COVID-19 Prompts Canada’s Home Builders To Embrace New Tech

Modern technology means real estate deals can still close during the outbreak.

ALEX_533 VIA GETTY IMAGES
New construction of high-rise building in Burnaby city

We are currently living through history. Beyond the closure of schools, restaurants and other everyday services, workplaces around the world are scrambling to implement work-from-home policies or shut down altogether in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

For Canada’s housing market, the immediate future is uncertain. Real estate and residential development leaders across the country are trying to find solutions for their sales and marketing teams in this era of social distancing and mandatory quarantines.

“These are interesting times for real estate and especially new home sales,” said Dan Flomen, Senior Vice President of Sales at Empire Communities. “With concerns from both clients, potential buyers and staff, Empire Communities and TFN Realty have taken some measures in the hopes to ease nerves.”

At the TFN Realty offices, Flomen explained that remote access has been enabled and that staff have been instructed to work from home if possible.

Similarly, Simon Cane, Senior Account Manager at Gladstone Media, and Barbara Lawlor, CEO and President of Baker Real Estate, said that employees are also working away from the office and conference calls have replaced in-person meetings. For Cane, this also means ensuring that servers are remotely accessible, and that employee personal computers are upgraded with adequate software.

While some launches and events may be postponed, technology is providing workplaces the opportunity to still close deals online.

“We are in a buoyant market and we are well positioned to sell online through our broker portal, and DocuSign has already gained traction during our early launches this year,” said Lawlor.

Wire transfers into the company trust account have been allowed for those who have recently written deals or plan to settle on ones in the immediate future at the TFN Realty offices. Electronic signatures have replaced the need for in-person ones. If it’s not possible to sign electronically, Flomen explained that couriers are arranged to drop off contracts and deposits.

Should any visitors come into the office, Flomen said that they are asked to keep a minimum two-metre distance from the reception desk. As leaving home is not expected for most buyers, new home sites have reduced the need for buyers to meet in person by way of video meetings.

“We are using video conferencing with them where we can,” said Flomen. “Systems like FaceTime, Snap Video, Zoom and Skype will all be made available to our staff and customers and potential buyers to use to communicate with us.”

Along with a number of other companies, a reduction in hours is also being explored at Baker Real Estate.

“So far, our sales offices remain open but will be staffed by one agent, and one or two admins as needed,” said Lawlor. “Fewer days open are being considered.”

Amidst all of the chaos, one of the most important changes is the dialogue about coronavirus concerns among staff and visitors. Cane notes that there is an open dialogue kept with employees to voice concerns and fears, while Flomen said staff will ask, “critical questions of any potential people coming into the office including if they are showing any of the usual COVID symptoms.”

“The key is that we are not panicking but doing everything in our power to continue with sales,” said Flomen.

Fixed Or Variable? How To Decide Which Mortgage Is Right For You

Do you want financial stability or the opportunity to save some cash?

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An accountant is seen here explaining mortgage payment options to a couple in this stock photo. There’s no right or wrong decision when it comes to what kind of mortgage you choose, but there are pros and cons to each.

So you’re getting a mortgage, but which one is right for you? Your first important choice will be between a fixed-rate mortgage or variable-rate mortgage. Unlike some decisions⁠ — such as floorboards versus deep pile carpet⁠ — there’s no universally correct answer. To decide which suits you, there are several factors to consider.

Here’s what you need to know to make the right choice.

What are fixed-rate mortgages?

Fixed-rate mortgages are what they say on the box — your rate and monthly payments remain the same throughout your mortgage term. Once your term is up, you’ll need to renew with a new rate, term and possibly even a new lender.

Mortgage terms typically last from one to 10 years, with the most popular being five years. That’s why most mortgage rates in Canada are advertised for five-year terms. Your mortgage term is different from the amortization period, which is the total amount of time you have to pay off of your entire mortgage, generally 25 to 30 years.

With fixed-rate mortgages, your payments will be steady for your entire term. Using Ratehub.ca’s mortgage calculator, here’s what your monthly payments would be like if you got a five-year fixed mortgage rate for a $600,000 home, with a 20-per-cent down payment and a 25-year amortization period.

RATEHUB.CA

Fixed rate pros:

  • Your mortgage rate won’t change throughout your term
  • Consistent payments make budgeting easier

Fixed rate cons:

  • If the prime rate drops, you miss out on possible savings because your mortgage rate and payments remain the same
  • Historically, fixed rates are more expensive than variable rates

What are variable-rate mortgages?

