TD economist says steady growth won't happen until 2014


Canada's economy has entered a "soft patch" characterized by a housing correction, below-trend growth and weak job creation, TD Bank says in its latest forecast.

The chartered bank said Tuesday the economy will barely eke out one-per-cent growth during the current third quarter that ends Sept. 30, and end the year with a 1.8 per cent over-all advance.

That's three-tenths of a point below the bank's previous projection in June, and also shy of the Bank of Canada's 2.1-per-cent target.

TD chief economist Craig Alexander said the revision was necessary because global conditions have deteriorated and the domestic economy is also faring worse than expected, in part because of Ottawa's decision to tighten mortgage rules.

Alexander said Vancouver's housing market was actually cooling before the stricter mortgage rules went into effect July 9, but since then the real impact of the changes has been evident. On Mon-day, the Canadian Real Estate Association reported August sales of existing homes slipped 5.8 per cent from July and were down 8.9 per cent from a year ago.

"That's what we were anticipating. We were saying that we would probably lose about five percentages points in sales and three percentage points in prices nationally," he said.

Aside from housing, most engines of growth have slowed or retreated in the past few months, led by exports but also including Canada's government sector, which has gone into deficit-reduction mode. In July, Canada posted a record high trade deficit, with exports plunging

S&P/TSX ? 3.4 per cent in the face of soft demand in the U.S. and the strong dollar which makes Canadian shipments less competitive.

As well, consumers are under pressure to temper their spending, given that household debt is at a near-record 152 per cent of disposable annual income.

"With no engine firing on all cylinders, economic growth is being held to a meek sub-two-per-cent rate and the jobless rate is stuck above seven per cent," the report states. Canada's unemployment rate won't slip below seven per cent until late next year, according to TD.

Alexander said he expects a modest turnaround will begin in 2013, but even then he projects no better than two per cent growth, below the Bank of Canada's 2.3 forecast. Stronger growth won't happen until 2014, TD says.

Under this scenario, the Bank of Canada is expected to move slowly and timidly on interest rates, with the first hike from one per cent coming in the third quarter of 2013, one year from now.

In the long term, the report says Canada must look for a global bounce to sustain its own recovery.

"By early 2013, we suspect that global headwinds will have dissipated enough to spur stronger Canadian exports and entice cash-flush businesses to loosen their purse strings, pulling real GDP (gross domestic product) growth back above two per cent and pushing the job-less rate down modestly," the report predicts.

"This shift to more balanced growth will be a major step forward in ensuring sustainable economic growth in Canada."


It would take high interest rates or an economic meltdown to make house prices fall, expert says




Sagging home sales and flat prices have prompted speculation that the "housing bubble" might be about to burst - a prospect that immediately catches the attention of British Columbians.

But there is no housing bubble, according to Tsur Somerville, director of the University of B.C.'s Centre for Urban Economics in the Sauder School of Business.

"You can't burst a bubble that wasn't there," said Somerville. "But you can have prices above where they should be and it not be a bubble.

"A bubble isn't just defined by high prices," he said.

Somerville identified a housing "bubble" as conditions akin to what was happening in 2007.

"It didn't matter what the condo looked like or what it's going to look like or who was building it, people were lined up around the block and snapping it up," he said. "They were saying, 'I'll take 12, please.' That's more of a bubble environment."

While it might not be a bursting bubble, what is going on in the Vancouver area right now is not exactly normal, either.

Greater Vancouver home sales in August were the second lowest since 1998 and represented a drop of 30.7 per cent compared to August of last year, and were 21.4 per cent lower than in July of this year.

The 1,649 sales of detached, attached and apartment homes were also 39.2 per cent below the 10-year August average of 2,711.

But prices were relatively flat. The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver composite benchmark of $609,500 for residential properties in August was down only 1.1 per cent from July, and just 0.5 per cent down from this time last year - despite 2011 being a busy year for high-end property sales.

If there was a large number of unsold units coming onto the market or a huge change in the economic environment, Somerville said, "that would really cause prices to tank."

