even give me a "Thank you" gift...which is always a nice surprise!  Who doesn't love getting gifts?  :-)

While I know of a few agents that give a nice card and a bottle of wine on "Closing Day" and that is it, I've gone back and forth on ideas for client gifts in the past 10 years.  Here are some that I've done in the past:

1) A wooden model dory with a bottle of wine inside it
2)  Gift cards to a Home Depot or even Sobeys and Tim Hortons.
3)  The entire commission given back to a newly single mom who needed the money and used it as a downpayment on another house after the forced sale of her home due to divorce*
4)  A Dishwasher**
5)  cookbooks
6)  contributions to an Savings Bond for a child whose parent had passed away**
7)  Lotto tickets & a plant to a client who was feeling a bit down in the dumps
8)  A tank of oil and a furnace inspection**
9)  payments for water testing
10)  Gift cards to a nice restaurant
11)   Gift certificates for pizza delivery to use as they were moving in didn't have time to cook
12)  $5000 contribution to a local women's shelter**
13)  Shrubs and bulbs to replace ones that a Seller ripped out of her garden and took with her that she was not supposed to
14)  A fancy shower head... for the same reason as in #13
15) Complimentary home staging 

** These ones were joint gifts from the entire team or between Bruce and I to the client and not just from me.
So, I've been all over the map on gifts.  What I know is that I need to stop the madness a little bit on the big ticket items and just concentrate more on making sure that I remember to give a gift to every single client.  So I am considering making all of my gifts pretty uniform.  I don't know if I'll stick to this or not, as I like to have a bit of variety but we'll see.
This is what I'm trying now:


They are beautiful, whimsical prints by a friend and Nova Scotia folk artist, Shelagh Duffett.  I first met Shelagh about 10 years ago on another blogging website.  I've loved Shelagh's artwork from the first time I saw it.   I was fortunate enough about 5 years ago to be given permission by Shelagh to use two of her prints of houses as the image on the front of my business cards, which I love and get compliments on all the time for being so different than the standard real estate business card.   She's a beautiful person inside and out and I try to support her in little ways whenever I can.

So, I bought a couple dozen of her prints to use as client gifts.  Here are 4 of them framed up and ready to go for a closing that I have on June 1st.  I love them.  They make me smile and hopefully I'll soon have lots of new clients with these in their homes who look at them and smile too...and think of me.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Long weekend battle with the weeds


What an absolutely gorgeous long weekend we just had here in Halifax!  I fear that it will be hard to top so many beautiful, clear, warm sunny days in a row.   And just when I get my hopes up, the skies open up and we all get washed away today!
I cross my fingers on days like this, it’s only  a matter of time before those missing shingles on the roof translates into a nice little leak that stains the ceiling or worse.  We’ve been putting off getting the roof done for a couple of years now.  There are lots of jobs around the house we’ve been putting off waiting to be in a little bit better financial position.  In July we are finally free from our car payments so hopefully we can start planning some home repairs then.
We took advantage of the sunshine to take care of the long neglected front garden and plantings along the retaining/rock wall.  We hadn’t mulched them in  years and there were so many weeds and bare spots where the old landscape fabric showed or worse, was loose and flopped around in the wind.
Our first step was to visit a local nursery and wander around aimlessly for a couple of hours trying to figure out which plants to put in the empty spots in the garden up by the house.  The plants that were there before, while lovely, were killed off by yours truly after I made them suffer for two years.  I really do have a black thumb.  Bet hey, the orchids I got for Mother’s Day are still alive!
So, there were all kinds of really nice options for us.  Nice roses, some really cool and exotic looking flowering shrubs and lots of other choices but in the end we stayed a bit vanilla and settled on two purple dwarf rhododendrons and two leafy bleeding heart plants.   Here they are below before I  kill them off  plant them.
There was a side trip later to pick up about three tractor scoops of mulch from some little out-of-the-way place in Eastern Passage but the guys there were camera-shy and didn’t want me taking pics.  Party poopers. Maybe it had something to do with the cash only rule.
Back at home, I decided to share the joy and announced to my two teen boys how much fun they’d have if they’d only shut down their laptops and come out in the sunshine and grab a shovel.  They weren’t too convinced.  I had my way in the end.  After all, cheap labor is what having kids is all about.  Well, that and someone to take care of me in my old age.
Anyway, here is the first-born and my hubby trying to decide if they are going to put the plants where I want them to or where they want them to go.  Least they’re holding the shovels and I’m on the business end of a camera.  I win.
Once the plants were in and all fertilized and bound up snug in their new home we decided to lay down some old newspapers and wet them down.  It’s supposed to be a good weed barrier, so we decided to try it under our landscape fabric to see if it makes a difference.
All in all, minus the running around for plants and mulch we did the whole job in about 6 hours with all 4 of us working.  And we spread that out over two days so we wouldn’t go bonkers listening to the boys bicker back and forth.  There is a small garden to do at the bottom of our front lawn still and we need to re-do the entire front slope of our lawn where it meets the ditch as that is overgrown too and still has the dead shrubs in it that I killed off last year.  It will be a huge job because it’s about 7 feet wide and 150 feet long.  Not looking forward to that job at all!  Later in the summer…
But for now, the areas we re-did look 100% better and I’m very happy with how they turned out.
A well deserved bask in the sun.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Mother's Day & the Tart