With variable-rate mortgages, your rate fluctuates with the market because it’s tied to your lender’s prime rate. The prime rate is the “standard” lending rate set for loans by your lender. Variable rates are expressed as prime plus or minus some percentage, such as prime -1 per cent. Even if the prime rate changes during the term of your mortgage, your rate’s relationship to prime will stay constant.

For most people with variable-rate mortgages, their monthly payments change whenever the prime rate changes. When the prime rate goes up, their effective mortgage rate also goes up, and so do their monthly payments. When the prime rate goes down, their monthly payments also go down.

As an example, let’s compare the cost of a five-year variable-rate mortgage, versus a 3 per cent fixed-rate mortgage. In this example, we’ll use a $600,000 home, a 20-per-cent down payment and a 25-year amortization period

RATEHUB.CA

In some cases, there are lenders who hold the monthly payment for variable-rate mortgages the same throughout the term. Mortgage payments have two components: the interest and the principal — the principal is the actual amount you borrowed. To hold the monthly payment the same, lenders adjust the allocation between the principal and the interest.

For example, let’s say you had a variable-rate mortgage with a monthly payment of $2,000: $1,000 towards interest and $1,000 paying down the principal. If rates drop, you’ll still pay $2,000 overall, but the interest portion will decrease, to $800 for example. The additional $200 will be shifted towards your principal and help pay off your mortgage sooner.

On the other hand, if rates increase, the principal portion of your payment will be reduced and more of your payments will be lost to interest. This can extend the life of your mortgage, because you’re paying the principal off slower, thereby costing you more over time.

Variable rate pros:

  • If prime rates drop, your mortgage rate drops
  • Historically, you can save more over time with a variable rate

Variable rate cons:

  • Financial uncertainty — if rates increase, your payments increase Which is better?

It really depends on your financial situation, comfort with risk and current market conditions. Fixed-rate mortgages are significantly more popular, but that doesn’t mean they’re right for you. Here are some things to consider:

Appetite for risk: Fixed rates are generally safer. By guaranteeing your rate, your lender takes on the risk of rate increases. Variable rates can save or cost you money, depending on how the prime rate changes. If you’re comfortable with more risk, or think you know where rates are headed, variable rates could be a good option.

Market conditions: Rate changes can have a major impact on payments. A typical $600,000 mortgage with a 2.5 per cent variable rate requires monthly payments of $2,150. At 3 per cent, monthly payments rise to $2,272. If rates climb to 5 per cent, payments jump to $2,792, If you choose a variable rate, make sure there’s room in your budget for increased payments.

Mortgage term: Things might change over the life of your mortgage. While high interest rates seem unlikely today, that could change within 25 years. Also consider changes in your own life. Having a child, getting married or taking on debt will seriously impact your finances. If big changes are on the horizon, fixed rates can provide stability during the term of your mortgage.

The bottom line

Financially speaking, the differences between variable- and fixed-rate mortgages are relatively minor, barring unforeseen market shakeups. If you’re worried about increasing rates, it’s hard to go wrong with fixed rates. In the rare occasions when fixed rates are actually lower than variable rates, then it’s definitely the way to go. Just make sure you shop around for the best deal, and always negotiate when you renew your mortgage — but that’s a story for another time!

Canceling A Trip Due To Coronavirus? Here’s What Travelers Need To Know.

Travel insurance experts offer advice amid fears over the outbreaks of COVID-19.

Passengers wear masks as a precautionary measure against the new coronavirus as they travel Wednesday through Guarulhos International Airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil. NELSON ALMEIDA VIA GETTY IMAGES | Passengers wear masks as a precautionary measure against the new coronavirus as they travel Wednesday through Guarulhos International Airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

With the rapid rise in reported cases of coronavirus around the world, travelers are reconsidering their 2020 vacation plans. For many, that means canceling trips. For others, it means looking into travel insurance.

“We’ve seen a huge spike in travel insurance purchases and call volume since the outbreak,” Jason Schreier, CEO of April Travel Protection, told HuffPost. “As awful as it sounds, when these kinds of things happen around the world, it absolutely is a boost to our business.”

Travel insurance can be a useful resource if you face a health emergency, such as contracting coronavirus, during a trip. If you are quarantined or fall ill, your standard trip cancellation or interruption policy should cover any nonrefundable expenses that result. Traditional travel insurance plans also cover emergency medical expenses and medical evacuations home.

