The Continuing Saga Of A Basement Apartment Renovation

So the continuing saga of my basement apartment renovation moves forth. I say continuing saga because it feels like a journey to Mordor.  Since my last post about this, I’ve managed to get a lot done. The walls were all covered up, mudded, sanded, and painted with what I think is a wonderful eggshell colour I picked up at Benjamin Moore paints (2026-70 for all the paint nerds). I fell in love with this colour after having used it in my kitchen at home, and since I feel a bright but neutral colour is essential for a basement apartment, I figured this was a logical choice. I think it looks good, but it also plays off the natural light in the unit.

Another recent element of this renovation was insulation. This was something important that I wanted to address, as prior to the work being done and when the old tenant was in there, I noticed a significant transmission of sound between the main floor and the basement unit. I took a cue from Scott McGillvray on this one and used Roxul Safe’n’Sound insulation. After putting the drywall up, and packing the ceilings with the stuff (hence the necessity to use insulated pot lights), it’s as quiet as a library.

Basement apartment renovation
The bedroom

The big main thing that was finished in the last couple of days was the completion of the wiring and the installation of some high efficiency electric convection heater systems by Dimplex and coupled wall mounted thermostats (3 to be exact). I didn’t want to go the regular route with electric baseboard heaters and am big on efficiency, especially if it’s electric, and especially if tenants are shouldering the hydro cost (which they are in this case). There’s a total of 4500 watts of heat in the unit, which is more than comfortable.The insulated pot lights were finished and all 18 of them use LED bulbs which are meant to last for 20 years. Considering the unit was also completely rewired, I’m curious to see how energy efficient the apartment is going to be.

What’s on Deck:

Property Management Software
Another shot of said bedroom

I’m doing a black and white tile kitchen and entrance, coupled with a contrasting darker colour for the bedroom carpet. Both the tile and the carpet have been ordered. I also have to buy some appliances, and get some kitchen cupboards and a counter top. I’m thinking of hitting up Restore from Habitat for Humanity for some of the last essentials. Beyond that, it’s taps, a bathroom basin and vanity, shower heads and handles, and a low flow toilet. I’m figuring I’ll have the place finished in the next two weeks.

Have you renovated a basement apartment? Challenges? Hurdles? What were some of your experiences? Share your story with us!

A Little Glimpse Into Why We’re Doing This…

Two years ago, we all teamed up in Vancouver with two things. A revelation and an idea.

The revelation was that we knew that the web could make what we considered to be the thankless job of being a small landlord easier. We also knew that easier and simpler didn’t have to be mutually exclusive.

The idea was to make a nifty web based software that actually achieved this fine balance. We were on our second tour of duty after having sold our first web based app- a little referral marketing product called Hello Referrals. We decided to use the proceeds from the acquisition of that product to develop what would eventually become Renting Well. There was a couple of months of us deciding over names. Rent Well. Rent Cloud. Renting Simple. Renting Easy….the list went on. Besides the fact that we couldn’t secure domain names for any of these, we felt the name Renting Well better suited the vibe of something active and didn’t fall into the dearth of other products that claimed to take years off of your life and seemed to also dwell with Lando Calrisian in cloud city.

One of the first considerations we had when building the app was how we could include less of everything. Less questions and set up. Less complication. Less of a wait to see important metrics. We felt the best course of action was something that you logged into, and essentially “got” within the first 2 minutes. We also knew that there was a necessity for the user to perform data entry in order to get those very things that we wanted quickly visible. Developing a flow to Renting Well that took this into consideration was also high on our list of priorities. Not an easy task. Some people prefer more complex analysis of what’s going on. Some people also aren’t jazzed about back data entry. As the old adage goes, you can’t please everyone – but we were still determined to get this off the ground in a broadly effective way.

We decided to focus on 3 core initial features.

  1. An easy to reference chronological logbook to track events, incidents, problems, and resolutions. 
  2. A bank statement accurate month to month, quarter to quarter, or year to year financial snapshot based on cash flow and profit and loss.
  3. Sexy listings to reduce to vacancies and get prospective tenants amped about renting a unit.

