Pimp my igloo! Housing alternative for Saskatoon home buyers

You may already be aware that the Saskatoon housing market is experiencing a serious shortage of listing inventory.Currently, we have fewer than 300 active residential listings and buyers are finding it extremely tough to find homes.


Fortunately, this is Saskatoon, and it happens to be January so there is no shortage of building materials for this project.


Gather all of the snow from your best friend’s back yard into one corner of the yard.

Igloo 1

Hollow that baby out.

Igloo2

Create some cozy sitting areas complete with carpet covers.

Don’t forget one or two spots where you can catch a few winks.

igloo4

Bring in the projector, crack a few cool ones, and check out a movie.Apparently, these guys chose Ice Age.

igloo5

Thanks to James for allowing me to post these images.James is an aspiring photographer from Saskatoon.He’s got a great website that features some of his work.Please check it out at here.

Your Saskatoon home is not your second income

Your Saskatoon Home is Not Your Second Income

CNN runs a program on Saturday afternoons called Open House, which touches on topical issues surrounding home ownership. This week’s program carried the title, Open House: Mortgage Meltdown and focused on skyrocketing foreclosure rates across the United States. CNN reported that 1 in 1,000 American homes face foreclosure. Some markets report much higher numbers, like Denver, where 1 in 365 homes face foreclosure actions.


Of course, after several years of aggressive price increases in many U.S. cities, the housing market south of our border took a turn for the worst. The second and third quarters of 2006 were particularly tough and many people saw substantial amounts of their home equity washed away. Some will tell you that the worst is over and year end numbers seem to indicate that things are turning around but even if it is over, a significant amount of damage remains. I’m hearing stories every day about people who are buried in their homes with a much higher level of mortgage debt than they can realistically sell their homes for. The foreclosure numbers speak for themselves.


In my opinion, one of the biggest contributors to financial hardship is our willingness to continuously borrow against the equity which we’ve built in our homes. The problem is particularly bad in the U.S. where lenders are constantly beating the drum to “cash out your equity,” or “consolidate your debt.” People have financed their homes to the absolute max and in some cases, beyond the property’s resale value. When interest rates creep up as they have in the U.S. it suddenly gets very difficult to manage that debt.


Yesterday, a story published in the Star Phoenix with the headline, Mortgage market robust going into 2007 spoke of all the new mortgage options available in Canada which will “stimulate buying activity in the new year.” 40 year mortgages! Interest only mortgages! 100% loan to value mortgages! Yay! Most of these wonderful opportunities come with the ultimate risk of living in the poor house. We shouldn’t be looking for ways to slow our opportunity to build equity.


In recent years, Saskatoon has experienced higher than normal appreciation in housing prices. All indicators suggest that this trend will continue for some time. However, we are wise to remember that price increases above the norm don’t often continue forever. At some point it stops, and often prices will decline after long periods of growth. We would be wise to make every effort to retain as much of our home equity as possible, avoid “cashing out” and other “attractive” financing opportunities that allow us to treat our homes as a source of income, or discourage us from the opportunity to be free of debt.

I’m always happy to answer your Saskatoon real estate questions.  All of my contact info is here. Please feel free to call or email.

Follow our daily updates on Twitter @SaskatoonHomes.

Norm Fisher
Royal LePage Saskatoon Real Estate

No end to good news for Saskatoon economy

It’s everywhere! You can hardly open a newspaper without encountering good news about Saskatoon’s growing economy. Some are even starting to use the boom word. Perhaps what’s most striking is that I’m hearing this news on a daily basis from people who reside outside of the province, would be investors who are obviously catching wind of all of the good things happening in Saskatchewan, and here in Saskatoon.

The latest bit of good news for Saskatoon is the recently released Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey which tells us that there were 9,800 more people working in Saskatoon at the end of 2006, as compared to the same time in 2005. Across the province of Saskatchewan, we see an increase in the workforce of 22,800 people.

So, where are the people coming from to fill these positions? Perhaps we’re finally getting our lazy people off of the couch and into the workforce, but probably not. These people are coming to Saskatoon from all regions of Canada. Saskatoon is on the grow and an abundance of jobs in construction, agriculture, science, trade and services, and the mining, oil and gas industries is bringing people back home to this province. Talk to any REALTOR® and they’ll tell you what I’m telling you; they have never been dealing with more out of province prospects than they are right now.

Managing this opportunity for growth will be just one of the bigger challenges that we face in Saskatchewan over the coming years. How do we continue to create opportunities which encourage interest in our province?Dwight Percy writes an excellent column titled, “It’s a Make or Break Year for Saskatchewan” which is certainly worth a read.