But what if you haven’t taken your trip yet and are thinking about canceling because of fears about coronavirus? Will insurance cover that? And what kind of insurance should you buy if you’re booking upcoming travel now? What can travel insurance do in the face of a global health crisis?

HuffPost spoke to industry experts to find out the good and not-so-good news about travel insurance and trip cancellation coverage amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Most Policies Won’t Cover Epidemic Concerns

While travel insurance may pay for hospitalization or quarantine interruptions, standard plans generally don’t cover preemptive trip cancellations based on concerns about an epidemic.

Say you purchased a basic cancellation policy when you booked a trip to Italy. If you decide to call off your vacation because you’re worried about contracting COVID-19, you probably won’t be eligible for coverage and will have to pay the cancellation fees and nonrefundable costs yourself.

This typically applies even if the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issues an official travel alert.

“Almost every travel insurance policy I’m aware of excludes epidemics and pandemics,” Schreier said. “The one thing insurance companies are most scared of is concentrated exposure. An epidemic or pandemic by nature could put these companies out of business if they had to pay out millions of dollars for millions of policies.”

If your January trip was affected by the coronavirus outbreak, you may still be eligible for some reimbursement. As an Allianz Travel Insurance advisory notes, “Customers whose plan includes the Epidemic exclusion may still have coverage for a covered loss occurring on or prior to February 3, 2020.”

‘Cancel For Any Reason’ Plans Can Help You

Although standard plans don’t cover you if you cancel a trip due to coronavirus fears, there is a more expensive option that will. And it has a pretty straightforward name.

“[U]nless a travel insurance company has stated otherwise, you can certainly cancel a trip out of fear of contracting the virus if you select this optional benefit.”

– MEGHAN WALCH, PRODUCT MANAGER AT INSUREMYTRIP

“Since the outbreak, InsureMyTrip reports a 60% increase in travel insurance policies sold with a ‘cancel for any reason’ benefit,” Meghan Walch, a product manager at the travel insurance comparison site InsureMyTrip, told HuffPost.

“Cancel for any reason is designed to give travelers the option to cancel a trip for ‘any reason,’” she explained. “So, unless a travel insurance company has stated otherwise, you can certainly cancel a trip out of fear of contracting the virus if you select this optional benefit.”

But There Are Restrictions

There are still some limitations on travel insurance plans with a CFAR option. For starters, they’re much more expensive, which can be prohibitive.

“The challenge in CFAR is it may only be available to a narrow slice of the traveling market. CFAR tends to be an optional upgrade in the more premium plans. It may cost another 30% to 60% of the base price,” said Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com.

With CFAR, you usually have to insure the entire cost of the trip rather than certain elements. Another restriction is that you have to purchase your policy within a set time frame ― usually 7 to 21 days ― from your initial trip deposit.

If you do choose to cancel the trip, you may have to do so at least 48 hours before the departure date in order to qualify for reimbursement. Most versions of CFAR plans also reimburse travelers for only 50% to 75% of their prepaid nonrefundable trip cost.

Additionally, there’s bad news for residents of New York: You can’t buy CFAR travel insurance. The New York State Department of Financial Services, which regulates the insurance industry, does not deem CFAR to be actual insurance because it “allows the purchaser to control the event that would lead to payment.” Thus, the state does not permit the sale of that benefit.

Ultimately, it’s important to examine your chosen policy in advance to get a sense of any requirements or restrictions.

“I always recommend people read the fine print to make sure they know what they’re buying,” said Charles Leocha, president and co-founder of the consumer advocacy group Travelers United. If anything is unclear, you can also call the insurer’s customer service line with questions.

Credit Card Travel Insurance Probably Won’t Help

Several credit cards offer trip cancellation and interruption insurance as a benefit when you charge travel expenses to your card or account’s rewards program. Examples include select American Express and Chase cards, including Amex Platinum, Delta SkyMiles Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve.

But as with standard travel insurance policies, concerns about the coronavirus epidemic and travel advisories do not appear to qualify as covered losses.

In fact, Chase’s policy explicitly excludes “your disinclination to travel due to an epidemic or pandemic” as a grounds for canceled trip reimbursement. (Quarantine “due to health reasons by a competent governmental authority having jurisdiction” is covered, however.)

“Coronavirus has created a smoky gray area in a lot of these cases.”

– STAN SANDBERG, CO-FOUNDER OF TRAVELINSURANCE.COM

The American Express trip cancellation benefit description states that cardholders may be reimbursed “if a Physician advises the Eligible Traveler that a Covered Trip is medically inadvisable.”

