Recently I was brainstorming ideas on how to make my business more competitive, while also paying attention to the bottom line. I had heard the term ‘staging’ a lot but didn’t really know what it meant, nor how useful it could be to my real estate practice. Then, as if out of nowhere, in walked a professional stager (Marilyn Roeke of Mission Possible Staging www.missionpossiblestaging.com in Calgary) who changed my ideas and got me thinking more carefully about what is involved in pre-listing a home for a seller. Additionally, Marilyn put me in touch with Christine Rae and her Certified Professional Stager program (www.stagingtraining.com), an amazing Canadian who basically brought the staging industry to Canada from the US in the 1990s. Before I knew it, I was taking Rae’s online course to learn about and obtain the Certified Staging Professional ‘Elite’ designation, a special course designed specifically for real estate agents wanting to utilize staging in their business model and learn how to promote it to their clients. Such a fascinating topic, so I would like to shed some light on what I have learned about staging in the past few months. Here goes.
What is staging and how it is important to a listing?
Staging is a wonderful marketing tool, which will enhance a client’s marketing plan and increase their profit by securing as much as the equity in the home as possible. According to Marilyn Roeke, “staging is a process of preparing a property for sale or rent by highlighting its best features. It is an investment tool that sets a property apart from its competition giving it a competitive edge. Although staging includes decorating it is much more than that”. With this in mind, a professional stager will utilize various techniques and methods in order to target a particular demographic, while at the same time appealing to a wider swath of buyers as the home will look perfectly presented. It is important to look at the listing process from the eyes of the buyer, as they actually are the most important party in the sale of a home. The home really should be set up and ‘staged’ with the buyer in mind. This is done by minimizing visual distractions and enhancing the look and feel of the property, both inside and out. Marilyn takes it one step further and focuses a lot on the ‘curb appeal’. For example, having the seller make sure that the lawn is cut, the flower beds are full (in season of course) and that the shrubs and trees are pruned back, if need be. Furthermore, she may also point out that the trim needs a touch up, or the roof needs replacing if shingles are curling. Curb appeal, is crucial, regardless of market, as many buyers put together a list of possible homes prior to going out with a realtor, and may drive by before viewing inside. This can make or break. I have had the experience that a buyer has crossed a home off of a viewing tour due to a previous late afternoon drive by. The curb appeal was, well, not appealing, and so influenced the buyer to think that possibly the interior mirrored the exterior.
Which Home Repairs that will Result in the Greatest Return on Investment?
Real estate professionals get asked questions about how to make their home more appealing to a potential buyer, and as much as it does depend on the home being marketed, it also depends on the budget that the seller has to use towards home repairs. Some homes have a ‘honey-do’ list a mile long, and some homes are pretty much ready to go with some simple pre-packing or flowers in a vase. However, most homes do require more than a spruce up in more than several areas of concern. According to HomeGain (www.homegain.com), a site that provides information about real estate and the industry, the top three improvements to the home before listing and that will result in the greatest ROI are 1) clean and declutter (872%), 2) home staging (586%) and 3) lighten and brighten (572%). Moreover, Rae cites that updating and staging kitchens and bathrooms are key, as the budget allows for of course. She goes on to say that “72% of first impression of a home can be controlled by the seller”, and that the feeling of a home is assessed within a blink of an eye of entering the property - a decision has been made, and homes are eliminated from the list based on the very first impression, regardless of whether it is inside or out. Now that I have a much firmer grasp of staging and how it all works, I am very excited to incorporate staging and Marilyn Roeke into my business model when working with sellers. I understand that this is quite crucial, especially in the buyer’s market that we are presently in, as no one has a crystal ball to predict when this down economy will flip for Calgarians. I look forward to adding to this topic in future blogs posts. One never knows what will come out of a well-timed brainstorming session. Have a happy spring!
"But a city is more than a place in space, it is a drama in time" - Patrick Geddes
(Scotish urban planning guru, 1854-1932)
New to the real estate industry as of January 5th, 2016 (regardless if you are a REALTOR®, Buyer or Seller), is that CREB (Calgary Real Estate Board) has aligned with the City of Calgary’s new community map of the city and naming culture for listing homes on the MLS. Key changes include:
- The city will now be divided into 8 sections: City Center, East, North, North East, North West, South, South East and West from the four zones A, B, C, D, which roughly corresponded with Calgary North West, North East, South West and South East up until this year;
- The ‘estate’ names of several communities will be dropped (eg. Silver Springs Estates is now Silver Springs);
- Some existing names will be changed to match the City naming, (eg. Saddleridge is now Saddle Ridge);
- Some communities will disappear or split and merged with others (eg. Quarry Park is now part of the Douglasglen/Douglasdale community);
- New community names will be added (eg. Legacy, Rocky Vista)
- Several commercial area names have been changed to match City naming (eg. Highfield is now Highfield, Manchester Industrial, Alyth/Bonnybrook and Burns Industrial);
- For more information on the community names, please click Calgary Community Profiles to view the City’s community profiles that exit now.
If you have an auto search set up with us, please let us know and we can assist you in adjusting your home search critiera to align with the new changes. Thank you.
"One common way of judging whether housing's price is in line with its fundamental value is to consider the ratio of housing prices to rents. This is analogous to the ratio of prices to dividends for stocks" - Janet Yellen
"You can spend the money on new housing for poor people and the homeless, or you can spend it on a football stadium or a golf course" - Jello Biafra
A few weeks ago, I attended a really fascinating talk at ACAD given by the Calgary organization d.Talks, titled “Let’s talk about … home”. The focus was on the affordability of home, and there was a panel of 4 people from different areas of Calgary who all had a unique perspective on housing and affordability. The panelists included: Sarah Arthurs, from Prairie Sky Cohousing; Andre Chabot, Calgary ward 10 Councillor; Joe Starkman, of Knightsbridge Homes in Calgary. Kim O’Brien of Horizon Housing was the moderator. It was a very informative evening, and as this was my first time to one of their events, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.
Aside from the panelists, there was a short talk given by the CEO of the Calgary Public Library, Bill Ptacek. His perspective was completely unexpected, I mean, what does a man from the top management of the public library have to do with housing issues? Well, he told us that at any branch of the CPL, he and his staff have observed individuals and families come and go from the library on a daily basis, arriving early in the morning and leaving at closing … for these folks in Calgary are homeless and have no where else to go during the day. He wanted to share his daily observation and say that Calgary, despite the paranormal real estate activity in the last few years, does have a housing issue.
