Real estate: 5 things to know before you attend an open house
Five critical pieces of advice homebuyers should know before visiting an open house.
House hunting can be a daunting task, whether it's your first time buying a home or your fifth move in a year. But after scanning your local real estate listings and investigating every ‘For Sale’ sign in your favourite neighbourhood, you may have finally found your dream home. If you’re planning to attend an open house to give it a thorough inspection, don’t go in blind.
What am I actually looking for when I visit an open house? How do I know what's staged and what's authentic? What should I ask my real estate agent before making an offer? These are all burning questions on a homebuyer's mind before a showing. To ease your angst, here are five essential things to have on your radar the next time you attend an open house.
1 Systematically explore the entire home
Occasionally, attending an open house can be a bit awkward (after all, you are walking through someone else's home). The key is to be polite but thorough with your tour of the house. "Don’t be afraid to open doors. Often powder rooms, wine cellars, pantries, laundry rooms and secret hideaways get missed, particularly if it is a crowded open house," says Kara Reed, a Toronto Real Estate professional. "Come prepared and bring your tape measure, notepad, camera and questions for your real estate agent."
2 Overlook elaborate staging
When you participate in an open house, the interior (and exterior) will most likely be dressed to the nines while the current owner is attempting to sell. The trick is to ignore simulation furniture, beautiful bathrooms and organized basements and inspect the home as it really is—pure real estate. "Many people forget to look past the staging at an open house," says Kara. "You may be so wowed by the perfect decor that you overlook other more important aspects of the home." For example, be sure to examine the parking scheme, look for broken appliances, damages the house has suffered and reasons why the seller has decided to move.
3 Have your eyes and ears peeled
It's one thing to be on the lookout for black mold, cracked drywall and rusty fixtures in a potential home, but an open house is much more than meets the eye. "Listen to what other people are saying and pay attention to their comments as you walk through," Kara recommends. "Although they may be your competition in the bidding, they may also notice things that you didn't catch," she says. In addition, you should be listening for squeaky floors, breezy windows and leaky taps—these can all lead to major issues in the future if you decide to purchase.
4 Discover the surrounding neighbourhood
The advantage of attending an open house is the ability to see a prime piece of real estate in its natural habitat (it's no longer just a picture in a newspaper or on a website). This means having a critical eye for nearby homes and the location the house resides in. "Take some time to explore the neighbourhood and surrounding streets. Drive around and check out proximity to amenities, schools and coffee shops," Kara advises. "Don't forget to look at the adjacent properties. If there are four doorbells, two fire escapes and a junky backyard, you may be living next to a tenanted property or a frat house!"
5 Go with your instincts
If a house looks too good to be true—it probably is. "Trust your gut and sense of smell, especially when heading to the basement. If something feels wonky, damaged, warped, whitewashed, water stained or smells musty—it might not be the place for you," says Kara. "Chances are there may be a home inspection available to view, so don’t be afraid to ask to see it or have it emailed to you." Last but not least, feel free to request more data on a listing from your real estate agent so you can make the most informed decision upon walking out the door of an open house.
Take your bathroom from drab to fab with these easy decorating ideas!
Bathroom and kitchen renovations are known to give homeowners the biggest returns on their investment when they sell. But whether you’re doing a big renovation or just looking for ways to update your current bathroom and whether you intend to sell or not, these ideas for beautifying your bathroom will pay big returns in your overall satisfaction with your home. And you don’t have to have a $50,000 budget to do it. These affordable upgrades will add some serious style to your home without breaking the bank!
Renewal Divinity Small Mirror
What a difference something as simple as a mirror can make. The right one can transform the look of your bathroom and give it an updated, more stylish feel in an instant. The frame is made from hammered aluminum combined with beveled glass and can be hung vertically or horizontally, depending on your preference and the shape of the space you’re working in. Renewal Divinity Small Mirror, Wayfair, $380.46.
Flush Mount Bathroom Lighting Fixture
When renovating, it’s important to consider your lighting options for the type of space you have. So before you head to the lighting store, figure out whether it’d be best to go with flush mount, track lighting or sconces. No matter what you choose, illuminate your bathroom with a stunning light fixture that ties your bathroom’s whole look together and adds an appealing amount of sparkle and shine! Boasting a shiny chrome finish and a laser-cut inspired design on the lamp shade, this flush mounted lighting fixture will bring effortless elegance to your bathroom and is a simple way to take the look of the entire space from drab to fab! Flush Mount Bathroom Lighting Fixture, Multi Luminaire, $349.
Aroura Tile White and Gold Wallpaper
If you’ve always loved the look of wallpaper but have shied away from using it in the bathroom, it’s time to reconsider. Wallpaper has come a long way and today, there are lots of options on the market, many of which are suitable for moisture-rich environments. This gorgeous wallpaper has a mosaic pattern that mimics the look of tile and has a washable finish for easy clean-up. Aroura Tile White and Gold Wallpaper, Graham & Brown, $50/roll.
Metro Basket Weave White and Cobalt Porcelain Mosaic Tile
Flip through the pages of your favourite design magazine and you’re sure to see plenty of bathrooms boasting this contrasting basket weave tile to dramatic effect. Get the look for yourself with these tiles – but may we suggest opting for the white and cobalt colour combo as a subtle alternative to black and white? The rich cobalt will add a decidedly chic and unexpected look to your bathroom. Metro Basket Weave White and Cobalt Porcelain Mosaic Tile, Home Depot, $7.98 each.
