Emergency Preparedness for Condo Dwellers: A Quick Guide

Emergency

Sure, some emergencies we can’t do a thing about: If Godzilla decides he really likes the look of the CN Tower, well, the monster wants what the monster wants.  But most emergencies in Toronto are simple to prepare for, and getting ready for the worst isn’t paranoid: it’s banking your thinking ahead of time for when you might need it most.

So in the event of a fire in your building, a multi-day power outage like the 2013 ice storm, or other mundane, non-monster emergencies, here’s a quick guide for being prepared.

Make sure you have the right supplies

Do you have enough towels to block the seams of your front door in case there’s a fire in the hall?  Think about what you might need in the event that your power goes off, in a case of a fire or flood, during a water cut, or to ride out a winter storm—and then go get it.

Candles or flashlights with a backup stock of batteries are great for power outages.  A first-aid kit—not necessarily a formal packaged one, but the basics you need to treat an injury—is always an important thing to have.  Portable battery chargers have come down in price enough that they’re currently quite cheap and can keep your cellphone running for days even if there’s no power in your unit to charge it—which means keeping up with friends, relatives, and the news.

If you use regular medications, try to habitually refill your prescriptions with a few days’ buffer, to make sure you don’t run out of important pills during the kind of weather emergency that makes staying in a much better idea.  And try to keep a few days’ worth of food that can be eaten without refrigeration or stove cooking on hand.

If you have hardwired C02 and carbon monoxide detectors, great—but they won’t work if the power’s down.  Make sure you have enough of the right batteries to keep the battery backup option working and check them regularly to make sure those batteries are still working away inside.

Also important: A few large jugs that will hold drinking water.  If you’re living in a high-rise condo unit, the pumps that bring your tap water up to the twenty-first floor will likely be affected by a power outage.  If the weather’s looking bad, get your pioneer on and fill the bathtub, your water jugs, and a pot or two, and you’ll save yourself the bad-weather trip for bottled water.

Know your condo’s emergency plan

Does your condo have an emergency plan?  Find out, and if so, get your hands on a copy of it.  Not all buildings have comprehensive emergency responses—they’re set by the individual condo boards rather than required by law—but knowing what the procedure puts you one step ahead.

If your condo does have a plan, participate in any practice drills, fire drills, or other events they hold, and know your floor warden by sight.  It’s kind of easy to be too-cool-for-school when it comes to fire drills and alarm testing, especially if you’re in the middle of something, but: Take them seriously.  It’s five minutes of your time, and in the event, you wake up at three a.m. smelling smoke, it’ll be a great help to have those reflexes baked in.

Build your own emergency plan

If your condo building doesn’t have an emergency plan—and you’re not inclined to pitch one to them, which is always a great idea—it’s not too hard to build your own.

Start with routes: If you need to get out of your unit during that Godzilla attack, how would you do it?  Since elevators require power to operate—and units on high floors can’t rely on them during heavy weather—locate the stairwells, emergency exits, and alternate routes to get from your unit to the ground.  Figure out two to three routes from your door to the outdoors, in case one is blocked in the event of a fire.  The Ministry of Community Safety rather strongly discourages using an elevator if the fire alarm’s ringing, and for good reasons, so assume you’ll be taking the stairs.

Secondly, make a list—if your building doesn’t provide one—of important emergency numbers, or property managers’ numbers to contact in case something goes wrong.  Tack that up in a highly visible place—your fridge is a great choice—so that if problems arise, you can get in touch with emergency services, your concierge desk, your property manager’s emergency maintenance line, or whoever else might be appropriate to the task.

Inside your unit, important things to locate for your emergency plan are your fire extinguisher, your water shutoff valve—if it’s in your unit—and your electrical panel.  Being able to go right to one of these can short-circuit an emergency before it has a chance to, well, emerge.

If you do have to head out

In case you do have to bail on your unit for a while so that an emergency can be contained, make sure you have the following:

  • A kit with any important medications, toiletries, and a change of clothes;
  • Your important documents, such as passports, health cards, photo ID, birth certificates, and so forth;
  • Your cell phone and a portable battery or charger;
  • Ready cash, in the case of credit cards, are a no-go.

Turn off any appliances or lights before leaving your unit, and make sure your door is locked.

Best of luck, and remember: One small preparedness adventure might be goofy, but it also might save your life.

Analysis: Planning for a Potential Toronto Vacancy Tax

Vacancy Tax Toronto

Toronto’s housing market is on fire—and drawing the concern of governments, experts, and real estate associations alike as prices and sales rates keep on growing month after month after month. With Queen’s Park actively considering a slew of measures to cool Toronto’s tumultuous housing market—including a tax on vacant units and homes—we’re going to focus in on some of the regulatory changes on the table for tenants and homeowners, and talk about their potential impact for investment condo owners.

This week, we’ll outline what a vacancy tax has meant for investment condo owners and landlords in Vancouver—and what it might mean if introduced in the City of Toronto.

The view from Vancouver

Vancouver’s Empty Homes Tax was approved in November as part of the city strategy to help buyers and renters get into its increasingly closed-off housing market. Coming online in December of this year, the tax will require all owners of empty homes to make a status declaration every year, and based on that, will levy an annual tax of 1% of the home’s assessed value to owners who fall under its conditions: homes that are vacant six months or more in the last calendar year.

The goal: to match Vancouverites desperate for housing in a tight market to the thousands of empty condos and apartments dotted around the city.