Wow, 4 comments on my last entry!  I’m famous!  I knew that it would be a tough and slow road with starting a blog but I am finding it just a touch discouraging as well.  I guess I’m a feedback type of person and I thought a blog would be more social than it’s turning out to be so far.  However, it is what you make of it and I’m going to keep on keeping on!   Go me.
Busy weekend.  I took Matthew and his girlfriend out on Saturday afternoon shopping for a tux rental for him and she was on the hunt for some shoes to go with her prom dress.
Of course, on Sunday it was Mother’s Day.  My Hubby and kids gave me three little gifts… a bag of Hickory Sticks (they know me so well!!), some chocolates, and a beautiful orchid in a small vase.  It’s gorgeous and I’ve always loved looking at them but oh my gosh the thing is doomed.  I have the worst black thumb.  I’ve managed to kill off just about every plant I’ve ever gotten my hands on.   It’s so pretty but it’ll be dead in a week.   Maybe this time will be different.

Isn’t it pretty?


Mother’s Day was fairly quiet.  I was able to get lots of laundry done and on the line (love that!).   The Hubby flew out in the afternoon to Ottawa for the week for a course for work so that was the only bummer for the day.  I didn’t want to cook so I treated the boys and myself to pizzas and donairs and we watched some shows on Netflix.
I made this really yummy Tomato and Zucchini tart over the weekend.  This isn’t a food blog but I thought that I would share because it was really easy, super tasty, cheap and vegetarian.

Tomato & Zucchini Tart

Ingredients:
1 Deep-dish frozen pie crust (I used Compliments brand)
1 medium zucchini  (or two smaller ones)
1 T olive oil
3 plum tomatoes or 1 large tomato 
3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional and I left it out)
1/2 c fresh basil, chopped
1/3 c parmesan cheese (just the shaker stuff is good)
1/2 c  mayo (I used the olive oil mayo from Hellman’s)
4 oz grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
Prick bottom of pie crust with fork.  Bake pie crust at 450° F for 10 min. Let cool.
Sauté zucchini in hot oil in large skillet until tender, about 5-10 min.
Arrange zucchini in bottom of crust.
Layer tomatoes on top of zucchini.
Stir together basil, Parmesan, mozzarella and mayo, salt & pepper. Drop dollops of cheese mixture evenly spaced on top of tomatoes then spread across entire surface.  Bake at 420° F for 10 – 15 min or until thoroughly heated and cheese is melted.  This took me closer to 30 minutes.
I served with a side of steamed asparagus but it would go really well with a salad.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Etiquette at Open Houses