Gleaming Brass Bath Collection
Upping the style quotient in your bathroom doesn’t get any easier than this! Swap out your existing vanity vessels for these truly chic options. The full set includes a soap dispenser, tumbler and tray, all in a beautiful brass finish. Gleaming Brass Bath Collection, Anthropologie, $22-$36.
Dot Medallion Shower Curtain
Looking for a quick and easy bathroom update that won’t break the bank? How about a new shower curtain? This 100% cotton curtain is made in India and features a modern medallion motif in a soothing colour palette of watercolour inspired shades of blue and grey. With this one simple addition to your bathroom, you’ll add an air of tranquility that will turn your bathroom into the oasis you always dreamed of. Dot Medallion Shower Curtain, West Elm, $29.99.
Buying guide: The truth about thread count
Is there anything better than sliding into a bed laden with good quality sheets? At the end of the day, I can't wait to stretch out under my fresh, soft covers and nestle my face into a good cotton-covered pillow. We spend a third of our lives in bed so quality sheets are key, but how do you get quality for your money? There's no doubt that most consumers believe the higher the thread count, the better the quality, but this isn't entirely true. With the help and expertise of Joanna Goodman, owner of Au Lit Fine Linens, we expose the truth about thread count and what it takes to find quality bed sheets.
What is thread count, really?
Simply put, thread count is the number of threads woven into one square inch of fabric. This number is based on the threads woven horizontally ("weft") and vertically ("warp"). Extra threads can also be woven into the weft threads to increase the thread count. These added threads are called "picks" and are added in the overall count, which is how some sheets end up having thread counts in the thousands. This is why the idea that high counts equal better quality isn't really accurate. Consider this: Joanna says most weavers will say the maximum number of threads that can be woven into one square inch of fabric is 500 to 600. Though the number is arguable and, according to Joanna, "depends on the mill you deal with," it gives you an idea of where the line is between single-ply, unpicked weaves and ones that add threads here and there to bump up the count.
What to look for when buying sheets
Joanna lists three things to look for on the label: if it's Egyptian cotton, where it's woven and, lastly, the thread count. While thread count is a bit misunderstood, the buzz around Egyptian cotton is true. "The very best cotton in the world is grown in Egypt. So Egyptian cotton will be of a better quality," Joanna says. She also recommends pima cotton, which is grown in America, "though not quite as exceptional as Egyptian." When it comes to weaving, however, she swears by the Italians as being the "master weavers of the world" due to their "long tradition of weaving" and use of the best Egyptian cotton. Be sure the label says 100% or pure Egyptian cotton though, otherwise it may only contain a small percentage of the good stuff. As for the thread count, look for a minimum of 200. From there, it's all about preference!
What to avoid when buying sheets
Joanna's one key piece of advice is to watch out for extremely low priced, high thread count sheet sets. A complete sheet set with a high thread count for $100 or less is probably not the dream bargain you think it is. As Joanna believes, "you always get what you pay for." The price tag for bed linens will vary depending on the sheet size and what items you're buying, such as a duvet cover, sheet sets, or pillowcases. "A superior quality 200 thread count queen set (including flat, fitted, two pillowcases), made of Egyptian cotton and woven in Europe, could retail reasonably for about $150-$250," says Joanna.
What do you prefer?
After going through the quality checklist, go with what feels best for you. If you're looking for a durable linen, Joanna recommends any percale from thread count 200 to 800. Percale is any cotton woven with a 200 thread count or higher and will be more durable than a cotton satin of the same thread count. It's also less likely to pill than cotton satin because it has a denser weave. Love the feel of a cotton button down shirt? Joanna advises a crisp, dense 200 thread count percale. Prefer a silkier sheet? Go for a 300 to 600 cotton satin. If you want lighter sheets, Joanna says, a 400 thread count sheet can be soft and light, while an 800 percale would be soft and dense. The higher the thread count, the more likely multiple-ply thread is used or picks are added, making the fabric denser and heavier.
Now you know that quality is not just about the number, so don't let numbers rule your bed! Remember what to look for on the label and be wary of too-low prices for supposedly high quality items. Beyond that, go with what you prefer. Get a good feel of the sheets before buying. Whether you're unzipping the packaging or lying down on a display bed, make sure the fabric feels good against your skin and soon you'll be having sweet dreams!
Find out how to keep your new linens crisp and clean with our tips to whiter-than-white sheets.
This baked pasta dish with fresh tomatoes is perfect for a summer party!
Use fresh summer tomatoes for this tasty basked pasta dish from Béatrice Peltre's cookbook My French Family Table.
1 Place the toast and parsley in the bowl of a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs. Transfer to a bowl and combine with 1/4 cup of the Parmesan; set aside.
2 Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.
3 Preheat the oven to 400°F. Brush the baking dish with olive oil; set aside.
4 In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, oregano and thyme; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, without browning. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the carrot and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another minute. Add the wine and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf and brown sugar and season with salt and pepper; cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the sauce is slightly reduced. Discard the oregano, thyme and bay leaf.
5 Transfer the sauce to the bowl of a food processor, add the ricotta and purée until smooth.
6 In a large bowl, toss the pasta with the sauce, basil, pine nuts and remaining Parmesan.
7 Transfer to the prepared baking dish, scatter with the mozzarella and sliced tomato and top with the breadcrumb mixture; add a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle with the nutmeg.
8 Bake the gratin for 30 minutes, or until lightly golden and crispy.
9 Serve immediately.
BUY THIS BOOK
Excerpted from My French Family Table by Béatrice Peltre. Recipes Copyright © 2016 Béatrice Peltre, Photography copyright © 2016 Béatrice Peltre. Excerpted by permission of Roost Books. All rights reserved.