Sunday, December 19, 2010

98 Leuty Avenue

You know what I would do if I had three million dollars I could leverage? I would buy 98 Leuty Avenue.

It's a lovely old three-storey apartment building in the Beach, currently for sale for $2,980,000. There are 15 units, and from the pictures I've seen, mostly sympathetically renovated. Of the 15 units, four are bachelor apartments, six are 1-bedroom units, four are two-bedroom units, and the last one is a 2-bedroom plus office intended for the owners.

The MLS listing claims that the net profit each year is just short of $200K. That would just about cover the mortgage for it at current rates (although those are going up, of course). I'd split it into 15 co-ownership units and sell them off as they became available, keeping whichever one I liked best (probably one of the 2-bedroom units) to live in once there are no kids at home and my husband and I are tired of rattling around this big house.

It's hard to find comparable real estate listings to know what the units would sell for, since condos are not very common in the Beach, especially 80-year-old ones. Drive seven minutes west to the new live/work lofts at Carlaw and Dundas, and a 1-bed, 1-bath will set you back $354,900... but drive north-east to Victoria Park and Danforth instead, and the same size unit is only half that, at $178,000. In my scheme they would be co-ownerships rather than condos, and I also haven't quite figured out how much lower the prices are for those on average.

It's a moot point, since I don't have any seed money for this scheme... but I do enjoy thinking about it!

Monday, December 13, 2010


I was introduced to the concept of buying bonds rather than stocks or mutual funds by the book Your Money or Your Life, originally written almost 20 years ago. Most reviewers now say that the book is useful except for the investment advice, but I was intrigued enough to read further. Isn't a guaranteed income source with no risk and no fees a good idea, I thought? I followed it up with reading Hank Cunningham's In Your Best Interest: The Ultimate Guide to the Canadian Bond Market.

The basic concept is that corporations borrow money, offering a fixed rate of interest paid twice a year, and repaying the principal on a certain date in the future. For instance, I have the info on an RBC Capital Trust bond up on my screen right now. The maturity date is December 31, 2015 (although maturity dates can be any day of the year, not just the last day). The interest rate that the bond pays is 4.87%. By convention all bonds pay their interest twice a year, on the anniversary date of the bond and the half-year anniversary. So if I buy a $5000 worth of this bond, it would pay me 4.87% * $5000 / 2 = $121.75 on December 31 and June 30 every year.

Where things get interesting is that regular consumers like us rarely buy bonds directly from the corporation. They are bought in huge blocks by banks and trading companies, and re-sold to the consumer. So what happens if a bond is paying only 2% interest, and the overall interest rates rise? Or conversely, the bond pays 10% interest, and rates have fallen? The trading companies compensate by either discounting the purchase rate of the bond, or charging a premium for it.

As an another example, there's a Groupe Aeroplan Inc. bond that matures on 2012/4/23 and pays 9% interest. Sounds awesome, right? But, that's offset by the price of the bond, which is $107.750 for each $100 of bond. For that reason the printed interest rate on the bond is called the "coupon", and the effective interest that you earn is called the "yield". The annual yield for this bond works out to be 3.1075%.

Here's how that bond would work in practice:
1. I buy $5000 worth (the usual minimum). Because the coupon rate is high, there is a premium on the price. It costs me $107.750 for each $100, which is a total of 50 * 107.750 = $5,387.50.
2. Since the bond pays the next interest on April 23, the bank figures out what portion of that is mine and which portion is theirs. There have been 48 days since the last interest payment on October 23, and there will be 134 days since the next payment. The payment will be 9% * $5,000 / 2 = $225, so the bank adds 48/134 of this ($80.67), which is their portion, to what they charge me. They call this accrued interest.
3. On April 23, 2011, I get paid the entire $225 interest for that six-month period.
4. On October 23, 2011, the six-month anniversary of the bond, I get another $225 interest payment.
5. On April 23, 2012, the final interest payment of $225 is paid, and the original $5,000 value of the bond is also returned to me.

One way that bonds are different than mutual funds (other than the obvious) is that there are no fees with bonds. The banks buy them at one price and sell them to you at another, and they make their money on that spread. When I see a yield of 3.1075%, I know that's exactly what it is, with no fees to buy it, no management fees while it sits in my account, and no fees when it matures.