I’ve been finding myself doing a fair number of Open Houses lately.  Most Sundays from 2 to 4 PM you’ll find me hunkered down in some Seller’s home hoping  for visitors that are actually potential buyers and not “Susie down the street who thought she’d check out the neighbour’s house”.   Sometimes the open houses are well attended, other times I find myself sitting in an empty house for two hours, time which could have been better spent for sure.  But that’s a topic for another day.
I’ve been a licensed REALTOR® for 10 years and over those years my opinion has gone back and forth on the ethics, etiquette and effectiveness of Open Houses.  REALTORS® go back and forth on this issue all the time, do open houses work or don’t they?  You’ll find agents firmly on both sides of the fence and this isn’t meant to be a debate with any other agent who happens upon this rambling.  I’ll probably get into most of my thoughts on open houses over the next little while but for this entry I just want to talk about visiting an open house.  If you want to call it guidelines on the etiquette of visiting an open house…fill your boots.   I don’t mean to offend anyone, however it’s important to realize that you are being invited into someone’s home for a specific purpose.  Sellers pack up their families and leave their homes in my hands for two hours hoping that someone will pop in, take a look around, perhaps tell a friend about it and better yet, buy it themselves.
Often an open house allows someone who saw the house with their agent to return with friends or family for a second look.   It’s very expected that neighbours and even friends may stop in, but the idea is to allow a stress-free time frame for open viewings for serious buyers.
The etiquette expected from visitors to an open house is really just good old-fashioned common sense – however you’d be surprised how many people stretch the rules and do things that I, as a seller, wouldn’t necessarily appreciate if it was my home that was open.
REALTORS® do their best to keep everything on track and going smoothly, but there are times when things get hectic, to say the least.  Many times I’ve had to struggle with finding a way to diplomatically ask a visitor to stop what they were doing.   It’s not easy but I have a duty to my client.  Everything I mention below has actually happened to me or a member of my team.
So, here are just a few things to think about next time you are considering visiting an open house:
1) Take off your shoes.   This should be common sense.  Sometimes the agents encourage you to carry them with you so that you can save time viewing parts of the property.  For example, going through the patio doors from the kitchen to the deck which leads to a quick walk around the back yard… having your shoes with you saves you from having to go back to the front door to get them.  Remember to take them off again when re-entering the house.  Tracking through dirt, grass and mud and who knows what else just isn’t nice.
2) Sign in.  If there is a guest book or sign in sheets use them.  Most REALTORS® will not barrage you with emails or phone calls to buy or sell just because you sign their open house forms, instead it’s a record for the sellers to see how many people were in their home. If you do want additional information on the house or others, there is usually a spot for that inquiry and of course any REALTOR® (myself included) would be glad to follow-up with you later and help.
3) Don’t abuse the bathroom.  Enough said.  Try to avoid using it altogether.  Do not stop into the open house with the express purpose of making a beeline, with kids in tow, to the bathroom and then leave.  I sympathize with you, but my clients are offering a house for sale, not a public restroom.  If you absolutely have to use the washroom, for God’s sakeflush!  I’ve lost track of the times I’ve gone behind visitor and cleaned up after them, flushed and wiped pee off a seat or water off a bathroom counter or soap suds from a sink, or straightened hand towels or tried to spray the odours away!  It’s just a simple matter of respect.
4) Try not to spout very loud opinions on things you may not know anything about – such as “wow that paint colour is so bright they must be hiding huge problems in the wall.”  How would you feel if someone said that about your home when it wasn’t true?  Also, it’s a well-known tactic of buyers who are very interested in a home to “talk it down” to try to grease the way for a low ball offer, trying to make the Seller think you are doing them a favour by taking it off their hands at such a low price.  We’re trained to recognize when someone is doing that.
5) Don’t be afraid to talk to and ask questions of the REALTOR® – they have a duty to be honest and ethical with their answers so it’s a great time to chat about the house if you are interested.  If you are working with a REALTOR® already, please say so.   The agent will appreciate it and it relieves a bit of pressure on both sides.
6)  Be Upfront!   If you are a neighbour who is ”just curious” or just love looking at houses and have no intention of ever buying anything, be upfront.  We actually don’t mind those types of visits as much as you’d think since it gives us an opportunity to ask you for feedback or to ask you if you know of anyone interested in moving into the area who might like the house.  Tell your friends!
7)  Mind what you say.  Agents working open houses are there representing the Seller.  Do not say anything to that REALTOR® that you would not say directly to the Seller himself.  Unless the REALTOR®  at the open house is also your agent, they have a duty to disclose everything you say to the Seller… especially if it will help in negotiations.  If you enlist the help of the attending REALTOR®  for an offer, they have a duty to treat both you and the Seller fairly and impartially and anything you say to your agent has to be kept confidential during negotiations,  just like with lawyers or doctors.
8)  Do not bring drinks into a house. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to ask people to leave their water, Pepsi, slurpee, coffee, juice containers outside. Every once in a while I find ones that slipped by me and somebody has left their empty cup on a table or counter or spilled somewhere.
9)  If you have small children with you – control them.  I’ve seen countless parents come in to open houses and let their kids run wild, pick up the Seller’s kids’ toys,  crawl onto beds and furniture, etc.  That is very stressful.
10)  Respect Privacy.   It’s one thing to open a closet to see how much space there is or go into a garage to see if it’s big enough for a mancave or to hold all your “toys”, but it crosses the line to open dresser drawers,  jewellery boxes or to pick up personal items of the Seller’s.   The house is for sale and therefore open to your inspection, the contents of their underwear drawers, garage tool boxes and jewellery boxes are not.
11)  Do not steal stuff.  Goes without saying.
12)  Do not smoke.
13)  No House Humping!  OK I’ll touch on this subject.  There are people who find excitement in visiting open houses solely for the chance to slip off and hide somewhere in the house and “do the wild thing” knowing they could get caught.   Please, take it elsewhere.  Believe me, no one came to see that.
and last but not least…
14)  Please leave Feedback!    Getting qualified Buyers through the door is my goal at an open house however if the house isn’t selling the Seller has to know why.  So if you think the house is overpriced, looks worn and dated or smells moldy… please tell us!  You’re feedback is invaluable!
Thanks in advance from all those nervous Sellers!!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Flying