Furthermore, I learned that on any given night, there are close to 3500 Calgarians who are homeless. According to O’Brien, the stories that people tell about their experiences on the street or in their community: that homes are not just spaces, they save lives. Moreover, the take away for the evening was to further think about and be mindful about affordable housing and what it means to all of us in Calgary:
- Affordable to whom?
- Who holds the responsibility?
- Does Calgary have an affordability issue?
Later that week and excited about having met a really cool group that is open to all designers, urban planners, architects, citizens, community members, and others alike, I decided to join the d.Talks organization as an individual realtor. I am thoroughly looking forward to the next event on November 25th, an event titled, “Building Iconomy: possibilities of a West Coast Modern Building”. For more information about d.Talks, visit their website: www.dtalks.org.
“Constant renovation is the key to success and failure” - Yash Dwivedi
“My decorating and renovation skills are NIL - indeed, I once used a shower curtain from Pottery Barn as a ‘window dressing’” - Candace Bushnell
A few weeks ago I was invited to and attended a real estate associate ‘caravan’, which is basically a group of realtors with listings in a particular area of the city who visit each other’s listings and offer constructive feedback. It is also in the hopes that maybe one of the participating realtors will bring a buyer. It was a very interesting, informative half day event, topped off with a light lunch and chat at the organizer’s listing. I had seen the photos on the MLS prior to entering the home for the lunch, and was interested as it looked like a new kitchen in a home that was about 25 years old or so. I was intrigued and looked forward to seeing this home.
I entered and was met by new hardwood floors, and obviously a new paint job. Heading into the kitchen I was amazed at the new cupboards and new counter tops… but wait, on closer inspection, the cupboards were in fact over painted original oak cabinets with new hardware. It looked fantastic, and once can only imagine the amount of money saved on tearing out and installing brand new ‘custom’ cabinets. The backsplash and counter was new, but the home owner had just had the cabinets refinished, painted and added new silver hardware - I was amazed.
Yes, an easy fix, but one that can make a huge difference if one is thinking to fixing up an older kitchen for renting out, selling or just for the sake of living with a ‘new’ kitchen. This can also be applied to bathrooms and pretty much anywhere in the home where there is the tired oak wood or panelling that needs to be rejuvenated. In fact, the construction and materials of these original oak cabinets, wall panels and railings are well made and is actually ‘real’ wood (as opposed to particle board) and so is worth the effort to preserve. I have since asked other home owners about this, making this a suggestion for my own listings during open houses in an area of Calgary where the homes are about 25 years old and are full of tired oak cabinetry. The response is great. For great ‘before and after’ images on Pinterest, see this link https://www.pinterest.com/explore/oak-kitchen-remodel/
Happy renovating / rejuvenating your home!
“People spend too much time looking for more, instead of appreciating what they already have” - Anonymous
“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful" - William Morris
“It’s sad, what we need is less possessions and more experiences" - Anonymous
Last week we moved and, as it was supposed to be just a one day affair, it turned into a 7 or 8 day epic event, not including the trips to the second hand store to drop off unwanted items about 4 weeks prior to the arranged and booked ‘moving day’. It took so long because my boyfriend and business partner, Loris, and I moved from a midsized, 2-storey, detached house to a 2 storey townhouse, which in actual fact is a ‘great’ room with a basement: we pretty much downsized in terms of sq. ft. by half. With that factoid in mind, needless to say, we also downsized in terms of our personal possessions.
Now that we are happily set up in our new digs, we are convinced that we made the decision to move. It was, as well, a very important learning experience for both of us, and we came up with some useful ‘tips’ and unsolicited advice bits that might be helpful for those thinking to move, regardless of whether you are moving to another rental or to a new purchase home. Please take what you can from this discourse and apply it as you may to your own move. Most importantly, before any move, make sure you get a good night’s sleep, eat well and drink plenty of liquids.
Garage sales - are a great way to get rid of unwanted or unused items. A bit of planning and organizing can go a long way for a successful garage sale, and even better if the community that you are living in also is having a ‘parade of garage sales’. Those, however, seem to happen at the very beginning of summer, not in the middle (people away on vacation?).
Selling stuff on Kijiji.ca - not only is kijiji.ca a great place to advertise your garage sale, but you can advertise individual items that you have for sale. Did I mention Kijiji is free for the basic services? Yes, it is, although it will continue to ask you to ‘bump up your ad’ for a nominal fee. I have bought and sold a lot of stuff on Kijiji and even in our consumer society and shopping malls galore, people still like a good bargain and the thrill of the chase. Make Kijiji your friend when considering a move.
Gently used clothing and kids’ stuff - Sproutz, Once Upon a Child and U-Turn Adult consignment clothes are great ways to downsize and make a little cash on the side or donate on to charity. Many of the consignment stores around the city have different intake procedures, such as only one bin per week or such, but overall, I really enjoy making use of their services. You can either turn your cash into store credit or take it in cash. Sproutz and U-Turn are conveniently located in the same location.
Women In Need Society - these organization is great, not only do they come and take away your garage full of unwanted stuff, but they sell it to those in need at a very reasonable price. I have shopped there before, and you would be surprised at the finds you can find. Consider WINS being part of your downsize move, you won’t regret it.
Discovery House - I had heard that Discovery House was accepting donations, but alas it turned out that they actually get a lot of their stuff from WINS, so it was a bit full circle. Furthermore, they had just received a large corporate donation of new furniture and household goods for their units, so no need to accept donations at this time.
YYC Junk - I thought that this would be a great way to get rid of the garbage that wouldn’t sell, and off set my own trip to the dump. However, they are very convenient, but at a price. I was not willing to pay that price, so decided to make my own way to the dump if I couldn’t sell or give away my stuff.
U-Haul and the City Landfill - this was a great decision to go ahead and rent a U-Haul truck and take our own stuff to the dump… it was a cost effective way to finally deal with that which would not sell or be taken in by someone else. I had never been to the dump before, a definite eye opening experience that had me contemplating consumerism and my role for the rest of the day. U-Haul was surprisingly cheap and fun to drive a big truck around for some of the day.