As an incentive, that 1% might not sound like much, but with the benchmark price—the predicted sale price—of a condo unit in Vancouver at $537,400 as of March, that 1% adds up to over $5,000 a year. With Vancouver condo prices still rising, as bidding wars move over from the detached housing market to condo units, the penalty for keeping units empty in the housing-crunched city is likely to get even higher.

Vancouver’s law has reasonable exemptions: for homes under construction, homes bought or sold that year, or homes in condominiums where the condo board—or, out west, strata council—restricts renting units, the Empty Homes Tax doesn’t apply.

It’s hard right now to gauge the impact that the Empty Homes Tax will have on Vancouver’s housing problem. With the first declarations taking place this December—requiring people to have tenants in their empty units by July 1st at the latest to avoid paying the tax—the real proof as to whether the Empty Homes Tax has worked will likely show in May and June, with the number of new leases signed for July occupancy.

The Toronto situation

The discussion around a Toronto vacancy tax is based primarily on numbers: Statistics Canada’s 2016 census numbers, to be specific, where 65,000 Toronto homes were listed in the category of “unoccupied by usual residents” while 100,000 people move to the Toronto area every year.

It’s important to break that number down. While it’s simple to picture tens of thousands of neglected units locking their doors to desperate new Torontonians, Statistics Canada’s definition of usual residents is more about who considers a space their primary residence and lives there year-round or close to it, not whether a space is housing anyone at all. With the census conducted in the summer, unoccupied by usual residents can mean anything from a student rental that will fill up again in September to a space that’s been sublet while the usual resident travels or visits family in another country. Mayor John Tory’s office isn’t troubled by that distinction, saying to the Toronto Star that if even half those units were unaffected by a vacancy tax, the gap the other half represented is still “worrying”.

The decision to bring in a vacancy tax does rest with the City of Toronto specifically, and City Hall has proven much warmer to the idea than they have a foreign buyers’ tax—at least so far. Efforts are already underway to use Toronto Hydro and Water data to winnow down those 65,000 units to a more realistic picture of vacancies, and turn that data into a feasibility report.

In the meantime, Ontario’s Finance Minister, Charles Sousa, has hinted that this year’s provincial budget is going to bring in cooling measures for the Toronto real estate market. With the budget being unveiled at the end of April, it’s not too long a wait to see which conditions will be on the table for landlords and tenants.

All in all, the impact, if a similar vacancy tax were put through in Toronto, could be significant to smaller investment owners. Vancouver’s 1% tax rate would likely be used as a model—legislation is much more easily drawn up when there’s a working model in the country—and even if a Toronto vacancy tax had its differences, it’s not a bad model to use when making your own decisions.

In Toronto, where home prices have skyrocketed a record 33% in just one year, the average condo price hit $550,299 last month with no real signs of stopping—which puts Toronto condo owners in an even tighter situation than Vancouver’s in the event of a vacancy tax. Paired with other proposals such as increasing the rent control guidelines to buildings built post-1991 and discussions around heavily regulating AirBnB in Toronto, it’s plausible that renting investment property in Toronto could quickly become an environment where making smart, deliberate choices really matters—and attention to property management becomes the core of your small rental business.

Consider why your property is empty—and make a plan

Our advice, in this shifting landscape? It’s not always a sign of failure if a property sits empty, even in a hot housing market like Toronto’s, but if your investment condo has been housing nothing but dust bunnies and air more often than it’s been housing people, it’s worth examining why—and setting a good long-term plan for that investment.

Think back: What were your goals when you signed the paperwork to buy the unit, and have you realized them? If not, what’s kept you from realizing them? A vacancy tax is meant not as a punishment, but a spur: Would your plans change if a vacancy tax came into effect in Toronto this year?

In real estate—as in most of life—it’s always best to have planned ahead. Rather than being caught in the scramble for tenants that would occur in Toronto in the months before that vacancy window closes—our own personal May and June in the City of Vancouver—building a solid divestment or rental plan now means not having to settle for a lower rent than you need to carry your mortgage or condo fees or tenants that you aren’t actually sure you can build a cooperative relationship with.

It also means time to get on top of your property management game so you can keep those good tenants year over year—or to recognize your time or skills limitations and bring a professional rental and property management firm on board. While hiring the experts does also cost money, it’s significantly less than paying a vacancy tax and the mortgage and condo fees on an empty unit.

There are very few guarantees about what the Toronto private rentals market is going to hold by this time next year, but the core principles always do stay the same: attention to detail, informed and honest business practices, and knowing what you want out of your investment property over the short and long term are usually guaranteed to get you through interesting times like these without taking a loss—or finding yourself scrambling to fill your unit on June 30th of next year.

Neighbourhood Focus: Queen and Spadina

Spadina and Queen

 

Once the heart of Toronto’s indie culture scene, Queen and Spadina absorbed a wave of high-end retail in the early 2000s and turned from the place you went to get band bootlegs into the destination for designer boots. But once the hot new businesses chased the cool factor west to Ossington and beyond, Queen and Spadina emerged with its own unique identity: a low-key, comfortable neighbourhood in the heart of downtown, minutes to the more frantic traffic of University, Yonge, or the King Street corridor, with all the modern conveniences and self-assured personality anyone could want.

With projects like SQ at Alexandra Park ready to open and select new rentals becoming available for May 2017, we’re bringing back our neighbourhood focus series and checking out the living at Queen and Spadina.

The Essentials

A downtown neighbourhood is either drowning in choices for grocery shopping or desperate for them, but Queen and Spadina hits the balance with ease. For the more one-stop-shopping oriented among us, the Loblaws at Queen and Portland provides the local megalopolis of food, alongside a pharmacy counter, coffee bar, bakery, cheese wall, seafood counter, and a non-trivial organics section.

