November 26, 2015

Rates, shmates (orig.posted Feb.11.2015)

NOV 26, 2015

When artists email me about mortgages, and there have been a lot of you lately, the first question (often prompted by one or both of your parents) is:

Can you get me the lowest rate?

The Coles notes response is: YES

The 900 page, unabridged response is: YES, I can get you the best rate for YOUR FINANCIAL SITUATION.

The difference between those two answers is subtle but important. Rates are NOT the only factor to consider when you are preparing to jump into the property game.

•Mortgage Rates are directly connected to a mortgage product
•That product must be the best for your situation
•Everyone’s situation is DIFFERENT

Take cell phones, for example. The lowest RATE out there might be $9.99 a month, but the PRODUCT is a rotary dial flip phone, no data, no texting, and no incoming calls.

Mortgages are exactly the same: Sometimes the lowest RATE puts you with a mortgage PRODUCT that is just as archaic as your Dad’s first car phone that you plugged into the lighter jack.


In our current financial climate, however, we are facing a boon of awesome rates paired with fantastic mortgage products. BUT, and there is always a BUT, you and your financial situation need to qualify.

Yes, your neighbour’s brother in law’s cousin SAYS he has the lowest rate but, again, what is the product that goes with his flip-phone mortgage?

When I am scoping out a rate + product out of the 30(+) lenders available to me, there are many things to take into consideration that will affect what you qualify for:

•Income (and type: salary, contract, self-employed, stated income)
•Credit score
•Down Payment
•Previous Bankruptcies

These factors are the tip of the iceberg for qualifying. What you may not realise is, when I’m scoping out your options, conditions and roadblocks tend to pop up that indicate that we might have to take a different route.

Some clauses include:

•Must quick-close in 45 days (there will be a 90 day close % rate, and a 120 day close % rate)
•No Self Employed or Stated income deals (generally, we know which lenders to avoid)
•No pre-approvals
•No rural properties
•Credit score above 680
•Must have minimum 5% of own funds for down payment
•No rentals
•Conventional deals only (20% down payment)
•High Ratio, insured mortgages only (less than 20% down payment)
•Live deals only
•25 year amortisation only
•No 15% top-ups to net income

And the list goes on.

If you don’t meet just one of those conditions, it’s back to searching (and, p.s., that’s what I’m here for.)

When it comes to PRODUCTS, you and I also need to consider your future options:

•If I refinance in 5 years at a different lending institution, what are my EXIT fees?
•Is this a STANDARD mortgage or a COLLATERAL mortgage?
•If I want to put a lump sum on my mortgage, what are my pre-payment privileges?
•If I have a growing family, can I extend my mortgage if I buy a bigger house?
•Is this product portable? Can I take it with me to my new condo in the middle of my 5-year term?

Again, the list goes on, but THIS is why the 900 page, unabridged answer is so important for YOU, especially if YOU are an artist.

We work in such an abstract and creative world, we forget that when it comes to finances, more specifically YOUR FINANCES, there aren’t any shades of grey. Your numbers go into an algorithm and come out as a profile. It won’t look like anyone else’s (which is the only artistic aspect of the process).

I’m only scratching the surface on this topic but, I sincerely hope this helps when the time comes to get you suited up with hundreds of thousands of dollars (run away screaming!!!) to buy your first home.

Thanks for reading!

If you liked this blog, PLEASE SHARE

November 21, 2015

What do you mean, I'm the grownup? (orig. posted April 2012)

NOVEMBER 21, 2015

If you see this as my status update it usually means that I am facing a GROWN UP SITUATION that I’d rather PRETEND is not happening. Over the past 12 months, it has usually meant that I was making lifestyle decisions on behalf of a loved one, leading to my final conclusion that:

Growing up is not as fancy as I once thought it would be.

Turns out, my grown up universe of music, costumes, and fun gigs, is currently being combined with real life decisions not previously indicated in my score.

Parents, AGING Parents

There are no rules on how to do things RIGHT;
how to make things FLOW without any BUMPS or BRUISES,

How does this specifically apply to you, the young artist hitting the big time?

Well, I can only speak for myself, but I’m very grateful that I followed my gut instinct and prepared ahead. I could not have predicted what would be on the other end of my preparations but, I guess, that’s the point.


As you are saving, and making sure that your money is growing, please
have an undeniably uncomfortable conversation about: YOUR PARENTS’ WISHES for managing THEIR MONEY and THEIR QUALITY OF LIFE if they are UNABLE TO MAKE DECISIONS FOR THEMSELVES.