There Are Other Measures You Can Take

Even if you don’t have CFAR insurance, there are ways to cut down on the costs of a canceled trip.

“With airfare, there’s a big price difference between getting a totally refundable ticket and nonrefundable ticket, but that’s not usually the case with the rest of your travel plans,” Leocha said.

Consider booking refundable hotel accommodations, which often don’t cost too much more than nonrefundable rooms. The same can apply to car rentals, restaurant reservations and other activities.

Even if you have a nonrefundable booking, try calling customer service anyway to see if they’re making an exception for coronavirus. Airlines and other travel services may offer reimbursement, waivers or credits.

“Coronavirus has created a smoky gray area in a lot of these cases,” Sandberg said.

Alternatively, it could be worth rescheduling, rerouting a flight or adding a second destination within your original trip.

You may also want to hold off on booking flights and other expensive travel elements until there’s more concrete information available about the coronavirus epidemic.

“With how things are looking right now, it seems like airfares aren’t jumping too dramatically,” said Leocha. “So if you’re really concerned, I would say wait.”

Coffee Recipes To Help You Adjust To Daylight Saving Time

If you have a hard time suppressing your yawns, in spite of your excitement for longer days and warmer weather, then feast your eyes on these coffee-infused recipes to help you stay awake.

Every year when the clocks spring ahead for daylight saving time, we always find ourselves scratching our heads and wondering how losing just one hour of sleep can leave us feeling so tired! If you have a hard time suppressing your yawns, in spite of your excitement for longer days and warmer weather, then feast your eyes on these coffee-infused recipes to help you stay awake.

We’re taking you from morning to night with recipes that will help you keep your eyes open and give you a little extra spring in your step. From freshly baked cinnamon coffee scones and juicy and delicious coffee-crusted beef tenderloin, to iced coffee and decadent triple chocolate coffee brownies, we promise you’ll be too busy enjoying all this deliciousness to worry about sleep.

The early bird can have the worm. We’ll have coffee instead!

Cinnamon Coffee Scones

In many ways, these Cinnamon Coffee Scones are the perfect baked good. Not only are they delicious (each bite is a perfect one of the cinnamon, coffee and brown sugar filling mingled with the moist and buttery scone), but they are also extremely easy to make. While the thought of baking scones conjured up British perfectionism, these are in fact the most forgiving pastry, ideal for both beginner bakers and a steaming cup of tea.

Coffee-Crusted Beef Tenderloin

Our highly caffeinated Chef Lisa always has a cup of Joe at her side, so it should come as no surprise that she’s taken her favorite grinds and brought them to this most special cut of beef, the tenderloin. This Coffee-Crusted Tenderloin is a pull-out-all-the-stops star, a juicy, super-flavorful and tender (hence the name, tender-loin) main course guaranteed to have everyone buzzing with praise.

Triple Chocolate Coffee Brownies

Ever wonder how to get all your vices in one bite? We’ve got the answer, these fudgy and fantastic Triple Chocolate Coffee Brownies. Yes, it’s mocha madness with these moist brownies chock full of brewed coffee, the trinity of chocolate (milk, semi-sweet and white chocolate) and chunks of chopped Oreo cookies. If that doesn’t sell you on these blissful brownies, consider that they’re topped with a creamy coffee frosting!

Our Top 5 Iced Coffee Recipes

Bust your 3pm slump and get a spring in your step with these tasty jolts of java! We love our Iced Coffee so much, we couldn’t pick just one. So here’s a round up of our favourites.

Sweet and Spicy Mocha Hot Chocolate

Offering up the best of both worlds (chocolate and coffee, sweet and spicy), this hot chocolate is our fave pick me up!

Fudgy Chocoalte Bread with Chocolate Coffee Glaze

This decadent and dense chocolate loaf cake will undoubtedly lift your spirits sky high. With a 1-2 chocolate punch, this coffee-glazed bread will leave you with a sweet chocolate high…one slice and we’re euphoric.

16 Powerful Songs About Mental Health To Make You Feel Less Alone

If you’ve experienced issues like anxiety, depression or grief, you’ll certainly relate to these lyrics.
Musicians have been creating poignant songs for years that really capture what it's like to experience an issue with your mental health.
GUIDO MIETH VIA GETTY IMAGES
Musicians have been creating poignant songs for years that really capture what it’s like to experience an issue with your mental health.

Mental health is a major theme in a lot of art today, particularly music.

As our society continues to break down the stigma around talking about struggles, many public figures are sharing their experiences with issues like depressionanxiety and grief. For musicians, this conversation takes place not only in interviews, but in their songs as well.