Fairs Fair Books - is a goodish way to get rid of books and keep them out of the landfill. However, they do not take a lot of titles, and are quite picky about what they do accept. You can either take the cash or get double the value in store credit. Of the 50 or so books I showed them, they took 5. I took the $10 of store credit over the $5 in cash.
Value Village - was also utilized in our moving journey and commitment to downsize. I had never donated stuff to VV, but had bought stuff for many years. I didn’t realize that they give you 5% off your next purchase for every box/bag of stuff you bring in, in the form of a “HERO CARD”. So, at the end of that trip, I walked away feeling very heroic and my donors card valued at 20% off my next in store purchase. Neat stuff.
Even though we moved with several card board boxes, we decided this time to invest in durable containers with lids, which we purchased for about $5 each at Home Depot (they come in a variety of colors). These proved to be invaluable, as they are easy to pack, are sturdy and have a fitted lid that makes stacking so much easier. Not to mention, they are water resistant. I would suggest this container method over buying cardboard boxes. Important point, though, is that you must remember to label them all or else you end up with a sea of identical containers and no clue what you actually still own.
Finally, one of the most important pieces of ‘cargo’ that we had to move was our two lovely house cats, Mister and Penny. We decided to take them first, so that while we had the movers at the old house coming and going from the house with doors wide open, we thought it best to get the cats to the new place where they could settle on their own. That worked to a degree; however, Mister, was not impressed and hissed at Loris for most of the following 36 hours… needless to say, he has settled down and found his niche nesting spot, as has Penny. The point is that pets need to be treated differently than the rest of the stuff, as it can also be emotionally and physically demanding on them, too.
Anyway, we hope that where ever you decide to move, that you have a smooth move. Maybe some of our points will help in making it less complicated or overwhelming. Feel free to contact us if you require more information on any of the points we have mentioned.
All the best for where ever your journey takes you!
“When you leave a beautiful place, you carry it with you wherever you go.” - Alexandra Stoddard
“There is a saying that every nice piece of work needs the right person in the right place at the right time.”- Benoit Mandelbrot
Undeniably, buying or selling a home is no small undertaking. In fact, it is a monumental decision that requires the utmost planning, organization and careful thought. When compared to renting, it is not easy to ‘get out’ of a hastily made decision. Hopefully, we can avoid the ‘waste from haste’ by working with a competent, intelligent and timely real estate professional: a decision that can save us time, money and headache.
Over the course of working in the real estate industry, both as a destination service consultant and a licensed real estate associate, I have come up with three key questions that one must honestly and transparently answer for themselves before buying or selling. They are:
Where do you want to move to - sounds simple enough, but many people do not actually have this narrowed down; or they think they do, but can be distracted easily by the ‘shiny penny’ of yet another bigger, better community or location. You need to sit down and have a heart to heart with yourself as to where it is YOU want to live, and for what reasons. Is it convenience you are looking for? Status? Access to public/separate system schools? The best off leash dog park in the city? What is it about your lifestyle that you want to bring with you to this new location and does this new location offer? Finally, what are the deal breakers? For instance, it has access to public transport, but not LRT, and are you ok with taking the bus? There are many resources in print, on line and with your real estate professional’s experience to help you decide. No question is a small question.
When do you want to move - sure, one might think ‘as soon as possible’, but that isn’t necessarily the way that it is going to work, especially if you are trying to list and sell a house in order to buy a new home. Again, we need to sit down and consider what the market is doing, the inventory available and are we ok with what is on market presently, work/school considerations (i.e. being settled into a new home before school starts in the fall clearly makes a lot of sense), seasonal restraints of moving in the winter and schlepping stuff through snow banks, and such financial considerations as mortgage rates, cash flow, and much more (for financial advice, best to check in with your bank or mortgage broker). The timing of a move can make or break the euphoria of actually buying the dream home, in many ways, so good to have this well thought out as your real estate professional will most certainly ask you.
What do you want to move in to - regardless of whether it is your dream home you are ready to locate and move into, or a first time buyer/starter home, this question needs careful consideration or it can be costly, let alone a potential relationship divider. Start with where you currently live and what you like or dislike about it, even if it is a temporary rental or you are living with your parents. From there, you can map out (perhaps literally with pen/paper) your lifestyle and what your happiness requires in terms of space. I am not saying that you will necessarily be able to get it all in one, but you might be able to arrive at certain deal breakers, or areas that are negotiable. Are you looking to renovate if what you buy doesn’t have it already? What are the finances of that, and is it feasible? Spaces that generally require attention are the following: bedrooms (number, size, and location), kitchen, and living room vs. family room, bathrooms, developed or semi-finished basement, garage. Another question is will your family be expanding? Do you have pets? All of these questions need to be well thought out and discussed with yourself and family members before seeking the assistance of your real estate professional. Of course, she can assist you in looking at ways to make things work, but at the end of the day, the decision will ultimately be yours as you have to live with and within it.
So, before getting in front of a real estate professional, make sure you are prepared - where to, when is the optimal time and what is the best fit. Here are some additional resources:
"To create one's world in any of the arts takes courage" - Georgia O’Keeffe.
As I have maybe mentioned before, my daughter is in grade 5 at an arts based school here in Calgary, where the premise of each and every class - regardless of subject matter - is to be presented and understood using a ‘learn through the art’s method of teaching. This is the second school that she has attended that has this philosophy, and the area that is the most apparent is in mathematics. While she was at Alexander Ferguson, the entire grade 3 and 4 classes learned the math concept of ‘power of ten’ by creating plays that focused on, illustrated and basically had fun with the power of ten as a math concept. With the help of their teacher and an artist-in-resident from Theatre Calgary, every one of the kids had a speaking and/or acting role. They performed it with costumes and props at the Engineer-Aired Theatre, downtown Calgary where parents and relatives could purchase a ticket and attend. It was really neat, not to mention an impressive illustration of how this kind of schooling works.
