Some good ideas just in time for our mayoralty campagn in Calgary. Let’s talk about secondary suites & affordable housing; ageing in place with an urban lifestyles; reinhabitation with community serving uses; creating “third places” within walking distance in communities; redevelopment of underperforming ashphalt; growing pockets of walkability; regreening and suburban farming.  Let’s demand that our governments become proactive in developing the  infrastructure and policies which could vastly improve the vibrancy of living in Calgary.  http://www.ted.com/talks/ellen_dunham_jones_retrofitting_suburbia.html

Since today is the longest day of the year, it’s appropriate to talk about solar energy.  In the seventies, we (at Tri Energy Tech) designed and manufactured solar collectors and alternate energy products.  We also consulted on solar design and radiant heating systems.  Since then, I’ve tried to keep abreast of the changes in technology, materials and techniques as best I could.  It appears to me that the most significant changes in order of significance have been the following:

  1. Decrease in cost of photovoltaic (solar electric) systems
  2. Micro-Inverters (built in to PV Panels)
  3. Improved insulation materials and techniques
  4. Geothermal systems.
  5. Increased efficiency of photovoltaic systems

In this field, as in many others, it appears that the basics remain fairly constant.  When we approached a project the first order of business was always evaluating the microclimate and proper siting. Once the proper orientation of the home was established, then a study in passive solar design was carried out to achieve maximum gain when required for heating and to eliminate any unwanted solar gain and reduce the cooling load.  This establishes a sketch of the building shell and then the construction details would be refined with an eye to maximizing the insulation value of the building envelope.  By the time you arrived at the design of the heating supply system and supplemental solar/alternate energy systems the requirements were minimized.  At the end of the day the home’s energy footprint was minimal and the bulk of the work was achieved from implementing basic good design practices.  So when I look at the major differences from 1978 to today, I can see that the basic practices and technologies remained the same. Geothermal systems have improved in efficiency and have great potential, if the price comes down to a point where it can garner wide scale acceptance.  The big news still appears to be in photovoltaics and if the price continues to drop (due to increasing production capacity), it may not be long before we are all feeding power back into the grid.  The best way to save energy today is still to design and conserve first, which support my old addage, ” it isn’t what you’ve got, but how little you need”.

I sat in with Scott McNealy yesterday to listen to what he has been up to since he stepped down as top dog at Sun Microsystems. Oracle purchased Sun a few months back which left Scott somewhat homeless, so what does one do when you’ve received the most golden of handshakes? You follow your passion, which besides the San Jose Sharks, appears to be Curriki, the open source movement and Teletrips. He became interested in Curriki after realizing that schools across the country charged billions annually for updated curriculum in textbooks the cost of which is ultimately born by the public. As Scott says “in math curriculum, 10 + 10 still equals 20 and will for the foreseeable future; however institutions are sold updated textbooks almost annually to render old versions obsolete.” To counter this he created Curriki, online education community that is building the first website to offer free, open-source instructional materials for K-12. Scott spoke of the compelling argument for thin clients and a work from anywhere (home) culture that he implemented at Sun. The result was a large increase in productivity and savings in infrastructure alone of $80 million annually. The argument for work from home is one that is hard to argue but requires a departure from the mentality that if you can’t watch them work, they are not working mentality. At our company we are constantly searching for ways in which we can all work remotely and this has become one of the single highest priories in evaluating our business infrastructure and software. Teletrips, a firm that enables companies to implement work from home strategies and quantifies this by way of carbon credits has partnered with Calgary Economic Development to foster this in the Calgary workplace. Scott spoke in support of Teletrips rallied behind this partnership. But the most poignant point that I took from his talk was the plea to move towards open source software. “People speak in open source language – imagine if a company owned the language that a country communicated in – that is the world we have created with closed software. It is no longer the cost of entry to do business that we are concerned with but the exit cost that stymies most business today – the burgeoning cost of renewing software contracts or changing platforms that is killing many businesses.” It’s a compelling argument to use OpenOffice, Linux and other open source applications. In fact he states “why wouldn’t governments mandate the internal use of open source?” It’s a compelling argument for all organizations, associations and governments who wish to exercise visionary leadership.

Oh yes, and then there’s those San Jose Sharks.

March sprouts an early boost in Calgary home sales. Single family homes sales in March 2010 (Calgary Metro) up 29 per cent from the same time a year ago, while condominium sales saw an increase of 37 per cent from the same time a year ago. A healthy,  balanced market forecasted for the spring months. See full statistics package here at CREB.com

CREA and the Competition Bureau

Here’s a tale of misinformation and ambition, the perfect combination for a hot news article and the story has hit the press with vigor. The Press reports that the Competition Bureau will save consumers from an alledged real estate cartel in CREA, who they claim have been restricting business models to the detriment of consumers. To prove their case they will be taking CREA to a tribunal. That’s the spin, but the reality of this story is much different than what’s been reported by the media.  Now here’s the rest of the story:

Canada is fortunate to have a national listing website where the consumer can view all properties listed by members of organized real estate (or Realtors ©). This is a boon to consumers who also have access to many other listing sites such as Kijiji, WeList, Craigslist, Google, Point2 and countless others. In countries such as the USA, regional sites exist because of the absence of a unified national site sponsored by Realtors© and these third party sites add another layer of cost to the home selling process as they compete to obtain listings from local boards. Realtors© in Canada have access to cooperating listings via their local boards MLS system from which they can decide where to advertise the listing on any other site such as Realtor.ca and a host of others. Independent homeowners can list on many of these sites as well, with the exception of Realtor.ca© which is owned and paid for by members of CREA.