What about housing? Today, the MLS® system is showing only 258 active listings of houses and condos across all areas of Saskatoon and all price ranges. Based solely on my recent effort to arrange showings of “active listings” I’m going to guess that 30-40% of these properties are under contract, and technically, no longer available.

Part of the challenge that we face in capitalizing on this interest is having adequate housing to accommodate people. The city of Saskatoon needs to take a serious look at its land development policy and find a way to make more building lots available, and they need to do it fast.

Last week, I received a call from Alan Thomarat, executive director of the Saskatoon and Region Home Builders Association. Alan asked me to join him and Harry Janzen, executive director of the Saskatoon Region Association of REALTORS® at City Council this Monday evening to speak to council about the potential problems which could arise from our current situation. I’ve agreed to do so.

I don’t know much about land development and I’m not an expert in municipal growth management but I do have a pretty good handle on basic mathematics, the Saskatoon real estate market and the principle of supply and demand. It’s quite simple really; if we have more families moving to Saskatoon we need more homes to put them in. If we don’t meet that growing need, we can count on house prices to rise faster than incomes leaving many of our younger families and less affluent citizens out in the cold and that doesn’t sound like good news to me.

Norm Fisher
Royal LePage Vidorra

Special considerations for Saskatoon condo buyers, part 2

This is part two of Special Considerations for Saskatoon Condo Buyers. Part one is here.

In part one of this post, I discuss the various documents that are normally available for your review when purchasing a condominium. These documents are traditionally requested by the buyer as part of their offer and are provided following acceptance of your offer. If you have made your offer through a REALTOR® in Saskatchewan it will include terms that provide a “right to rescind” the offer should you discover facts about the condominium corporation which cause you to want out of the deal. The mandatory Schedule “C” used by real estate registrants in our province provides ten days for the seller to deliver the documents and five days for the buyer to review them. Part two is an overview of what those documents are.

The current Bylaws of the Condominium Corporation

The Bylaws define how the condominium corporation is structured and managed, including details on how the board of directors is formed and what authority the board has to act on behalf of the condo corporation. It should explain your rights as a voting partner in the corporation. It also details the rules and regulations of the corporation which all unit owners must agree to as well as what remedies exist when someone breaks those rules.

The latest financial statements of the Condominium Corporation and the last audited statements

This is an overview of the financial affairs of the condominium corporation including a statement of income and expense. You should be able to determine what assets are owned by the corporation, what liabilities exist and how the corporation has been utilizing the contributions made by its unit owners. Complex financial statements should probably be reviewed by your accountant who will have some expertise in identifying area of weakness or concern.

The current policy of insurance

The Condominium Property Act, 1993 requires that condo corporations carry insurance sufficient to cover the replacement cost of buildings and improvement in the event that a condo property is destroyed.

Any current management agreement regarding the Condominium Corporation

If the condo corporation has elected to use a property management service to perform certain functions on behalf of the corporation, details of that arrangement should be provided to you.

The current recent budget of the Condominium Corporation

An overview of estimated expenses of the condo corporation for the current year.

Written confirmation of parking/storage facilities and exclusive use areas included in the purchase price, any related costs or charges and any special rules regarding those areas

This one is pretty obvious but do be certain that you receive written confirmation of any areas which are designated for your exclusive use. In most cases, the title to your unit only includes your actual unit. Parking stalls are most often part of the common area, portions of which are designated for exclusive use of specific residents. You must have written confirmation of your right to use a specific parking stall.

A current Estoppel Certificate issued by the Condominium Corporation pursuant to the regulations of The Condominium Property Act, 1993.

The Estoppel Certificate will normally include details on the following items: 

· the amount of the monthly contribution (condo fees) levied against the unit you are purchasing;

· the extent to which that contribution has been paid;

· the manner in which the contribution must be paid;

· the portion of the contribution which is deposited to the reserve fund;

· the current balance of the reserve fund;

· proposed amendments to the Bylaws of the Condominium Corporation;

· amounts of any special levies which may be proposed which would affect the unit you are purchasing and;

· in most cases, exclusive use provisions for parking and storage are detailed here.