So, now that she is at Willow Park School (5-9), I wasn’t surprised when the teacher announced one day in February on the D2L that the kids would be learning several important math concepts - mainly perimeter, area and volume - vis-à-vis designing and creating their own ‘Tiny Houses’. It turns out that her teacher is a huge fan of Tiny Houses and watches the Tiny House Nation program on TV, thus influencing and encouraging the kids, too, to get excited about the Tiny House movement. Well, it worked, at least in our household, as my daughter has been talking non-stop about Tiny Houses and very keen to design her own. It has been a really interesting process watching her go from idea to actually designing and creating a miniature 3-D of a Tiny House, having to implement exact measurements in order for it to resemble the drawings she created.
The day of reckoning arrived last Monday, when parents were invited to attend the official unveiling and presentation of the kids’ Tiny Houses in their classroom. It wasn’t a ‘stand in front of the class’ type presentation, but those in small groups (based what seemed to be on general table arrangements) and present their project to the other students and their parents. It was very cool, and I was impressed with all of it, as the kids really put in a lot of effort, learned a lot of math and can apply it in a very real sense. One caveat, the teacher was the master of the foam core cutting knife and the overseer of using the glue gun to put it all together. Otherwise, it was the work of each child alone. Despite lots of comments and questions from the parents in attendance, the kids seemed to be able to answer any question presented to them. Most of the kids in my daughter’s group had (of course) included the essential space for toys, books and stuffies. You could see how this project would definitely assist kids in learning the required math concepts, as the measurements needed to really make sense, add and line up in order to complete the structure, let alone include the interior design elements.
With each of these kinds of projects, I am very happy that my daughter attends an arts based curriculum school. Hey, she might not be an artist per se in the future, but that isn’t necessarily the point. It is more about being able to be open to new ways of thinking and to be creative with any approach to problem solving. This will be key in the future as the world rotates more and more towards new problems that require distinctive approaches.
“There’s no place like New York. It’s the most exciting city in the world now. That’s the way it is. That’s it.” - Robert De Niro
Since I was a kid, and even later as an adult (who loves watching art films by directors such as Woody Allen; has a keen interest in early 60s folk music, namely Bob Dylan etc.; not to mention art and art galleries), I have always wanted to go to New York. In fact, probably since Sesame Street, as there seemed to be more of a similarity between the homes and street life of the Sesame Street set and New York then there was of my 50s bungalow neighborhood growing up in Calgary, Canada in the 1970s. I just wasn’t ever sure when or in what capacity I would get to New York. So I have been waiting…
Lo and behold, the opportunity presented itself in real a few weeks ago when my daughter’s father proudly announced that he was having a solo exhibition in Chelsea, New York on May 7th, 2015. It would be his first and I had always told him since we left China in 2011 that if he had an exhibition in North America, that we would come. At first, I was trying to arrange to have my other friends who live in the vicinity or would be there at the same time to go, sort of as a representative of us. However, one night about 2.5 weeks in advance of his opening, I had a very compelling dream about going to New York… waking up the next morning, I headed straight to the computer to book tickets. Ok, so not the best deal, but we bought a package deal (flights and 4.5 star hotels in downtown Manhattan) through a travel agency. I mean, how many kids have a dad who is having a solo art exhibition in New York? Not a lot, me thinks... There was no looking back, we were finally going to New York!
I am not going to give a play by play of our time in New York, but I would like to briefly share with you some of the highlights, as they are remarkable in themselves, North American history and spring up in so much of our art and popular culture, hard to not to mention them. Here goes:
1. 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero - Financial District in Lower Manhattan
When the first plane slammed head long into the South Tower on September 11, 2001, I was living in Beijing, China and it was past midnight Beijing time. My roommates, an Italian girl living in the other room with her Mauritian boyfriend, hurriedly knocked on my door. In my sleepy stupor, I answered the door and followed them down the hall to their TV set, perched at the foot of their double bed. It looked like a joke, and I think I actually asked if it was… clearly not. So began the largest single most change to the global security as we knew it. Up until that moment, I was working as a photographer for ChineseArt.com, an online platform for exhibiting, archiving and selling Chinese contemporary arts, mostly traditional Chinese works and photography. I went in to work the next day, Wednesday September 12th and assumed (wrongly) business as usual. However, I could tell something was up as our boss, Robert Bernell, was stressed to the max, rapidly talking to several people on his cell phone. Something was up and not long after I arrived, he herded us into a room and announced that this site was going to face drastic cut backs - as the sole funding agents had been wiped out in the attack on the World Trade Center. Within 36 hours of the attack on the South and North Towers, I also found myself out of work - despite being a world away in Beijing. I didn’t really think of what this meant or was like in reality for those actually working in the World Trade Center or living in Manhattan. I was focused on my reality, which was staying in China and finding more work.
When the plan to go to New York was cemented, I was intent on visiting the 9/11 Memorial, as it had been presented to me as a worthwhile thing to do. As usual, I didn’t really do too much pre-travel research and so just bought tickets on line, thinking it would be an outdoor venue to visit, and then just pop inside to experience the interpretive center. I mean, how much would there be to see in a space that used to house the World Trade Center?
Again, I was wrong… we ended up staying there for four hours straight and probably could have spent another four… it isn’t huge in the sense of space (perimeter and area), but it is huge in the sense of overwhelmingly emotional and in terms of the attention to detail. The ‘pools’ that they created in the spaces left behind by the fallen towers, are basically a tribute to those 3000 or so who fell on that day. Yes, they all pretty much all died within 2 hours of each other. 3000 people. The museum itself is not above ground, but all below… you enter many stairs that lead you down to where the structural anchors held the buildings in place and the wall that shielded it against a water table that needed to be dealt with prior to building the World Trade Center, as it was actually built on reclaimed land from the harbour. All very interesting and then throw into the mix the 9/11 event and it is pretty colossal, in fact.
Deep below the surface, the museum has an area that dedicates itself to artifacts, stories, pictures, recordings, and details of what going on exactly at 8:30 am through to about 10:30 am on that fateful Tuesday. The part that takes a lot of time and mental energy, is the tributes to the individuals… so instead of grouping them all as the 3000 victims, they have created photo montage and videos and personal effects of each of the victims, detailing who they were as people, where they worked and with who, what they were doing on that day, and artifacts provided by the family. You get a sense of the person, not just the fact that he/she was one of the 3000 who died that day. They museum also has an entire section on those who committed this crime, the 16 or so men who rode the four planes and who essentially masterminded the assault. Very informative, very moving, very strong.
