As predicted, the Bank of Canada raised its key lending rate this morning from 0.25% to 0.5% .  After more than a year at record lows, Canada is the first G7 country to raise interest rates since the financial crisis began in 2008.  However, the Bank of Canada did emphasize that this increase may not necessarily be the first in an uninterrupted series of hikes.  According to Governor Mark Carney,  “Given the considerable uncertainty surrounding the outlook, any further reduction of monetary stimulus would have to be weighed carefully against domestic and global economic developments.’’

For more information please see:

Bank of Canada hikes interest rates, Globe and Mail

Central bank’s decision a product of intensive research, Globe and Mail

So long ultra-low rates, Globe and Mail

On a quiet side street in Danforth Village lurks an unusual species for sale – a gleaming modern gem renovated with eco-friendly building practices and materials.  The designer of this unique home is Emmanuel Belliveau, one of the hosts of HGTV’s World’s Greenest Homes. Emmanuel is in various stages of renovation on four flip projects in the area, testing the market’s interest in sustainable homes and, most importantly, finding out if buyers are willing to part with a little more green to get green.

Emmanuel took me on a tour of the house last week and I was amazed by the light, airy ambiance and attention to detail throughout.  While the house is a compact 1000 square feet (1300 square feet including the basement), the space has been carefully maximized by smart decisions like cathedral ceilings in the bedrooms, a space-saving built-in teak headboard in the master bedroom and a glass enclosed staircase that acts as a central light well and divides the living and eating space.  No corner has been neglected, including the Forest Stewardship Council certified wood patio, which features an organic herb garden.

Like any eco-friendly product, a green home challenges the buyers’ expectations around necessity versus desire.  Emmanuel’s house is being defined by many buyers as a starter home and perhaps not large enough to raise a family.  The difficulty with green renovation is that the payback period is 5-20 years, whereas first time buyers typically stay in their homes for 5-8 years.  The annual savings in running costs of a house of this size are around $4,000, which may not offset the initial renovation investment if a buyer doesn’t stay in the house over the long-term.  Emmanuel reminded me that “The average person needs 300-500 square feet of living space so we have ample room here for a family of four.  Why have formal rooms that you don’t use but have to heat?”

The key to being more environmentally responsible is to buy only what you need, so why wouldn’t a three bedroom home with two separate living spaces be adequate for a growing family?  Europe and Japan have embraced compact living, so why can’t we?

Given all the recent media attention around “green-washing” and general green fatigue, anything that is marketed as eco-friendly is now open to massive scrutiny.  We used cloth diapers for our daughter but were scolded for wasting water by laundering the diapers every other day.  It is very difficult to attain perfection and in the frustration to do so, many people give up.  With Emmanuel’s house, buyers have questioned everything from maintaining the original home’s air conditioning system instead of installing fans to using reclaimed granite in the bathroom rather than an eco material like Ice Stone.  Emmanuel points out that “You can’t be perfect.  You have to participate in the movement, do things that are better.  It’s not about perfection, it’s about participation.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Let’s take a look inside, shall we?

Lovely views of the street can be enjoyed from the house's hillside perch. While shoveling two sets of stairs in the winter won't be fun, being above street level allows for a very private treehouse feel. The siding is made of Extira, with no old growth wood used in manufacturing and no added urea formaldehyde.

The rock garden and minimal lawn space reduces the need for a lawnmower and low maintenance planting and mulching reduces the amount of watering required. The Ecoscapes mulch is MSC certified and does not contain cremated copper arsenate-treated wood. Safe for your misbehaving dog to chew!

Breathe in and enjoy! No VOC paint, bamboo floors, and energy-efficient, allergy friendly radiant in-floor heating.

Many family buyers are looking for entrance storage or some way to hide all the unsightly "stuff" that comes with kids. While there is a coat closet in the kitchen, it would have been nice to have some storage or a partition wall for hooks here.

Nothing looks better naked than red brick! The exposed brick feature wall brings warmth to the dining area and is a nod to the original building.

Ikea cabinetry, energy star appliances in stainless steel and reclaimed white granite are neutral choices but exude style. Little details like the pot filler above the stove and "book-matched" counter and back splash get my pulse racing. Double doors lead to a generous patio and a recycling depot (no more midnight snacks for you, raccoons of the East end!). A barbecue gas line is already installed. See you at the housewarming BBQ, lucky buyer, whomever you are!