These core features are of course supported by other useful tools, but this made up the essence at the beginning. The reason we chose these cornerstones was because collectively, we knew what going to a board hearing was like without a detailed account of events. We knew how much of a pain in the ass it was to to do a year end with a shoebox full of receipts. We also just knew that landlords needed something to make available units for rent more attractive. We felt these were the most sore pain points.

So here it is – two year old hand drawn wire frames that sketched out what we saw as a simple solution for landlords and property managers – conceived on the table of a Kitsilano coffee bar, between 3 guys who couldn’t stand the variety of perplexing property management softwares that required you to have a masters degree in computer science. Managing income property is already complicated. In our minds, if you’re going to use something, you should want to use it and recognize it’s value.

The software is now actively tracking more than $85 million dollars worth of real estate and almost 2 million bucks worth of monthly expenses and monthly rental revenue. We’ve earned a healthy clip of paying customers so far and we’re getting ready to push out an updated version of the software in the next month.

Are we the biggest or the best property management solution for everyone? No. We’re a flavour in a Baskin Robbins ice cream shop full of other alternatives. We just happen to be simpler and less expensive than most of them. There’s nothing wrong with being the chocolate against the strawberry cheesecakes and caramel tiger tail swirls of the world. We’re landlords. We’ll take a scoop of simplicity.

Landlords, Tenants, and Floods. This Is For You Alberta.

Came across this great piece at Law Now, that touches on the mess that Alberta’s floods have wreaked on both landlords and tenants in the province. The Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta has developed an info sheet to help people – both landlords and tenants-to understand their rights and responsibilities after the terrible flood.

There are a lot of great “pro tips” here, but one thing in particular jumped out at me when reading the fact sheet. The definition of a “frustrated tenancy”. According to the CPLEA, it’s as follows:

A rental agreement can be frustrated, which occurs when something happens that is out of the control of both parties, and makes continuing with the agreement impossible. There are many reasons why a tenancy can be frustrated including if the property is destroyed, if there is an order under the Public Health Act that says the property is unfit for human habitation, if the property is so damaged that a reasonable landlord would not fix the damage, or if it is so damaged that a reasonable tenant would not be willing to remain living there.

Check out the fact sheet here. It’s great.

Ottawa’s Vacancy Rate Has Almost Doubled Since Last Year

Landlords  in the national capital region – take notice! Ottawa’s vacancy rate has almost doubled since last year according to this piece by the CBC.

John Dickie, chair of the Eastern Ontario Landlord Organization, estimates there are roughly 4,000 empty or soon-to-be empty apartment units in the capital. Last April, the vacancy rate was reported to be 2.1%. This year – it’s 3.7%. That’s a pretty sharp increase. To top that off, the Ontario LTB announced  yesterday that the allowable provincial rent increase for 2014 will only be 0.8%. You can get the lowdown on the guideline from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing website. This is the lowest rent increase since 1975.

In an effort to paint a fair view of the situation, here’s some interesting stats to chew on, courtesy of the Ministry’s site:

  • The average rent increase guideline from 2004 to 2013 was 2.1 per cent. The average rent increase guideline from 1993 to 2003 was 3.1 per cent.
  • The guideline is calculated under the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, which came into force on Jan. 31, 2007. The calculation is based on the Ontario Consumer Price Index, a measure of inflation that is calculated by Statistics Canada.

The province has committed itself to making a push for affordable housing for Ontario tenants, amid what The Toronto Star reported as a crisis across the province, 4 days ago.

Here’s the kicker with all of this – the rental market vacancy rate is calculated by looking at apartments in buildings that are three units or larger, and does not include condos or homes for rent. Uncertainty in the national capital region’s public service job market is speculated to be lending itself to the rise in the rate. Some analysts also suggest the increase of condo rentals could be contributing to the high vacancy rate as well, as condo units compete with traditional apartments. Kind of hard to dispute this if you ask me. Condo landlords are offering tenants pretty nice amenities and brand new units. This is all kind of upping the game for landlords who enjoyed minimal efforts with marketing centrally located units that kind of leased themselves.

What do you think? Share your comments and thoughts.