Once we had had enough, we climbed the stairs of the museum, exiting the hole where the buildings used to stand, and headed up town, not really with a focus as my thoughts were still in the museum. We stopped at a plaza and had the quintessential New York lunch - a hot dog! The take away was powerful, but somehow it feels that this could happen again. Time will heal, time will also tell.
2. Empire State Building - Midtown Manhattan
We could see her from our hotel room at night, a colorful beacon in the sea of the city lights. Somehow, though, she looked really familiar, I guess I have just seen her countless times in movies and TV programs. Not to mention, when I studied art history, she was a subject of study during the Art Deco movement, to be sure. I was also expecting crazy crowds, but I guess we picked a good time - dinner time for most - and so the crowds were manageable. You could see evidence that it isn’t always like this, as there were ropes indicating channels of human movement for lining up for tickets, getting on the elevator, etc. On the way to the top, there was an interesting photography display, detailing her history, who she was built and by who, who and what funded her, and how she stood out (and still stands out) as an architectural marvel. Very impressive, even today.
At the top, New York finally made sense - all the buildings, the water ways, the bridges, the parks and the life down below; again, looked familiar but possibly because of films like King Kong and such. The whole time, I was imagining a giant gorilla clinging to the side of the building (New York carries that with her as the epicenter for Western pop culture). I also enjoyed looking down on the streets below, the many ants rushing around. The views in all directions are very impressive, as was the beautiful architecture, many older buildings still standing and made entirely out of sandstone. Neat stuff.
We continued to view The Empire State Building during the remainder of our trip, as she is pretty much within sight from many locations and angles around the Manhattan area. It was fun, especially at night.
3. Statue of Liberty - Off the Coast of Lower Manhattan Island
This was the first item on the agenda of what to see, as stated by my daughter. I bought the tickets in advance, kind of edu-guessing when we would have time to do this attraction. In fact, as it turned out, her father wanted to join us, so on the day of his exhibition, we picked him up from his hotel and took him with us. It was a good day and fun for Hannah to be with both of her parents, something that hadn’t happened since November 2012 when we travelled back to China for a 3 week visit.
What is impressive of the Statue of Liberty is her size, attention to detail when you get up close, and the color. Having not really paid my attention to her other than an icon and symbol of ‘freedom’, I was drawn to her when we got to the island that she is located on. Again, she seemed familiar, most in part due to seeing her in so many films, TV shows, and iconic impressions of New York City. She really does seem to greet you when you enter the harbour and appears to be friendly. I can only imagine what that would have been like for millions of immigrants who entered the US through Elis Island, passing by Liberty on the way to dock.
At the base of her there is a quick interpretive center that describes who designed her and why, what she is made out of and why, and basically how she was created. Very interesting and for anyone who has studied art history, there are some definite links to the distant path. Her drapery, face, body rendering, and hand and foot positioning all hark back to the days of Greek gods and statue building. It is all there, clear as day, but something I hadn’t noticed until I visited her upfront and in person. The color? She is blueish green due to her outer skin being made out of copper, so over the years she has oxidized, giving that beautiful coloring that she has. The color is just as much about her as her crown or torch.
A day later, when Hannah and I were walking through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the historical references to the Liberty statue were starkly presented right in front of us. We were on our way from the special presentation of “Chinese Fashion through the Looking Glass”, a study fashion and clothing in film and TV as influenced by the history of China, to the Impressionist Art floor and had to pass through the art and sculpture of Greece. Before our eyes, undeniably, we could see the historical influences on the ‘modern’ Statue of Liberty. It was a moment for both of us to share.
We have decided to make an annual trip to New York, just the two of us, to take in the atmosphere, architecture, life and next time a show!
Model of the screens for Madame Butterfly, Calgary Opera 2014
“Love is rebellious bird that nobody can tame, and it's all in vain to call it if it chooses to refuse.”
― Georges Bizet
I am not sure when or where my love of the opera came from, as both my parents were not interested, nor were they season’s ticket holders to much other than the Banff National Park pass for weekend skiing and hiking. Nope, this love was not influenced from a biological parent, but must have come from my step-mom, Michal, as during my first year of university living with my dad and my step-mom, she took me to see a musical (South Pacific, I believe it was my first!) and an opera, I think it was the Magic Flute (Mozart). It didn’t stop there, however, as I was quite interested in the opera and continued to see operas when I was living on my own up until I left for China in the mid-1990s. Then one day in 1997 when I was visiting my dad and my step-mom on Pender Island near Vancouver, Michal took me boutique shopping, as there was a tiny village on the island. Lo and behold, there was a shop selling books and CDs, and she asked me if I would like a boxset of Opera classics – 6 CDs in all, the collector’s edition. Wow: needless to say, I was over the moon as this was a huge treat … I continued to listen to those CDs even during my years in China, adding to the collection whenever I could.
Now, back in Calgary, Canada, and able to actually watch the opera live, I am a happy season’s ticket subscriber with reasonably good seats. With this set of tickets the plan has always been to take a good friend along to join me. Over the past 12 months, it has been a very full opera journey for my friends and I, lots of love, tragedy and intrigue, as played and sung out in the famous works as Madame Butterfly (Puccini), Silent Night (Puts and Campbell), Marriage of Figaro (Mozart) and most recently Carmen (Bizet). Definitely worth the time and energy to get myself the season tickets as all were so fantastic and well done.
Why do I like the opera? It isn’t that I understand the lyrics necessarily, it is more that I love the overall ambiance – the costumes, the voices, the music and orchestra … but especially the sets! Just seeing what the director will do to add to the theme and over all story vis-à-vis the set design is always a surprise, asking myself in advance how they are going to handle the set design in this production. There was one opera that has stood out slightly above the others, and that distinction must go to Madame Butterfly and their use of massive, wooden and silk screen movable screens. This fantastic design really had an impact on the overall feeling and mood of the opera, what with a wholly and creative use of space. These silk-screened screens created a very light, airy visual, and also played on the theme and culture of Japanese screens as divider of space: transparency and lack of sound proofing added to the overall suspense and tragedy. The screens were moved and rolled by the singers and stage actors themselves, no need for dimed lights and intermission to create a new scene. It was stunningly amazing.
