Category Archives: Uncategorized

To Buy or to Build?

For the past ten months my fiancé and I have been submerged in the housing market. The frustration, disappointment, excitement, and prices have all been a little overwhelming and I thought I would share my experience.

As a first time home buyer the process of buying a home is a little confusing and as the largest purchase I have ever made, I wanted to be sure we picked the right one. We saved up our downpayment and with our realtor went shopping. In our price range we found very little that met our expectations, most homes needed major renovations, which we wouldn’t have the money for after buying the house. So we decided to increase our budget a little, sadly we where met with the same situation. We knew we would have to do some work to make the home our own, but we were met with homes that needed total renovations, needing some combination of a new kitchen, walls removed, new floors and bathroom guts. Any large renovations were not something we were willing to under take with our up coming wedding, and our housing budget maxed on the cost of the home.

After viewing countless homes in many different neighbourhoods a family member suggested we look at a new build in a brand new subdivision. I was sceptical, I hate subdivisions, on the outskirts of town, so disconnected, nothing within walking distance, all the houses look the same, little or no parks or public spaces, and the homes themselves are not very architecturally pleasing. Despite my objections my fiancé convinced me to keep an open mind.

We visited the sales centre, and yes the street and the exterior of the homes lacked character, but the interior was beautiful, a far cry from the homes we saw with our realtor and on MLS the past seven months. We were shown all the finishing choices and floor plans we could select, we could completely design our home for a price less than our original budget. It was exciting, but I had to take a step back and think about if I could live in an isolated subdivision, turns out for the price, I was willing to give it a shot. After reviewing all the possible floor plans we selected the best option for us and put down our deposit. We bought in during the pre-build phase which meant we where able to make some changes to the floor plan at a very reasonable cost. We where told we could move in on December 11, “Home for the holidays” is what they told us.

Then the set backs came, pushing our closing date back four months. We where renting at the time and could not sign another years lease, we had to move to another residence where we could live month to month. We were very disappointed we would not be “Home for the holidays”, but glad we where not forced into another years lease, even if it meant moving. Then after a few more months of waiting we were contacted by the builder to start making our finishing selections, we were met with disappointment again. Turns out most of the finishes we were told in the sales centre were standard, were not, and we would have to pay extra for these “upgrades”. This gets expensive, we were given one to eight standard options and the rest were upgrades. So, we  mixed  in some upgraded options on things that could not easily be changed or would make for better resale value.

We are still in the process of building and I often think if we would have bought an existing home we would be living there already, slowly making changes to suit our taste. Then I remember the houses we viewed and the amount of renovations they needed to be comfortable. Even with all the set backs I feel we made the right decision for our first home, we just have to remember to keep the upgrades to a minimum. I will keep you posted on the process as we move forward. 

Guest Author: Trena Tataryn

From the Office to the Barn

It was cold and a bit muddy, but it was the most fun we have had at the office all year, okay maybe not exactly “at” the office. JMA closed up shop for a day last week and headed to the International Plowing Match 2012 in Roseville. Our team volunteered our time and muscles to assist the Mennonite Disaster Service in a demonstration of an “old fashion” barn raising, which took place over the course of the Plowing Match within the antique section of the event. The barn was brought in from Paris Ontario for the demonstration and was assembled and disassembled at the event before being transported to it’s final resting place at a private residence in Collingwood.

Our day started out with a very appropriate tractor ride from the parking area to the event grounds, once we where able to find the barn raising site we grabbed our hardhats and waited for instruction among the other volunteers (about 40 in total). Most of us being first time barn raisers listened carefully as we where explained the process. Come 10am it was show time and people begin to gather in the bleachers to watch our efforts. It started with most of us lifting the first positioned frame by hand as high as our arms would let us, yelling “Yo-He” which means hold on “Yo” and lift on “He” (trust me, you do not what to mix that up). A few people pulled on ropes on the opposite side, guided the frame as the rest of us lifted it.

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Once our arms couldn’t push the frame any higher assigned people put the pikes (long piece of timber with a spike in one end) in place, butting them up against the frame.  Once the pikes where set everyone moved out from holding the frame and helped either on the ropes or on pushing the pikes moving the frame up to its vertical position. Once the frame was up and resting on the prepared foundations, the ropes where tied off and nails where hammered into the legs of the frame where they met the foundation.

