Monday, November 15, 2021

3 Key People When Buying a House

This is post is mostly geared to first time homebuyers (or more precisely, those looking to be first time homebuyers). You have looked at the market, you are worried about the way prices are going up, you have some savings that you can put towards a down payment, and now you are thinking of buying a house. Who are three most important people that will help you with this?

1. Your mortgage agent / finance person

Contrary to most assumptions, the first person you should consult is your finance person. You can start by contacting your bank, and speak to a mortgage specialist. They will take all your numbers (your salary, your spouse's salary, your savings and the down payment amount etc.) and then tell you how much loan they can sanction you for. This will give you a rough idea of the price you can look at. After this, look for a trusted mortgage agent. I advise almost NEVER to go through a bank's agent as they can only give you rates from their bank, whereas a mortgage agent can compare and contrast and give you the best deal from multiple sources. They may often have means to qualify you for a higher price.

A word of caution: like any industry there are some people who do shady business. Never falsify papers or your income etc. to try and qualify for a higher loan.

2. Your realtor

When you are buying a property, your realtor becomes very important. The higher a selling price of a house is, the higher the commission of the realtor. Hence there is actually a conflict of interest - your realtor when you are buying should be trying to get you the lowest price, but if the price is higher it is actually better for him or her. So it becomes very important to seek a realtor whom you trust, especially in a market like today. Talk to your realtor about your budget (you have the numbers from the bank), what you are looking for, and where. Your realtor should be able to give you an idea of what you will find. You may have to compromise on certain things, but again this is where a trusted realtor becomes very important.

A way to gauge a good realtor is word of mouth. If your friends have used a realtor's services and have highly recommended the person, that's a good sign. Another sign is how the predictions of the realtor match the result. For example you see a property, and then your realtor should be able to give you a narrow range of what this property will go for. After that, if you are not putting an offer on that property, watch it (you can use House Sigma app, for example). When it finally sells, see the price it went for and compare with what your realtor said. Whatever questions you need to ask about the whole process, your realtor should be able to answer it.

3. The lawyer

When you have put an offer on a house and it is accepted, it is time to get the mortgage paperwork done (this is where your finance person / mortgage agent comes in). Once the paperwork and mortgage is secured, the next (and final) important person is the lawyer.

He or she will be in charge of making sure the property legally becomes yours. About two three weeks before the closing date, they become active. They will exchange paperwork with the lawyer from the seller's side, have meetings with you where they walk you through all the paperwork, have you sign what is needed and explain what's going on. The lawyer is very important because they have to properly transfer over every title deed to you. Not only for the house, but they have to ensure all other things with the property, such as hot water unit rental if it's there, or title insurance, or other conditions, etc. are all taken care of. The bank will be sending the cheque to your lawyer, and you will also be giving (wiring) the deposit to your lawyer. It will be held in trust until all the closing is done. Once again, you need someone who is good, capable and experienced to be taking care of every little detail. Some properties, for example, have two PINs instead of one (this is a legal term). Both should be transferred over to your name. So look for a good lawyer (again, word of mouth very important). Your realtor may also be able to suggest one for you.

Hopefully this post will help you know what to look for when you search for these three people. I have left out lots of other folks such as the cleaning crew, movers etc. as that all happens after closing. Good luck!

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Icefields Parkway: Things To See On the Drive

Continued from Surprise Corner, Two Jack Lake and Banff Ave

There is a highway the likes of which are rare in the world. The Icefields Parkway links Lake Louise, Alberta with Jasper, Alberta. Many lists of top drives or top beautiful journeys in the world include Icefields Parkway amongst the very top. 

The Icefield Parkway is a 232 km stretch of double-lane highway winding along the Continental Divide through soaring rocky mountain peaks, icefields and vast sweeping valleys. You don't get sights like this on most highways. There's more than 100 glaciers dotted all across the highway,  cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires, and emerald lakes set in sweeping valleys of thick pine and larch forests.

I first travelled on this road in 2016, and then later again in 2019, and still I am in awe of this majestic drive. Here are some stop overs you should take when you head from Banff (or Lake Louise) towards Jasper.

Bow Lake (39 km from Lake Louise)

This is one of the first stops you should make on the way to Jasper. It's a beautiful, not too large a lake, with a magnificent mountain behind it. 