I've been buying bonds for our retirement for two and a half years now. I use Scotia ITrade (formerly ETrade) and RBC. The yields are not as exciting as what mutual funds used to promise us - I generally get from 4% to 8% in the time frames I look at (I stagger my maturity dates and have bonds maturing as late as 2022). However, when I consider that a GIC that matures in the middle of 2012 gets only 1.5% interest, that 3.1% yield bond seems like a smarter place to park my money.

Please note that I am talking about bonds, and not bond funds; none of the benefits I mention above apply to bond funds.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Small Houses

One of my favourite ways of wasting time is to look on house plan websites for what I think of as "Ontario cottages", to see how they use the space. I don't think I've ever actually found one yet, but I do find lots of other interesting houses that I like.

Of course I'm a sucker for a pretty artist's rendition, but who isn't? (Click on any of the images to see a larger size).

Clocking in at only 950 square feet, not much bigger than my husband's condo, this plan from fits two bedrooms and 1.5 baths under its dormer roof.

I like the way the full-size kitchen is open to both the living and dining rooms, using an island to demarcate the space. We tend to spend most of our time in our dining room, so having one so light-filled appeals to me.

Upstairs are the standard bathroom and two bedrooms - not too much to be said about that. I would probably build in storage along the west walls in both bedrooms, including some hanging space and drawers, rather than just a standard closet. There's a handy gap at the bottom end of the tub for a built-in linen closet as well.

The square shape of the building would not, unfortunately, suit a city lot. On a bigger lot you'd want the staircase/bathroom wall facing north, since it has the fewest windows, meaning morning sun in the living room and evening sun in the kitchen - possibly backwards, but then again, mirror plans are available too.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Co-ownership and Co-operative real estate in Toronto (A Google Map)

I've been playing around with the "My Maps" feature of Google Maps for a few years, and I finally have one to share with you.

View Co-ownerships and Co-operatives by MLS district in a larger map

The link above should take you to Google Maps, and my public map of all the co-operative and co-ownership buildings in Central Toronto, arranged and colour-coded according to the MLS system's geographical areas.

(I'll point out that by 'co-op' I mean a co-operative unit of real estate that you buy, not a co-op apartment that you rent.)

You will have to zoom out to see the most northerly building, which is at Yonge almost as far north as Steeles. Then you can zoom in to a neighbourhood you like, or play around with satellite and Google Earth views. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christmas Carols

I've got a gig singing in one of those strolling Victorian quartets that you see at Christmastime. I'm pretty pleased about it - I've always wanted to be on of those singers! However, I'll be singing alto. This is probably a good thing for my voice and my nerves (I'm only sometimes in a soprano solo mood), but it means that I have to find a way to practice without the music I'll be singing from on the day.

Enter This great site includes 56 carols, all with the two things I need - standard 4-part arrangements with PDF files and midi files of each one. I open the midi file in media player, pop open the PDF, and sing away. When I get the music next weekend, I can either sing what's in the book they give me or what I've already learned - either way it will sound fine!

This doesn't, of course, include Christmas songs, like Rudolph or Frosty. Theoretically a Victorian quartet shouldn't be singing those songs, but in practice I'm sure we will. I haven't quite figured out how to handle those. Any ideas?

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Wallpaper has a bad name these days, and I need look no further than my mother for evidence - she grew up in a house covered in wallpaper, and refuses to even consider the concept for any house she lives in! (It probably didn't help that a house we rented for a year in 1970 had red flocked wallpaper.)

In looking at Edwardian wallpapers online today, I came across this lovely Willow Boughs pattern. It was designed by William Morris in 1887.

I've often wondered what a "double roll" is, and according to this site, it's 20 1/2" wide by 33 feet long. The room I'm considering papering is roughly 10' by 10', with walls varying from 4' to 8' tall. I'm estimating six double rolls; I don't think I can get away with 5.

At $169 per double roll, I might be better off buy just two rolls (the minimum order), papering two walls, and painting the others with Farrow & Ball's Lime White (shown). I think this will make a nice, restful bedroom.

My husband is only a little less adamant than my mother about hating wallpaper, so I hope the green colours will mollify him!

I originally thought Chappell Green for a main paint colour and Lime White for trim, but it looked a bit too "matchy" and amateurish. Picking up the green or brown for bedding will be enough for me, probably.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A new co-op!

Okay, so it's not new, but it's new to me.

The building at 73 Richmond Street West, known as the Graphic Arts Building, has been converted into lofts, but with a co-ownership structure.