The success of Canada’s MLS system has been a great service to consumers who need only visit one site to obtain all Realtor © listings across the country. This is perceived as market dominance by the Competition Bureau who erroneously believes that access to this system is restricted for consumers who wish for minimal services and a nominal fee. In response, CREA has explained that many low cost business models, as well as every other creative business model, are allowed without restriction (except those rules which exist for the protection of the consumer and integrity of data). For the intrepid Seller there exists a plethora of available models from sell-it-yourself to minimal listing services existing within organized real estate (on Realtor.ca©) and some on other stand-alone sites. While the consumer has a wide variety of choice, many consumers choose the professional services of a Realtor© to ensure they obtain the best price and to save them the inconvenience and hours of work that are required to sell a home in today’s marketplace.

So what is the media saying about this story? First, the repeated misrepresentation of a 5% commission on every real estate transaction.  This has led to the misconception that there are tens of thousands of dollars to be saved by eliminating a Realtor’s© services, but what hasn’t been said is that all Realtors© work for fees that are established independently, and negotiated with the Seller at the time, and every time they are engaged. Second, the Media has mistakenly reported that the Competition Bureau will open up access to Realtor.ca© for all consumers to list their home themselves. Even the Bureau knows this is a flawed solution, but they are not disputing the spin because this can only bolster their case in the court of public opinion. What will likely happen will be a continuation of what is already available today.  The public may list through the services of any Realtor© at their negotiated price to advertise their home on Realtor.ca© and may exercise their option to use the remainder of an Realtor’s© services and experience to facilitate one of the largest personal transactions they will encounter in their lifetime.

And why has CREA been so quiet about setting the record straight? CREA has been simply factual in their statements, for which a good news story does not make, so the media instead opts to spin a David & Goliath story (controversy sells papers). When this case goes to the tribunal CREA’s expectation is to win the case, however the media bias I have witnessed on this story has not served the interests of the public or industry.

The convergence of continued low interest rates, affordability, ample selection of inventory and improved confidence is building the foundation of a sustained recovery for Calgary”s housing market. Year over year and month over month increases in sales point the way to a recovery, pronounced in the entry level of the market. We are also witnessing with some signs of increased activity in the upper blackjack end markets as well. While sales were led by the single family sector we expect the condominium sector to follow once the larger selection of condo inventory is absorbed. The current broad selection provides an excellent window of opportunity for Buyers looking to enter the market. Download the full report from CREB.com

Calgary’s housing market continues to build stability and momentum in the second month of the year, according to figures released today by the Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB®).
The number of single family homes sold in February 2010 in the city of Calgary was up 25 per cent from the same time a year ago, while condominium sales saw an increase of 56 per cent from the same time a year ago. February 2010 saw 1,035 single family homes sold in the city of Calgary. This is an increase of 36 per cent from 762 sales in January 2010. In February 2009, single family home sales totaled 825. The number of condominium sales for the month of February 2010 was 536. This was an increase of 43 per cent from the 376 condominium transactions recorded in January 2010. In February 2009, condominium sales were 343.
For Sellers this spring should prove to be an excellent time to sell, with Buyers enjoying the climate of affordability that low interest rates afford. View the full statistics package here.

Lack of inventory will be the greatest challenge facing housing markets across the country this Spring, according to a report released by RE/MAX. The RE/MAX Market Trends Report 2010, which examined real estate trends and developments in 16 markets across the country, found that unusually strong activity during one of the traditionally quietest months of the year has led to a sharp decline in active listings in 81 per cent of markets surveyed. The threat of higher interest rates, tighter lending criteria, and in British Columbia and Ontario, the introduction of the new Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) have clearly served to kick-start real estate activity from coast-to-coast, prompting an unprecedented influx of purchasers. As a result, 87.5 per cent of markets posted an increase in sales in January. In Calgary the number of active listings in January were down 26% from 2009. View full report here.

For homeowners contemplating selling this signals that the conditions are prime for getting your home on the market early in the spring. Contact us for more specific market information.

OTTAWA – February 16th – Following this morning’s announcement by the Federal government, The Canadian Real Estate Association is of the view that the Canadian resale housing market is healthy, and does not require regulatory changes beyond those announced today.

“Banks and governments should be cautious interpreting recent statistics, since comparisons are being distorted by recessionary activity a year ago and the subsequent rebound,” says Gregory Klump, CREA’s Chief Economist. “Current trends reflect the release of pent up demand when buyers moved to the sidelines during the recession. Additionally, the HST in Ontario and British Columbia and coming interest rate increases will likely moderate activity and price gains beginning in the second half of 2010.”

CREA’s analysis of housing activity on the Multiple Listing Service® Systems of real estate boards across Canada has emphasized that a number of temporary factors have been skewing average price comparisons. Its most recent forecast indicates that national activity and average price will decline in 2011.

Quoted from CREA Press release http://creanews.ca/2010/02/16/crea-satisfied-with-changes-to-mortgage-rules/

CREB released its January 2011 statistics today and it appears that the Calgary Real Estate Market is coming out of the gates predictably, setting up the pieces for a slow and gradual recovery. Sales of single family homes in the city increased 3% year over year, the first such increase since April 2010. In balance, condominium sales decreased 21% from a year ago and overall sales dropped 7% from January last year. With an increase in the number of listings expected to appear on the market early this year, the expected recovery should be gradual as the increased inventory is absorbed. Overall this points to a more balanced market by year end. For specific information about your property contact us, or click here to view the full January 2011 Statistics from CREB.