The conversation with
my mom went a little something like this:

• ME: Do you still have debt?
MOM: I don’t know. (that is code for YES, a LOT.)

• ME: Have you updated your WILL?
MOM: Noooooo, I don’t THINK soooooo..... (that is code for NO. Most recent: 1974)

• ME: Power of Attorney for property, Health you have any of these so that I can legally make decisions if you are no longer able?*

MOM: Stop asking me questions! (also code for NO)

After a lot of
“discussion,” these legal updates were updated. If * the time ever came, decisions could be made based upon written requests, and not emotional guesswork by me, or the province.


Probably the hardest subject to broach, due to the myriad of conflicting information, is the topic of inheriting parental debt. An hour with a financial expert or your lawyer could potentially make life much easier for everyone simply by having confirmation about
what goes where, and who will be responsible for what when the time comes.

Clearing parental debt with the aid of a financial trustee may be something to investigate if needed; lessening the chance of finances becoming a burden down the road. It also helps take you out of the financial equation.

Family + money can end in tears. Let someone else manage it so that you can put your energy into the care and well-being of your loved one. As well, a saving plan for future move(s) and related expenses means that there will be a better chance of maintaining the best possible living situation for everyone.


WHERE and HOW do they want to live if it ever gets to the point that they need more daily assistance than first predicted, (p.s. you can’t predict this) and how will THEY / YOU pay for it?

Nobody wants to have this conversation but, if push comes to shove, and the decisions need to be made within 24 hours
(under the strain and emotional stress that poor health and family situations may foster) you’ll be glad you did.


I am a 
catch 22 by being an only child. On one hand, it’s easier because there’s no question about what will happen with finances, health, and living situation for her. On the other hand: I am THE decision maker, signature signer, and faxer of all things where did I put that silly rulebook? 

If you have siblings (and/or aunts and uncles etc.), having a group discussion with your parents about:

WHO can best manage WHAT?

It may create an 
easier transition for everyone. At this point, I would advise passing around some food. Money talk (can) get people riled up, or so I’ve heard. Having something to shove into their pie hole ( ie: pie ) can’t hurt.

Admittedly, a big topic but, I write about what I
know, and this is what I know, about 20 years sooner than predicted.

Thanks for reading.

Now go get some pie, talk to your people, and get’er done.


Since this blog post, I have moved my mom 3 times within 18 months and I have had to put into play the
financial trustee, power of attorney, and health directives. All of these papers gave me the power to say yes for my mom, and, in the case of her living situation, I was also able to say no.

The province wanted to put her into the sketchiest home in Winnipeg, on Donald St. (the equivalent to Queen and Sherbourne in Toronto) and, if I hadn’t had power of attorney, it would not have been my choice, especially since I don’t live in Manitoba and these directives are coming from me, one province over. We waited it out and now she’s in a beautiful, new facility across from Assiniboine Park where her friends take her over to see Ballet in the park and the symphony. Is it glamorous? Absolutely not. Is it the best we could do? YES. She’s safe, well liked, well cared for, and I only feel guilty ALWAYS.

Now, I make decisions about wheelchairs and seat belts (SEAT BELTS!!!) pureed food, a visiting volunteer dog from St.John Ambulance (her name is Montana), making sure her hair is cut, nails are done, and that she’s wearing ALL of her jewelry ALL of the time (those who know my mom know how important this is).


Because this is a topic that everyone will face in some form or another and, in my mind, 
an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care.

November 12, 2015

Rental Role Model

NOVEMBER 12, 2015

This fall has been (thanks to your kind referrals) a whirlwind of clients & hopeful homeowners at Cardinal Mortgages.

•All artists
•Some successful buyers (new keys!)
•Some on hold (to be continued)
•Some going back to the drawing $ board (tax prep)

One of my surprise success stories was supposed to be in the “on hold” category. After my initial meeting with Mimi in August (we’d been emailing since February) it was clear that she was:

•A super savvy $ saver

•An Organised, thoughtful planner
•And a “Get out of my way, world, I’ve got a goal!”

...kind of client.One of the main points for her property goal was that there had to be some form of RENTAL INCOME on the other end of the purchase. She was prepared and not spooked by the task in front of her. She wasn’t in a hurry either - there would be no money wasted, there would be a house where she would live, rent out the basement or top floor, no insurance premium, and if it meant saving more, well that’s what she would do.(Can I get an AMEN?!) We were scheduled to chat 5 months later at the end of January 2016 with a little more singing money in hand. (Whoot! You go girl!)