Let there be light! The glass staircase leads to a skylight, creating a central light well. Natural light throughout the house is maximized, reducing use of electrical lights. Wood open risers are a modern choice but could be tricky for small children to navigate.

The master bedroom and bathroom are separated by the staircase from the other two bedrooms, aka "the kids wing". See you never, I mean in the morning, kids!

Vaulted ceilings and a very large closet with a safe (what secrets shall I hide? mmm ha ha!) and organizers make this a lovely master bedroom. The best part is what lies above - the house is retrofitted for solar panels!

By moving the staircase, the bathroom gained square footage. Mondo storage can be found in the responsibly harvested teak vanity.

100% wool broadloom produced by progressive green company Interface has an eco rubber underlay, giving the basement a cosy vibe without the usual worry of toxic fibers and glue. The family room is a great space but there is no storage room for your old high school yearbooks and Doc Marten collection in the basement. Guess it's time to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Emmanuel’s recommended reading list:

Eco:  An Essential Sourcebook

Cradle to Cradle

The full tour of the house is available here.

The Deets:

Danforth/Coxwell, Detached, 2-Storey, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms

List: $649,900

Taxes: $2,572

Lot: 20 x 11o Feet

Parking: 1 space

Remarks For Clients: Green Living At Its Best. Fully Reno’d Top To Bottom, Inside & Out. Modern, Unique, Energy-Efficient Reno By Celebrity Designer Emmanuel Belliveau (Hgtv’s Worlds Greenest Homes). Eco-Friendly Materials, Meticulous Attention To Detail, Top Quality Finishes And Fixtures (Granite, Bamboo, Teak, Porcelain, Wool Carpet). Steps To Subway, Danforth Restaurants & Shops, Good Schools & Park. Absolute Must See – Too Many Custom Features To Describe.

As most Torontonians are frantically trying to escape the city for the first long weekend of the summer, I will be embarking on yet another Staycation.

Staycation

Pronunciation: \stā-ˈkā-shən, və-\

Function: noun

Definition:  a period of rest and freedom from work, study, etc.; time of recreation spent at one’s home enjoying all that home and one’s home environment has to offer.

The phenomenon of relaxing in one’s own back yard in lieu of pricey getaways became hugely popular during the world financial crisis of 2008-09.  Would you be surprised to learn that the staycation is actually a Canadian invention predating the global market meltdown?  We’re a crafty bunch, us Canadians.

The comedy series “Corner Gas“, which was developed by my friends and colleagues at CTV, created the staycation  in a 2005 episode called “Mail Fraud”.  In this episode Brett, the owner of the Corner Gas station, sends friends and family postcards from exotic locations from the comfort of his own front lawn.  Genius.

Insulin, the telephone, instant mashed potatoes and now... the staycation!

My attraction to staycations isn’t so much about saving money, although that is a lovely side benefit.  As you know, I’m in the early days of house lust and I don’t like to leave my beloved casa for too long.  I’ve got all the little comforts I need to calm my (slightly?) neurotic soul, from blackout curtains to my Dream Designs kapok pillow to my St. John’s Bakery olive cilantro bread.  The house also contains all the equipment required to keep a child alive.  This equipment – high chair, stroller, crib, potty, toys – is not easy to pack and transport.

Also, if you’re staying in a hotel with a child, you pretty much have to share a room (ummm… right?).  What are we supposed to do at 7:30pm when she goes to bed?  Read books in the hallway?  And traveling with toddlers (at least MY toddler) is pretty horrible.  During our last flight my daughter pulled out the ear buds of the guy next to us and then grabbed his pen every time he tried to write something down.  After a few “no’s” and unsuccessful attempts at distracting her with anything I could lay my desperate hands on, we were well on our way to a full-blown meltdown.  Just what all the other passengers around us were hoping for.

Oh dear, Bluebell Madonna! I really feel for poor Geri here... first the disappointing performance of the totally uncatchy "Headlines" and now this! Photo by Daily Mail.

In our case, by not leaving town we are able to avoid a great deal of stress and trauma.  We also have access to babysitters we love and trust so we can actually go out at night and take advantage of all our lovely city has to offer.