There's a lodge (Num Ti Jah Lodge) nearby (if you want to stay the night), and from the lookout point off the highway you can climb down a bit to the edge of the water.

Peyto Lake and Bow Summit (44 km from Lake Louise)

Unfortunately this year the Bow Summit was closed for visitors, as Parks Canada is doing some renovations. It was scheduled to be open in August 2021, but there must have been some delay. You can take a look at my pictures from my last visit there in 2019.

Waterfowl Lake

This is honestly one of the most peaceful and serene scenes I saw from my trip.

There is a campground nearby (which was full). Honestly, as you stand there, taking in the beautiful sight, the cries of the birds (water fowls) and the slow lapping of the waves on the shore, you have to be moved at the peaceful, pristine nature of the place.

Untouched by human activities that require motorized (and hence has the possibility of oil leaks), these lakes were shimmering, lovely, untouched, and gorgeous to look at.

Beautiful sunny weather, blue skies, a gorgeous warm temperature and only a slight breeze made this a fantastic place to photograph, and spend some time just soaking it all in.

And of course, as the clouds moved across the sky, you couldn't help but think - just how big are the mountains, and so how big MUST be the cloud that can cover a WHOLE mountain?!

I had to wait for a long time so there was no body on the shore, just so I could take this picture. I would say this was worth the wait!

Big Hill and Big Bend (114 km from Lake Louise)

It is just as the name sounds like. If you are driving, you KNOW when you are there. The descending road clings to the wall of a mountain and offers expansive views of the valley and river below. Though it sounds dangerous, it's really not. It just is ... BIG. 

And the Big Bend is the famous hairpin turn that wraps in a circle below towering peaks. You can see in the picture where we were (the road below) and where we are now (how high).

Remember: If you choose to stop, please ensure that you are completely off the road. There's places to pull over.

Columbia Icefield (128 km from Lake Louise)

As our drive continued along this beautiful highway, at one point we left Banff National Park and entered Jasper National Park.

Pretty close to this place is the Columbia Icefield. These glaciers are the largest south of the Arctic Circle.

In the picture above, you can see the glacier on the other side of the road, and the parking for visitors on this side of the road. And then you see the notice - what it says is that a 100 years ago, the glacier used to cover the parking lot (where it is today). This is how much our activities have contributed to global warming.

These icefields receive up to seven metres (275 inches) of snowfall per year. During the summer months visitors to the area can travel onto the glacier in the comfort of large "snowcoaches". Since I have already done this in 2016 and again in 2019, we just stopped by the side of the road to take some pictures, and then was off again. However, I would advise any first time visitor to visit these icefields. You don't get an opportunity to walk on a glacier all the time. Be sure to do the Glacier Skywalk as well.

Sunwapta Falls (177 km from Lake Louise)

As you continue your journey along this road, you will notice that while Banff is somewhat developed, Jasper is still untamed. It's still wild. During our visit previously, we often saw wildlife on the side of the road in Jasper.

The Sunwapta Falls is a class 6 waterfall, located south of the Jasper town site.

It has a drop of approximately 18 metres (60 feet). The falls are particularly impressive in the late spring and early summer when snow pack run off is high. 

The mountain on the horizon, the trees and the colour of the falls makes for an exquisite picture. There is a bridge here that is one of the most popular places in Canada for selfies (as noted by me from my own experience).

Just see how many folks here are taking pictures! Thankfully there's guard rails to protect visitors from walking too close to the edge.

There is this small island there - but you cannot visit it just by swimming across (don't try).

The Sunwapta Falls are fed by the Athabasca Glacier. Speaking of Athabasca ...

Athabasca Falls (200 km from Lake Louise)

Among the most breath-taking and powerful falls in the Canadian Rockies, the Athabasca Falls are located 30 kilometres south of Jasper town site. 

The falls are impressive for the volume and force of water, less for its height. The falls can be safely viewed and photographed from various viewing platforms and walking trails.

What is really unique here (as opposed to Sunwapta) is the multiple action taking place everywhere. It's not just one place the water is falling. It is carving into two or three different streams because of the rocks, all flowing down and curving with tremendous energy, before going under and coming around again way below to combine again into one river.