Those looking for a higher end dinner can hit the Fresh & Wild at King and Spadina, which offers an organic produce section, fresh sushi rolls, deli and cheese counters, and a selection of the high-end green grocery products you’d normally find at a Trader Joe’s. With the office crowd hitting it for lunches every day, a significant chunk of Fresh & Wild is given over to ready-to-eat food, but if you’re looking for that very nice fair trade bottle of vanilla extract, they’re guaranteed to have it—and both stores deliver for a small fee.

However, Queen and Spadina is also literal minutes’ walk away from Chinatown and Kensington Market, both neighbourhoods packed with small grocers, butchers, fishmongers, bakeries, and cheese specialists—and not limited to a gourmet price point.

Being a Chinatown or Kensington regular is half preference and half voyage of discovery: Everyone who shops there has their own map of the neighbourhood, their own favourites and spots they’ve never tried before even after a decade of weekly grocery runs (and we’ll regularly throw down about which produce store has the best deals or freshest Ataulfo mangoes). Recommendations here are less about objective quality than the kind of fandom usually reserved for the Leafs or your favourite Star Trek captain. But there are a few objective bests in the neighbourhood, both old-school and new: Queen and Portland’s branch of The Healthy Butcher, which offers butchering and kitchen skills classes alongside their selection of organic-raised meat, charcuterie, and cheeses; Sanagan’s Meat Locker, a small-and-local-focused butcher shop with some of the best sausages, small-batch condiments, and staff expertise in the city; and Global Cheese, whose huge counter stock is only matched by their no-nonsense, big-family practicality and willingness to have you try something new today.

Finding a drug store is also a simple matter at Queen and Spadina: the large Shoppers Drug Mart at Queen and Ryerson includes a passport photo service and an all-important Canada Post location, and is open until 10:00 pm nightly. The equidistant Shoppers at Queen and Beverley has all the same features, but makes it until midnight. Rexall partisans have a short walk east to Queen and University, where the store closes at midnight every night.

Dining

Queen and Spadina used to be a bar and club neighbourhood, and you can tell from its food offerings: there’s a huge emphasis on the kind of quick, filling, delicious snacks you want before or after a night of dancing and beers—but grown up into an art form.

Banh Mi Boys and Fresh Off the Boat both specialize in portable-yet-decadent sandwiches, tacos, and fries with an Asian feel. While the first brought Vietnamese subs back into the popular eye with ridiculously delicious ideas like five spice pork belly steamed bao, the second takes the concept and goes straight for the seafood: snow crab fries are a house favourite. Add in a local branch of The Burger’s Priest right across the street and the eat-it-with-your-hands box is well and truly checked.

Up Spadina, though, there are the entire riches of Chinatown, including pho, dumplings, and the dinner most like a combat sport, hot pot. Celebrity Hot Pot on Spadina, just south of Dundas, offers a huge selection of meats, veggies, and broths to dip them in, as well as a station to mix your own dipping sauces and top up drinks without having to flag down a server.

For the more tea-and-pastry-oriented crowd, Butter Avenue, one of the city’s nicest patisseries, is perched comfortably just west of Queen and Cameron. While it’s their macarons they’re known for—and they are very pleasant macarons—take time to try the tarts and cakes too.

Get some culture

While it’s been a few years since Queen and Spadina was where you went for a blurry night of up-and-coming bands, beers, and warehouse movie theatres, turning residential didn’t wipe its creative community away.

Some of the most venerable bar venues in the city—The Horseshoe Tavern and The Cameron House—host live music every night of the week, with the former focusing on rock and the latter on folk and roots. Farther east, at University, The Rex offers daily jazz sets; west of Spadina, Velvet Underground has reinvented itself from the goth-rock haven of the early 2000s to a DJ and alt-rock concert venue.

The books world hasn’t moved too far from the intersection either. While it’s been years since the street in lit festival Word on the Street’s name meant Queen West, edges of that reader’s culture still linger in some Queen and Spadina institutions: local café-slash-institution Tequila Bookworm, just west of Spadina, lovingly maintains its wall of bookshelves alongside a craft beer and cider menu. Type Books is still selling frontlist a little west along Queen, at Bellwoods, with a focus on art, design, and literary fiction.

But Queen and Spadina was always—and still is—a quiet centre for another creative culture: fashion. Alongside the ‘zines and music venues, Queen and Spadina was, not too long ago, home to a hotbed of independent designers—who set up shop right next to the fabric and fiber crafting stores that supplied them. Though some of the fabric and costume stores have shut down or moved online, the craft community still has some significant mainstays in the neighbourhood.

Affordable Textiles and Queen Textiles are the granddaddies still standing of the Queen West fabric store strip, with piles of fabric and notions stacked high and a line on everything you’d need for a sewing project, whether it’s your first homemade pillowcase or a full-on ballgown. On the other side of the fiber arts spectrum, Romni Wools, just a short walk west past Queen and Bathurst, has all the yarn, knitting, and crochet tools you could ever dream of, and a healthy magazine, book, and how-to section besides.

Queen and Spadina is still cheerfully reinventing itself, from punk paradise to fashion strip to outdoor mall to its current incarnation: a curious, liveable, creative neighbourhood that’s found a balance between all the lifestyles Toronto throws out there. With SQ at Alexandra Park opening this spring, it’s a great time to take a walk through the Queen and Spadina neighbourhood, and to see if you’re going where it’s going next.