To help foster awareness and acceptance of mental health, we’ve rounded up 16 songs with lyrics about topics like therapy, depression, anxiety and more.

“Now I’m In It” by Haim
Lead singer Danielle Haim described “Now I’m In It” as a song about “going through it” and opened up about her experience with depression.

“For my sisters and I, there have been times in our lives where we have felt like we are stuck in a dark hole,” she wrote in a series of tweets about the song. “Every time I’ve been depressed — it takes me accepting that I need help, to start to get out of it. It’s gotten a little easier as I have gotten older to recognize the symptoms and remind myself that when this happens, I need to seek help. (shout out to my therapist!!) Anyway, we all know it’s important to talk about this stuff.”

“Hunger” by Florence + The Machine
“At 17, I started to starve myself” begins Florence Welch’s song about her struggle with an eating disorder and other mental health issues.

“I learned ways to manage that terror — drink, drugs, controlling food. It was like a renaissance of childhood, a toddler’s self-destruction let loose in a person with grown-up impulses,” Welch told The Guardian.

“1-800-273-8255” by Logic featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid
The title of this track is the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and takes the perspective of someone contemplating suicide. In a 2017 interview with Genius, Logic spoke about the background for the song.

“[Fans have] said things like, ‘Your music has saved my life. You’ve saved my life.’ And I was always like, ‘Aw so nice of you. Thanks.’ And I give them a hug and shit but in my mind, I’m like, ‘What the fuck?'” he said. “And they’re really serious. And they like tat shit on their arms and get shit like lyrics that save their life and in my mind, I was like, ‘Man I wasn’t even trying to save nobody’s life.’ And then it hit me, the power that I have as an artist with a voice. I wasn’t even trying to save your life. Now what can happen if I actually did?”

“Help!” by The Beatles
Reflecting on the period of his life when he wrote “Help!”, John Lennon reportedly said, “I was fat and depressed, and I was crying out for help.”

In 2015, Paul McCartney shared his take on the song and Lennon’s mental health: “He didn’t say, ‘I’m now fat and I’m feeling miserable.’ He said, ‘When I was younger, so much younger than today.’ In other words, he blustered his way through. We all felt the same way. But looking back on it, John was always looking for help. He had [a paranoia] that people died when he was around: His father left home when John was 3, the uncle he lived with died later, then his mother died. I think John’s whole life was a cry for help.”

“Life” by Ivy Sole featuring Dave B
“I think my mental health often makes me feel despair even when there is light and love around me. But being able to see through the fog of depression and anxiety is something so invaluable to me,” Ivy Sole said in a press release for her song “Life.”

According to the artist, the song was inspired by a friend who died by suicide and aims to uplift people who are dealing with mental health issues.

“Breathe Me” by Sia
In a video about the making of her album “Colour the Small One,” Sia described the song “Breathe Me” as a look at difficult emotional experiences like anxiety.

“‘Breathe Me’ is about feeling worried, generally anxious. Being overwhelmed by your own inner dialogue and having some sort of conniption fit and potentially doing yourself some harm, then asking for help,” she said.

“Rose-Colored Boy” by Paramore
Paramore has addressed mental health issues in many of their songs. “Rose-Colored Boy” specifically looks at the stigma around depression and other related issues.

The band tweeted about the meaning of the song shortly after its release in 2018: “‘Rose-Colored Boy’ is a song about feeling pressured to look at the world with blind optimism when you actually feel very hopeless about the world & your part in it. there is so much social pressure to be (or appear to be) ‘happy’ that we can actually feel shame when we aren’t. Adding shame to sadness is a pretty toxic cocktail. It’s hard enough to deal with sadness, depression, or any type of anxiety without the added societal expectations. It’s important & more healing to meet ppl where they’re at – EMPATHY – than to try & paint everything rosy.”

“24/7” by Kehlani
“It’s OK to not be OK,” begins Kehlani’s empowering 2016 single “24/7.” The singer has been open about her mental health experiences , which reportedly led to her hospitalization earlier that same year.

“24/7” features a number of personal lyrics like “I had my nights where I’m not anxious to wake up and feel any better.”

“Good Grief” by Bastille
As the title suggests, Bastille’s “Good Grief” is about loss and grieving and the many emotions that accompany that experience.

Lead vocalist Dan Smith described the meaning to iHeartRadio: “It’s just about trying to capture this messy, complicated process of any kind of loss, and through any process when you’re just getting on with your life. There can be moments of huge highs and lows. It’s just trying to find a route out the other end, and get some optimism and the contrast between euphoria and despair and trying to find a middle ground.”

