Wendy Helfenbaum

Kitchens aren’t just for cooking and eating; they’re gathering places, homework stations, and the spot where parties always end up. This room always tops homeowners’ remodelling wish lists, but if a major overhaul isn’t in your budget this year, there’s another way to maximize your space, while adding style and function: install a kitchen island or elevate the one you already have.

Islands provide more storage and prep space, extra seating, and they add character and a focal point to your kitchen. We asked a design expert for creative, affordable hacks to create fabulous kitchen islands.

Image courtesy of Rebekah Higgs

1. Repurpose what you can 

When Halifax-based interior design consultant and TV host Rebekah Higgs—also known as DIY Mom—began renovating her home in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, building materials were scarce and costly, so she decided to reuse as much as possible from her original kitchen. 

“The previous homeowners had done an extremely expensive galley kitchen renovation with solid cherry wood cabinets, so we measured, removed, and labelled every door and cabinet, and then reconfigured them,” says Higgs. 

She used leftover cabinets, drawers, and plywood to build a 12-x-5-foot island, within which she integrated her sink and dishwasher, plus room for five stools.

“The original cabinets were traditional with a beveled edge design, but when you flip a cabinet door, it’s typically Shaker on the other side. We made them flush with the cabinets and painted them, which modernized the space,” she explains.

Since Higgs saved a lot of money by reusing her cabinets for the island, she splurged on Silestone countertops with a waterfall edge on either side.  

“On the back, I nailed leftover pieces of painted plywood and cherry. I didn’t throw out a single piece of wood,” she says. “Some people add tile or stone on the back; it’s an inexpensive way to finish it off.”

Image via threeriversDIY on Instagram

2. Source materials online 

Not ripping apart your kitchen? Upcycle someone else’s cabinets, suggests Higgs.

“Look for high-quality, solid wood cabinets you can refinish; they’re going to hold up over time more than melamine,” she says. “The options for refinishing a nice piece of vintage wood furniture are almost endless. Then, just add a butcher block or stone counter on top.”

Image via Kreating Homes

Bookshelves are a great solution as well, especially if you’re in need of additional storage. You can find a DIY Kitchen Island from Kreating Homes, or flip wooden bookcases on their sides as a base for your island, then purchase doors at a big-box store. 

Higgs also suggests choosing a statement piece of furniture with turned legs that contrasts with your cabinets.

“We’re seeing more and more of this,” she says. “If you have a white kitchen and you want it to be more fun and cheerful, paint the backside of the island, or add shiplap.” 

3. Beef things up 

Have a functional island that’s not big enough? Add more storage if you have enough space in your kitchen and put a larger countertop on, says Higgs. You’ll need between 91 and 107 centimetres of clearance between your island and your cabinets so you can open and close your fridge, oven, or dishwasher.

“I’ve seen people do a second level to chair height to create seating around the island,” she suggests.

Image via Eddy Lee on Unsplash

4. Make it portable

For smaller spaces, consider a free-standing island: add locking caster wheels onto a square table or shelving unit so you can move it out of the way when you’re not prepping meals. It can do double-duty as a serving station in another room when you’re entertaining, says Higgs.

You can also repurpose a dining or slim console table by raising it up to counter height—91 centimeters—to make meal prep a breeze, or to bar height, 107 centimeters. Many big-box stores sell compact islands with integrated drawers and shelves, if you don’t want to go the DIY route.

5. Dress things up  

Adding woven or colourful stools, vibrant placemats, and a large bowl with fresh fruit can make your island look updated, says Higgs. 

“You could also change out the light fixtures hanging above the island—you can get really fun pendant lights from $50 or $60,” she suggests. “You’re only limited by your own creativity and where you want to go with your space.”

Transforming your kitchen island doesn’t always require a full tear down. You can make this central hub more functional—and unique—with some minor changes and some major inspiration courtesy of DIY Mom. If you’re curious as to how a kitchen island could affect your resale value, a local REALTOR® can share insights on what’s currently trending and what buyers are often searching for.

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Ainsley Smith

Investing in the exterior of your home is important. Not only can exterior home renovations like adding a new roof, windows, or doors add immediate benefits and curb appeal, they have the potential to increase the value of your home and give you a greater return on investment (ROI) when you decide to sell

A 2021 Canadian Real Estate Renovation Trends report from RE/MAX, which used data collected by Leger marketing firm, said more than half of Canadians renovated their home during the pandemic for personal or “non-ROI” purposes. According to the report, 29% chose to renovate for non-essential “lifestyle” reasons, such as recreation-inspired projects, while 16% of Canadians renovated to increase the market value of their home to sell within in the next one to three years. 