There are currently two units for sale; both bachelors, for $149,500 and $205,900.

The higher-priced one is not significantly different than what you would pay for a bachelor unit at 1 King West, but the maintenance fees are hugely different. Compare $200/month for the co-ownership to $500-$600 at 1 King West, and I start to wonder how people tell their mortgage payments and maintenance fees apart.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A 1920s Kitchen

I found this wonderful illustration in a book entitled Distinctive House Design and Decor of the Twenties: With Over 500 Floor Plans and Illustrations. It was originally published in 1925 under the title House and Garden's Second Book of Houses.

(Click for a bigger version). The big porcelain sinks with integral drainboards are still available at salvage yards - I've got my eye on one from Historic Houseparts, if I ever get to Rochester and have room in my trunk. The text says that the bottom cabinets protrude about 6 inches, which is considerably different than the current standard of 12" deep upper cabinets and 24" deep lower cabinets.

They specify a floor of battleship gray linoleum, gray walls, rose and white curtains, and the woodwork (presumably including the cabinets) white or gray.

The fridge is electric and "highly convenient". In other plan books this age I've often seen the icebox in the back entryway rather than the kitchen, presumably so the iceman didn't track mud into the house.

The floor plan shows that even a kitchen large by today's standards - 13 by 14 feet - required a separate pantry for the rest of the storage space.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Basic Triangle Shawl

My current portable knitting project is a Basic Triangle Shawl, which I'm knitting as a favour for a friend. I'm using wool from New Moon Fibers; it's their "Socks that Rock" Mediumweight in a colour they call Gertrude Skein. (I find this funny, but I would find it funnier if "skein" and "stein" actually rhymed).

The wool is wonderful to work with. It has a well-defined twist to it, so it doesn't split while knitting like the last wool I worked with (which will remain nameless for now). However, it's still plenty soft and will be lovely to wear as a scarf.

Because the shawl starts with 9 stitches and increases 4 stitches every other row, the colours meet each other in different ways each row. The knitting in this pattern is pretty mindless, but it was entertaining to watch the colours and wonder where the creamy-white or fuchsia was going to fall the next time it came up.

However, this is a perfect example of how colours that look smashing in the skein are sometimes disappointing in the final product. I find the green and brown dominate the shawl now that it's almost done.

The pattern is easy, and once I was past the first 12 rows or so I didn't need to refer to it again. I like the way the increases turn the big triangle of the shawl into two smaller triangles that are actually knitted at angles to each other.

I'm not fond of the garter stitch edge that this shawl, and it seems every other shawl these days, uses. It's easy for beginning knitters and doesn't roll, but when you mix stockinette stitch (which has a width/length ratio of 3/4) with garter stitch (whose ratio is closer to 1/1), it makes the edges gather in, as you may be able to see in the picture to right. Blocking solves the problem, but only if you knit in a natural fibre like wool that will hold a block.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tiny Houses

I went through a phase this year where I was fascinated with smaller and smaller houses, starting with Sarah Susanka's "Not so Big House" book, and eventually landing on the tiny houses built by Jay Shafer and featured on the Tumbleweed Houses website.

At one point we were considering buying a piece of land with an old church on it. The church had been restored, as it turned out, so rather than converting it into a residence I started thinking about a separate house that would be livable, but fit in the scale of the little 20 by 30-foot church. The New Vessica, at just 289 square feet, was my first choice - but after being told by the building inspector that there was a minimum house size in that district, I switched to thinking about the Sebastarosa model (shown at left), which does have the benefit of a full second storey and stairs rather than a ship's ladder to get to bed. At the time I felt that a 750 square foot house was violating my principles, but I may have gotten a little too into it!

What I really loved about these homes is that they followed the "Ontario cottage" style of having a gable dormer over the front door. In the end the farmhouse we bought is that same style, and is less than 1000 square feet. I'll be curious to see whether tiny houses continue to interest me now that we've settled on one particular one - for weeks I was going through multiple sheets of graph paper a day sketching floor plans and elevations, and getting library books to tell me how to decide how thick your floor joists need to be, and how to frame a wall. I was all ready to build, but now I find myself using graph paper to try and lay out the best kitchen arrangement... but that's a story for another day!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Co-op units to buy

I found a list of co-ownerships that I will update and pass on to you, but I haven't yet found a list of co-ops (the type where you own a share in the corporation that owns the building). I've found seven so far:

235 Grandravine Drive. This is too far out for me - west of Keele, and between Finch and Sheppard. But a 1-bedroom "condo" for $59,900 - with maintenance fees of only $425 - wow! There are currently four 2-bedroom units for sale, asking from $85,000 to $89,900. Rents in that area seem to start around $900 (according to a quick scan of, which means that it would carry for about the same amount as rent, even with the maintenance fees. One odd thing is that none of the five listings online (as of Nov 2010) have pictures of the interior. That's pretty unusual these days.

