The Canadian economy grew 2.5 per cent at an annual rate in the first quarter, the fastest pace of growth in over a year.  Strong Real GDP growth was helped by a 6.2 per cent annualized increase in exports which helped offset slower household consumption and residential investment.

While the Canadian economy grew at a healthy rate in the first quarter, the slowdown in residential construction, and household spending, as well as restraint in government expenditures, will have to be offset by stronger exports and business investment. While exports surprised to the upside in the first quarter, business investment was basically flat.  We expect growth to moderate through the remainder of 2013, with the Canadian economy ultimately expanding around 1.7 per cent this year.

 

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Today's interest rate announcement will be Mark Carney's last as Governor of the Bank of Canada, however that is the only meaningful change as the Bank once again opted to leave its overnight target rate at 1 per cent.  The Bank expects first quarter growth to be stronger then its original projection of 1.5 per cent, and forecasts that the remainder of the year will remain in line with its April projection. The Bank expects inflation will remain subdued before rising to 2 per cent in mid-2015 when the economy returns to full capacity. The Bank once again stated that the considerable monetary policy stimulus currently in place will remain appropriate for an unspecified "period of time" after which some withdrawal will likely be required.

The Bank of Canada remains caught between the rock of a muddling economy and the hard place of elevated household debt burdens. If the second half of this year unfolds as most forecasters expect, economic growth should accelerate, helping inflation to get back on a path to the Bank's 2 per cent target. However, if that scenario does not unfold and the economy continues its slow growth trend, the "period of time" the Bank has noted may stretch out longer than the Bank currently has in mind. Our own analysis of the Canadian economy suggests there will not be any movement on interest rates until late 2014. 

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DAVE McGINN   The Globe and Mail

 

When it comes to home renovations, there are two unassailable truths: It’s going to take longer than expected and it’s going to go over budget – sometimes way over. Oh, and given the number of nightmare stories out there, chances are you’re going to loathe your contractor. (They probably won’t be too thrilled with you, either, a lot of the times.) If you are thinking of undertaking a renovation this spring or summer, spare yourself the migraines and the moping and the complaining to friends about how awful it has all been. Get going now on the most important step of the process: proper planning.

 

THE TIME IT TAKES

Danny Ritchie, president of Ultimate Renovations in Calgary, has been in the business for more than three decades. The biggest mistake would-be renovators make? “Not doing enough homework up front,” he says. Even small renos, such as redoing a kitchen or bathroom, take 30 to 60 days of planning. That’s the time you will need to find a contractor, create a design and make more decisions than you can imagine. Meanwhile, you’ll have to decide how you want to use the space, visit stores to price materials and comb through design magazines for the look you want.

Kathy Saunders began renovating her Toronto home in May of last year, digging out the basement to put in a man cave and adding a new kitchen, living room and two-piece bathroom on the main floor. She had expected to be enjoying the new spaces last fall; now she hopes to have things wrapped up by next month.

“What we should have had is a much clearer picture of the timelines,” Saunders says.

The good news is that if you start planning a relatively small reno now, you can sort out those timelines. The bad news? If you’re hoping to do something more major in the next six months, such as adding a storey or putting an addition on the back of your bungalow, you’re already too late. “If you’re planning on anything major, you’d never be ready for the summer,” says Jim Caruk, host of the HGTV show Real Renos.

 

HOW TO PICK A CONTRACTOR 

To find the right contractor, you need to do more than ask for a few references. “We’re all going to give you references, and we’re going to give you the best ones we’ve ever had,” Caruk says. For all you know, those references could be friends or family. “What you should do is go and look at one of the jobs [the contractor] is halfway through right now.” Talk to the client. Is the contractor reasonable to deal with? Is the job running on time? Has the contractor been going over budget?

Bryan Baeumler, host of House of Bryan and Disaster DIY on HGTV, recommends going to where contractors shop for their supplies and asking a few questions. Do the suppliers know the contractor? How often is he in buying materials? An electrician who has been purchasing thousands of dollars worth of material week in and week out for years is probably a lot more reputable that someone with a spotty shopping history.