"Most people don't have to sell their house," he said. "You bought it for $200,000. The price is now $150,000. Unless you have to, why would you sell it?"

For prices to go down significantly, contended Somerville, "You need people who have to sell, either because the economy has collapsed and they don't have any income or developers have built a whole bunch of units that are unsold and the bank is screaming at them or foreclosing or something like that."

None of those conditions appears imminent.

Somerville said it would take "some negative shock," such as an economic meltdown or mortgage interest rates jumping from four per cent to nine or 10 per cent, to trigger lower prices.

"The euro melting down would cause one of those [shocks]," he said. "If the Canadian government changes its immigration policy and slammed the door on wealthy Asian immigrants, that would affect [prices].

"I don't have a crystal ball but if I had to guess I would be more likely to guess this kind of lower sales/flat prices is more likely to continue."

The B.C. Real Estate Association is more optimistic. Chief economist Cameron Muir is predicting increased sales in 2013 because of continuing low interest rates, population growth and more full-time jobs.

Employment growth in the Greater Vancouver area in the first seven months of the year, according to Muir, has been 3.5 to 4 per cent higher than the same period last year.

"I would expect to see sales pick up before the end of the year, at least on a seasonally adjusted basis," Muir said.

Adding to his optimism is increased consumer demand for housing in the Okanagan and in B.C.'s North, where resource extraction continues but where there has also been more economic diversification.

The BCREA is forecasting Multiple Listing Service sales to go down by four per cent this year compared to last year but to go up by 7.5 per cent in 2013.


Cheaper toll will be offered from December opening until March

Commuter Dean Thomas of Port Coquitlam says it would be a 'big mistake' if B.C. Transportation Minister Mary Polak increases the toll on the Port Mann Bridge.

Commuter Dean Thomas of Port Coquitlam says it would be a 'big mistake' if B.C. Transportation Minister Mary Polak increases the toll on the Port Mann Bridge.

Photograph by: Les Bazso, PNG , The Province; With Files From The Canadian Press

Dean Thomas thinks a dollar would have been a better toll for the Port Mann Bridge.

A dollar-fifty is pushing it.

"To raise it more than $1.50 will be a big mistake," said Thomas of Port Coquitlam, as he filled his gas tank at the Chevron at First Avenue and Rupert Street in Vancouver. "If they do, they are only killing them-selves."

Thomas was reacting to B.C. Transportation Minister Mary Polak's announcement Wednesday that a proposed $3 toll on the Port Mann Bridge would be slashed to $1.50 for up to a year.

The $1.50 discount will be offered between the December opening and March, unless commuters register for an auto-pay account to get the reduced toll until all lanes open at the end of 2013.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said she was glad to see the tolls reduced, at least temporarily, but vowed to continue lobbying for all Metro Vancouver drivers to share the burden.

"Eventually I'd like to see [the $1.50 toll] come down even lower if there is an opportunity to look at region-wide tolling," Watts said, citing tolls on some U.S. roads as low as 35 cents.

Watts has argued for tolling of all new road infrastructure, including the Sea-to-Sky Highway, as well as future renewals of the Pattullo Bridge, Massey Tunnel and other highway and road projects, to more evenly share the toll burden among citizens.

Gord Price, director of Simon Fraser University's City Program, thinks "spreading the pain" is where the region is headed.

"It's just not going to be the bridge that's going to be tolled," said Price, also a former Vancouver city councillor who used to sit on the Trans-Link board when it was made up of elected officials. "It's not fair that only the Port Mann and Golden Ears Bridge [have tolls]."

Price sees the tolling system introduced Wednesday as the precursor of a system that can institute "road-pricing" - charging people for the transportation they use.

Price applauded the discount. "I think the 'loss leader' is going to get a lot of people registered," he said.

Township of Langley Mayor Jack Froese praised the preferential pricing accorded HOV lane carpoolers and commercial vehicles in the off-hours as ways to reduce congestion. "I think it is certainly a step in the right direction," he said.