This week I managed to sit down and spend some time researching, planning and booking the hotel, flights and car for our trip to Victoria in August.  Matthew will be competing in the Canadian Championships for Target and Field Archery and we figured that since it is in Victoria the whole family would fly out.  The boys were both born in the Comox Valley which is on the Eastern coast of Vancouver Island at around the midpoint of the island.  Beautiful spot.  I am looking forward to the trip, but especially seeing Comox again and introducing the boys to where they spent the first couple of years of their lives.  I love my Nova Scotia home but how could a person not miss a town that has this as it’s view?
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The picture shows the Comox Glacier.  Yes, it is glacial ice.   To the right of the Glacier is the Forbidden Plateau, and then further right (not pictured) is Mt. Washington resort.  A popular resort for skiing.
We were able to use our airmiles for two of the tickets which helped but it was still nearly $2600 for four tickets.  And they don’t even feed you on the plane anymore.  Or show you free movies.   Gone are the days when you could take off and drink free from take off to landing!!  (Not that I ever did that…much).
Let’s just hope all the archery gear makes it there.  They can lose our underwear but if that archery gear doesn’t make it off the plane safely I think I may have a cow.
In fact, if we could warp speed through the actual flight that would be great!  I never used to be a nervous flyer but I think that all changed when I had kids.  I used to be in the Air Force and loved flying and planes.  I remember living in the barracks and parking my fanny in front of my bedroom window after work to watch the planes take off and land, or running to the window when I heard some new, different engine sound wondering what weird and wonderful visiting aircraft that it belonged to.
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And then there was the psychic.  One white haired little old lady that read my palm and tea leaves when I was 15 that told me that I would always have problems involving airplanes and flights.  And for the most part that is true.  The first flight I took after that (about 3 months later) ended up having to return to Montreal after trying unsuccessfully to land in Halifax during a storm.  There can not be many worse feelings in the world as a 15 year old on a plane in a storm feeling it descend for landing, not being able to see the runway under you and then feeling the plane sharply pull up and climb after aborting the attempt… more than once.  Landing in Montreal was a relief.
While hubby and I were living on Vancouver Island we decided to book a flight home to Nova Scotia and surprise the family.  We were young and childless at that point and could do impulsive things like that.  The air force Boeings were still  in service then and it was a relatively simple thing to book ourselves on a return cross country trip.
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The day we left was a fairly rainy day and on take off I was getting wet sitting in my seat as there was water actually coming in from around the window frame…and oh yes, all the oxygen masks came down in front of all the seats.  ”No problem” the pilot said, just ignore them.  Great.
On the return trip, as we were doing our approach into Comox we noticed that we were taking an unusually long time.  Circling.  We thought that there was just a lot of air traffic and that we were just waiting our turn.  Well, after widely circling for 45 minutes we began to suspect something was up.  As we spotted the air field we noticed all the lights off the runway…belonging to ambulances and firetrucks.  They were there for us.   Eventually the pilot came on and told us to brace during landing and that it might be a bit rough.  Other than that, none of us were told what was going on.  We landed and the plane came to a stop faster than any plane I’d ever been on.  We didn’t even taxi to the terminal, they wheeled a couple of sets of stairs out to us and we all got off.  There was hydraulic fluid all over the runway under our plane.  When we got to the terminal there were people waiting there for passengers in tears.  They could see and were all told that the plane could not get it’s landing gear down.  It just wouldn’t come down.  Eventually it would come down partially (one side down, one side down about half way).  That’s why we’d been circling and the ride was bumpy.  They were trying to jostle the landing gear down and burn fuel at the same time.  We were told none of this on the plane.
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Eventually they were able to get both sides of the gear down but were unable to confirm if it was locked in place.  They went in for a landing expecting that some or all of the gear would give out at touch down.   Thankfully that didn’t happen.  I have to say that not knowing fully what was going on was probably a good thing.  As a result I could look at it from the other side and instead of fear I just feel lucky and a bit detached, as if it happened to someone else.  It’s probably why I can still get on a plane.
There were other incidents such as missed planes, delayed planes and even once another plane that came way to close to us which sparked a bit of a panic.  The pilots denied there was ever any issue however most of the passengers saw the other plane pass slightly below us and to the side and we could clearly see the passengers in the windows of the other plane.  One of the stewardesses freaked when it was pointed out to her, which caused some of the passengers to freak.  Nothing else was ever said about it except for a small write up in the paper about two planes coming very close to each other.  I don’t know if it was our two planes or not.  I assume so.
So, the more I fly the more of a nervous flyer I become.  I am still not going to let it ground me though.  I realize there are going to be times that I just need to fly.  Period.
The kids probably feel the same way.  However their issues with flying have nothing to do with bad experiences and everything to do with the TV show “Mayday”.  They used to watch that show all the time.       They aren’t outwardly nervous fliers although they will admit to a few butterflies.  It’s their own darn fault though.  Heck, the last time Matthew flew his dad looked over on the plane to see what movie he was watching…he was watching “Mayday” on the plane.
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Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Getting back on target