It’s also worth going to where the pros go if you’re doing some or all of your reno by yourself, says Jennifer Flores, a Toronto-based design blogger who has been renovating her home room by room for the past five years. “We had a plumbing issue, so we went in to the plumbing supply store. Go to where the contractors go. Ask questions,” she says.

 

HOW TO BE A GOOD CLIENT 

There’s no shortage of complaints about bad contractors. But know this: Even the good ones are frustrated by clients sometimes too.

“Whether you like it or not, I’m part of your family, and it’s going to be a love-hate relationship,” Caruk says.

What do clients do that drive contractors crazy?

“The biggest thing is getting the client to make decisions,” Ritchie says. Micromanagement is also a big one, Baeumler says. Both of which can be avoided by “making up your mind, having a plan and sticking to it,” he says.

And remember, you’ve hired a contractor, not a maid service, so don’t be too finicky about the cleanliness of the job site. “The homeowner should expect the contractors to be neat and tidy, but not to dust the trim every day at the end of the day,” Baeumler says.

HOW MUCH YOU SHOULD EXPECT TO PAY

 

There are the big questions – How should I find a contractor? How long will the project take? Do I really want to do this? – then there’s what Baeumler says is the biggest question of all, the fundamental starting point: How much are you willing to spend?

More often than not, the people Baeumler meets at trade shows tell stories of going 50 per cent over budget, if not more. In some cases, that could be a symptom of getting scammed. But more likely it’s indicative of a failure to plan properly. “If we’re going over budget that often, is it possible that we’re under-budgeting to begin with?” he asks.

A good rule of thumb, Caruk says, is to budget for $200 per square foot. “That gets you a good job,” he says.

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High-End 'Homesteaders' Want Pricey, Stylish Tools; The $1,300 Chicken Coop

What would posesses a person to buy a $1,200 chicken coop, or a $45 white-enamel pail? Outdoorsy activities are getting a high-end makeover and consumers are flocking to the trend. WSJ's Anne-Marie Chaker and Terrain Brand President Wendy McDevitt join Lunch Break with details. Photo: Terrain.

Can chicken feed, canning jars and garden hoses feel chic?

Absolutely, say retailers cashing in on the "modern homesteader" craze. As more urban and suburban homeowners take up backyard farming, items like chicken coops, beehives, gardening tools and pickling and canning supplies are getting more stylish and pricey.

Seeing Inspiration in Homesteading

 

A $58 garden hose, anyone? Or a $258 bronze-and-lime-wood spade? Such are the offerings at Terrain, Urban Outfitters Inc.'s URBN -1.82%fledgling retail concept that caters to the older, higher-income consumers adopting a well-appointed homesteader lifestyle. Last April, Williams-Sonoma WSM +0.61%launched its Agrarian line, which features a $1,300 chicken coop and a $500 beehive.

"We've definitely seen the shift," says Rob Ludlow, owner of BackYardChickens.com, an online community of about 170,000 chicken enthusiasts. "People wanting to be self-sufficient and eating locally grown food is synonymous with people who are affluent."

Homesteaders say their back-to-the-land activities go beyond mere hobbies and provide emotional nourishment and a certain inner peace. Eliza Zimmerman, 55, and her husband, Peter, a 57-year-old architect, tend vegetable and herb gardens and three beehives on their 10-acre property with an 1890s farmhouse in Chester Springs, Pa., outside Philadelphia. On the agenda for spring: chickens.

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Williams-Sonoma sells a $1,300 cedar chicken coop.

"It's what I did with my grandmother—the chickens, the gardening, the canning, the bees," Ms. Zimmerman says. "It is my Zen—a memory of what made me feel safe and good and warm." And jars of homemade honey make great gifts, she adds.

Modern homesteading style shares some of the spirit of the shabby chic interiors of the 1990s, when chipped-paint furniture and tea-stained fabrics conveyed a desirable aged patina. The homestead aesthetic is more than visual, though, encompassing a range of do-it-yourself activity, like brewing beer, pickling vegetables and making cheese.

