An Auspicious Day

Ontario is a paradise (for 6 months of the year anyway).

According to 1st Nations lore, the feather that presented itself was a signal of good fortune.

Photos taken an undisclosed location in 1 of my favorite townships, McNab Braeside.

@ profbruce



What is coaching?

The Bicycle Example

1. Your therapist talks to you about your relationship with your bicycle.

2. A consultant you hired reads the manual, gets on your bike and reports back to you about the experience.

3. Your coach puts you on the bike then runs along beside you until you can ride on your own.


With thanks to her assistance with this.

@ profbruce


Visitable Home

A visitable home has three overarching qualities—

1. it has a 0-step entryway (either at the side of the house or front);

2. wider doorways and corridors on the main floor;

3. a main floor bath or powder room.


Western-based developers have been quick to jump on board but the industry in eastern Canada not so much. They’re worried it’ll cost too much or there is too little demand or it will stigmatize their sub-divisions.

If they are worried about stigmatization, they should be far more concerned if and when ramps are built so elders can access their own homes. Ramps tend to be ugly, they require a lot of maintenance (painting/staining/repair) and they separate a home from the street in a way that is off-putting to say the least.

Providing 0-step entries via landscaping is not only beautiful and maintenance free, it appeals to younger folks too. I mentioned this as an alternative to a lovely young couple the other day (their grandmother will be living with them) and, first thing they said was, “Wow, that’ll be great for strollers too.”


Compare the above home with this one using a ramp—


Need I say more?

@ profbruce

@ quantum_entity

More images of how to achieve 0-step via landscape design:





New Salute
My wife and I “invented” a new salute. It’s to show solidarity/togetherness/direction.
@ profbruce

New Salute

My wife and I “invented” a new salute. It’s to show solidarity/togetherness/direction.

@ profbruce



Why Everyone Should Live Downtown Above a Pub

Ottawa Planners Out of Touch with Rural Affairs

I was a supporter of amalgamating 11 Ottawa-area municipalities and townships plus a regional government into one organization back in the day when Ontario decided to forge new mega-municipalities across the province. It made sense many of us thought—get rid of overlapping bureaucracies and take advantage of efficiencies.

Municipal bureaucrat head count, we were told (sold), would decrease from 12,500 FTEs (full time equivalents) to 8,500 saving taxpayers $400 million per year and decisions would speed up. It didn’t work out that way—head count ballooned to 16,500 and a huge, remote bureaucracy made the City of Ottawa one of the least desirable places in North America to do development work in. New Englanders pity the development community here.

Maybe the worst outcome is that city hall-based planners seek to homogenize the community believing that every citizen should live in a highrise downtown condo above a pub. Ottawa once was home to diversity—you could live en francais in Vanier or Orleans or Cumberland, you could live a rural lifestyle in West Carleton or Rideau townships, you could live in an urban condition in Ottawa, you could live in debt-free Nepean or high tech Kanata or…

Don’t believe me? What did Ottawa planners do after amalgamation? They slapped a moratorium on rural lot development that looks likely to last at least until the Ottawa Senators win their next Stanley Cup (their last one was 1927). Urban planners (now that’s an oxymoron—the greatest settlements are ones that developed organically with the least amount of interference by bureaucrats) wouldn’t know how to find, say, Fitzroy Harbour, even if you gave them a compass and a map and a month to do it.

Today, I appeared in front of Ottawa’s Committee of Adjustment (COA) on behalf of elder clients of mine who need to sell their rural property so they can afford to move into town to be closer to health services. Their 70-acre property is too large for most buyers so they asked me to sell just their home and 10 acres, leaving the retained portion in their hands, perhaps to form part of their future estate.

To demonstrate how out of touch Ottawa urban planners are with rural affairs, one of the conditions they sought to impose on the severance was that my clients drill a new casement well on the vacant retained lands at a cost of anywhere from $3,500 to $5,000 to prove water supply despite the fact that there are at least 50 such wells within a few kilometers that all provide abundant supply. They also meet potability tests and ODWO (Ontario Drinking Water Objectives) standards.