“Skyscraper” by Demi Lovato
Demi Lovato has said she felt very “emotionally attached” to her powerful ballad “Skyscraper,” which speaks to the experience of facing difficult times and getting through it. The singer, who is also a mental health advocate, released the song after spending time in a treatment facility for “emotional and physical issues,” including an eating disorder.

In a 2011 interview, she described the experience of recording “Skyscraper” before and after her treatment: “I was emotionally attached to the song and I really related to it, like a lot of other people. … for me when I first recorded it, it was kind of a cry for help. It was before I went to treatment, before everything had kind of hit the fan. I went to treatment and I came out, then I tried to rerecord ‘Skyscraper’ because my voice had changed and it just wasn’t the same. There was something in that first try, that first run through of the song that was kind of magical. It was so much emotion in it, and to this day, it’s still really special to me. I’ve never been so vulnerable or emotional while recording a song, to the point where I was almost doubled over in tears in the studio. I was crying when I recorded it, I was bawling my eyes out. I don’t know, it just felt really great to open up like that.”

“Light Years” by The National
Aaron Dessner of The National told Pitchfork in 2019 that “Light Years” was inspired by his experience with grief and loss.

“That song was connected to grief. I wrote the music after my wife’s mother had been diagnosed with cancer,” he explained. “She was in a very swift decline, so we moved to Denmark [to be with her].”

“Smile” by Jay-Z featuring Gloria Carter
Jay-Z’s “Smile” covers a number of big topics like sexuality, being black in America and mental health. Notably, the song helps shatter the stigma around going to therapy, as he raps, “My therapist said I relapsed.”

Jay-Z has publicly advocated for therapy in interviews as well. “I grew so much from the experience,” he told The New York Times in 2017. “But I think the most important thing I got is that everything is connected. Every emotion is connected and it comes from somewhere. And just being aware of it. Being aware of it in everyday life puts you at such a … you’re at such an advantage. “

“Anxiety” by Julia Michaels featuring Selena Gomez
“This song is extremely close to my heart as I’ve experienced anxiety and know a lot of my friends do too. You’re never alone if you feel this way,” Selena Gomez wrote in an Instagram caption on the release of her mental health-focused song with Julia Michaels.

Michaels shared some background on the song in a radio interview: “I was like, ‘I think it’d be really awesome to have a song with two women on it that struggle with the same thing, that are talking about something other than two women fighting for a guy’s attention, or something like that. It’s almost like a female empowerment song without it being a female empowerment song.”

“Unwell” by Matchbox Twenty
Lead singer Rob Thomas said in a Genius interview that the lyrics of “Unwell” were inspired by personal struggles with insecurity and discomfort that even lead to panic attacks.

“It came from the idea of still not feeling comfortable in my own skin, and the job sometimes even less so. I was always very comfortable in small groups, and I was always very comfortable on a stage. And then never comfortable in the group,” he said. “You’d do things where you’re out and amongst, and I was never really comfortable. That led me to having really crazy panic attacks and having to figure out a way to get all of that under control. Once I started to get older, once I started to grow up, the fabrication that I’d made of how comfortable I was and how secure I was in myself started to go away. I was left with the reality I need to deal with how uncomfortable I am at all times, how unsure of myself I am, every word that comes out of my mouth, in every situation. ‘Unwell’ was the beginning of that for me.”

“Pennyroyal Tea” by Nirvana
Kurt Cobain said in a 1993 interview with Impact that “Pennyroyal Tea” is about dealing with severe depression and how it feels.
“Breathin” by Ariana Grande
Appearing on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” Ariana Grande shared the meaning of her song “Breathin.”

“‘Breathin’ is about breathing…when you’re anxious. It’s about anxiety and feeling like you can’t get a full breath. It’s like the worst feeling in the whole world. It’s a song about that feeling…I was having lots of [anxiety attacks]. We were in the studio, we were writing and I was like, ‘Ugh I can’t breathe.’ And they were like, ‘We’re going to write this song.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, I still can’t breathe, but we’ll write it.'”

First-Time Homebuyer Incentive A ‘Flop’ That Might Be Driving Up Canadian House Prices

CMHC’s program to help first-time buyers has seen little interest.

IVAN_SABO VIA GETTY IMAGES
A stock photo of suburban homes in Greater Vancouver. The city has seen very little interest in the federal First-Time Homebuyer Incentive.