However, Froese too maintained he would also continue to push for widespread tolling to spread the burden beyond the Fraser Valley: "I am still going to advocate for fair and equitable tolling in the region."

On Wednesday, Polak denied a claim by NDP transportation critic Harry Bains that the toll reduction was a political move in the lead-up to next May's provincial election.

Polak said the decision was made because it was unfair to commuters to pay the full toll until they get the full-time savings - which she estimates could reach up to an hour a day - when the project is complete in December 2013.

Scott Olson, president of the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board, said Thurs-day the toll will impact real-estate prices south of the bridge.

"Our market is growing, regard-less," he said. "It's not going to have a major impact, but it will have an impact. Tolls act like an economic wall."

Olson would have preferred a different way of paying for the Port Mann and other infrastructure.

"What would be ideal is if we adapted a more thoughtful approach to tolling and basically created a sys-tem that would be a reduced fee on all bridges and tunnels," he said.

"That's really where we should be going, as opposed to putting the brunt of all that work on one area," said Olson, who feels residents south of the Fraser River are being impacted more than anyone else.


DEC. 1, 2012 TO FEB. 28, 2013:

? Cars, pickups and SUVs: $1.50

? Light trucks, cars pulling trailers: $4.50

? Semitrailers: $9

? Motorcycles: $1

MARCH 1, 2013 TO NOV. 30, 2013:

Account holders registered by Feb. 28, 2012, by single trip (unlimited monthly pass in brackets):

? Cars, pickups, SUVs: $1.50 ($75)

? Cars pulling trailers or light trucks: $4.50 ($225)

? Semitrailers: $9

? Motorcycles: $1 ($50) All other vehicles (unlimited monthly pass in brackets):

? Cars, pickups, SUVs: $3 ($150)

? Cars pulling trailers or light trucks: $6 ($300)

? Semitrailers: $9

? Motorcycles: $1.50 ($75)

- Source: B.C. government


Also known as a "Reserve Fund Study", the Depreciation Report is a financial document that includes a detailed breakdown of all the common property components that a Strata Corporation will have to repair or replace over the next 30 years. It provides the Strata Corporation with a summary of current deficiencies, future projected capital expenditures and costs for each component. Furthermore the Depreciation Study provides financial plan for the Strata Corporation to prepare for these expenditures. The Study is to be updated every three years, and will be an integral part of the Strata Corporation’s long term planning.

Currently, a strata corporation contributes about 10% of its annual operating budget into the Contingency Reserve Fund (CRF) annually. This is a requirement if the CRF is less than 25% of the annual budget. The problem with this method is that the annual operating budget has absolutely no correlation with the capital costs of replacing components, which was what the CRF was meant to provide for. This system has lead to insufficient funds in the CRF. For example, most strata councils do not know the age of their roof system, the type, or the cost to replace the it. The first indication of that it need replacement is a leak in the strata units. The Depreciation Report will provide a proactive approach to this process and alleviate the uncertainty in timing and costs.

The changes in the Act will be new to BC Strata Corporations, but similar legislation has already been enacted in Ontario, Alberta and numerous other provinces, and have been in place in some cases for 10 years or more.  


Published: 09/10/2012 12:18:34 PM EST in Retail & Events


 EXCLUSIVE: Guiness World Records Declares Alberta Corn Maze World's Largest QR Code

The Guinness World Record folks have officially recognized the Kraay Family Farm's seven-acre corn maze creation as the world's largest functioning QR code. Guinness has presented an official certificate to the Kraay family for this maze, their lucky 13th annual maze situated at the family's fun farm amusement park near Lacombe, between Calgary and Edmonton. The maze is one of the major agriculture-related attractions, which also include rides and games, at their fun farm.

As reported by Marketnews at the end of July, the family was waiting for the Olympic Games in London to wind-up, so that the Guinness people could then devote some attention to the maze. Seeking to ensure that the bean counters had sufficient evidence of the size and functionality of the QR code in the maze, the Kraays not only flew over it in a helicopter to scan it, but shot a video documenting it.