Similar to interior home renovations, not all exterior renovations are created equal, with some costing  much more up front, while others are relatively more cost-effective. If budget is a concern, read on to learn about some of the most cost-effective exterior home renovations that could help increase your ROI when it comes time to sell.

Photo by Zac Gudakov on Unsplash

Why is curb appeal important?

The way your home looks from the outside—or its curb appeal—gives potential home buyers their first impression of the property even before they step inside. This is why exterior renovations that help boost curb appeal are important, as the aesthetic look of a home’s exterior can give the buyer a sense of what they can expect to find once they walk through the front door. In other words, if your home presents itself well, the yard is nicely kept, the paint is vibrant, the siding is aging well, and the roof is in good shape, prospective buyers could be more inclined to look inside if they like what they see on the outside. 

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

What are the current trends in exterior renovations?

If you’ve been thinking about completing an exterior home renovation project this year, My Design Home Studio suggests while “farmhouse vibes are here to stay,” five other exterior design trends will gain popularity in 2022, including “a shift toward natural textures, a stronger connection to the outdoors, and a minimalist approach to architecture.”  

These trends are: 

  • Natural textures: Blonde woods, hand-sawn beams, and aged brick are popular, but you can recreate these looks at a lower cost with wood-like siding or stone-like accents.
  • Dark exteriors: Pairing lighter siding and brick with moodier blacks and charcoals is becoming a trend, so if you’re looking to sell soon it might be worth the investment now. 
  • Black accents: External features—like door handles, door frames, locks, shutters, etc.—are being swapped out for matte black instead of classic brass or silver. It’s a more modern look without requiring a total overhaul.
  • All-season outdoor entertaining: Adding a patio or deck to your yard can help increase curb appeal, especially when equipped for year-round usage. Covered areas for places with a lot of snow, or lounge areas with an outdoor fireplace (depending on your municipal bylaws) for places that remain relatively dry during the winter, are great additions to help extend patio season.
  • Natural light: Large panoramic windows that will flood your home with natural light are definitely a bigger investment than say, a door handle, but they’re a hot commodity as buyers are looking for homes with more natural light. 

Top exterior renovations to help your ROI

While trying the latest renovation trends is a great way to ensure your home fits the modern look, there are tried and trusted exterior renovations that are not only cost-effective, but also known to help increase a home’s ROI.

According to Alex Obradovich, a REALTOR® and sales representative with Chestnut Park® Real Estate Limited Brokerage in Toronto, the best cost-effective exterior renovations would be “functional over the cosmetic.” 

“Taking a good look at what’s necessary to fix will be the most important when it comes to selling your home in the future,” explained Obradovich. “Common items may be drainage, grading, deteriorated items or heating/cooling efficiency problems like making sure windows and chimneys are sealed properly.”

However, once the functional exterior renovations are complete, Obradovich says cost-effective and cosmetic upgrades to improve your home would be painting and tidying up landscaping.

“Plus, both of those can be done yourself inexpensively,” he added.

Other things to look at would be your roof, garage door, front door (steel and fibreglass are becoming popular materials), and siding. The average cost to install an asphalt roof in Canada is around $4,750 (depending on the scale of the project), while replacing a double-car garage door can cost between $1,300 and $3,500. If you’re trying to stay on budget, you can also revamp your home’s exterior by swapping out old furnishings for newer pieces and adding potted plants and annual flowers for a pop of colour. 

The best way to assess what your home needs is by enlisting the help of a REALTOR® who will be able to give you insights into what buyers are currently looking for in your neighbourhood and what renovations may help sell your home quicker—and for a better price. 

Your REALTOR® can also provide you with contacts for roofers, painters, contractors, etc. to help you find the best person for the job.

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Grab your board, sunscreen, beach towel and a floppy hat! Surf is up in this coastal paradise called Dominical, Costa Rica. Dominical has a refreshingly relaxed vibe with incredible surf, local craft breweries, and some of the most amazing local artisanal coffee products. The sleepy but vibrant coastal town of Dominical is the beach-lover’s hidden gem in Costa Rica. Situated in the South Pacific region on the lush Costa Ballena, Dominical can be described as the perfect balance between wild nature and modern comfort.