Four Reasons to Rent a Condo in Scarborough

Rent a condo in Scarborough

Scarborough’s got to be the town with the most mixed-up, contentious rep in the GTA: it’s some people’s fiercely-loved hometown, some people’s ground zero for the Toronto music scene, and some people’s wilds of Scarberia (neighbours, we’ve got to stop the hate here). Whatever you’ve heard about Scarborough, it’s definitely mixed up in myth, pushback, and politics.

So why check Scarborough out when you’re looking for your next home? Well, there are lots of reasons—and they aren’t always the ones the stories talk about.

Scarborough has more communities per square inch

Scarborough was—and still is—the destination for decades of new immigrants to settle down in Canada, and those multiple waves of immigration have built an area that has more community in it than anywhere in TO. There are solid Chinese, African, Tamil, Indian, and Caribbean communities thriving in the borders of Scarborough, just for starters. No matter how you look or who you are, you’re never going to be alone in a crowd when you’re in Scarborough, and you’ll be less likely to have to explain where you’re from for the thirtieth time that week.

And Scarborough has the community resources to back that up. If you want to cook your grandmother’s recipes and need that one special ingredient, there’ll be three grocery stores that have it; if you’re looking for a place of worship for your religious community, it’ll be there; if you’re looking for the true heart of multicultural Toronto, this is it. Scarborough has always been the place to build a stable home in a supportive community, whatever your background may be, while getting exposure to a whole bucketful of other cultures.

Scarborough is ridiculously safe

It’s front and centre every time Scarborough gets bad press: the idea that Scarborough’s a hotspot for violent crime. The myth of Scarborough as dangerous is one that’s persisted for decades, and there are more than a few theories about who—or what prejudices—are to blame for that one.

Dig into the facts, though, and it’s pretty clear, pretty fast, that Scarborough’s violent crime rates are consistently—for the past twenty years at minimum—at least 3% lower than the rest of Toronto’s, and those were already pretty low. North Scarborough, according to Toronto Police statistics, is the safest division in the city.

If you’re looking at neighbourhoods based on security, and where you’ll feel safe walking home at night, the stats have been clear for a while: Scarborough’s your place.

Scarborough encompasses more than a suburb

The second big Scarborough myth is the Scarberia charge: That, like most of the communities that were, at one point, Toronto suburbs, Scarborough has nothing going on outside its mall. This could not be farther from the truth.

Scarborough hits all the urban living checkboxes in its City Centre neighbourhood, where most of the rental condo development has focused: a walkable, miniature downtown with a mix of offices, residential, and things to do. In short, think Liberty Village, but surrounded by the kind of greenery and parklands you’d have to drive out to Muskoka to enjoy.

Because Scarborough is also greener than any other part of Toronto. It’s home to Rouge Park, Canada’s first Urban National Park, where you can go hiking, spot deer in the Rouge River Valley, learn about the Paleolithic history of Toronto, and have picnics. It’s the equivalent of teleporting to Algonquin for the cost of a TTC fare, minus the bears, and being home in your own bed by nightfall.

Scarborough has transit everywhere

The big stumbling block for many Torontonians considering a move that doesn’t involve downtown is transit: How to get to friends, jobs, and family in other neighbourhoods. But no matter where you go in Scarborough, you’re connected.

Scarborough is the only outer borough in Toronto that’s 100% accessible on the TTC. No matter the neighbourhood, if there’s not a subway stop, there’s an LRT; if there’s no LRT, there’s a dedicated bus route. The commuter nature of development over the years in Scarborough means it’s been connected, reliably—even if it might mean a full bus ride in rush hour—for years now, and you’ll be able to map your routes with ease.

The realities of renting in Scarborough are a living demonstration of why it’s important to look past the hype, whether that’s good, bad, or just kind of ridiculous. If you’re looking for flexibility and community, look into a Scarborough condo. It’s got more to offer than you’d think.

How to Rent the Condo That’s Right for You

Rent the condo

You’ve decided: Yes, you want a condo.

Now, which condo?

Not all condos are created equal, and what’ll be the best! place! ever! for one person can easily be an insufferable set of limits for another.  Here are some questions to consider, decisions to make, and quick tips to make sure that the condo you rent is the condo that’s right for you—before you put your name on that lease.

Know thyself

Any decision about a new home is tied up not just in who we are, but who we want to be: Of course we’ll use that exercise room every other day, if it’s just there for us; of course we’ll throw a dinner party a month in that common dining room on the top floor.  But if you’re not the person who’s already throwing dinner parties or hitting the gym, it’s important to understand that moving to a new home isn’t going to make you that person.  If your happy place is Netflix on a Sunday night, expect Netflix on a Sunday night to reassert itself after moving, no matter where you live.

This is not to say never have dreams.  But when checking out rental properties that are priced with their amenities in mind, it’s good to draw up a list first of dealbreakers—things you absolutely need and know you’re going to use, because you already do those activities in your everyday life, today—and perks, which you might use to change your lifestyle, but might not use after all.

Having an amenity in close proximity, just down the hall or up the stairs, can be a great way to get through those days where eating ice cream and reading a book would be much easier than doing your cardio.  But fundamentally, moving is not going to change you.  Rent the unit that’s good for the you who exists now, not the you that you’d like to maybe be in two years’ time, and save both the money and guilt that can result from the change in scenery not changing your life.

Look for the amount of space you’re going to occupy

Likewise, it’s important to know how much space you need.  Micro-condos are available for lower prices, and that can be exceptionally attractive, especially if your income requires keeping the monthly rent down or you’re saving up for something big.  But it’s a very risky idea to white-knuckle it through a whole year’s lease in a place that’s smaller than you’d like and assume you’ll, well, just deal with it.  It’s hard to move forward to the next stage of your life when your home makes you feel trapped and unhappy, and it doesn’t make you a great neighbour, tenant, co-worker, or friend.