Beekeeping clubs are getting lots of buzz and new members. Hundreds of local restrictions on backyard chickens have been lifted in the past five years as a result of public pressure, says Barak Orbach, a law professor at the University of Arizona, who has studied the phenomenon. More people aren't just growing their own vegetables, but canning and preserving them, too.

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Fifth Season Gardening, a Carrboro, N.C.-based chain, specializes in home brewing.

Broadly defined, it is a consumer segment with an estimated $200 billion in retail sales, which also includes annual spending on organic-labeled food and environmentally-friendly household products, says Charlie Hall, horticultural economist at Texas A&M University in College Station. This consumer is typically a 30- or 40-something homeowner motivated largely by the desire to live more simply and healthily, he says.

These people "have a willingness and ability to pay," Dr. Hall says, whether it's $70 for Williams-Sonoma's "vintage" watering can ("scuffs, scratches and other signs of use add to the character," the retailer says) or $40 for a bag of soy-free chicken feed at Fifth Season Gardening Co., a regional chain based in Carrboro, N.C.

The Agrarian line from Williams-Sonoma—part do-it-yourself supply cabinet, part collection of rustic accent pieces—zeroes in on an artfully weather-beaten look. A pine-and-metal "vintage Biergarten table" sells for $600; a "found" enamel pail for $50. (The company says these items aren't copies but rather actual pieces it found by scouring European villages. Items may not be identical and may be available in limited quantities, the company says.)

The Agrarian line is meant for people "who want to embrace the homegrown and the homemade into their everyday lives," says Allison O'Connor, vice president of merchandising. There is an intentional mix of price points, she says, such as an $11.95 herb-garden kit. The company says it plans to double the number of products in its Agrarian line and publish a stand-alone catalog.

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Terrain's copper thermometer, top ($58), and mirrored trivet sets ($98).

Fifth Season's five stores in the Carolinas and Virginia sell gardening supplies and chicken feed, as well as kits for making sake wine and chevre cheese and cultures for yogurt, kefir, sour cream and buttermilk. The shopping floor is appointed with terra cotta planters and stone statuary; classes have ranged from home-brewing to bonsai.

Elizabeth Galindo Roberts, a film costume designer in her 50s, moved to a new home in Carmichael, Calif., about a year ago. She and her husband installed a vegetable and edible-flower garden, including nasturtiums and violas. She keeps five chickens in two custom-built coops.

The couple hired interior designer Kerrie Kelly, from nearby Sacramento, to design the interior of the four-bedroom ranch. The look "feels perfect, but it's so imperfect," Ms. Kelly says. Dining-room chairs are upholstered with mismatched fabrics; wall art hangs in frames of assorted styles. Furniture leathers are distressed, and windows are framed with open-weave linens.

"Ten years ago, people were opening up Architectural Digest and saying, 'We want that.' " Ms. Kelly says. "Now there is such an authenticity to everything we are designing."

Urban Outfitters says its Terrain garden centers target women ranging from their mid-40s to mid-60s. "One of the things we'd been discussing is the boomer lifestyle," says Richard Hayne, chief executive of the Philadelphia-based company, whose Urban Outfitters chain caters to college-age hipsters and Anthropologie stores targets fashionable young homeowners.

"We realized there's another leg to this story," Mr. Hayne says, referring to the spending potential of well-heeled women whose children are grown. "Their demand and desire for apparel wanes," he says. It's "a lifestyle concept.

Terrain inventory ranges from a $228 metal-roof birdhouse and a $148 woolen throw to a $269 tailored gardening jacket. A section of the store is devoted to beauty and bath products, including a $38 scrub presented as a "hot toddy for the body."

Terrain's store in Glen Mills, Pa., features a restaurant, in an antique greenhouse brimming with ferns, that specializes in locally-sourced food. It has a following with groups of women who meet for lunch and shop. Mr. Hayne says he is looking to add a spa.

The store provides workshops on things like terrarium gardening and Japanese "kokedama," hanging plants that appear to float, free of containers, from the ceiling. "We'll open more stores," Mr. Hayne says. "We're taking our time growing the concept and learning it."

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Want the perfect combination of shopping convenience and rooftop gardens? How about living in a house on top of a mall?