Grab your board, sunscreen, beach towel and a floppy hat! Surf is up in this coastal paradise called Dominical, Costa Rica. Dominical has a refreshingly relaxed vibe with incredible surf, local craft breweries, and some of the most amazing local artisanal coffee products. The sleepy but vibrant coastal town of Dominical is the beach-lover’s hidden gem in Costa Rica. Situated in the South Pacific region on the lush Costa Ballena, Dominical can be described as the perfect balance between wild nature and modern comfort.

Due to the peaceful nature of this town, you are sure to encounter on wildlife, such as iguanas and maybe even a sloth hanging above. If you spot a monkey, hold your belongings tightly … they are the adorable bandits of Dominical! Although the most popular activity in Dominical is surfing and relaxing at the beach as you watch the ocean’s waves crash onto the rocky shore, there are also plenty of other activities to entertain as well. Spend your day zip-lining through Manuel Antonio National Park, or head for a relaxing view and a dip in the Nauyaca Waterfalls. Whether you end the day winding down at the world-class yoga studio in town or with a cocktail back on the beach, you are doing it right! Read more about the uniqueness of this blissful beach town, straight from our Costa Rica expert Daveed Hollander!

Where do you live: Where the mountains meet the deep blue Pacific Ocean along one of the most majestic coasts lines of Costa Rica, the Ballena Coast

What is the perfect weekend day like: We start by walking up to some of our local coffee shops. Dominical is home to some of the most amazing local artisanal coffee. From there, we normally head out for a morning walk along the sandy beaches of Playa Dominical or Playa Chaman, known to be the annual breeding grounds for many varieties of whales. After a short hike, we paddle board or surf depending on ocean swells in the small cove of Playa Dominicalito. After the morning surf, we usually head to the mountains, about 20 minutes away, to eat at one of the many local spots that are along the rivers and offer swimming holes and waterfalls to cool off in. From there, we head back to the house and spend an afternoon with family— enjoying the cool breezes of the Pacifica and listening to the abundance of wildlife from the mountainside. When night falls, we head downtown for drinks at the local brewery or one of our favorite local spots on the beach. Depending on whether you have kids or not, you may continue to have a few drinks at the local bars but with kids you may head to the beaches to enjoy the sunset and a summertime bonfire on the sand.

What are the common modes of transportation there: There are numerous means of transportation but the most common for locals and tourists alike are the amazing and easy to use bus systems. Though cars and off-road vehicles are a huge part of the culture and during the summer months is it very common to see tourists and locals riding 4 wheelers and scooters from beach to beach. 

Tell us about the foods your area is known for: Costa Rica is filled with amazing food, but the Ballena Coastline has a rich food culture with so many different international flavors.

What is your favorite meal? At home or at a restaurant: One of my favorite meals is the fresh curry veggie bowl with Seared Ahi tuna at Scala. For a great Pad Thai and glass of wine, check out Citrus on the weekends.

Where do you recommend someone vacation in your region, why: There are so many amazing areas to choose from. The hills sides are scattered with amazing rental homes and boutique hotels. The beaches of Uvita are amazing and will never disappoint. While the white sand of Manuel Antonio is great for families. There are several marinas and waterfalls to frequent.

What is your favorite recreational or leisure time activity: Costa Rica is known for the waves and surf, deep-sea fishing, and hiking. I frequently surf with my son and daughter. There is so much to do in a small radius.

Is there a specialty your area is known for: Costa Rica and especially the southern zone of Costa Rica is known for having some of the best coffee and chocolate coming out of the valleys of San Isidro. You have to find small chocolate makers and boutique coffee farms scattered along the hillsides.

Share a little known but interesting fact about the area/region: In 2018, Costa Rica will mark its 70th anniversary since it abolished its military, and that seems to suit the population. It ranked first in Latin America and 12th in world in happiness, according to the 2017 World Happiness Index. The Happy Planet Index ranked it No. 1 in the world.

If you were to live in any other region where we have a Coldwell Banker presence, where would it be and why: If I was not here along the amazing coast of Ballena, I would live in the snowy hills of Chile’s Patagonia, with roots in California and Costa Rica always.