Likewise, if you’re the kind of person who loves to be out of the house—and basically uses your home for a place to cook, crash, and stage your next adventure—there’s no sense in paying for that second bedroom just for a sense of appearances.

Consider anyone else who’s living in the house, too.  If you’re renting with a partner, think about what kind of space you need if and when you argue: Will that open-concept condo, with no doors to close, force a situation where every argument means one of you has to literally leave your home to get some space?

In short: Be realistic about how you use space in your home, and what kind of space you need in your day-to-day living—and look at condo rentals that can work with your use of space.

Know your plans

Life happens.  Life frequently bowls us over, which is one of the most wonderful and terrible things about it, simultaneously.  But if you’ve got a sense of who you are and where you’re going, take that factor into consideration when shortlisting condo units for viewing.

Are you looking to start a family in the next year or two?  You’ll probably want a second bedroom, and a neighbourhood that’s easy to navigate, transit- and amenity-wise, with an infant.  Are you looking for a quiet nest for your retirement years?  Check out accessibility features in the building, even if you’re in good health now, because it’s a terrible thing to have to pile moving on top of recovering from an injury or illness.

There’s a fine line between renting for the person you want to be (not always a great plan!) and planning ahead for the life circumstances you know are coming your way (a good idea!) and it’s not always easy to know what side of that line you’re on.  But if there’s a definite life event coming your way, factor it in.

Ask about the intangibles

Living in a space is a multisensory experience, and it’s important to ask questions for all five senses to know if a space is right for you.  Is there smoking in the building, and does smoke travel through the ducts between units?  Is there loud noise anywhere nearby that will disrupt your sleep if you work non-standard shifts or hours?  How good is the air conditioning, and if it’s a glass-walled unit, how does that wall of windows affect your unit’s internal temperature?  Is the building having any construction or major maintenance work done, and what are the schedules for completion?

All of those factors will be part of your day-to-day living, and affect your comfort in—and enjoyment of—the space.

Best of luck!

Five Easy Ways to Pick Up Affordable Art for Your Condo

Affordable Art

You’ve unpacked and settled into your new condo, and while the space is warm and cozy, the walls are looking a little bare. Since painting is usually off the table, the next best solution is to hang something with personality.

Before you head to a poster sale, though, high-quality art isn’t just for oil tycoons. If you’re on a budget and looking to spruce up your wall space, here are five easy ways to pick up affordable art for your condo without breaking the bank.

1) Check out the student galleries

There is no less figurative up-and-coming artist than the artists you’ll find at student galleries.  Both the OCAD U Student Gallery and Ryerson Artspace exhibit regular and eclectic collections of student work, and yes, they are for sale.  Exhibitions rotate throughout the year, and programs are available on their websites or on a drop-in visit.

If you’re into innovative, cutting-edge, new-generation work—or just like the idea of being able to follow artists from the start of their career (and say you knew them when!)—the student gallery route is a great one, and gives you the chance to pick up something original, one-of-a-kind, and fabulous without a major markup.

2) Visit an art fair or pop-up craft market 

Summer and fall in Toronto are rotten with creativity.  Once the weather gets nice, a veritable bouquet of art shows, craft fairs, pop-up markets, and exhibitions bloom all over Toronto, with exhibitors from around the GTHA.

The big one is The Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, the most venerable of local art and craft shows, which runs every September at City Hall and brings over 350 artists a year to show their stuff at booths and demos.  It’s juried, which means your haul will definitely impress anyone in your life who’s prone to being impressed by art.

But every major downtown neighbourhood will have its own art or craft pop-up, from the Beaches show in June to the Roncy Flea to regular events at CSI Annex.  Check out event listings near you to see when it’s your block’s turn in the barrel and spend an afternoon browsing.

3) Hit the art show at your local fan convention

If you’d be okay with hanging landscapes as long as they’re in space, get thee to your nearest fan convention.  Not that you likely needed much prompting.

While Toronto conventions like Ad Astra, Fan Expo, TCAF, and more are pretty ridiculously famous as places to get celebrity autographs, hear talks about how comics get made, and talk over the finer points of your favourite fantasy novels, they’re also home to in-convention art shows, complete with auction-style bidding and best-in-show awards at the end of the weekend.

Fantasy, science fiction, anime, or other fandom-inspired art can reach an amazingly high quality—especially work by professional cover artists and the steampunk community, which prides itself on an aesthetic—and the fact that it’s a niche interest means original pieces don’t reach the kind of price tags you’ll see for original fine arts work (except perhaps in comics, where original art can get steep).  If it’s your niche, you’re in luck.

If bidding isn’t your thing, you can also pick up prints or sometimes originals in each convention’s artist’s alley or dealer’s room, where working artists man tables and sell prints and sketches, zine fair-style.

4) Timeraise

If you’ve got a little more time to use than money, your next stop should be the Toronto Timeraiser, an annual silent art auction that buys work from emerging artists at a fair price—and then sells it to you for a commitment of volunteer hours to one of the participating local non-profits.

Instead of dollars, you bid in hours to an organization you’ve picked from the attending group at their (pretty swanky) spring fundraising night, and if your bid wins, you have a full year to work the volunteer hours you’ve promised before taking your awesome piece of original art home.  You win, the artist wins, and the charity you’ve helped out wins too.

Non-profits that throw their hats in the ring include Big Brothers Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, Toronto Friends of Refugees, the Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto, St. Christopher House, and Evergreen, so there are a whole range of causes to choose from.  And once you’re done, that piece of art won’t just be a great accompaniment to your couch; it’ll be a reminder of doing some tangible good in your town.