According to Geek System, a developer in China, has built a set of houses on top of a shopping mall. The mini neighbourhood is made up of four houses, and each house has a surrounding property. The houses are part of a trend of putting community gardens and other vegetation on building rooftops.

However, there is one problem with these “mall-top” residences: they are technically commercial buildings. So for the moment, they will be used as extra office space for the mall staff.

Still, the roof top design is an interesting way of addressing urban planning and creative uses of space.

Check out a larger picture of the houses below:

 

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By: Mike Holmes


 
To avoid becoming a victim of fraud, make sure to know your rights. For instance, you have 10 days to cancel a contract.

The Holmes GroupTo avoid becoming a victim of fraud, make sure to know your rights. For instance, you have 10 days to cancel a contract.

You would think that after 10 years of me showing case after case of bad contractors that there wouldn’t be so many of them out there. But there are. And they’re still taking homeowners’ money and running.

People are always telling me, “Mike, why don’t you go after these guys? Why don’t you do a show about catching these crooks? They’re giving us good guys a bad name.” I agree — and they’re dragging the industry down with them.

When it comes to home renovations, add fraud to greed and you’ve got the kind of people that deserve to be in jail. They calculate and strategize on how they can take homeowners’ money and get away with it. They know the fraud laws.

Fraud laws state that as long as you do a little bit of work in the house you can’t be charged with fraud. That’s because a contractor can come back and claim that they were doing their due diligence. And even if they’re charged with fraud, odds are by the time it goes to court, most homeowners don’t have the money to fight the case. You can’t charge these people with anything else, because they’re not stealing. They are masterminds when it comes to fraud.


They don’t care about you. They don’t care about your kids. They don’t care if your house burns down. What they care about is getting your money. And they will do and say anything to get you to give it to them.

Intimidation is used a lot by fraud suspects. They’ll threaten to put a lien on your house or report you to the police. This makes homeowners not want to report anything, or deal with them altogether — to the point where homeowners just want them to go away. And that lets them off the hook.

Homeowners need to report home renovation fraud suspects. These cases go unreported too often. People are embarrassed, and think they won’t be taken seriously.

But there are many organizations that you can go to — organizations such as the Better Business Bureau, Ministry of Consumer Services, Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and local police departments. The more information you give these agencies the more likely it will be that they can go after them.

In order to fight these people, agencies need “similar fact” evidence. Similar fact evidence is something that repeats over a number of households. That’s why homeowners need to come forward. Without that information these agencies are handcuffed.

 

 

New measures are being taken, such as the Prepaid Contracting Licence endorsed by Service Alberta. Basically, a contractor must hold a Prepaid Contracting Licence in order to take a deposit before beginning work. If the contractor doesn’t provide the services or provide the goods as agreed, the homeowner can submit a claim against the security the contractor has paid to the government.

As far as I’m concerned the best way to beat home renovation fraud is by educating the homeowners — and the public in general — on what’s a scam and what’s not. They need to know the red flags — and there are plenty of them: door-to-door contractors, contractors that show up at your house in a car — not in a professional truck, c. Contractors that advertise in flyers.

Good contractors are busy. They don’t need to go out looking for jobs. In fact, they’re overbooked.

Homeowners also need to look at the contract. Seems like I can’t say this enough. Is there information on what the job is going to look like, or how much it’s going to cost in floors, trim, repairs, building walls, electrical and plumbing? If it doesn’t spell out anything other than “I want your money and we’re coming in on this date,” kick them out. And if the price seems too good to be true, I guarantee it is.

Know your rights. Most homeowners don’t know that they can cancel a contract within 10 days — it’s what’s known as a cooling-off period. They can also cancel their contract if there is any misrepresentation by the company they hired.

The last time I got subpoenaed to court, a “professional” kitchen company brought in this big lawyer. Before we went into the courtroom I told the guy, “Do you really want to do this? Do you really want to fight these people or do you want to give them their money back right now?” He decided to fight them, and he lost. In the end, the judge took the money this company paid upfront to defend this case, charged them more and then gave it all to the homeowners.