Continuing on, you can visit the town of Jasper. There's lots of things to do there, but we had been there before, and it was time to make the return to Banff. It would take almost 3 hours to return, but when the view is as pretty as this, can you complain?

In the picture above, you can see Bow Lake in the distance.

Dinner was some lovely Yakitori Chicken in Canmore.

My return flight to Toronto was the next day. It is hard to leave Banff, but you leave with precious memories and snapshots. Hopefully to return again soon. The picture below is showing Wasaga beach catching the morning sunrise, as seen from my flight.

Home Sweet Home!

Overall, the Covid19 situation has shut off all international tourism to Banff and Jasper. As (fully vaccinated) Americans slowly return, the crowd was still far less compared to its usual. Which made it perfect for Canadians to take advantage of this pristine place. After all, when was the last time you can just decide to go to Lake Louise, and go, with your own car?

Till next time, Banff!

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Surprise Corner, Two Jack Lake and Banff Ave

Continued from Lake Louise, The Crown Jewel of Banff

If you are an early riser like me, and have already done a few hikes and trails by lunch, you now have a few hours to kill before the sun goes down. Quite a few, actually, as sunset here can be 9.30 pm in the peak of summer, and 830 pm by late August. What do you do?

Surprise Corner

There is a small spot in Banff called Surprise Corner. Why "Surprise Corner"? Who knows ... but the sudden appearance and incredible view of the Banff Springs Hotel (known as the "Castle of the Rockies") is the incredible reward.

From this spot, the hotel has Sulphur Mountain behind it, while in the foreground the majestic Bow River cascades down into the Bow Falls. It looks like a painting, especially when you come early morning, or about 2 hours before sunset. The majestic glow covers everything with a golden hue.

This is an iconic view of the hotel, as well as of Bow River, and is found in many postcards, pictures and movies. There is a small amount of parking, and it also connects to a few trails.

There are quite a few view points once you park your car. You can walk on the road on the cliff (careful!) and see the view closer to the river. Or you can climb up a few stairs to a pavilion and take in the view from there.

When crossing the street, be careful of the traffic. And when driving, be on the lookout for pedestrians! Surprisingly, despite multiple blog posts, tweets and lots of videos on YouTube on this, Surprise Corner is still not that busy, especially in the late afternoon.

Two Jack Lake

Not far from downtown Banff, Two Jack Lake is a picturesque emerald green lake with a grand view of Mount Rundle. 

Unlike many other lakes which known for scenic views, Two Jack Lake seems to lie low under the radar, but is very popular in the summer with families.

The landscape is great for those in search of some fresh air and some distance from crowds. It's quite near to the town (about 10 minutes drive) and is a great place to catch sunset or sunrise.

During summer, visitors can enjoy swimming, kayaking, stand-up paddleboard, and hiking. We saw multiple families enjoying a summer picnic or some casual fun in the water.

Lake Minnewanka and Johnson Lake are two other lakes that are quite near to Two Jack Lake. However, Lake Minnewanka is the more famous one of these three, and Johnson Lake hardly has any visitors.

If you are doing the Lake Minnewanka cruise, it makes sense to stop by Two Jack Lake when you are done. It's a big lake, and the beach is very accessible.

 Like Vermilion Lakes, it’s another fantastic lake with Mount Rundle views.

With Mount Rundle in the back, and other small mountains nearby, Two Jack Lake is one of the most scenic views in Banff National Park. If you are into photography this is a great spot, and always makes for a great background, especially if you catch Two Jack Lake at sunrise or when the evening light hits Mt. Rundle.

Banff Ave

You will need to buy souveniers. If you have loved ones back home, you may need to buy some gifts.

What better reason that these to explore Banff Ave! You may also need to eat ... and of course Banff Ave has restaurants galore.

Our hotel was on Banff Ave, which made life considerably easier. If you have to stay somewhere in Banff, stay on Banff Ave, as close to the centre of the town as possible.

These are pretty much some of the highlights of Banff. On this trip we didn't do the Sulpher Mountain Gondola or the Lake Minnewanka Cruise, as we had done those many times before. Rather, our focus was to explore some spots we hadn't seen before. Every time you come here, there's more to do.

Up next: Highlights of the Icefields Parkway to Jasper