Before embarking on your staycation it is a great idea to make a list of all the things you’d like to do and then try to find childcare for the non-kid itinerary.  Allocate some of the money you would have spent on hotel accommodations and flights to a slap-up meal at a fancy restaurant like Canoe or Splendido or experiment with a new haunt like Ruby Watchco.  Tickets aren’t yet sold out for The Gruesome Twosome Tour featuring Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper or The Dayglo Abortions and The Vibrators double bill featuring Random Killing.  Live dangerously!  Okay, I jest.  But something like Conan O’ Brien’s Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour this Saturday at Massey Hall could be super fun.  Or my dream date – an afternoon of open houses followed by a thematically linked theatrical experience care of Soulpepper’s production of Glengarry Glen Ross.  Are you reading this, husband of mine?

The key is to approach the staycation with the same organization you would a regular vacation and you’ll be guaranteed to have some really fun adventures rather than a boring weekend doing the same old stuff.

Have a great long weekend, Houseflies!

For more, please see:

The Staycation House, the New York Times

For the past few years, Danforth Village has been heralded as the Next Big Thing.  Toronto Life profiled the nabe in its March 2009 feature “Next Hot Hoods” and HGTV’s “Property Virgins” host Sandra Rinomato has broken in more than her fair share of first-timers on Danny Village side streets.

So what’s it like to live in the real estate equivalent of rap up-and-comer Drake?  So much buzz, so much potential, but what’s the album like already?  I was lucky enough to chat with a loyal Housefly reader who shares a slice of life in the Village in our newly updated neighborhood profile.

Relax, take a deep breath and transport yourself to Danforth Village

You the, you the best. The best I ever had. Photo by Spacing Toronto.

The Toronto Star’s front cover investigation of green money pits was a depressing but not surprising expose of how unscrupulous businesses are taking advantage of unsuspecting clients with good intentions.

We’ve been hearing about green scams for some time now.  You know, like how Sephora has been flogging cosmetics with high levels of chemicals and ingredients linked to cancer, developmental/reproductive toxicity and neurotoxicity under their “Naturally Sephora” banner.  Of course, the term ‘natural’ is not regulated by the FDA, so your Cargo PlantLove lipstick is actually more hazardous than the Revlon Toast of New York we all slapped on back in high school.

Didn't lipstick choices, and life in general, seem simpler back then? How much did you hate Courtney Love when this issue of Sassy arrived in your mailbox?

What about deception that runs a level deeper and isn’t as intentional?  Those of us who came of age in the ’90’s are already wise to the slippery ways of big corporations.  But how about those organic kidney beans that you buy in cans lined with plastic containing BPA?  Or the organic cotton baby clothes that are made in China?  Or the table I just bought from a local artisan made from hundred year old reclaimed pine that ended up getting finished with oil-based solvents?  I’ve learned that just because a product itself is eco-friendly does not mean that the labour, packaging, or installation is healthy, sustainable or fair.

It ain't easy being... you know. Photo by Will Sherman.

We badly need government guidelines and policing to establish standards for eco-friendly products and services.  The stories of people who are attempting to do the right thing when renovating their homes, rather than add to the growing landfills of black granite or whatever design trend was so 2003, just broke my heart.  Almost as much as a photograph of Kermit, tattered and discarded in a dirty alley in Brooklyn, NY.

On that uplifting note, here are the week’s top stories:

The shady side of the green building industry, Toronto Star

When green dreams turn into nightmares – Government needs strict rules before homeowners can safely go green, Toronto Star

Novel marketing approach not without risks, Toronto Star

How to buy a house and make it pay, Globe and Mail

New house prices up 0.1 per cent in Toronto, Toronto Star

Rate hikes mean some mortgage holders would face difficulty, Toronto Star

Canadian household debt reaches record levels, CTV News

Canadians top Greeks in household debt, Financial Post

Rising mortgage rates, rising trouble, Globe and Mail

Ten magic touches that made my house sparkle – Sarah Richardson, Globe and Mail

Clean up, Cash in, National Post

For this week’s House Crush, I travelled to one of my favourite neighborhoods, Roncesvalles Village.  This week’s Crush is a stylishly renovated abode in the sought-after Fern Avenue PS school district.

Listed at a very reasonable $679,000, this 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom detached red brick home has been featured in Design Lines Magazine and on HGTV.  A star is born!  In addition to a stunning interior, the house features 3 car parking, a large lot for the area (20×118), and third floor attic space begging to be renovated into a master retreat.