A few weeks later, however, we were on the phone about a sweet, 410 sq.ft bachelor, work-live loft located in Leslieville’s highly sought after iZone building. It would be a 100% rental opportunity, totally NOT the original plan, that she would view at 4 pm that day (!)

I quickly set her up with a real estate agent who I knew had a long history with that particular we soon found out...was also the SELLING agent. Weird, I know, but it turned into a huge advantage for both seller and buyer in the end.The TIMELINE of the deal looked a little something like this:

•Viewed condo
•Coffee talk about condo + numbers the next day
•Gathering of HER most recent tax documents
•GROSS income (line 162) looked AMAZING!
•NET income, after deductions (line 150) amazing enough until *ugh* one new doc appeared in my inbox: a tax re-assessment (good for tax purposes, bad for home buying) turned plan "A" upside down.


I could only use her NET income (line 150) for a straight up rental mortgage (self-employed or not) and the re-assessment to her taxes the previous year had lowered her NET income just shy of what we needed. #swearing

•Cue a co-signer to support her NET income (enter money savvy $ tenor)
•Gather all of HIS documents
•Give them the go-ahead to make a bid
•Bid accepted (with 5-day financing clause)
•Send in their application to Lender #1
•Lender #1 refused property (not enough square footage)

•Immediately send in application to lender #2 & #3 (I believe in backup plans)
•Approved by both lender #2 & #3 (if condo passes appraisal conditions)
•Meet all of their insanely DIFFERING financial conditions: YES (bloody miracle, people!)
•Order 2 appraisals, one for each lender
Appraisals won’t be until the following week (gah! 5-day financing clause is ticking away)
•Ask real estate agent on for extension on financing clause (10days... in TORONTO!)
•Accept lender #2’s commitment

•Start emailing friends to find my clients’ a tenant needed to close the deal 
•Appraisal STILL not done
•Found a tenant for them in less than 24 hrs. Yup. Full-service mortgage agent, folks!
•Ask real estate agent for ANOTHER 5-day extension to the financing clause because the appraisals STILL aren’t in YET (total, 15 days financing) I told you the dual agency of the real estate agent would come in handy. WIN/WIN
•Appraisals FINALLY in

•Accept Lender #2’s offer (sign)
Sleep well at night
•Day 15 of financing clause - Lender #2 - after clients have already signed off financing waiver - tell me there was a human error on their end and they were adding a $6000.00 insurance premium charge onto the mortgage (!!!)
Have mini heart attack

•Remember back up plan (yes!)
•Accept Lender #3’s offer, slightly higher rate, $10 more a month = $600 over 5 years, we’re ok with that, no other charges

•Everyone takes a deep breath.

•Officially get a good night’s sleep.

•Obtain MORE documents including lease from new tenant
•Sign MORE documents

•Mimi & Chris go to lawyer (SIGN, even more, papers)

•Mimi & Chris get keys


I’m not going to lie, it was a bit of a nail biter with the lenders being fussy about this petite condo in the BEST location, not to mention the delays of the appraisals (out of our control) and then the last hiccup by lender #2 (who fully admitted their $6000.00 error - but STILL didn’t budge.)

Why did I want you to read all of that?

1. Because real estate is not cut and dry. Our first conversation will sound nothing like our final conversation. If you can handle that, you’ll get keys.

2. Because (AND THIS IS IMPORTANT) after putting only 20% down on this condo, Mimi’s renter(s) will pay off the remaining 80%

Her first nest egg will be paid for by someone else.

Why I left that particular sentence to the end of the blog makes no sense, it should be the opening line but, I want readers to see that she fought for this. She saved like a rock star. She was persistent, undaunted by all of the roadblocks and, in 30 years, she’ll have hundreds of thousands of dollars in her pockets because she made a small down payment on 410 square feet of cement and windows.


If it hadn’t been for that re-assessment on her taxes, bringing her income down (on paper), she would also have done it ON. HER. OWN. Without a co-signer. That’s pretty freakin’ jazzy, my friends.

That’s what I call A RENTAL ROLE MODEL.

Thanks for reading AND did share this post, right? : D


October 20, 2015

Go Jays, GO! + B'bye Harper

OCTOBER 20, 2015

Ok, now that I have your attention, I’d like us to focus on another newsworthy tid bit that, while not as satisfying as the ousting of Harper, or as exciting as the Jay’s playoff series, it is of equal importance to Cardinal’s Nest readers; the announcement that Opera Lyra Ottawa would be ceasing operations, effective immediately.

This, on the heels of Vancouver Opera’s perky press release that they would be compacting their typical 9 month season into 3 weeks...3 WEEKS!!!...sent a chill up the spine of our singer community.