1648 Bathurst Street (north of St. Clair). This is a gorgeous old half-timbered Tudor building on the west side of Bathurst. There's currently a bachelor unit asking $89,000, with maintenance fees of $381/month. The room sizes on the listing are obviously incorrect, but if I'm right that the listing agent put in feet as metres, it would be 350 square feet. There's also a 1-bedroom unit asking $155,900. I'll be keeping a sharp eye out for more units in this building to come up for sale, to see if they have two-bedroom units.

1646 Bathurst Street. One door south of the previous paragraph, obviously, and it's another low-rise building with few units, only this one is brick with bay windows up both fronts. There's currently a lovely one-bedroom unit asking $135,000, with maintenance fees of $525.

53 and 55 Neptune Drive. This is a bit too far out of downtown for me, just west of Bathurst but up at the 401. There are currently three units for sale in this pair of four-storey low-rise buildings. The one-bedroom unit is over 500 square feet and only asking $88,000, with monthly maintenance of $282.50. It needs a lot of sprucing up, but it has the original blue and black bathroom tiles, just like my grandmother's old bathroom! (I think this suggests the buildings are from the 50s). The two-bedrooms are asking $109,900 and $129,900, with maintenance fees at $400.

185 Stephen Drive, Etobicoke. This building is directly south of Old Mill subway station; it looks like about a 20-minute walk through a series of parks to get there, and it faces out onto one of them. They're asking $139,950.

1901 Bayview Avenue, just north of Eglinton. This one is in the process of converting to a condo, so it won't be cheap much longer. There's currently a 1-bedroom asking $159,000, although maintenance fees are very high at $800.

100 Oriole Parkway. There's currently a 2-bedroom unit for sale for $319,000, but there are no pictures online, so I can't comment on the interior of this building yet. It's right on the busy part of Oriole Parkway before Avenue splits off to the west, across the street from the north end of Upper Canada College's extensive playing fields.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Saving money with Kiva

I've been a fan of Kiva (a micro-lending site) since January 2009. My goal in 2009 was to donate 1% of my income to the site, so every paycheque I transferred that money over and made a loan or two. After a few months the loans starting being re-paid, so by the end of the year I had the fun of making up to five loans every month, with the combination of new money transferred in and repaid funds.

Almost two years later, I've made over 65 loans. Coupled with that, I've been thinking about how to handle my personal spending money. I'm making a good salary this year on a one-year contract, but I want to save enough of it to be able to be a stay-at-home parent for a few years if no good job opportunities present themselves.

With interest rates so low, sticking 3/4 or 4/5 of my spending money in a savings account seems pointless. My current brainstorm is to "deposit" a portion of what I get each month in to Kiva - the current interest rate is not much better than 0%, after all! Once this school year is over I can either re-loan the money (if I have another contract) or take out the spending amount each month. It's a little tricky to withdraw the money - it has to go out through Paypal, then through the bank, and costs 50 cents - but with some planning ahead it shouldn't be a big problem.

A girl needs a little spending money, after all. Mine really only gets used for a coffee very occasionally, eating out, wool, and every four or five years a really great pair of Fluevogs. I think I need a pair of black Derby Swirl boots for winter...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Condominium vs. Co-op vs. Co-ownership

I found a link that purports to explain the differences between the three types of units in Toronto; condos, co-ops, and co-ownerships. I've taken the following list without permission from:

Understanding the Difference Co-Ownership vs. Condos vs. Co-Ops
  • Each suite is a separate piece of real estate which can be bought, sold and traded in the market
  • In addition to owning the unit the buyer will own proportionate shares of the common areas of the property
  • Condos can be mortgaged
  • There is only one piece of real estate and each buyer is registered on title to the property
  • All buyers own a proportionate share of the entire property and are given the exclusive rights to occupy one of the units in the building
  • These shares of ownership can be bought, sold and mortgaged. With condos and co-ownerships (but not with co-ops) you can mortgage your interest in the property without causing liability to the other unit owners and without getting consent from the property's Board of Directors.
  • Although most banks will not finance co-ownership properties there are a number of credit unions and HSBC will finance a co-ownership purchase.
  • The property is owned by a corporation and not by the residents
  • The buyer owns shares in this corporation and has the right to occupy a specific unit within the property
  • Buyers are not registered on title to the property
  • These shares can be bought, sold and traded
  • Shares can be mortgaged but not the property itself.
  • Although most banks will not finance co-ops there are a number of credit unions and other financial institutions that will.
(The image is from a real estate listing - it's the building at 35 Raglan Avenue, a co-ownership building).