Reuben Kraay and his father Ed handled most actual construction of the maze. While some times paths through the corn are cut with a Rototiller, this year's complex design was sprayed with an herbicide. The Rototiller played its part this year, however. During the first helicopter flight above the maze the QR code would not scan. "We were a little nervous," conceded Reuben's wife Rachel. But they soon figured out the problem. "We had to Rototill the soil of the paths," she explained to Marketnews, "to get enough contrast. On the second flight, it worked perfectly."

Apparently the documentation, which included photographs and witness statements, was sufficient to satisfy Guinness. Without contacting the Kraays in any manner, Guinness mailed them the certificate, which arrived last week.

"They didn't even call," exclaimed Rachel Kraay. "I just went to the door and there was a large package, and inside was the certificate and a letter."

The certificate from Guinness states that as of July 24, 2012, and 309,570 square feet (28,760 square metres) this was indeed the world's largest QR code. Including the borders and the area with the Kraay Family Farm, the maze in total is far larger than the seven acre QR code section.

The family is planning a party on September 15 to celebrate the award.




Developer Tien Sher Group cites greater affordability as biggest selling point for potential buyers

Suites in the Surrey building sell for $330 to $370 per sq. ft, while suites in concrete buildings go for $425 to $450 per sq. ft, Quattro3's developer says.

Suites in the Surrey building sell for $330 to $370 per sq. ft, while suites in concrete buildings go for $425 to $450 per sq. ft, Quattro3's developer says.

Photograph by: Les Bazso, PNG , Vancouver Sun

The first of two six-storey wood-frame buildings to be built in Metro Vancouver is ready for people to move in, and developers around the province will likely be watching closely.

Quattro3, part of Surrey's largest residential and commercial development, is the Lower Mainland's first six-storey wood-frame condominium to be completed.

Before 2009, wood-frame buildings were capped at a height of four storeys. In 2009, the province changed the building code to allow the construction of six-storey wood-frame buildings as part of the B.C. Wood First Act, aimed to stimulate the province's timber industry as well as the construction industry.

The entire development community will be weighing the pros and cons of six-storey wood-frame buildings.  The advantages are that the per-unit land costs and construction costs are reduced, so the consumer benefits from lower prices than for similar apartments in concrete or four-storey wood-frame buildings; a disadvantage is that they are a bit more complicated to build.

The suites in concrete buildings in Surrey sell for about $425 to $450 per square foot, while those in wood-frame buildings sell for $330 to $370 per square foot.

"Today's market is all about afford-ability, We need products that people want and they don't want anything expensive, but they want nice homes."

Peter Simpson, president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders' Association, said other builders are considering building six-storey wood-frame buildings.

"There are builders and developers who will be watching the one in Surrey with great interest. They will be watching this and learning from it - we might see more of them now," Simpson said.

Anne McMullin, president and CEO of The Urban Development Institute, agreed. "Clearly it represents a future trend in B.C. construction," McMul-lin said, adding that the lower cost for consumers is the big advantage offered by this type of building.

"Some people would be willing to pay double for a concrete building, but some might like to pay less and buy in a wood building. It's providing more options for people," McMullin said.

A 425-square-foot studio apartment in Quattro3 sells for $159,000, while a 567-square-foot one-bedroom suite sells for $208,000.

The only other six-storey wood-frame building in the Lower Main-land is the Remy project in Richmond, which is in the process of being rebuilt after a 2011 construction fire destroyed it. The Quattro development also had a fire in 2008, though it was in a different four-storey building.

Len Garis, Surrey's fire chief and president of the Fire Chiefs' Association of B.C., said the fire safety of people living in six-storey wood-frame buildings should be equal to the safety in any other building.

"These buildings are fully sprinklered and our research suggests to us that in a sprinklered building, a fire is likely to never leave the room of origin, has historically never left the floor of origin in a building," Garis said. "Where the sprinkler system needed to operate to put the fire out, it put the fire out."