There was a lot of social media buzz over these two announcements, markedly different in tone.

People congratulated VOA on their “exciting new vision” (riiiiiiiight, sure...I totally believe that you’re excited at having fewer opportunities to sing in that beautiful city), while Opera Lyra’s announcement, 4 days before the national election, elicited much more sombre, personal comments and rightfully so.

The financial health of these opera houses act like a mirror of the financial health of our own incomes, and future, not to mention that of our nation and it’s exceptionally talented, overeducated, underpaid artistic communities.

((( let’s take a pausa )))

Before we go on let me be clear about a few things - I have no idea how to run an opera company, nor do I flatter myself that I have a solution for VOA, OLO, or any other arts organizations.

Also, I do not belittle of the domino effect on the jobs for full time staff, IATSE, Musicians Union, and contracted Equity performers. Any sarcasm, or attempt at humour is not directed at the people who had to go home to tell their spouses that they lost their jobs, nor to the people who had to make that decision for them. I’m serious about this stuff, folks. Good. We’re clear?

((( press play )))

Back to you. As important as these recent developments are, I hope we can step back and try to remember that we’re used to all of the moving parts that come with being an artist, including massive upheavals with larger companies. We’ve jumped through these hoops before (2008 recession, helloooooo?) and will undoubtably need to do so again and again.

As long as we remember:

•Setbacks are inevitable (don’t get me started)
•Preparing for a rainy day is sexy
•Ingenious ideas are sparked by the need for change
•We always seem to evolve, adapt, survive and thrive (no really, we do)

And sorry (so Canadian) for putting a point on it, but our financial habits (not income) were well established BEFORE those announcements were made. You might want to go back and read that sentence again.

I encourage you to sit back and evaluate whether you’re a: SAVER (and I know you’re out there - I’ve seen your finances) or a SPENDER, and how one might be more helpful than the other.


Just check in with yourself and:

  • make sure you’re not literally banking on the potential of our artistic industry (spending more than you make)

No matter what the health of the artistic industry is dictating (and I admit, it ain’t pretty) WE are in charge of how we prepare ahead, react in the moment, and make things better for ourselves.

If we get too caught up in the details that drag us down,
instead of in the solutions that will lift us up, we’ll never survive.

Thanks for reading!
Go Jays, go!

August 23, 2015

Save or Sabotage: It's up to you!

(UPDATED-POST from Winter 2015)

After over 10 years of the hubby and his team renovating houses and condos in the GTA, here are some of our best SAVE or SABOTAGE tips for your future project.

1. Ask your contractor how you can SAVE ON LABOUR COSTS:

• A GREAT ATTITUDE: Easily the biggest cost saver when it comes to labour is a positive attitude and a display of trust. We know, there are some bad apples out there so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your workers. BUT! If you see the hard work happening, a quick hello in the morning and a thank you at the end of day is all that’s needed to put a spring into our step...and maybe some coffee. A relaxed, appreciative work site is a fast work site.

• DEMOLITION: if you’re willing and able to do part, or all of the demolition, cleanup and waste removal yourself, WE, and any contracting team, will LOVE YOU FOREVER!

• PACK: Please, please pack up and store everything as far out of the away from the project as possible, and make a clear, unobstructed path for trades to go in and out of the workspace. If we have to pack, are constantly moving furniture around to create space, or have to constantly avoid breaking something, it will definitely slow us down and eat up your budget.

• PAINTING: If you KNOW you’re a GREAT painter, we’ll leave it up to you.

• PICK UP SUPPLIES: If you have access to a vehicle, contractors are happy confirm a list of things that you can pick up, and when we’ll need them. That way, we can keep working in the house instead of sitting in traffic picking up your tiles. Yes, you pay for that.

• ORDERING: This is a tricky one. Ask what will be helpful to order, and what is best left to the contractor.

• ASSEMBLING: If you’re handy, and go to couple’s therapy, assembling cupboards etc. on the weekend is great. We do recommend, however, that if you find you’re having any trouble to stop, leave it as is, and we’ll come to the rescue. It’s worth a shot, anyway. :)

• DAILY / WEEKLY MEETINGS: If meetings are in person: the best time to have a meeting with prepared questions and updates is right at the start, or end of day. That way, your contractor will let other trades or employees know to arrive or leave accordingly, avoiding any trades standing around waiting for orders. If you plan a phone meeting: ask when it is best to call and set a time that is convenient for you both.