People have bucket lists and being able to afford the luxury of time, money and company to attend the opera as a season’s ticket holder was definitely something I had been looking forward to when I returned to Canada from China in 2011. My daughter has shown an interested in attending one with me, and so I am soon to re-subscribe for another season of fine opera here in Calgary and hope to see you there. Bravo!
“Everything is art. Everything is politics” – Ai Weiwei
Widow by Janice Wright
A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine and I decided to make use of a day during the week when neither of us had to work and go and see some art in Calgary. More specifically, we decided on the highly acclaimed Canadian art exhibition, Oh, Canada, presently on at the Esker Foundation Gallery in the heart of Inglewood. We first met at the Gravity café located at the foot of the Esker Building, named after the gallery with the same name on 9th Avenue SE. It was a great outing, as she and I were able to not only take in many fine works of Contemporary art of Canada, but also reminisce about how we met, extolling on our deep ties to China and the Chinese art scene. While my friend is an artist and used to have her own gallery down near the Calgary Farmer’s Market, not far from Inglewood, I have been a photographer most of my adult life and I was part of the Beijing art scene for about 10 years. At one time, too, I had an online art gallery which bought and sold Chinese contemporary art works. Ah, such memories. Having much in common, it was fun to share stories about our artistic times in Calgary and in China, all the while sipping tea and chilling out on that workless Wednesday.
The online website for the Esker Foundation states that, “Oh, Canada: Contemporary Art from North North America, organized by the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), is the largest survey of contemporary Canadian art ever produced outside Canada”. This is a somewhat interesting and key point, as it is basically an American art organization and art curator’s perspective and opinion on what THEY think are the important works of Contemporary Canadian art. We don’t really think of it being a big deal in North America, but I often saw exhibitions in China that were either curated by Chinese or curated by Americans, Canadians or Europeans. Hmm, ‘same same but different’ in what and how the art exhibition is curated, from concept to choice of who is included. On speaking with the gallery assistant behind the desk as we were leaving, she said that the exhibition consists of works by 62 artists and is spread out over four different gallery spaces - Esker Foundation, Nickle Galleries, Illingworth Kerr Gallery, and Glenbow Museum – all in Calgary. Furthermore, she told us that the curator, Denise Markonish, personally visited over 400 artists and their studios, deciding on the final 100 works based on what she saw from Vancouver Island sweeping across to St. Johns’ New Brunswick – an expansive curatorial concept in itself, to be sure. We both had a chuckle about the story of how well-known Calgary painter, Chris Cran, was able to exhibit a ‘piece’ of art in the exhibition without officially being invited to participate. More buzz was created by the fact that over 1000 guests attended the opening on Saturday January 31st, 2015. Great stories, great art - I highly recommend that if you have time, try and take in at least one of the four exhibitions, before the end of April, 2015. For more information, visit www.ohcanadayyc.com.
Manhattan south facing condo, similar to those being sought after by Chinese investors.
“60 percent of China’s wealthiest are contemplating a move [overseas]” – Juwai.com, a website geared towards connecting Chinese investors with properties overseas: 4.8 million property listings in 58 countries on their site.
This is a fascinating topic, especially for someone who lived a decade plus in China. There is a plethora of stories, reports and articles about the economic miracle that has been China since the early to mid-1990s, which almost seems a bit old hat now as it has been part of our political and economic landscape for quite a while. In the past 10 years or so, though, the world has witnessed special tours of Chinese out of the Mainland other than just for travelling, as they are exiting the country in droves for reasons of plastic and body surgeries, having babies, and shopping sprees for luxury items such as handbags, watches and vehicles. However, who would have envisioned the wealthiest of Chinese taking the great leap forward and investing abroad in real estate, given how hard it is to actually get the RMB currency OUT of China? According to a recent article in Bloomberg online, not only are Chinese paying $250 000 for a luxury 7 day real estate tour alone, but are investing upwards of $1 million US for a residential property buy, on the fly no less. The article talks about a well-heeled woman in her mid-30s who ‘impulsively’ purchased a $4 million dollar US condo in Manhattan on one of these special tours – in cash!
Lo and behold, I discovered that a good friend of mine, Bianca Weber-Lewerenz, who I knew from my expat entrepreneur community years back in Beijing, is doing a similar thing. She originally went to China from Germany and used her special engineering skills and expertise to start up Woodford International Ltd, a consulting company that focuses on assisting builders, home owners, and developers with construction services, from a European perspective. However, being the avid entrepreneur that she is, Bianca decided to extend her experience from China back to Europe in the form of real estate and investment style tours. Her intercultural background, as well as connections to German and French developers and investment companies, is a major appeal for Chinese who take her tours. Culturally, she not only knows where they are coming from but is familiar with where they are investing to. “My costs of a freelance engineering consultant are paid in advance (daily basis), and they can be recalculated against the final purchase in case of a successful business [abroad]”. Bianca adds that the Chinese that she works with have a good insight of the market and ask very detailed questions about what it is they are seeing and hopefully purchasing. However, the most important focus for these investors, of course, is price and value development for the future. She value adds by offering remodelling, interior design services herself, and can offer up licensed specialists in architecture, HVAC and other related services. A great advantage for keeping it all relatively direct, transparent and above all, efficient.
I could see this phenomenon coming to Canada. Just the other day I was reading an article online from Propertyshowrooms.com that stated that Chinese are turning their sights to Canada for real estate investing, especially over the past 12-24 months. Executive managing director of Colliers, Kirk Keuster said: "Canada is a popular investment target for a number of reasons: One is that it has a stable economy, the other is the stable political environment and thirdly, it has a very regulated, balanced banking system”. This topic is putting interesting ideas into my head. Stay tuned … :)
Will Calgary be able to entice Chinese real estate investment tourism?
For more information about Woodford International Ltd, please contact Bianca Weber-Lewerenz @ +49 1573 7418 358.
"Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping" - Bo Derek
This morning I was watching Global News and they had a special guest on, as they usually do on the morning program. This guest was one of the founding members of Kijiji, Canada’s premiere second hand online market for pretty much anything… different than EBay, as you don’t ‘bid’ for stuff, you basically search, view and contact the owner directly. I have found my present and previous vehicles from Kijiji, as have many of my clients found home rentals in Calgary and all over Alberta. It was interesting to hear that Kijiji has been around for 10 years, and originated in Toronto, Canada, as Calgarians seem to feel that it is ‘theirs’.