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This process was continued for the second and third frames, then support beams where raisin by ropes, these beams secured the frames together and where fixed in place with pegs and braces. Over the course of the day we rose 3 frames including their supports, but our work stopped there, since this demonstration was to be completed over the week, we had to leave the rest of other volunteers to complete in the days to come.

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JMA had a great day learning the traditional way to raise a barn. I only wish we could have been there the rest of the week to help finished what we started.

The Perfect Party House

Have you ever wondered what makes one home better for entertaining than another? Why no matter how many times you invite friends over for a get together they never seem to commit, but there they are the next weekend at the house with the pool table, and wet bar. Sure these features are fun, but it’s the space within the home that makes people feel welcome.

Making a few changes to your space can create a more inviting space where your guests can feel comfortable and are more apt to having a good time.

First impressions are important. When you welcome people into your home you want to put your best foot forward. Your entrance should be warm and inviting, clutter free, and large enough for a few people to comfortably remove their outerwear. A good party house has ample shoe storage (you don’t want guests tripping all over each others shoes), as well as an area near the entry where guests can independently get their coats.

The entry is where first and last impressions are formed, so make sure it’s pleasant. Try to take advantage of any nooks and crannies in and around your entry, creating open shelving, or a small closet will make better use of the vertical space allowing you to remove entry consoles, freeing up valuable floor space.

Traffic flow is always important and a party is certainly no exception. The ideal entertaining house is large enough for people to move through freely but maintains intimate and warm areas to converse. These comfortable areas ideally should be created around what one might call a central “hub”. This is a room that connects other key entertaining spaces, like the kitchen, dinning room, patio and living room. This allows for guests to move through the space easily and encourages conversation by creating several intimate social areas while maintaining the traffic flow through the “hub”.

 

Having different areas of the home open for guests to move through also allow them to decide where they feel most comfortable rallying.

Simply re-configuring your rooms can create this type of “hub”; for example it might make more sense for your family room and dinning room to switch places. Also consider any rooms that tend to go unused, maybe removing or partly removing a wall will open up the space to its full potential. Really think about how your spaces are or are not used and take into account the flow, a few small changes can completely change the feel of the space.

Making your guests comfortable is the key to hosting a successful gathering.

A group of guests will always settle in the kitchen. Having high-level seating in this room is the best way to ensure that they are relaxed and don’t feel as if they are looking to be waited on. A kitchen island with pub style stools encourages guests to help with the preparations while they keep you company. If you don’t already have a kitchen island you can put one in, if you have the space. If not consider the option of a movable island.

Think about transitional pieces. If selected correctly, the kitchen island can double as a serving buffet or that wet bar you always wanted.

Think about your home practically, if you have a formal dining room that is never used there’s no point to it. Change it up and create something beautiful in that space instead. Make every public area in your home one that’s comfortable and enjoyable and your guest will never want to leave.

Cheers

Dickens’ Muse Lives Here

Muses inhabit this part of town. Urban myths of the tough and gritty city are born here.  Even though this place is great for raspy voiced poetry, it is not what we want our real city to be like. This harsh streetscape, lined with a mix of businesses that could use a facelift, makes me wonder how it came to this. I would have thought that a mixed use block of tight knit commercial, with residential on the second floor, near two schools,  a church, a supermarket, varied housing, and an assortment of businesses, all within walking distance to each other, would have been enough to help maintain higher standards. Is it that the street’s balance is tilted to accommodate driving, at the expense of walking? Is it that the neighbourhood hasn’t been able to take ownership of its streets? Or is it that it has entered a cycle of neglect that has infected all the pieces that make up the street?

The empty storefront of a second hand clothing store advertises the contradictions of this site with eloquence. Is that decrepit sign of VERSE, with the first E falling down, there to remind us of the poetic potential of urban decay, or is it just falling down and no one cares?

Grand Re-Opening A Huge Success!

This past Saturday June 18th was the grand re-opening of the Harry Class Community Pool and 80th Anniversary. Attended by all three levels of government, community members, members of the design team, construction team, engineering teams and sub trades the day was a huge success! Featuring tours of the newly re-designed facility, a charity BBQ, aquatic demonstrations by local swim clubs, speeches and a free public swim, there was something for everyone! Despite the hot sticky weather, everyone donned their bathing suits and joined us at the pool to soak up the sun and take a dip in the pool.