5) Go online

Etsy has a rep as home for everything crafty—whether it’s great or not so great.  But there’s also a whole section of the site devoted to painting (by medium!), photography, prints, collage, glass art, dolls, and even sculpture.  Prices range widely—it’s a marketplace for individual creators rather than a curated selection—but there are one-of-a-kind works to be had here, and they’ll even ship them right to you.

Closer to home, local startup Eye Buy Art has a mission to make art affordable and accessible, and sorts its photography offerings by price point: $100, $250, and onward from there.  With easy shipping options and an inclusive framing service in the works, it’s an online market run by people who understand art well.

Happy decorating!

Six Tips for Renting a Condo in Toronto

Renting a condo in Toronto

Whether you’re fresh out of school and moving into town for your first Toronto job, or moving closer into the downtown to take advantage of the restaurants, the culture, and the scene, it’s time to rent a condo in Toronto—so, where to start?

With more than 29% of condominium units in Toronto being rented out to tenants, and condos making up the vast majority of the city’s rental stock, there’s a lot of selection on hand—and more than a few choices to make.

Here are six tips to make Toronto condo rental easy!

  • Choose your neighbourhood

Toronto’s been infamously called a city of neighbourhoods—and nothing could be more true.  The secret to the big city with a local vibe is the diversity of each area of the downtown, which means a markedly different living experience depending on what side of the city you’re on.  So the first step in planning a Toronto condominium move is to draw the map of where you want to live.  What’s your neighbourhood?

As well as measuring your commute to work—easy with Google Maps or the TTC Trip Planner—look at where you naturally gravitate.  Which subway stops or neighbourhoods feel like home?  Where are you always excited to go?

If you’re moving in from out of the city, do a little research on where people with your interests put on shows, go to talks, spend afternoons in the park, or join the local jogging club.  A neighbourhood that’s already got the foundations of all the services you use and places you love is more than likely to grow on you even more.  What’s more, living near the places you love saves you TTC or gas money, builds nice, strong legs, and lets you capitalize on Toronto’s fabulous citywide walk scores.

  • Decide on your dream home—and your dealbreakers

Now that you know where you want to be, how much condominium space will that budget get you in the neighbourhood you love?  Do you definitely need a separate bedroom and a kitchen that can handle your baking sprees, or with your busy lifestyle, will an open-concept micro-unit do?

If those hot spots are priced out of your reach, look into neighbourhoods at the next subway stop over or a few city blocks away, where there might well be more affordable homes to be found.  According to the National Post, areas with a great deal of recent condo development will also start out more affordable—and “appreciate rapidly”—so it’s possible to stretch your budget by getting in under the wire as the first or second occupant of a condo space.

  • Get organized, get efficient, and ready to impress

Even with more rental stock coming online every year, downtown Toronto’s been in a housing shortage for a long time—and with more and more Millennials in the work force, downtown Toronto condos are in high demand.   Having your rental information—letters of employment, references, and banking information—well-organized before going to your first viewing is a great idea in the current high-turnaround, quick-rental market, where rental units can receive multiple offers in their first few days on the market and be gone inside a week.

Start your search about two months before your hoped-for move-in date, which is when most Toronto units come on the rental market.  That way, you’ll have a buffer to check out more than the first unit you see, without the stress of a ticking clock.

Many downtown condominium units are rented out by individual owners—either as investment property or as they move on to larger homes—and just like a job interview, a good personality fit matters.  Your landlord is the person you’ll be working with to make sure leaks are fixed, appliances stay in good repair, and any issues that come up are resolved to both your satisfaction.  Ask yourself: Could I work well with this person to solve a problem, if one came up?  If not, that might be a sign of trouble down the line.

Likewise, make sure the face you’re bringing to a rental showing is of someone who’s great to work with too.  It’s hard to trust a home to a stranger sometimes, and there’s no better way to alleviate that concern than bringing your friendliness, your reliability, and your love for the space.  Be yourself, but make sure to bring your best self.

  • Watch out for scams

Like any busy rental market, there are unfortunately a few scams out there looking to make a quick buck from tenants worried about finding a great place to live.  Make sure your listings are acquired through an accredited source, beware any potential landlord who has lots of excuses for why they can’t let you into the unit at this time, and never pay a deposit or date a cheque for before there’s a signed lease—and keys—in hand.

  • Check out more than the unit

When you’re renting in a condo, you’re renting more than the unit you might call home.  Half the draw of a condominium rental is the amenities you’ll get access to: exercise rooms, swimming pools, a concierge desk, storage lockers, rooftop gardens, party rooms, TV rooms, and more.  Don’t be shy when viewing your potential new living space: Ask about the amenities, and if there’s time, ask to see them.  They’re part of what might be your home, and they’re just as worthy of inspection as the size of the bathroom, the view, or the insulation.

Also check out the condominium building’s rules well in advance.  As a tenant in the condo, you’ll be expected to know them—and abide by them.

  • Consider a rental agent

All that said, if the legwork in finding your perfect downtown Toronto condo is daunting, there’s a great deal of benefit in hiring a rental agent or rental management company to help you in your quest for the perfect downtown condo unit.  It’s usually free for the tenant—the landlord pays the agent fees—and can put your mind at ease.  Rental agents and management companies not only have access to not only internal listings, but listings on MLS and condo rental sites, and have stable relationships with condo buildings in certain areas.

 

Best of luck, renters and dont forget to visit www.DelRentals.com!

