Archive for September, 2008

The Big Easy

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008


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Canada could face housing woes, Merrill warns

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008


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Google-powered phone unveiled

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Sinead Carew, Reuters

Executives hold the new G1 phone running Google’s Android software in New York September 23, 2008. Photograph by : Reuters/Jacob Silberberg

NEW YORK – T-Mobile USA, a Deutsche Telekom AG unit, will sell the first phone powered by Google Inc’s Android operating system under the brand name T-Mobile G1, said its partner Inc on Tuesday.

The phone, made by Taiwan‘s HTC Corp <2498.TW>, is seen as Google’s answer to Apple Inc’s iPhone and is the Web search leader’s biggest push yet in the cell phone market. said its digital music store will be loaded on the G1 allowing users to search, download, buy and play over six million songs, pitting the device directly against the iPhone.

The G1 phone has a touch-sensitive screen, a computer-like keyboard, Wi-Fi connections and includes most Google applications and services, including Google Maps with StreetView, Gmail and YouTube.

The new phone will feature Android Market, where customers can find and download applications to expand and personalize their phone.

© Reuters 2008

Incentives designed to lure condo buyers

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Some projects are trimming prices while others offer help with the mortgage

Derrick Penner

Property developers are looking to incentives and even price cuts in some cases to tempt buyers into a market that has seen sales slow.

The enticements include decorating allowances, cash back, mortgage buy-downs or upgrades in materials.

Price corrections are happening in specific locations and among specific property types as the market adjusts to one in which homeowners are the dominant buyers and investor buyers exit the scene, according to Jennifer Podmore-Russell, managing partner of the development research firm MPC Intelligence.

Podmore-Russell, in an interview, said some pockets of Surrey saw price adjustments several months ago, as have areas of Langley.

Price cuts, she added, have occurred among projects that used overly aggressive assumptions about price appreciation and needed to be readjusted to levels more competitive with other projects and the newer listings on the realtors’ Multiple Listing Service.

“A normal market doesn’t mean we don’t see price corrections,” Podmore-Russell said. “That’s exactly what it takes to get back to a normal market.”

However, she said “a lot of the pricing changes have been blown out of proportion.”

Her outlook is for sales of new units in the development pre-sale market to average 11,000 to 14,000 per year over the next couple of years, compared with 16,000 in 2007.

Embassy Development Corp. is one developer that has advertised price reductions from two per cent to 12 per cent on the last 11 units in its two-tower Legacy project near Brentwood town centre in Burnaby.

Embassy president Ryan Bosa said the company adjusted the pricing on these specific units because they had “one-off” layouts to fit the structure of the building and probably weren’t the most desirable.

Bosa said the summer was also a slow period for sales, and “we figured we would do a bit of an advertising blitz” to spark more interest, which has worked to drive more traffic to its sales centre.

Developer Ledingham McAllister is offering different incentives on a couple of its projects — a $10,000 decorating allowance on units in its Silhouette project and five-per-cent cash back on September sales in its Perspectives building near Lougheed Town Centre.

Ledingham McAllister president Ward McAllister said incentives are offered during slow sales to encourage buyers “to get off the fence” so the company can meet its sales targets, but he hasn’t seen more than minimal discounting.

“I don’t think there’s much discounting going on in the market at all,” McAllister said. “People are thinking that prices are going to come down, and we don’t believe they are.”

Housing forecasts by Canada Mortgage and Housing and Central 1 Credit Union, he added, support that opinion.

However, McAllister does believe that developers will slow down on new construction over the next while and “supply is going to tighten up drastically.”

Mark Belling, president of Fifth Avenue Real Estate Marketing Ltd., said such incentives are nothing new — they just haven’t been needed over the past few years when investor buyers were a bigger part of the market.

“So incentives have basically shifted from trying to attract investors in more buoyant times to the current time when it’s more about sustainable supply and demand,” Belling said.

And the type of incentive will depend on the market a developer is aiming at, he added.

Projects geared toward first-time buyers, Belling said, might use mortgage buy-downs or other affordability options.

The developer Larco is offering mortgage assistance at its Morgan Creek development in South Surrey in its recent advertising — $13,495 to $23,095 spread out over two years of payments.

Decorating allowances or appliance upgrades, Belling said, might be more common in projects aimed at more discretionary consumers.