Second hand for me is not new. No pun intended. In fact, I remember when we lived in Australia in the late 1970s and my mom, as thrifty as single parents come, decided that we would take the three bedroom bungalow in the Perth suburbs, but we would furnish it solely from Sally-Ann’s and thrift stores… that was an exciting time for a 10 year old kid, climbing around the isles of gently used antiques and retro furniture, not to mention knickknacks and ancient stuff from times gone by. Fast forward to being a starving student in Calgary in the mid 1990s, and there was Value Village. What a hoot, as it was not only practical, but was a fun place to venture in time for Halloween… once on a quick trip to Calgary in October 2009, I jumped into the Value Village in SE Calgary and picked up the most awesome outfit to finish off my “FemBot” conceptual costume, which I took back to China and wowed my friends at a well timed Halloween party in the far suburbs of Beijing. How could I have done that without Value Village?
Personally, second hand shopping became a business venture of mine in China, ca. 2005 - 2009, when I and a good friend opened China’s first and foremost second hand shop geared towards outfitting new mothers and fathers in the latest maternity wear, cribs, strollers, toys and pretty much everything for the baby… NU2YU Baby Shop was a huge success, not to mention, it was a lot of fun! I was sort of a Robin Hood, where I would rent a van and cruise out to the gated communities on the outskirts of Beijing and ‘buy’ from the expats and then ‘resell’ to the inner city expats and local Chinese who could not afford or find quality baby goods in the overpriced Beijing department stores.
Buying second hand or ‘gently used’, which is sometimes a more easy way to market it, is a lifestyle, I get that, as it is not everyone’s bag. However, if you are there and into it, then it serves three main purposes: 1) it saves landfills, as stuff gets recycled, regardless of price, and does not end up in the landfills here or globally; 2) it saves on having to import, as it supports local businesses who deal with second hand goods reselling and saves on import duties, costs of shipping and handling, too; 3) reduction for sure of anyone’s carbon foot print. Period. Not to mention, second hand store trawling is a great way to add to one of one’s many collections, you know, for those who collect cameras, retro dish ware, old hats ad nauseum…
Alas, I find myself in my mid 40s in Calgary and looking for work... and lo and behold, I am back buying and selling second hand; however, this time it is in the form of homes , not strollers and cribs... Yup, real estate is very much about recycling, reusing and reducing one's carbon foot print… resale homes are still a highly sought after commodity in Canada, and will be around for a very long time. In many ways, becoming a real estate associate was a nature fit. Next time you buy, will you consider a new or ‘gently used’ home?
"You don't have to have anything in common with people you've known since you were five. With old friends, you've got your whole life in common" - Lyle Lovett
Ok, so maybe I didn’t know them since I was 5, but the saying still applies, even if it has been 15, 20, or almost 30 years since the last time that I really hung out with or was in touch with several old friends. Not sure why, but this past month or so has seen me get back in touch and reconnect with several old friends that I have not seen in a very long time. Long time, longer time, longest time. The funny irony is that two of these friends that I have seen lately are both not on Facebook or Twitter; they came to me in a more ‘traditional’ way of communication, one was by email (Mario) and one was by text (Kathy). Yes, in today’s world of communications, email and texting are somewhat ‘old hat’. Anyway, I digress …I actually have several friends who are not on social media, but somehow we manage to pick up where we left off, regardless that many of them live in other parts of the globe, namely China. These two recent ‘reconnections’, however, live in the same city and are adamantly opposed to joining social media and spending numerous hours a day online. Instead, Kathy and Mario prefer the more face-to-face form of friendship, and are quite content with their circle of friends and family that they see on a regular basis. This I find quite interesting, and when I met with these friends from the past, we really had things to talk about as we hadn’t had the ‘convenience’ of catching up daily vis-à-vis Facebook posts… I find that catching up with friends on Facebook is really about reiterating what I have and they have already posted - there is no news, really, more of a recap. So, to meet with these two was great, we reminisced about old times, school days, work, and caught up with anecdotes about what each of us was doing now, and in the distant and not so distant past. It was a great exercise of reminding me of what friendship used to be like, before the introduction and time vacuum of Facebook and the like.
I liked it and I really feel joy from meeting up with friends of all stages and phases of my life, and find an extra specialty with those who are not following me daily on social media, which seems to take the face-to-face interaction out of the meaning of social all together. Who have you connected with recently and was it through social media?
It has been a busy week with lots of media hype about the real estate market in Calgary and across Alberta, to be sure. Hard to not notice, simply open a paper or catch a feed on social media, all pretty much claiming the same doom and gloom - humongous downturn in the Calgary housing market. Yikes. What to do now? This was not in the brochure… I spoke to a landlord a few days ago who asked me directly, “Not a buyer’s market, but isn’t it more a case of ‘buyer paralysis’?” Yes, I thought, that is an apt description, seems like there is a lot of fish out there, but people are frozen with (media) fear to bite… another property manager who I ran into was all smiles, some how coping with the uncalled for ‘shift’ in the rental market by literally grinning and bearing it, “Oh, definitely noticing a slowdown and not to mention that rental rates are down by 10% across our inventory”. Interesting, that means that the people who own the properties that he manages would have to have agreed to the reduction, too. Feels official in some very real way.
However, I am not convinced that this is going to last … I see it more as a calm in the market before a storm of buying takes hold. Yes, once the weather warms and the smell of spring is in the air. Not that we have had a nasty winter, just that we are still in February and the official first day of Spring in the Northern hemisphere is not for another 3 weeks - March 21st! Ok, so what, it’s a buyer’s market out there, according to the Conference Board of Canada (http://www.newstalk770.com/2015/02/26/calgary-now-in-a-buyers-market-conference-board-report/) meaning that more inventory is out there and it is the advantage of the buyer now, not the seller: a good time to negotiate the right price. Come summer, I call a flurry of buying activity across the city … what are you waiting for, let’s go!