Garis did have concerns about construction fires in six-storey wood-frame buildings in 2009 when the rules were changed, because protection systems like sprinklers are not usually in place during construction.

After the devastating Quattro and Remy fires, Garis brought in a set of recommendations to improve construction safety, including measures such as having a live security guard, the earlier installation and activation of sprinklers and fire doors and having a detailed safety plan in place during the permit stage.

"These are guidelines, and it's up to the local authority what rigour they're going to put around ensuring they are done," Garis said.

These procedures were all followed at Quattro3, and Garis said his concerns have been addressed.

"But in life, there are no guarantees," Garis said.

"There will be outliers and failures, but those can happen in concrete buildings too. I'm not overly concerned about it."

The Quattro development has another lot that will be developed in the future, either with a four-or six-storey wood-frame building.  The height will depend on the parking requirements put in place by the city.

The Quattro3 is 75 per cent sold, and people started moving in on Thursday.


Cheap rates have helped increase household debt to record levels

Low mortgage rates are overheating housing markets, especially in Vancouver and Toronto, bank says.

Low mortgage rates are overheating housing markets, especially in Vancouver and Toronto, bank says.

Photograph by: Jason Payne, PNG , Vancouver Sun

OTTAWA — TD Bank says tighter mortgage rules should do the job of cooling Canada’s hot housing market in the short term, but higher interest rates will be needed to return the market to saner levels.

The bank’s chief economist Craig Alexander estimates the new rules, which went into effect July 9, will shave five percentage points off sales activity and cut prices by three per cent on average during the second half of this year and early 2013.

In the next three years, he expects the combination of the tighter rules and anticipated modest increases in interest rates will result in a 10 per cent price correction on homes.

While it is early, there are already tentative signs that the new rules have tempered sales, if not prices, especially in the country’s hottest markets — Vancouver and Toronto.

The Toronto Real Estate Board reported Thursday that sales of existing homes in the greater municipal area fell 12.5 per cent from last year, although the average price of $479,095 was 6.5 per cent higher.

Meanwhile, the Vancouver board said sales dropped 30.7 per cent in August, while the average price was only 0.5 per cent lower at $609,500.

In July, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty reduced the amortization rate on new insured mortgages to 25 years from 30, bringing the maximum period for paying off a home back to the historic level. It was the fourth time Flaherty had tightened mortgage rules in as many years, incrementally dropping to amortization period from the high-water mark of 40 years.

Alexander says the latest moves, which hike mortgage costs by $140 a month on the average priced home, may be even more effective than the previous efforts in slowing the market.

But if the experience of the previous three moves are any guide, the slowdown will be temporary, lasting a few quarters, after which Canadians will dive back into the market.

For a longer lasting solution to the overheated market, Alexander said Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney will need to hike interest rates to make borrowing more difficult and expensive.

“Interest rates simply cannot stay at current levels indefinitely,” he says in the paper.

On Wednesday, Carney kept the trendsetting policy rate at one per cent, marking two years that it has remained at the super-low level, and few economists expect him to act before mid-2013.

Canadians have taken advantage of the cheap borrowing costs to buy homes, cottages, cars and other consumer items, but the result is that household debt has hit record levels at 152 per cent of disposable income.

Alexander says debt would even be higher if Ottawa hadn’t begun tightening mortgage rules in 2008.

“Our models suggest that had the government not tightened mortgage rules between 2008 and 2011, the Canadian household debt-to-income ratio would have reached 160 per cent this year,” he said.

That’s about the level the U.S. and the United Kingdom reached before the collapse, although not all factors are similar.

Alexander says he believes the latest rule changes would trim about one percentage point off credit growth.


Residents welcome London Drugs pharmacy to revitalized village square

Artist Myfanwy MacLeod's sculptures The Birds adorn the Village square, part of the former Olympic Village that local residents say is becoming vibrant.