How to Cook a Dinner Party in Your Condo Kitchen

Condo Kitchen

One of the real joys of settling into a cozy new home?  Opening it up to your family and friends, and for those of us who like to cook, that means feeding people—all the people.

If you like to cook big (or go home), the great thing about condo kitchens is they’re usually state-of-the-art: Big fridges, solid appliances, a double sink to soak your sticky pans in while still being able to wash that extra fork.  But the less-great thing is that compact condo kitchens, not often designed with much counter space, mean using a little strategy to pull off that epic dinner.

So from someone who cooked everything for a 55-guest wedding in their condo (and cooked it well, thank you), here are some tips on how to entertain in style with your condo kitchen.

Set a smart menu, time-wise

Ask any small restaurant and you will hear this universal truth: The best way to make the most of a smaller kitchen space is to plan your timelines wisely—and that means setting your menu smart.  Think about what you’d like to whip up for your guests and then check that menu for a good balance between things you can make ahead of time and dishes you’ll have to serve right out of the oven (or steamer, or pan).

What dishes can you prep ahead?  What can you get done while that duck’s in the oven that doesn’t need the oven?  What needs which appliances or spaces when, and can you make the most of those overlaps—for example, cook everything that needs a 350-degree oven at the same time?

Yes, you can pull seven courses out of a small kitchen with two people at the stove—but only if you think smart about cooking ahead, storing well, and making the most of the resources you’ve got.

Know your workflow

How does your kitchen work?  Are there spaces you use where two people will get hopelessly tangled, or pieces of prep it’s better to do ahead of time, so you aren’t back and forth from the fridge?

Knowing your kitchen’s physical workflow helps you set up in a way that’ll make it easier to get your chopping and frying done without a side of frustration.  If you’ve got a kitchen island, section it off for prep or tasks that don’t need a stove or sink; if not, consider what you can do at the kitchen table.  Even though condo kitchens aren’t infamous for having lots of counter space, even the most compact one can have room for a few organized work stations if you look at the space you have elsewhere and pull it in.

Quality over quantity

While it’s tempting to lay out a dinner bigger than the Mandarin buffet, if you’re strapped for time or hands, it can be a better strategy to focus on a few really, really good dishes rather than a lot of dishes.  If you’re cooking solo, pressed for time, or worried a really big do is beyond what you can pull off this week, a few very simple dishes with high-quality, fresh ingredients can cut down on the time you’ll spend in the kitchen and be a feature rather than a bug.

Sometimes less is more, because it lets what you have there really shine.  A really good cheese, really fresh tomatoes, or strawberries just in season often don’t need the work to make a meal great.

Do the dishes as you go

Seriously.  It saves so much pain.  Even if you have the sink or dishwasher space to spare to let them pile up—and in many condo kitchens, it becomes obvious fast when you don’t—nothing caps off a great night with people you like better than not having to stay up another hour with the dishes.

Don’t be afraid to draft people

If you find yourself irrevocably behind schedule?  Just remember: Your friends probably don’t actually care.

Getting asked over for a home-cooked meal—especially an elaborate one—is a great, fantastic gift all by itself.  Most people won’t even bat an eyelash at being asked to pour a glass of wine, pull up a chair, and grate a little cheese for me, please, while you tell me how your day went?  Part of the fun of communal dining is making something great together, and as long as you aren’t springing an hour’s work on anyone without notice or consent, a little help here and there while you catch up on what’s up in your lives isn’t likely to be an imposition.

Get Outside: Etobicoke Civic Centre

Etobicoke civic centre farmers market

Since amalgamation swept Etobicoke’s old city council off to Nathan Phillips Square, the Etobicoke Civic Centre’s been a space that’s deliberately repurposing to meet the needs of its new neighbours.  With condominiums rising in the West Village development just south, on Eva Road—and both owners and renters exploring their new neighbourhood—the civic centre’s in the early stages of a community-driven, family-friendly revival.

So for the third installment of our Get Outside series, let’s discover the Etobicoke Civic Centre.

A little background

As Etobicoke’s former city hall, the civic centre has taken an old-school approach to being a community centre since Toronto’s 1998 amalgamation put an end to its day-to-day uses.  You can still get a marriage license there, and it still hosts the meetings of Etobicoke Community Council, a committee made up of the city councilors for all the Etobicoke wards purpose-built to deal with local concerns.  And the civic centre rents out its space regularly—including the 100-seat council chamber, a handful of 40-seat committee rooms, and an art display area—for non-profit and charitable events or meetings.

Get a little culture

The star attraction at the Etobicoke Civic Centre right now is its carefully curated art gallery, which mixes up juried shows, local artist spotlights, and themed exhibits and rotates regularly.  What’s on this summer: A retrospective of the Neilson Park Creative Centre’s artists’ collective, which shows off not just painting, photography, and prints but sculpture, calligraphy, quilting, weaving, and other fiber arts.

It’ll be replaced by Six Degrees of Freedom at the end of August: a look at six diverse Ontario artists painting from natural inspirations.

Get yourself moving

While the Etobicoke Civic Centre doesn’t have programming space for fitness or recreation, it has the next best thing: five minutes’ walk north is Broadacres Park, a sunny, green space that’s often shared between families at the local playground, weddings from the Applewood Shaver House on its east border, and local little league games at the park’s three baseball diamonds.

If you’re a cherry blossom enthusiast—or just like really great smells—the park also has 100 sakura trees, planted twelve years ago, which bloom in a big way every spring.  There are enough trees to pull up a good piece of shade without the all-out park wars that can turn into on a sunny day.

With enough green space for picnics, tai chi, jogging, or reading in the sun, Broadacres is a great addition to what your condo’s exercise room or garden offers up.