Saturday afternoon was not supposed to be much different than any other Saturday for my daughter and I last weekend. However, after her 30 min ukulele lesson at near Value Village in the SE, she asked if we could go "do some open houses". Hannah is a very inquisitive 10 year old. She has been watching me and listening to me prepare for, return from and generally rave about open houses – big houses, expensive houses, furnished houses, unfurnished houses, condos (“What’s a condo, mom?”) – and so having never been before, she thought it was time and so I agreed to spend the next few hours open housing … visiting open houses with a client, or ‘previewing’ without a client, is a great way for a real estate professional to check on activity in a particular community, street, style and price range. Hannah was to be my previewing pal and so off we went.
Hannah was first in the door and first to leave, then directing me to the car so that we could head down the next street, eyes peeled to spot the telltale sign indicating an open house. She learned that not all signs are for open houses; have to read carefully, as some are indicating “Just Listed”. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the Killarney – South Calgary – Altadore – Garrison Woods areas of SW Calgary, areas that are usually very popular with buyers and expatriate corporate rentals.
At the end of the afternoon, and boy there were a lot to choose from, I asked her to short list 2 or 3 of her faves, as I was curious to see if what we were seeing made the same impression on me as it had on her. We pretty much had the same top three; although she really liked the house in South Calgary that was not only serving up fresh cinnamon buns, but had a humongous storage closet, set about 2 feet off the floor, which Hannah had already in her mind decided that that would be the room for her stuffed animals and dolls. That was it, while I oohed and awed over gorgeous kitchens and engineered flooring, Hannah was about the room size and how to house her toys, what would be her room, and where everyone else would have bedrooms for our blended family of 5 – including the cats, she found areas for them, too. Not only was it a fun and engaging activity for this mom-and-daughter duo to do together on a lazy afternoon, it was also educational as Hannah is working on a Tiny Nation House in her class at Willow Park School this term - I would repeat open housing with Hannah any day, let's go!
Reflecting today as the sun streams in the window of my kitchen about how the weekend was truly about the family. An interesting time, recently, in Alberta, and specifically Calgary, as people are highly concerned about the drop in oil prices, the effected real estate market, the dwindling economy and perhaps eventual slip into a recession (ohh, I know, as very nasty word here in Alberta!). However, it is imperative to focus on what is important, and Family day this year could not have come at a better time: no alarm clock on Family day, just wake up naturally and, upon getting out of bed, shut off the devices, lock the office and head out the door for fun and being together. Hopefully, others like myself were able to get away from it all by spending time with family and friends. For my daughter and I, we headed out to Banff with some good friends and took in a day of sunshine in the mountains, a walk along the Bow River, and eventually ending up in the 39-degree warmth of the Banff Hot Springs. The three-hour drive there and back went by fast, as no better situation then to have one’s attention than to be sitting and engaging in conversation, aside from enjoying the scenery out the window. It was awesome, as I chose to be with in a special space and time, sharing it with friends and family. How did you spend this past Family day?
Recently, in fact ten days ago (judging by the ten images I have made), I took a huge step and opened an Instagram account. It’s new for me; despite I am not new to social media, as it has been a big part of my world for the past eight years or so. But adding an image to my Instagram gallery once everyday is new…back in the 90s I studied black and white photography – with an emphasis on dark room techniques. Heck, there was a separate course for anything color photography related. I was a staunch, diehard black and white, darkroom purist. Later, about five years after graduating from university with a major in cultural anthropology and a minor in fine art photography, I bought my very first Hasselblad medium format camera…I was living in southern China at the time and with easy enough access to Hong Kong, I was able to capture the world around me using 120 Ilford films and get them professionally developed into black and white contact sheets. I was in heaven. And the thought of anything digital was far from this lasses’ mind; in fact, I bought my very first digital camera in 2006, followed by my awesomely fun and groovy looking Panasonic Lumix G2 in 2011 in Hong Kong on my way to Thailand for some much needed RnR.
So the decision to open and make use of an Instagram account on a daily basis was in many ways a big deal, as it required a shift in how I thought of myself as a photographer and in how I thought of photography in general. When many had embraced the digital age years, if not decades, earlier, I was somehow holding on to the past, a time when it was a real process to go from image to tangible reality. The upside is that there is less of a chemical footprint. The downside is that it is much more difficult to get analog tools as before, not to mention, I miss the inherent beauty found in a black and white neg that has been perfectly hand printed on fibre based paper. The instantaneous filters available on Instagram such as Sierra, Ludwig and Inkwell are convenient alternatives at this time to analog dark room antics with fiber based paper. Instagram, I am here to stay.
“Abundance is defined by what we give, not by what we have” - Richard Robbins
Last Wednesday February 4th 2015 I attended the ‘free’ speaking session given freely by none other than Canadian real estate genius and super star, Richard Robbins. Here in Calgary, it literally packed the Coast Pacific Hotel conference room in the NE to an amazing range and variety of real estate professionals in our province. My broker was very excited that I was going, however, I wasn’t sure as I had not heard of him before. I was expecting a distant, non-engaging event, where I would be constantly ‘sold’ something in return for snippets of his experience and advise. I was, I admit, pleasantly surprised. He delivered some real pieces that instantly made sense to how and why I had ended up in real estate and, ultimately, at his event. I summarize his points here, as they can be take always for anyone in business, working in a customer service career, or even working for anyone else – they are more about a lifestyle than about making a sale:
‘The way I see you do one thing is the way I think you do everything' - we forget sometimes that if we focus on doing a few things very well, almost excellent, is better than spreading our selves out too thin and just being mediocre at many things. It’s in how we drive a car, wear on a Sunday afternoon, deal with a waitress in a restaurant, and how we deliver a business card. If I like the way you do this action, chances are, I will like how you do an alternative action.
‘The more we give, the more we get’ - this made sense for me, as I have always tried to work at being a small business owner that if I love and enjoy and give at what I am doing, then the customers, clients and money will follow.
‘It’s ok to say no’ - it is ok to say no to many things in life, and this also applies to those we work with or want to work with. It is assumed that because I am in front of you, that I will work with you and accept your services. Educate me; don’t persuade me.
So, as much as Mr. Robbins was here as a hot speaker on the topic of real estate and selling in front of a mass of real estate agents, the few take-a-ways for me can apply to much more than my business practice: they are maxims that are well suited to a successful, happy and healthy lifestyle. I am glad I went and will definitely consider adding his book, Deliver The Unexpected (Wiley, 2013), to my reading list!