MONTREAL ― The federal government’s First-Time Homebuyer Incentive is proving largely unpopular ― but despite little public interest, it might still be driving up house prices as speculators return to the market.

Preliminary data released last week showed that Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) got roughly 3,000 applications for the program in its first three months, and the Crown agency issued some $51 million in funding in 2019, a small fraction of the $1.25 billion it plans to invest over three years.

And the program may be missing the mark in helping affordability. Even though Canada’s largest cities are struggling with some of the worst problems, only a third of applicants were from large cities, according to an analysis of the data at the Better Dwelling blog.

What’s more, the program has been most popular in Quebec and Alberta, where housing is considerably more affordable than in Ontario and British Columbia. The latter two combined accounted for less than a fifth of the program’s spending. There were just 148 applications in Toronto, and 45 in Vancouver.

The largest numbers of applicants came from Montreal, Edmonton and Calgary, in that order.

For these reasons Sherry Cooper, chief economist at Dominion Lending Centres, declared the program a “flop” ― though she noted that the Liberal government’s promise to increase the maximum house price under the program could make it more useful in the pricey Greater Toronto and Greater Vancouver markets.

“But the biggest drawback for many is they don’t want to equity share with the government,” she wrote in an email to HuffPost Canada. “A similar program was introduced in B.C. a few years ago and it, too, proved to be unpopular and was lapsed.”

The Liberals vowed during last fall’s election to raise the effective maximum house price under the program to $789,000 from $480,000, after criticism that the limit was too low to help in Toronto and Vancouver.

The program is designed to make buying a first home more affordable. The CMHC purchases 5 or 10 per cent of a homebuyer’s home, reducing monthly mortgage payments, in exchange for an equity stake in the house that the owner has to pay out to the agency when they sell the house or the mortgage ends.

Some experts have argued that, without faster housing construction, the program is destined to raise house prices. Research on a similar program in the U.K. found that homebuyers used it to increase their maximum purchase price, thus driving up house prices.

Return of the speculators?

Stephen Punwasi, founder of the Better Dwelling blog, believes some of the acceleration in house prices may have to do with speculators jumping into the market on the expectation the program will boost the market.

“A few agents and reports told investors this would be a huge opportunity to scalp a few dollars from (program) users,” he wrote in an email to HuffPost Canada. “For instance, an email from one report flat out said ‘With high participation, this could increase home sales & prices!’”

The problem “became worse after the government demonstrated they would continue to raise the limit, when it no longer worked for markets,” he added.

Punwasi noted that a lack of supply is also driving up house prices ― the number of homes on the market has dropped steeply in many markets because “when prices are rising, no one wants to sell.”

And the impact of the mortgage stress test has waned ― the test meant people needed to save up longer for a down payment, and now they have.

“The biggest drawback for many is they don’t want to equity share with the government.”Sherry Cooper, chief economist, Dominion Lending Centres

With the average sale price in Toronto jumping 12.3 per cent in the past year, and sales in Vancouver accelerating by 42.4 per cent in January, many economists say Canada’s markets are returning to the overheated conditions seen in 2015 and 2016.

The latest Teranet-National Bank House Price Index showed affordability eroded in the final three months of 2019 across most major markets, after three having improved for three straight quarters before that.

That worsening of affordability will continue in 2020, TD Bank economist Rishi Sondhi wrote in a forecast issued Tuesday.

“Canadian home prices are likely to expand at their fastest annual pace since 2016 this year,” Sondhi predicted.

What’s Happening in Canadian Real Estate?

Housing, in its many facets, affects all of us, from discussions about rent to under-the-rug stories that don’t get told often enough.

Canada is home to some of the world’s least affordable housing markets ― and to the single most affordable one in a global ranking of more than 300 cities.

Fort McMurray, Alta., home of the oilsands, ranked as the number one most affordable housing market in the 2020 edition of Demographia’s annual survey, up from fourth place last year.

It takes just 1.8 times the median income in the city to afford a median home ― a reflection of both the high incomes made in the oilsands and the slump in Prairie cities’ housing markets since oil prices crashed starting in 2014. The market has been further depressed by rising insurance costs in the wake of the 2016 wildfire.

An aerial view of Fort McMurray, Alta

Compare that to Vancouver, where it takes 12.6 times the median income to afford a home. The city ranked, once again, as the second-least affordable market in the survey, 308th out of 309 cities. Only Hong Kong, with a price-to-income ratio of 20.9, fared worse.

Besides Canada, the study looks at Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, the U.S. and the U.K.