Or get a bite to eat

The headliner at the Etobicoke Civic Centre right now is definitely their farmer’s market: a Saturday morning affair that brings in local fruits, vegetables, sausage, preserves, and more until 2:00 pm every week until November.  It’s been there since before farmer’s markets were cool—at least since 1991—and has a small, dedicated slate of vendors so popular that they’re rarely open for new applications.

And between them, that group of stalls dishes out a pretty wide selection: You can score both fresh chicken and eggs, a whole spread of local fruit from peaches and plums to berries, home-smoked and cured deli pancetta and bacon from the deli truck, the week’s most seasonal vegetables, and the market’s signature apple fritters in honey as a treat on your way home.

As the neighbourhood expands, the farmer’s market is partnering with the art gallery to offer a day of workshops, activities, and tours on September 26th: gallery tours, live music, and kids’ arts and crafts will take over the market for Saturday morning and afternoon.  It’s the sign of two neighbourhood mainstays who are taking a serious look at evolving, and hopefully there will be more to come for the 2016 season.

So, how do I get there?

The Etobicoke Civic Centre’s an easy hop by TTC: The Burnhamthorpe #50 bus from Islington Station and the West Mall #112 bus from Kipling Station both converge there.  If you’re coming from Eva Road, it’s only eight minutes on foot to the civic centre, farmer’s market, and gallery, and a further five minutes north to the park to enjoy your delicious loot.

If you need a trunk full of tomatoes to get you through, there’s also dedicated parking right behind the civic centre, accessible from both Burnhamthorpe Road and West Mall.

The Etobicoke Civic Centre is still a space in transition—from a sleepier, detached-housing neighbourhood finding its place after amalgamation to a vibrant space for condo-dwellers, young families, and the arts—but it’s on the move.  Check it out, lend a hand, grow your new community, and get outside!

Fresh Food in Your Condo: Toronto’s Best Fresh Food Delivery Programs

Fresh Food

Condo living—unless you snag a spot with a community garden amenity!—usually means passing up the backyard full of glorious, tenderly tended fresh vegetables which you can feed to your friends, only to see them marvel at your homesteading skills.  Or does it?

Toronto’s a city surrounded by farms, and if you want farm fresh food but don’t have the time to hit the farmer’s market every week, there might be room in your life for a food box or a CSA program.

What’s all that mean?  With a CSA, you buying a small seasonal share in a farm and, in return, getting the freshest of what they’ve got every week.  A food box can source from multiple farms or buyers, and delivers fresh, locally grown groceries to your door or a convenient group pickup point.  Either way, you get to eat a healthy amount of plant food, support local small businesses and agriculture systems, save money by cooking fresh, and get some great use out of that tricked-out kitchen your condo came with.

Here are four places to get your best veggies—or have them delivered to your door.

1) Fresh City Farms

Fresh City Farms is the pinnacle of Toronto local food: Grown in sixed leased acres at Downsview Park, a place you can get to on the subway.  Their combination of greenhouse, aquaponics, and outdoor fields—including a program where homeowners can donate their yard to agriculture for the season—means they’ve got good stuff year-round, which you can order online and have delivered to your door, concierge, or a group delivery point on a set day of the week.

With a selection of other organic, locally made, or health-conscious groceries and the ability to customize your order week-to-week with a list of items to never send, multiple delivery sizes, online shopping tools and more, Fresh City is a great place to start out for people just starting to stock their condo kitchen with local food.  Decently affordable at $28-$38 per week, it’s all-around designed for dipping your toe into the food box world.

Check out Fresh City Farms at https://www.freshcityfarms.com

2) Foodshare’s Good Food Box

The Good Food Box is one of the original Toronto community food-buying programs, and its emphasis on getting fresh stuff affordably shows: A Good Food Box for one can run you as little as $13 per week.

The cost tradeoff means you don’t get some of the bells and whistles: No substitutions or add-ons, and instead of to-the-door delivery, Foodshare delivers to a neighbourhood delivery point and you pick it up from there.  But if you’re looking for a diverse selection of produce that’s picked for price, local growing, freshness, and fair trade practices, the Good Food Box is the best bang for your buck in the city.

Check out the Good Food Box at http://foodshare.net/program/goodfoodbox/

3) Mama Earth Organics

If you’re focused on getting only organic greens, Mama Earth Organics supplies both local and organic produce to your door with only a one-time $10 membership fee.

Baskets run from $27.50 to $55 for a family-size, which also comes with free customization, and perks include online ordering, a refund policy for produce you’re not satisfied with, weekly or bi-weekly delivery options, a never-send list, and organic bakery options from three bakeries (St. Urbain Bagel, St. John’s Bakery, and Brick Street) as well as cheese, eggs, coffee, milk, yogurt, and more.  You can play around with the options online too: Skip a week, customize a basket, the works.

Check out Mama Earth Organics at https://www.mamaearth.ca

4) Kavanah CSA

If you’re out of the city and further into Vaughan, the Kavanah CSA offers a whole bucket of fruit and vegetables grown in the community, on a half acre that’s also used for educational programs and charity work.  The prices are mid-range for a CSA—$23.20 a week for an individual or couple-sized share to $69.60 per week for very large families or people who like their preserving—and their set pickup day has hours that’ll accommodate both school pickups and the after-work crowd.

Kavanah works on a point system, where you “buy” from what’s available that week based on how many points you have.  Everything’s organic, and there are extras like artisanal honey from Kavanah’s sister farm in Hillsburgh, Ontario.

Check out the Kavanah CSA at http://shoresh.ca/shop/csa/

Happy cooking!