Thanks to everyone who came out to the event and supported the charity BBQ! We look forward to your comments on the new facility!

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A Landscape of Development

The leadership of the Region of Waterloo is grappling with whether to introduce a major new piece of public infrastructure, light rail rapid transit. There are many reasons to consider the decision carefully, including its expense, extent and timing, but one particular notion regarding light rail needs a thorough debunking: the idea that light rail transit is unique because it is primarily meant to support development opportunity in our communities, rather than act as simply transportation infrastructure. This element of light rail is cited by both its supporters and opponents as a critical component of their enthusiasm or disapproval for the option.

What deserves airing and exploration is not whether light rail will shape future development. There’s no question that it will.

What must be questioned in debating transit and transportation options is whether other forms of transportation infrastructure, in particular our road systems, aren’t also primarily and firstly determinants of community form. They are. Public investment in roadways is no less massive a shaper of our communities than light rail will be.

We tend to view investment in new lanes for regional roads, upgrades to the 401 and Highway 7/8, and a completely new highway to Guelph as a logical response to traffic demand, rather than a primary driver for land development. Use of the public purse for these projects is comparable to the investment we now contemplate for public transit. Perhaps the only reason we are so uncritical of this practice is its sheer normalcy. We do it year after year after year, yet commute times increase as these projects create further low density development at the periphery of our communities and across productive farmland.

Let’s think about when the Conestoga Expressway was itself a new form of public infrastructure. The decision to build the freeway must be seen in the context of the community form that it was meant to subsidize: a landscape of segregated land uses for shopping, living, recreation and working. This landscape requires extraordinary investments in personal vehicles, parking, asphalt and commute times for all of us. Without the original and ongoing public expense of the expressway, and continued yet largely uncritical funding of road projects, our low density community form, and the development industry that provides it, simply aren’t possible.

Once built, these roads have operating and maintenance costs, like any other system of infrastructure. Recent reports have highlighted the magnitude of public investment that is required to fund existing patterns of residential and employment land development. We are coming face to face with the reality of this unsustainable landscape, for both our pocketbooks and our planet. The Record has reported that almost $500 million is required to eliminate the road maintenance backlog in the Region’s three major cities, with $35 million needed each year thereafter. Not for new lanes and roads, that’s just to maintain the existing. This figure doesn’t include the cost of plowing, policing, operating the road system, and public health costs. That requires still more public funds.

Our mid-20th Century decision to invest in roads and commuting was primarily a decision about how our community would grow, and how such growth would be subsidized with public money. We’re paying dearly for that decision, and won’t be able to get off the treadmill of expense any time soon.

As with the Expressway decision, our present debate about the nature of public investment is primarily about the shape and form of our community. Shall we accommodate growth with more lanes for cars and buses or an infrastructure of rail-based transit? All infrastructure creates development opportunity and tilts the landscape of private decision and investment. The choice we face is not whether to support private development with public money. We’ve done that for decades, and our communities have taken their present shape because of it. The real choice is where to support that investment going forward, using public funds wisely. Which choice leads to a sustainable future for our children?

We are waking to the true expense of our experiment with segregated land use planning and the roadways that support it. Light rail rapid transit can provide a bright alternative to this grim future. Where the project is undertaken with prudence, it will strengthen our historic forms of settlement and help to retain our distinct rural landscape. It will create quality choices for all, by making a difficult decision that leads us in a new direction.

John MacDonald

Better Than Free

Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine, has some opinions about VALUESpecifically, he’s been thinking about what in the world we’re willing to pay for.

His shortlist? Immediacy, Personalization, Authenticity, Findability, Embodiment, Interpretation, Accessibility, Attention, and Patronage. Kelly believes that in a world full of screens that impose massive interaction, unlimited sharing and access, our lives are characterized by a sort of “data immersion”. We’re literally swimming in a sea of megabytes. Finding value in this medium is a daunting task. Generating value (and being able to make a living by doing so) is even more difficult.