The most notable change for Canada involves Toronto and Hamilton, Ont., which have dropped precipitously on the affordability rankings. Toronto ranked as the seventh-least affordable city in the survey, from 15th a year earlier. Since the previous year’s survey, it has become less affordable than London, San Francisco and Silicon Valley (San Jose, Calif.), among others.

Nearby Hamilton, which has seen house prices jump as Torontonians headed to the city in search of more affordable homes, ranks as the 30th least affordable city this year. It ranked 90th just five years ago. Demographia noted that Toronto’s rising house prices have spread to most major southern Ontario cities, eroding affordability in all of them.

This chart from Demographia shows how housing affordability has deteriorated strongly in cities near Toronto, namely Barrie, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Peterborough and St. Catharines-Niagara.

Demographia names Canada ― along with the U.S., Australia and New Zealand ― as countries where, in some cities, “middle-income households have been largely priced out of the median price housing by spiraling cost increases.”

But that’s not the case across the whole country. The study notes that Canada and the U.S. are the countries with the most variation in house prices, with cities ranking all over the affordability ranking. For Canada as a whole, it takes 4.4 times the median income to buy a house, making it the second most affordable market after the U.S., at 3.9 times.

A short-lived improvement in affordability

Housing affordability improved in Canada for much of 2019, thanks to slow or stagnant price growth in the wake of the mortgage stress test and foreign buyers’ taxes in British Columbia and Ontario.

But the end of 2019 saw a jump in home purchases and a drop in homes available for sale, an almost sure sign of higher prices ahead.

The Teranet-National Bank House Price Index was up 0.7 per cent in seasonally adjusted terms in December, which is “larger than usual for this time of the year when resale activity is typically low,” National Bank economist Marc Pinsonneault wrote in a client note Monday.‌

The Prairie provinces continue to be a buyer’s market, Pinsonneault wrote; British Columbia’s market is balanced while Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes are sellers’ markets.

“For 2020, expect home prices to accelerate in all these regions except the Prairies.” Pinsonneault wrote.

By: Daniel Tencer

Only In Canada: Why No One Knows Who Owns B.C. House Where Royals Stayed

Governments have no idea who owns many of the country’s priciest properties, but that may soon change.

TOBY MELVILLE/REUTERS
Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, holds her son, Archie, as Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, looks on in Cape Town, South Africa, on Sept. 25, 2019.

MONTREAL ― In the wake of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s recent vacation to British Columbia, the British press has been seized with a burning question: Who owns the opulent Vancouver Island mansion that hosted the Duke and Duchess of Sussex?

The question has led to a flurry of unsubstantiated allegations, denials and qualifications, potentially none of it bringing the public any closer to the facts.

It’s a situation that could ― almost ― only happen in Canada. Unlike many other developed countries, Canada doesn’t have any laws that require the owners of residential real estate to identify themselves. It’s a notable weak link in Canada’s anti-corruption laws, and part of the reason the country has become a magnet for money laundering.

Whoever owns Mille Fleurs ― as the the 11,000-square-foot property in North Saanich, B.C., is known ― “used highly controversial methods also deployed by money-launderers and tax-evaders to conceal [their] identity,” The Daily Mail reported last week.

The outlet cited neighbours as saying the property had been bought by a wealthy Russian businessman, possibly a billionaire. But in a separate report, it asserted that the owner is Frank Giustra ― a wealthy Canadian mining magnate and founder of B.C. film company Lionsgate. Giustra was born in Sudbury, Ont., and is of Italian, not Russian, origin.

A day later, the paper published Giustra’s vehement denial, stating he doesn’t own the property and doesn’t know the royal couple.

SOTHEBY’S INTERNATIONAL CANADA VIA PINTEREST
An aerial view of Mille Fleurs from a photo collection at real estate agency Sotheby’s published during a previous sale of the property.

Local news sources took a stab at figuring it out, and reported that the property is owned by nearby Towner Bay Country Club. The Daily Mail, however, says the mystery owner bought shares in the country club so they could hide their ownership of the house.

This game of who-owns-what would be much harder, these days, in most other developed countries, which have shot out ahead of Canada in passing laws to stop money launderers from hiding their ill-gotten gains in real estate.

Canada may need such laws more so than others. In a 2017 report, the global anti-corruption group Transparency International (TI) said the country’s lax laws on real estate mean that a global “corrupt elite” is using Canadian real estate to launder money. It found that the government doesn’t know who owns half of the 100 most expensive residential properties in Vancouver.