Little bit of a busy time in my household lately. Mostly centered around my oldest, Matthew (17) as he generally tries to chew everything he’s bitten off in life with his sports and his schooling.
He is currently involved in two competitive sports, Target shooting (air pistol) and Archery.

For him, this week marks the transition from the indoor archery season to the outdoor season. Indoor archery involves targets set up at 18 meters indoors where it’s relatively comfortable and shooting conditions don’t vary much.

This is Matt during a practice session at the 2011 Canada Winter Games, Halifax NS

Outdoor archery season is a bit of a different animal. It involves being able to shoot at a variety of distances, from 30 meters all the way up to 90 meters. Weather is a huge variable. I’ve seen archers aim at their own target and their arrows end up on the target the next butt over, carried by a gust of wind. At those distances you need heavier arrows and spotting telescopes to be able to see where your arrow hit the target before you take your next shot, you can’t “eyeball” it at a distance of 270 feet!
This is a distance of 50 meters, Canadian Championships Laval, PQ 2010

So this week was the switch over from all of his indoor equipment to his outdoor stuff. And the “crisis” involved when he realized that all his arrows are now too short for him ($600/dozen!!) and that he needs a new arrow rest and a new scope.

I’m going to have to sell another couple of houses!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

We need your Stories. USA/NS Ferry initiative

Yesterday a good number of Provincial government employees learned that their jobs were being moved out of Halifax and into rural areas as a way for the government to prop up the stuggling economies and dwindling populations of communities not part of the Urban core. They’re upset, and I don’t blame them. While I think that this certainly will have benefits for the rural communities that these jobs are being moved to I don’t think it will have as big an impact as was anticipated as it is thought that most of the employees that are being forced to move out of Halifax will instead give up their job and stay put. I think if the government wanted to help the economies of the stuggling communities a good first step would be to reinstate the ferry service between Maine and Nova Scotia.
REALTORS® in Nova Scotia were recently encouraged to consider supporting an initiative with their Government Relations Committee (GRC) together with the Nova Scotia International Ferry Partnership (NSIFP) to lobby the Provincial government for the return of the ferry service.

“The Nova Scotia International Ferry Partnership has launched a campaign to collect information and feedback from business and the public on how the loss of the Yarmouth Ferry service, terminated in December 2009, has affected them. The purpose for collecting these personal accounts is to put a ‘human face’ on the issue and share the province-wide impact the loss of the service has created. The information will be distributed by the Nova Scotia International Ferry Partnership to decision-makers with the ultimate goal to secure a new ferry service in the area.
The personal accounts impacting this loss to Nova Scotians are further supported by a recent study that reported the costs associated with losing the ferry service and the lost revenue to the province’s economy to be $16.3 million annually along with a net loss of 260 full-time jobs.”





So, I’m asking for your support with this, Dear Reader. Join us in supporting this initiative with the belief that together, we can inspire change and improve the quality of life for all Nova Scotians. If you, or someone you know, has a personal story on how the loss of this ferry service has negatively impacted your community, your business, your life, please take a few minutes to share your experience. You can submit your story, review the study and learn more by visiting: www.nsusaferry.com.

Please, Pass this on… I want this to go far beyond the reach of my tiny readership. If just a couple of you pass this on to your Nova Scotia friends and they pass it on we can get the word out and help bring this service back to Nova Scotians. We can do this.