For Kelly, the only thing of value is the thing that cannot be copied. He argues (http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/01/better_than_fre.php) that if something can be reproduced, it will be, and in a world of open access and sharing its price will quickly tend toward free. $0. Nada. If we assume that the marketplace is the court of arbitration for value (by no means a given), then we are willing to pay for things that we value. Seen in this light, Kelly’s list of things we will pay for is certainly interesting. Let’s look at them one at a time.

IMMEDIACY! Although I might obtain this thing or this experience for free if I’m willing to wait, I want it now.Instant gratification therefore comes at a price. If you want it faster, you pay. Our parents told us: “All good things come to those who wait!” Now my high-speed internet provider tells me: “Those who wait are losers.” We now value the speed of having something over the appreciation of earning something. A good thing in a world of easy credit?

PERSONALIZATION. It’s not called the I-phone for nothing. The present sales problem for mass merchandising in our post-industrial world is to get the mass out of the merchandise. Where a product is generic, the tendency will be to look for access to it, rather than ownership of it. Sharing a bicycle means I need less bicycle, and access to that bicycle means my transport needs get satisfied. But having a bicycle with my choice of pink handlebar streamers and a bell with a distinct ring tone will help to perpetuate the sale of the NEW, since I’m really buying personal choices, not transportation. This has the added advantage that the merchandise has very little resale value, since what I purchased is myself, rather than the thing. I am the only market for me. The beauty of the I-phone is that it’s really a piece of infrastructure that I can use to purchase me, over and over and over, through small personalized consumer choices of music, ring tone, connection, app, and virtual experience.

AUTHENTICITY. Do you wish to have the “real” thing? Will you pay for that? Kelly argues that we will pay to own the original. What’s interesting in the world of collectibles is how few original things there really are, and how far we’re willing to bend the definition of “original” to create more of them. It will be interesting to see how far we turn to aspects of authenticity that lie beyond the reach of the market, like authentic relationships, and originals that are created with our own efforts rather than the efforts of others.

FINDABILITY. Kelly argues that people will pay for guidance. In a confusing sea of choices, navigation is what we need. Where in this mass of data am I? Well, for a price we will help you “explore” this universe, and as you do we can “explore” you, mining your every keystroke so that we can bring you things and experiences that reinforce who you are. Eventually the medium will know you so well that instead of you exploring new possibilities, it can simply present you, to you. Marco Polo had no reason to travel, if his was not a journey of discovery.

EMBODIMENT. In many ways this is the intersection of authenticity and immediacy. Kelly believes that the internet is essentially a super-copying machine. Everything that enters its flow moves by copying. So in the end, the content is of little value. What people will pay for are the live performances, the real time experiences. Strange though, that the value of the film is its opening night, while its profits derive from distribution rights. Why not concentrate on making opening nights, rather than movies? Perhaps there’s hope for live theatre and dance after all.

INTERPRETATION. As Kelly puts it, the software is free, the manual is $10,000. In other words, there is a market for meaning. Tell me what it means. Tell me how to use it. This points to a real gap in our understanding of information, namely that’s its just that. Information. It’s just lying around. Only meaning uses information. Not the other way round. Relying on others to tell you what it means is a slippery slope.

ACCESSIBILITY. There is a market for declutterers. We pay them to organize our closets and pick our socks off the floor. In an infinite universe of copies of information, media, and browsers, the challenge is in staying organized. In past times, memory was linked to the virtue of prudence. How could you avoid sin if you could not remember what it was? Like interpretation, there’s danger in paying others to remember for you.

ATTENTION. People will pay you to give them attention. Waiters’ and bartenders’ Tip Number 1. Really? The only problem with the marketplace of attention is attention is not caring. You can never really pay someone enough to care. That has to be freely given.

And finally. PATRONAGE. The internet is helping us to rediscover the idea of patronage. In this medium of endless copying and unlicensed downloading, it’s emerging that people can and do support effort and creation. It authenticates their experience of the offering, and connects them to those who produce culture. By making simple and small donations, those who enjoy a work, and feel enriched by it, can gain further satisfaction by showing appreciation in tangible forms. We just don’t want to pay the middle man, the distributor, or the profiteer.

In this idea of patronage, there is an incredibly hopeful lifeline here for all of us. Reaching out to your local arts community, music scene, theatre, or architect can place you immediately, personally, and accessibly at the birth of an idea, of an offering that benefits us all. You will be there at ground zero. You will explore what it means to create. Not free. Better than free! Vital!