The major downside is being the first house in from Roncesvalles Avenue but this is reflected in the list price. Given the quality of the house and the location within the Village, I don’t think it’s a huge compromise.

I’m going to take you on the full monty tour now as I heart the decor choices.  I know what you’re thinking, the tulip table and Nelson bubble lamp don’t come with the place.  Yes, this house is beautifully presented but many of the design features like the snowy white Caesarstone kitchen counters, stained glass windows, light hardwood floors downstairs and painstakingly painted floorboards upstairs do stay when the cool stuff gets packed up.  Let’s take a peek!

Is it just me or is this the exact same vintage teak sofa that Catherine Keener buys in Please Give? Everything is eerily coming full circle for me this week! I love how the owners have restored the fireplace... so fresh and charming.

This really should have been staged as a formal dining space but a Nelson bubble lamp makes me forgive pretty much anything. You're getting verrry sleepy... focus on the bubble lamp and count to ten backwards...

The kitchen is small but it has an eat-in area and is open to the rest of the living space. Classic white subway tiles, soon you will be mine. All mine.

White painted floorboards bring a light, airy charm to the master bedroom. Design brownie points for the books organized by colour. I'm teaching my 2 year old her colours now... soon all my books will be colour coded too! No, you can't have dinner until YOU'RE DONE.

What a fun, light-hearted kids bedroom in a totally unexpected colour scheme. I especially love the art. Hey, I recognize you, graphic black and white kilim from Ikea... why are you no longer available?

Why is this punchy kelly green only reserved for St. Patty's Day parties? Such a lovely colour for a nursery, especially with all the white.

As I mentioned in Seize the May, the market is softening in many pockets of the city.  Fresh on the heels of Housefly’s post, the Globe and Mail reported on the same trend in today’s Real Estate section (A Sharp Shift in the Market).  In stark contrast to my Roncy House Crush that sold six weeks ago for $131,500 over asking, this week’s house sold for $720,000, or $41,000 over asking (106% of list).  A great buy me-thinks!

The Deets:

Roncesvalles/Fern, Detached, 2-Storey, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms

List:  $679,000

Sold:  $720,000 (106% of list, May 2010)

Taxes: $3,028

Lot: 20 x 118 Feet

Parking: 3 spaces

Remarks For Clients: Prime Roncesvalles Village 3 Bdrm Detached! Hip Reno W/Scandinavian Flare & Original Features Of Century Home *Coved Ceilings,French Doors,Stained Glass *Quartz Counters In Kitchen,Fisher And Paykel & Bosch Apps *Main Flr Laundry *Family-Friendly Mud Room *2 Updated Baths, Totally Rewired,New Boiler(09) *Fullsize 3rd Flr.Unfinished Attic Space *3 Car Parking *Steps To Everything Roncey Has To Offer! Featured In Design Lines Magazine & On Hgtv.

For more pictures, check out the virtual tour.

Film, newspapers, and now radio!  Housefly is hitting you with every medium this week.  CBC’s Metro Morning aired two interesting interviews about the Toronto real estate market earlier this week that you might enjoy.

Radio gaga, what's new? Photo by Mark Sebastian.

The first interview follows house hunters desperately trying to land a house with a modest budget.  Their target neighborhood is west of Dufferin and north of Bloor, and their budget is low but unspecified.  There’s a lot of talk around “that number”, but they don’t reveal it for some reason which limits the conversation a little.

The second interview is with Toronto realtor John Pasalis, who is often featured in the Globe and Mail.  He always has interesting insight into the market but I’m not totally sold on his advice to focus on house over location.

I actually wrote to him during one of his live Q&A sessions at the Globe & Mail last year and told him about how we were having trouble finding a house in the Beach or Riverdale and what would he recommend?  Like he mentions in the CBC interview, his advice to clients is always to move their search area to a different neighborhood.  He advised us to check out hoods like Pape/Cosburn (huh? where?).  While this may seem like helpful advice given the size of our city and quality of many neighborhoods, I think it is a classic sales tactic. Rather than wait for a house in the neighborhood the client really wants, you can take them to another part of town and make a sale now.  Or if the client can’t afford a house in their chosen neighborhood, sell them on a different part of town so they don’t make the decision to not buy a house at this time.  I think Pasalis is very smart and insightful but at the end of the day, he’s a salesperson so that skews his advice.

Let’s put Marshall McLuhan to the test today and see if you find the radio show more impactful than TV or the net!