Reserve Fund Study

Perhaps the most difficult item to assess of all of those detailed above is the reserve fund. If a condo corporation encounters a significant expenditure which cannot be adequately covered by reserve funds, the corporation will issue a cash call and unit owners will be required to make up the difference. One cannot simply look at the balance of the fund and say, “Oh, that’s a lot of money,” or “That’s not very much money.” One must consider the overall condition of building and improvements and any possible costs which the corporation may encounter in the future to determine if the reserves are sufficient, and even then, it’s often a best guess for most people. This is a particular challenge with larger projects like high rise condominiums. I recently assisted a purchaser who bought a condo in downtown Saskatoon high rise. One of the budget items for this condominium was new caulking for the windows. The estimated cost was in the range of $70,000. This is something neither he nor I could have possibly considered or understood had that item not been disclosed to us. Apparently, neither could the condo corporation and consequently this item was dealt with through a cash call.

Recent changes to the Condominium Corporation Act requires all condo corporations with 12 units or more conduct a reserve fund study by January 31, 2008. The study must be updated every ten years thereafter. The study will be completed by an engineer who will assess the remaining life expectancy of the major components of the buildings and improvements, estimate the future cost to maintain, repair or replace those components and determine if the current reserves and the monthly contributions are sufficient to cover those costs. Many corporations have already completed their surveys. When shopping for a condo, you may prefer to consider those condos where the reserve study has already been completed, particularly if you’re purchasing part of a large project like a high rise.

Other Actions You Might Take

  • Have the property inspected by a professional inspector who is qualified to assess the condition of major components of the buildings.
  • Speak with directors of the condo corporation and ask questions about improvements they’ve been discussing. Ask specifically if there are pending decisions on major financial items.
  • Speak with some of the current owners.
  • Start reading the Condominium Corporation Act when you’ve decided to purchase a condo.
  • Ask if a reserve fund study has been completed and if so, make your offer conditional upon receiving, reviewing and approving it.
  • Work with an agent who is experienced in condo purchases and can guide you through this complex process.

Norm Fisher
Royal LePage Vidorra

Special considerations for Saskatoon condo buyers

When you purchase a condominium you’re buying more than just a home. You’re also purchasing shares in a corporation which is responsible for managing the affairs of the property. Your “share” of the corporation is normally based on the size of your condo unit, as a percentage of the whole. These shares are often referred to as a “unit factor.”

Of course, you enjoy exclusive use of your condo unit and pretty much everything that goes on inside of it, including improvements you wish to make are your responsibility and are done at your discretion provided these things do not contravene the Bylaws of the Condominium Corporation.

In addition to implementing and enforcing Bylaws for the condominium, the corporation is responsible for setting budgets, record keeping, maintaining adequate insurance on the building and other improvements and maintaining the property. Each unit owner makes a monthly contribution, based on their unit factor, to cover expenses incurred by the corporation. In most cases, some money is also collected and set aside for “reserves,” which will generally be used for unexpected expenses and expenditures which are not included in the general operating budget. Like any other property, major expenses are incurred when a roof needs to be replaced or a boiler system fails. Generally, these items are paid from reserves. If the reserve fund cannot cover the expenditure unit holders are called upon to make up the difference through what’s known as a “cash call.”

Just like companies which operate in the market place, some condo corporations manage the affairs of their property better than others. As a prospective buyer, you owe it to yourself to make certain that you have a reasonably good idea of what you’re getting yourself into. The doctrine of caveat emptor or buyer beware applies as much to condos as any other type of home and prudent buyers take appropriate actions to protect their interests.

If you offer on a condo unit through a REALTOR® some actions have already been taken to help protect you. All real estate registrants are required to use mandatory forms as directed by theBylaws of the Saskatchewan Real Estate Commission. One of those forms is called a Schedule “C” Special Terms for Contract of Purchase and Sale of a Condominium Unit. This form, when completed by a buyer and accepted by the seller, binds the seller to provide you with various documents within 10 days of acceptance. You may review these documents and if you are concerned about anything you discover to the extent that you wish to cancel the agreement, you may do so by serving written notice to the seller of your intention to rescind your offer. That written notice must be delivered to the seller within 5 days of receipt of the documents.

The Schedule “C” requires the seller to provide the buyer with the following documents:

  • the current Bylaws of the Condominium Corporation;
  • the latest financial statements of the Condominium Corporation and the last audited statements;
  • the current policy of insurance;
  • any current management agreement regarding the Condominium Corporation;
  • the current recent budget of the Condominium Corporation;
  • written confirmation of parking/storage facilities and exclusive use areas included in the purchase price, any related costs or charges and any special rules regarding those areas; and
  • a current Estoppel Certificate issued by the Condominium Corporation pursuant to the regulations of The Condominium Property Act, 1993.

 In my next post, I’ll go a little deeper on these documents, explaining what the purpose of each is and what steps you may take to protect yourself.

Norm Fisher
Royal LePage Vidorra