Artist Myfanwy MacLeod's sculptures The Birds adorn the Village square, part of the former Olympic Village that local residents say is becoming vibrant.

Photograph by: Stuart Davis, PNG , Vancouver Sun

Ghost town, dead, dull - these are all words that are no longer used to describe the once struggling condominium community of the Village on False Creek.

More than two years after the 2010 Winter Games flame was extinguished in Vancouver, and the residential development became dogged with controversy and miserable condo sales, the Olympic Village has come alive.

A community largely made up of young families, empty nesters and city professionals has emerged, evident on Saturday as hundreds of residents filled the village square for an event to mark the grand opening of London Drugs, the latest in a string of new retail amenities aimed at revitalizing the Village.

Earlier this summer, the upscale supermarket Urban Fare and the Tap and Barrel, a 12,000 square-foot restaurant, moved into the complex, following on the success of trendy cafes and shops like Terra Breads and Legacy Liquor.

Five days ago, Brenda Racanelli bought a ground-level 950-square-foot two-bedroom condo facing the waterfront on Athletes Way for $670,000, which she noted was much lower than the initial asking price in the $800,000 range.

In February 2011, the Village was relaunched by Rennie Marketing with new show homes, a name change and prices that averaged 30 per cent lower than those in place in 2010.

Racanelli's parents also bought a condo in the Village a year ago and she says it's nice for her three-year-old son to be closer to his grandparents.

She said she loved the fact her son will meet other children in an area she believes is very safe.

"I've been noticing more kids in the area There's a real neighbourhood feel," she said.

"You start seeing the same people all the time and you're saying 'hello' more than you would in some other neighbourhoods."

Rejoice Kryza, who rents a unit in the Village and was cuddling her nine-month-old baby girl, said it was the number of families and the beauty of the waterfront that attracted her to the complex.

"There's the community centre, and to see so many businesses now come out, well that's what we need," she said. In the last year she has lived there, the mother of three said she's seen the community change a lot.

"There wasn't much going on when we first moved here, but now every weekend there's activities and so many people come here, rain or shine - and, you know, with these big birds it's so beautiful - like a postcard."

Condo marketer Bob Rennie said more homeowners - rather than investors - have been buying the units in the last few months, which he said adds to the sense of community.

""We have a lot of first-time buyers and empty nesters," he said. "It's people who don't want to live downtown and like that it's not a car-dependent community ... It takes 18 minutes to walk to Granville Island."

Of the 737 units in the Village, only 186 are left, said Rennie, with 26 units ranging from $395,000 to $3 million sold since July. He speculated the rest of the units will be sold by the end of next year.

On Saturday, kids with Spider-Man balloons and face-paint raced around the square, sugar high on candy-floss and Popsicles, while other people swayed to booming dance music in the Village square, an area becoming synonymous with two massive art sculptures called The Birds, created by artist Myfanwy MacLeod.

Once a shipyard and industrial wasteland, the Village is now a hub for outdoor enthusiasts of the cycling, strolling, and rolling variety, as well as those who would prefer to sit on a sunny patio with an ice-cold beer.

Raucous laughter could be heard from an oversized patio at the new and popular Tap and Barrel, which was packed with sunseekers and friends cheering with sudsy beers and colourful summery cocktails.

Steve Szilvassy, who has lived in the area for 11 years with his wife Marta, said they never took walks along the seawall like they do now.

"It was so dead here. You had to drive somewhere else to get groceries," he said. Wearing twisted party balloons on their heads, the elderly couple was whooping it up Saturday in the square with their three-year-old granddaughter Graye.

Like many of the local residents, Laura MacCormack, a mortgage broker who has lived in the area at 2nd and Yukon for six years, described the Olympic Village as a "ghost town" post-Games.

"I felt like at any moment a tumble-weed would roll by," she said.

"The energy in the village was strange then. And now, two years later, it has started to come to life with the seawall being complete, the new community centre, Urban Fare, Legacy Liquor store, Terra Breads ... there is a new sense of community."