“Discounts are happening in the form of incentives, absolutely,” Belling said. “So I think it’s great for consumers.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2008


Identity thieves ‘phishing’ the Internet

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Marc Saltzman

Identity theft — a type of fraud in which someone pretends to be someone else for financial gain — can be accomplished in many ways: pickpocketing a credit card, rummaging through letters from a mailbox, or phone scamming that tricks victims into giving out personal information.

Increasingly, identity thieves are going online, sending out “phishing” scams on fake websites that look real or using other high-tech means to retrieve information you type on a public computer’s keyboard.

According to PhoneBusters (, a Canadian anti-fraud agency jointly managed by the RCMP, the Competition Bureau Canada and the Ontario Provincial Police, identity theft is on the rise in this country. In 2007, the organization received 10,279 complaints, of which 9,970 were victims, totalling a loss of $6,438,123. So far this year, by the end of August, PhoneBusters had received 8,233 complaints (7,649 victims), with a valued loss of $6,573,335.

So, what can you do to protect your identity in an increasingly online world? Here are a few tips:

– For websites that require a password, such as your banking institution, company site or social networking home, pick one that’s at least seven characters long and use a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. Don’t use your child’s name, dog’s name or your phone number.

– If you get an e-mail from your bank or credit-card company asking you to act fast to confirm your account information, it’s probably a phishing attempt that will take you to a phoney website. (Look at the URL and you’ll see it’s not your bank.) Do not click on the link in the e-mail, which takes you to the spoof site. If you do, never type in any info being requested. When in doubt, contact your bank directly.

– Peer-to-peer file-sharing programs, such as LimeWire, may be used by thieves to access your private information. So if you use these services, be sure to configure them not to expose personal folders. (Disable the sharing feature in the Options menu.)

– If you’re a Windows user, be aware that Microsoft regularly releases software fixes. Choose “automatic updates” in your operating system’s security settings, so you won’t forget to manually update them. These fixes plug holes that hackers know how to exploit in order to gain access to your files.

– Don’t buy anything online with your credit card unless the website is secured with SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), indicated by an icon of a padlock in your web browser. On a related note, if you shop at such online marketplaces as, use a secure payment method, such as PayPal or a credit card, to protect your purchases in case of a dispute.

– According to Symantec, the makers of the popular Norton anti-virus software, you should never save your log-in information on a website. While it might be convenient when sites and programs have an automatic log-in feature that saves your user name and password, you should disable this option so no one can log in as you. And always click “log out” when you leave the site; it’s not enough to simply close the browser window or type in another address.

– If you set up a wireless network in your home, make sure to use the security features to prevent people from joining. (Note: WPA security is better than WEP.) If a neighbour joins your network, they will not only get free Internet access, but could read your computer’s files. This is more important now that 802.11n Wi-Fi routers are offering twice the range of older 802.11g devices.

– Try to avoid entering confidential information on public computers (for instance, those in a hotel, library, airport lounge or school). These systems may contain “keylogger” software that records everything you type. Symantec also suggests deleting your browsing history after surfing on a public computer (including your cookies, form data, history and temporary Internet files). Finally, when you’ve finished using a public computer, do a hard reboot, which will not only clear the page file if you’ve enabled that option, but will also clear out everything you did from the physical memory (RAM).

– While it might be tempting to sniff for unlocked, i.e., free, Wi-Fi networks at a cafe or hotel, they could be the work of nearby hackers out to access files on your PC. Be sure to ask what the establishment’s wireless network name is to ensure you’re logging on to the correct one.

– Finally, watch out for over-the-shoulder snoops at cafes, schools or on airplanes.

© Canwest News Service 2008

Strata Document Review Service

Sunday, September 21st, 2008


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Why you’ll enjoy this Anywhere

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

Earphones not needed, easy to carry, good quality sound

Jim Jamieson

What is it? Logitech Pure-Fi Anywhere

Price: $169.99

Why you need it: You love to listen to your music library without earphones and take it with you when you’re out and about.

Why you don’t: Earphones are fine, thanks.

Our rating:

Portable iPod speaker systems have been widespread almost since the Apple music player hit the market seven years ago.

Some hit the mark and others don’t. Personal electronics maker Logitech has come up with a comprehensive set of features in its Pure-Fi Anywhere portable speaker set.