But homeowners have to take some responsibility and do their homework. I don’t want you to think that going to court is your first option; it’s expensive! It’s always better to prevent than to treat. As far as I’m concerned the battle isn’t won in the courtroom. It’s won at home when you kick these people out of your house and you don’t give them a dime.

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By David George-Cosh

Reuters

Home sales in two of Canada’s biggest cities show the country’s cooling housing market may still have some spring in its step.

Vancouver home sales last month fell about 6% from the same time last year, but were up almost 12% on a monthly basis, according to the latest stats from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.

Home sales in Toronto fell 2% in April compared to the year-earlier period, but were up a whopping 24% from March, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board.

“Despite the headwinds we have experienced in the housing market this year, April sales came in quite strong in comparison to last year,” said Ann Hannah, president of the Toronto Real Estate Board. “As we move through the spring and into the second half of 2013, the demand for home ownership should continue to firm up relative to last year.”

It’s now been nearly a full year since the federal government enacted stricter mortgage lending guidelines that cooled what was then a hot housing market in Canada, and Ms. Hannah says it’s “realistic to surmise” that some households may be on the hunt again to buy a new home.

Those potential buyers may welcome this nugget of good news: the pace of home-price growth continues to fall, at least in Toronto.

The price of an average home in Toronto rose 2% in April to 526,335 Canadian dollars ($521,898), the real estate board said, and while higher, it’s the fourth-straight month the pace of price increases has slowed. In March, Toronto prices climbed 3.8% from the previous month.

Prices in Vancouver fell 3.9% to C$597,300 month-over-month in April, the same rate of decline recorded in March.

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by: Joshua Brown, The Reformed Broker 

 

 

This weekend I shared this Globe & Mail story about the hedge fund manager betting big against Canada, specifically the Canadian banking sector, housing market and the country's currency. He sees a crisis coming for the real estate market up north that will wreck the economy.

It's an interesting view, but one that I think will be wrong.

Five quick reasons why:

1. A lot of the money fueling the boom is coming from Asians (especially from China) who want to get some assets outside their country. Real estate is how they're doing it. A new boom in China fuels more of this as there is more money to be invested. A crash in China fuels it even further as the newly minted millionaires and billionaires seek to protect even more of their wealth from local conditions. It's virtually guaranteed to continue.

2. The rest of the money is coming from gold mining, oil drilling and nat gas discovery. Gold may be in or out of fashion, but its been a Canadian mainstay industry since the flag was first planted. It is endogenous to their culture and way of life. Oil and gas prices rise or fall but the underlying need and demand really don't. In short, the prices of materials fluctuate but its not likely that activity in finding and producing these materials will ever stay down for long.

3. Have you met any Canadians? Outside of hockey arenas and beaver-trapping blinds, they tend to be well-educated, clean, smart, well-mannered, fastidious and responsible. Yes, this is a stereotype, but most stereotypes contain a kernel of truth, it's how they get started to begin with. Look at the loan-to-value rates in Canadian housing, look at the percentages of equity being put down, look at the sheer amount of activity taking place with cash on the barrel head and no debt. It's hard to call this a mania or a free-for-all.

4. Canada's housing supply is mostly igloos, which will eventually melt, thus preventing massive overstock in the market place. This factor should keep pricing somewhat stable over time.

5. I don't have a fifth, it's been a long day

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In somewhat of a surprise move, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty passed over presumptive favourite Senior Deputy Governor Tiff Macklem in naming Stephen Poloz as the new governor of the Bank of Canada.

Mr. Poloz spent 14 years with the Bank of Canada in numerous roles including Chief of the Bank's Research Department before moving on to Export Development Canada (EDC) where he served as the Chief Economist and, since 2011,  as the EDC's CEO and President.

While Mr. Poloz has been outside of monetary policy-making for some time and his views are relatively unknown, we do not expect the Bank's approach to change in a material way in the near future. The Bank will still operate under a flexible inflation targeting regime with a focus on medium-run inflation of 2 per cent and our view remains that interest rates will remain on hold over the next year while the Bank's forward guidance on rates will remain neutral. 

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