• IF YOU BUY AHEAD: Ask your contractor about the measurements, power levels, weight, durability, and appropriateness of a certain product BEFORE you buy.
Time and time again, people say, “we’ve already bought _____________ ” only to find out that it won’t actually FIT in their home (we’ve rebuilt costly stairwells as a result of that particular strategy), or can’t be supported by whatever plumbing or electrical set up you have existing in your home. In other cases, materials purchased that are not 100% suitable for the job inevitably cause complications that could have been avoided if approved before hand.

• DON’T UNPACK or USE: Many products cannot be returned if you open the box. This is especially true of flooring. Please, let your contractor advise you on what you can and can’t do with certain items.

• BUYING ON SALE: This is another tricky one. Sale items, often, can’t be returned so you’d better make sure it fits or will work with your space before making an investment.

• FREE STUFF: Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it won’t cost you anything. Often, the free stuff takes so much time and effort to customize, it becomes more expensive than if you had bought new.

• WORTHINESS: There are a lot of products out there that have fancy names and spectacular branding. Don’t be fooled. Ask your contractor before you invest in an unnecessarily expensive product what their history is with that item. Nine times out of ten, we will be able to let you know if that name brand is worth it, and if we can use a more cost efficient alternative.

• DISCOUNTS: Contractors often have discounts with suppliers in the city. If you can get the same item at a store where they have a discount, it’s ALWAYS worth it.

• BEST BUY: Some items may not come with a discount but, often we know which stores will have lower prices or better service.

3. Ask your contractor how you can SABOTAGE YOUR SAVINGS:

• MAKE CHANGES TO THE ORIGINAL PLAN: Every change, addition, 2nd guess, and “while we’re at it....” has a dollar sign attached to it.

• TIMING: Timing is HUGE in renovations. Everything needs to sync up if we’re going to stay on schedule. If you don’t ask your contractor “when will it be too late to make a change?” you might as well just toss your cash into the wind.

There is a deadline for every step in the process. If you change your mind about something, without warning, and the wall has just been closed up, or they have to call the plumber or electrician back to undo everything, the price tag $$$ will grow. Also, too much back tracking or indecision can cause trades (plumbers, electricians, gas guys) to let your contractor know that they’re not going to be a part of that job anymore if the client keeps changing their minds. Yup, it happens.

• COMMUNICATION WITH YOUR CONTRACTOR: The smoothest projects have ONE contact person. ONE person to relay questions, ONE person to receive the answers. This saves time and confusion. (YOU HAVE NO IDEA.) Also, ask what’s best method to contact your contractor. For sudden changes, please call or text. Emails, often, will not be checked until the end of day (because contractors are focussing on your home) and that may be too late.

• COMMUNICATION WITH YOUR PARTNER: Money + emotions + more than one person making design decisions can sometimes (always) amount to a good old fashioned show down about the best ____________ for your reno. BUT! You’ll save money if that heated “discussion” doesn’t happen in front of the crew, impeding their progress. Quite simply: tension = time wasted on a work site.

• PETS & CHILDREN: We LOVE your pets!!! Most contractors and trades have a soft spot for a cute dog, or a cat with an attitude, BUT! If they’re not used to your pet, and can’t spot them just as they’re about to be spooked by a power saw, both your workers & your animals could be seriously harmed.

• We love your kids TOO!!! But there have been times when curious kids have left their mark on a reno (cement!!!) or sneak up to see what’s going on, only to startle the person wearing ear plugs and running a massive blade through metal. The best place for BOTH is as far away from the reno as possible, 9-5. When we leave for the day, close off the area that is filled with tools and toxic materials. PERIOD. Safety first.

• USE of your NEW SPACE: Every once in a while clients get excited about the reno and start to use the space, or the materials before they’re ready. Some things need to be sealed. Some things need to settle. Some things need to dry. We’ll redo it if we have to, but if anything is damaged, and not by the team, the repair goes on your bill.

• KNOW YOUR LIMITS: I mentioned above some of the things you might like to help out with but, know your limitations. If you just spent $40,000 on a kitchen reno but you want to save $500 in labour for painting 4 walls...but you’ve never actually painted before... this is not the time to start counting pennies. Only help with the project if you know you can do the task REALLY WELL.

• TENSION: As we mentioned above, a relaxed, appreciative work site is a fast work site, and tension (always) = time wasted. Every problem has a solution and positive approach is the best way to prevent sabotaging your well-deserved savings.

Once you’ve chosen a contracting team, be honest with THEM, and YOURSELF, about your budget. Believe it or not, contractors want the reno to go just as fast as you do and don’t care if the materials are flashy or expensive, they just want to know that your choices fit into your home safely, to code, without fuss.