London Drugs and Urban Fare, which originally signed up as anchor tenants at the Village, renegotiated the terms of their leases after the original site developer Millennium went into receivership last November. The companies announced last summer they had reached agreement on leases after the residential occupancy rate reached 65 per cent at the site.

"If people have never been down here, I think their perceptions are going to be blown out of the water about what they thought or understood in the media," said Clint Mahlman, senior vice-president of London Drugs.

The Village on False Creek condominium complex opened in 2009, and during the Olympics housed athletes from around the world. But controversy and financial problems soon dogged the $1-billion development. Vancouver tax-payers ended up on the hook for $178 million for the city-owned land purchased by the developer, Millennium, which later went into receivers


Preparing your house for viewings can be done quickly and cheaply, HGTV host says


The mortgage financing is settled. You've been scanning the Multiple Listing Service like a stalker. You've already had the clear-out garage sale. There's just one last, teensy, tiny detail to take care of: You have to completely make over your house so it looks like a show home.

Intimidating? Maybe, particularly if you assume your buyer - like you - will look under the kitchen sink, try to pick you out in family photos and investigate every closet, like they're looking for bodies.

But according to Jodi Gilmour, realtor, décor expert and host of HGTV's For Rent, prepping your house for sale can be done quickly and cheaply.

"Today's buyer wants to be able to find a place that is move-in ready and if they have to paint a room or two, they don't mind having to do that, but they don't want to have to do it. So if you take away the strongly personal taste and neutralize the main areas of the home, you'll get a broader range of buyers and a shorter time on the market."

The first step, she says, is possibly the most brutal. Like the fashion rule of looking at yourself quickly in the mirror, then removing the one accessory that draws too much attention, homeowners have to purge, purge, purge. Clean up bookshelves so they're 40 per cent books, 20 per cent décor and 20 per cent negative space.

"Take away 40 per cent of your stuff in general. Start packing. Buyers want to assume they can grow into the house," she says.

"You want your rooms to feel like they have extra space, so take out furniture, pack your fall and winter clothing away. Even edit the cutlery drawers. You can live with eight place settings instead of 18."

And while you're packing up the kitchen, make sure you remove all the half bottles of cleaning products, dubious-looking cloths and the 400 recyclable grocery store bags you store under the kitchen sink. "If someone is serious," she warns, "they'll look under the sink."

Staging the main rooms is also critical to moving your property quickly.

You may love your treadmill in the dining room, but that's not really where it should be.

"You stage your house differently for sale than for life," she observes. "Edit anything that gets in the way. The first rule is to use each room as it is purposed for." That may also mean packing away most of your beloved ceramic owl collection, keeping the children's' toys stowed for a few weeks and storing some of your furniture.

"The more floor space," she says, "the bigger the room looks."

And while removing personal art such as family photos may create more wall space, it also diminishes the distractions. According to Gilmour, the minute people look at portraits and family pictures, they are no longer engaged in seeing the house as theirs.

"If you have a gallery wall, human beings are naturally going to look at photos, like Facebook." This might also be the moment to ignore your husband's protests and take down the black velvet Elvis oil painting. Ditto nudes and representational art. "You're better off going with abstract pieces. Where there are distractions, people either make a judgment about the house and the life going on in it or they're too distracted."

Finally, painting and cleaning carpets cannot only refresh your house, but make it accessible to the imaginations of potential buyers.

While brightly coloured children's bedrooms are generally fine to leave as they are, living areas, bathrooms and the kitchen should be toned down.

A coat of paint with a good primer can also neutralize years of cooking and smoke smells.

But whatever else you do, Gilmour suggests starting at the front door and entry to your home. Tidy up the garage and front step, paint the door and ensure the front hall is warm and inviting.

"You can tell a lot about the condition of the home from the layout and condition of the front hall. It's hard enough to get buyers to accept pictures online," she says. "So the front of the house needs to be beautiful. Buyers make the decision about whether or not they want to see the rest of the house from that first 30 seconds in the front door."

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