The Pure-Fi Anywhere speakers feature a rechargeable battery, a soft-body travelling case for easy transport and a remote control.

Sound is a key measure of quality in this product category. The Pure-Fi Anywhere lives up to its name, at least to our ears.

The sound is excellent, even at high volume levels.

The unit’s footprint is 34 centimetres wide by nine cm tall by four cm deep and comes in a white or black plastic enclosure.

It is supported by flip-out metal feet with rubber pads.

According to Logitech, the Pure-Fi Anywhere will supply 10 hours of battery life with its rechargeable cells. The four-stage battery-life indicator lets you know when a recharge is needed.

Plugged into an AC outlet, the iPod — in its universal dock connector — also gets recharged as it plays tunes. The package comes with a variety of iPod adapters, making connection simple.

Other music players can also use the speakers via auxiliary line-in.

We found the device to be a good quality speaker system. The only quibble is that the remote was a little flaky in terms of its range.

Available at electronics stores.

© The Vancouver Province 2008


Council can’t impose fees without rule or bylaw

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

Tony Gioventu

Dear Condo Smarts: I own two rental units in Vancouver. A number of us owners have noticed that our strata fees are not being allocated the same way ,so I started asking questions.

Without my knowledge, one of my tenants had requested the additional use of a parking stall. The council granted the request but there was a charge of $125 per month. After three months the tenant stopped paying the rental, so the council decided to add it to my monthly strata fees.

Without advising me, the property manager adjusted my direct withdrawal amount to pay the parking-space rental. Several other owners have also noted similar problems. I have two questions: How do we stop the strata from charging for items we didn’t authorize? And how does the strata get to charge additional rental fees above strata fees?

— JW, Edmonton

Dear JW: Legislation permits the charge of user fees for common property and common assets if the fee is reasonable and it is set out in either a bylaw duly passed and registered by the corporation, or a rule created by council that has been ratified at the next general meeting.

Council itself does not have the ability to impose the fee. Council may create a rule that sets out the conditions of the user fees and the rates, and then the owners by majority vote have to ratify those user fees and rates at their next general meeting.

User fees are designed to permit additional benefits to owners, tenants and occupants on a user-pay basis. They include items such as additional parking, storage lockers, common grounds for uses like greenhouses and community gardens, moorage at marinas, health facilities and golf-course memberships.

Strata councils also need to understand that rules and bylaws are enforced against the individuals who enter into the agreements or violate bylaws. If the tenant stopped paying, the strata corporation has the right to remove the use of the space; it does not have the right to impose this against your strata fees and direct payments without your consent.

It is in the best interest of both the landlord and the tenant to identify such additional costs and bylaw fines and penalties in your tenancy agreement before you agree to the rental. Landlords who rent strata units in B.C. need to be aware that they ultimately are liable for their tenants’ actions if the tenant departs and they are left with fines and costs incurred by the tenant.

A common cost landlords do not anticipate is a large insurance deductible if, for example, the tenant floods the building. If the tenant has no insurance or is unwilling to pay the amount, the landlord may be faced with the cost.

Contact your council or manager and address the matter quickly. If there are additional costs or violations, the strata must — under section 135 of the Strata Property Act of British Columbia — provide you with notice of a violation of a bylaw or rule, and an opportunity of a hearing or written response before any fines or penalties may be imposed.

Tony Gioventu is executive director of the Condominium Home Owners’ Association (www.choa. E-mail him at tony@

© The Vancouver Province 2008

Condo buyers kept in dark

Sunday, September 21st, 2008


Each day that B.C.’s elected representatives fail to resume their seats in the Legislature serves as a reminder to the rest of us that our politicians have failed in their commitment to serve the people.

One example of their neglect is the failure of then-Liberal finance minister Gary Collins in 2003 to make good on a promise to revamp the inadequate and antiquated Strata Property Act.

It’s been five years and they’ve done diddly squat.

So much for the hundreds of thousands of condo owners and potential strata buyers in B.C. who aren’t getting the homeowners’ protection that is their right.

Indeed, the Vancouver Island Strata Owners Association says many of the more than 460,000 residents in B.C. with condo-property investments are at risk because of strata provisions that haven’t been publicly scrutinized or updated since 1998.