Bathroom Design

I'm currently eagerly awaiting the closing date of my new dollhouse, a small farmhouse 7 hours north of the city. One of my first goals is to gut the bathroom, added sometime in the 60s or 70s, and create something new that is more in the spirit of the house (which we think was built in 1913).

This picture gives you an idea of the layout - you can see the open door on the right, and behind it is a big window that lets in a lot of light. The sink is just inside to the left, with the toilet, then the tub and a series of little cupboards filling in the dead space between the tub and the outside wall (presumably partly there so they didn't have to run plumbing in the exterior wall, which is a good idea I'll try to keep).

What this picture doesn't show is the 4-foot knee-wall over the tub. The sloped ceiling means that there is enough room to sit in the tub - but not stand and take a shower! I might be able to get away with it, but not my six-foot husband. I've been puzzling over how to make the layout work, since besides the knee-wall, we lose wall and floor space where the window is, since the windowsill is too low to allow the sink or any other fixture to go in that space.

Somewhere in the range of 1am last night when I couldn't sleep, an interesting idea popped into my head. I can't really change the knee-wall - but I can add another one! This might be a perfect example of how reducing the square footage can actually create a much more usable bathroom.

I'm a novice at Google Sketchup, but this diagram shows what I'm thinking (click on it to see it bigger). At the back is the original knee-wall, and forward of it is a new wall that will be between 5' and 6' tall - tall enough to comfortably use the sink and toilet. The end of the tub with the shower fixture will be at opposite, so it can be full height.

The new wall gives another wall to put a medicine cabinet on, since the only wall available before is now taken up with the tub. I'm sure my husband will appreciate being able to put the plumbing and wiring (imagine a sconce on each side of the medicine cabinet) in the new wall as it's being constructed.

I think the biggest drawback is that I don't know if this will actually fit. I don't have the dimensions of the room yet, so I've made by best guess based on the photograph above. We have the clawfoot tub already, and we know what style of toilet we will buy (it's Toto Drake or nothing around here), and I've seen the vintage sink I want already online, but it's 26" wide. Those three things may or may not co-exist nicely with each other along the back wall, or they may just be too crowded.

Friday, November 5, 2010


My current obsession is with co-ownerships. This is a type of building in Toronto that pre-dates condo legislation, so although they are similar to condos, they have some important differences. Apparently you can't get a regular mortgage through a big bank, but have to put 30% down and go through a trust company. This deters enough buyers that the prices for these units are much lower than a comparable condo.

From my point of view, the upside is that the buildings tend to be old - lovely art deco buildings, the best that Toronto has to offer!

Let's start with an example that isn't too old, just because it's a little bigger and it's easier to compare. Today there are three units available at 580 Christie, which is close to the trendy Wychwood Barns project, just south of St. Clair. They're all 1-bed, 1-bath, about 525 sq. ft., and asking $239,500, $249,900, and $258,800 (average: $242,733).

The two closest comparable buildings are at St. Clair and Bathurst (500 St. Clair W, asking $288,900, but only 400 square feet!) and Dupont and Bathurst (483 Dupont, asking $349,900, but over 600 square feet). I know it's questionable to average these two prices, but it works out to $319,400.

That's a difference of $76667, which apart from being quite an interesting number could mean the difference between a $1100 mortgage payment and a $1450 mortgage payment.

Next up... how do the maintenance fees compare?

Friday, July 2, 2010

No apologies...

I've started several blogs in my time, and abandoned all of them. Gardening, poker, knitting, family history, weight lifting, reading, cooking... the problem is not that I don't want to write about those things, but I don't want to write about them all, all the time.

So here I am... one blog, many topics. I'll try to tag them sensibly, but I can't promise you that there will be any continuity. But when there is something, there will probably be a lot of it, at least for a while!