Territory Summary:

“The pleasant town of Dominical is relatively small but offers the beach-lover a wide variety of nearby beaches to choose from. Playa Dominicalito is just south of Dominical and is a great spot for beginner surfers and swimmers. At Punta Dominical, on the southern end of Playa Dominicalito, you’ll see the lush green land merge with the rich blue Ocean. It is a great spot to watch the ocean’s waves crash onto the rocky shore below and see a near perfect sunset almost year-round. Other activities include treks to nearby waterfalls including the Nauyaca Waterfalls (7.5 mi from Dominical on Hwy 243), canopy tours, horseback riding, deep sea fishing, sea kayaking, scuba diving and snorkeling. For attractions in the surrounding areas you can access Chirripó National Park by traveling along Hwy 243 towards San Isidro about 31 miles (50 km). Access to Manuel Antonio is possible by traveling 23 miles (37 km) north along Hwy 34. To the south 95 miles (152 km) lies Golfito and access to Corcovado National Park.”

Key Facts:

  • Population: Puntarenas Province: 410.929
  • Language(s) Spoken: Spanish
  • Climate: In Puntarenas, the wet season is oppressive and overcast, the dry season is muggy and partly cloudy, and it is hot year-round. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 77°F to 97°F and is rarely below 74°F or above 99°F.
  • Currency: Colones

Industry Facts:

  • Types of Architecture: Organic architecture style in luxury properties
  • Price per Sq. Ft/Meter: $169
  • Average Sale price: Average Asking Price (New Listings): $654,000
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Wendy Helfenbaum


When inventory is low and buyer demand is high, chances are you’ll receive at least one cash offer—a promise to purchase your property that doesn’t depend on the buyer acquiring a mortgageBuyers figure paying cash might help them stand out among multiple offers, but what’s in it for you as the seller? Here’s what sellers need to know about all-cash offers.

What is a cash offer?

Most offers on residential homes typically include three conditions: financing, an inspection, and a review of documents. When an all-cash offer is submitted, the buyer is telling the seller they have enough cash and investments to purchase the property, says Rochelle Cantor, a REALTOR® and broker with Engel & Völkers in Montreal.

“A cash offer doesn’t mean someone is going to go to his bank and pull out a whole bunch of cash,” she says. “In the eyes of a vendor, the buyer is showing you they’re good for the money and they’re a very strong buyer.”

Cash buyers can be investors purchasing homes in poor condition that wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a mortgage, or buyers who don’t need financing because they’re wealthy or have lots of equity after selling their own home.

Sales may close faster with cash offers

To sellers looking for a quick transaction, an all-cash offer is especially enticing, says Cantor.

Before a buyer’s mortgage approval is finalized, lenders require an appraisal—banks need to ensure the property is worth the purchase price before securing the loan. 

“In this market, even with a mortgage pre-approval letter, it can take 14 days to get financing approval, which locks up your house and can take away the momentum of the property being new on the market,” says Cantor.

However, with an all-cash offer, no appraisals are required, because the buyer isn’t borrowing money from the bank.

How buyers prove their all-cash offer is viable

With cash offers, the promise to purchase will include a clause noting the offer is conditional on providing proof of funds, notes Cantor.

“I suggest my buyer clients ask their bank or investment advisor for a signed letter on their letterhead, stating how long they’ve been a client of that institution, they’re in good financial standing, and they have cash and/or investments in excess of X amount of dollars for the purchase,” she explains.

Most sellers will give a buyer several days to obtain this proof, but savvy buyers show up with an offer and a proof-of-cash letter in hand in excess of the amount they’re initially offering. 

“For example, if somebody’s buying a property for $1 million, we don’t know where we’re going to end up after negotiating, so it’s better if you provide a proof-of-funds letter exceeding what the actual offer is. Then, the seller knows you’re really good for the money. Proof of funds is a very powerful thing for a buyer and it’s a wonderful thing for a seller.”

Of course, just because buyers can show they have a lot of money doesn’t mean they’ll spend that much more on your property, she adds.

Should sellers ever refuse cash offers?

“Giving an all-cash offer doesn’t mean the buyer is a criminal trying to launder money,” says Cantor. 

That said, FINTRAC’s Operational brief: Indicators of money laundering in financial transactions related to real estate does list “unusually large cash amounts used to fund any financial aspect of a real estate transaction” as a possible indicator of a suspicious transaction. If the offer doesn’t make sense in light of what you know about the client and the transaction, you may wish to file a suspicious transaction report.

Further, be aware buyers may come in with a lower offer, using the cash-only incentive as leverage. 

“I recently gave an offer that had basically no conditions and proof of funds, and I told the broker, this may not be the price your client was hoping for, but it’s done, and the covenant of the buyer is as solid as you can get, which is really important.”

If you’re about to list your property on the market, it’s smart to work with a REALTOR® who understands how to navigate all-cash offers. Together, you can decide the best path to selling your home.

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