In the meantime, strata home ownership has increased to represent one in four taxable properties in B.C. — generating a sizeable chunk of revenue for the surplus-bloated provincial government.

Victoria‘s insouciance means B.C. is lagging behind other provinces in failing to keep up with the massive changes that have occurred in the strata-ownership market, especially on the West Coast, over the years.

There are a host of key deficiencies in our legislation — according to the association whose extensive review is available at — that create hassles and hurdles for condo owners seeking information from, or about, strata councils and developers.

These inadequacies are responsible for many dysfunctional strata communities. They cause stress on owners, particularly first-time buyers and retirees, and help erode the market value of condos. They include: n Lack of adequate requirements for disclosure of property condition and financial data.

n Lack of prosecution or penalties for developers who ignore or breach the law.

n Lack of an adequate dispute-resolution process; the current one does more to indulge irresponsible actions than address them.

n Lack of protection of the rights of strata homeowners due to inadequate standards for licensing strata managers.

One of the most important recommendations brought to the government’s attention by the island association is the need for a dispute-resolution process for strata condo owners similar to the one offered by B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Branch for landlords and tenants.

“Strata owners require simple, direct and affordable access to due process for enforcing the [act] and resolving issues,” the report states.

“The transparency and accountability needed in strata legislation should start with the process used to develop it.” Indeed, condo owners and prospective strata-property buyers have been waiting too long for government to clean up its Act, particularly considering the hefty Property Transfer Tax they’re required to pay the B.C. government on every purchase.

Government estimates of revenue from the PPT for fiscal 2008-09 run as high as $1 billion, a substantial chunk of that money will come from the sales of new and previously owned strata condos.

Their owners deserve better.

© The Vancouver Province 2008


CMHC publishes advisory on stair safety for seniors

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

Simple tread patterns, glare-free lighting contribute to avoidance of falls


When seniors fall on or from stairs, even a short distance, the consequences for their health can be both severe and long-lasting. Thankfully, many of those falls can be prevented with a little careful planning and a few simple strategies.

To help protect the health of older Canadians, increase their safety and maintain their independence, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. has a number of tips on how seniors and their caregivers can help reduce the risk of falls on or from stairs at home.

Avoid visually distracting patterns on the tread (the horizontal part of a step) that can make it difficult to distinguish one step from another. If the edges of the stairs can’t be seen clearly, mark them by painting a permanent stripe on the edge in a contrasting colour.

Improve the lighting on steps and stairs. Use lighting that makes the edges of stairs visible without causing glare or strong shadows, and consider installing low-intensity night lighting, as well as a light switch at both the top and bottom of the stairs.

For steps with short treads and/or high risers (the vertical parts of the steps), keep any coverings thin and tightly affixed to maximize the usable tread space. Avoid soft treads with a large rounding at the edge.

If you’re renovating or building new stairs, allow for ample treads and gentle risers, and make sure all the steps are of a uniform size and height.

Steps that are non-uniform in size are an especially common cause of missteps and falls. Consider partially or completely rebuilding the steps to make them of uniform treads and risers. This is very important.

Use a slip-resistant, rough finish on stairs that are prone to getting wet. Make sure to fasten all coverings on stairs securely. Don’t place any objects or loose rugs on steps, landings or at the top or bottom of the stairway.

Handrails are strongly recommended regardless of the number of steps on both sides of the stairs. A functional handrail serves several purposes including providing a visual indicator of the stairs, assisting with normal balance and — most critically — preventing a misstep and fall.

Installing handrails on both sides of the stairs is particularly important for winding or curved stairs, especially where the stairway includes combinations of rectangular and tapered treads.

Position handrails at about adult elbow height, and extend them on both sides for the full length of the stairway as well as beyond the top and bottom of the stairs.

Repair loose or broken handrails. Ensure that the handrails have a tactile indicator that warns you when a stairway is coming to an end, and that they’re easy to see even in low light or at night.

Lastly, when taking the stairs, always be cautious, deliberate and not rushed. Hold on to the handrails, wear shoes or slippers that fit properly and have a non-slip sole, remove reading glasses, switch on stair lights and — most importantly — always take your time, especially when using an unfamiliar stairway.

For more information or a free electronic copy of a fact sheet on stair safety, visit or call CMHC at 1-800-6682642.