This is a bad idea because—

1. there is no way for my clients to know where to put such a well on 60 acres;

2. if someone eventually builds on the retained lands, the likelihood that the well is in the right location is remote;

3. so the well will be capped, maybe for an eternity;

4. a capped well looks like a challenge to teenagers; they wrench the caps off and throw cherry bombs down the well/makes a cool geyser;


bad teens

5. an uncapped well is a danger to tiny children (once they fall in, getting them out requires a superhuman effort—they either die or are horribly injured);

6. it is also a danger to animal and bird life as well as the underground aquifer, which can become polluted by whatever is dumped down there or falls in;

7. I worked with the MWDA (Metropolitan Waste Disposal Authority) in Sydney Australia when liquid waste disposal was mob-dominated—huge tankers would drain their waste cargoes into gullies, watercourses, the Pacific, anywhere but in controlled liquid waste depots to save big money on tipping fees; a well is a convenient place for illicit dumping, trust me about that;

8. eventually, someone will just have to go back in and concrete the thing shut forever.

I have done hundreds of rural wells and the only ones that work are the ones done at the time of development. The ones done in advance like this are inevitably useless. I know because I’ve concreted a few myself.

"In the environmental world we don’t like to leave wells just sitting there as they are easily forgotten about at some stage or another regardless of MOE well log requirements and they create unwanted, unneeded pathways into aquifers. In the context of contaminated sites, it is preferred that existing wells be abandoned according to regulations, when not in use." 

-Tracy Dannell, CIMA project manager for the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) done in support of severance application

Anyway, as we were presenting our side to the Committee of Adjustment, we were getting nods from its members, who are all volunteer citizens doing their duty (a 4-year commitment) on the land division committee. These people know rural development and know what a bad idea it is. Apparently, city planners do not know that.

The COA decided unanimously in favor of our clients’ position—whomsoever owns the retained lands will one day have to drill and prove a well before any building permit is issued, a sensible condition that the Committee imposed on the property.

It would be nice to go back a decade and reverse amalgamation but, failing that, how about the City of Ottawa hires one or two planners that know something about rural life where more than 100,000 of our citizens actually prefer to be.

@ profbruce

Bruce M Firestone is a real state broker for Century 21 Explorer Realty Inc and a coach. Please contact him at 613.422.6757 x 250 or @


How to Sell in a Thin Market?

First of all, don’t buy residential or commercial property in a thin marketplace unless you are doing it for a reason other than economic gain. A thin market is where property is abundant and buyers few. That would include almost all rural Ontario property or small towns, and most sun destinations in the Caribbean, for example.


Rodney Bay, St Lucia

Here’s what I recently said to a friend of mine who saddled himself with a “dream” property in St Lucia—

  1. As you already know this type of property is not easy to sell
  2. It’s not that it’s a bad property, it’s that the market for these places is thin
  3. Try selling a home in Prescott, only 45 minutes south of Ottawa for goodness sake, and you’ll know what I mean
  4. While you are trying to sell your property, add to your marketing mix/it’ll help you find more rentals for your property
  5. Another way to exit, is to sell it in parts, say, you find six Canadian families (or even companies who want to reward employees/suppliers/customers) who each buy 1/6th and then they get two months there each per year—1 month every winter and 1 month at other times of the year
  6. So they each put in $65,000 instead of one chump ponying up $390,000
  7. You might even keep a 1/6th interest yourself/so you have exited without exiting if you follow me
  8. Your occupancy rate will increase from less than 50% (which is what is keeping you from making this a profitable investment) to 100%
  9. Your workload will drop hugely too/trying to keep these places rented and maintaining them is a huge amount of work for not very much return (in fact, your returns are negative, which is bad)
  10. You already have the buyers lined up, you just don’t know that—everyone who has ever visited/stayed at your place is a potential buyer of a 1/6th interest.

Hope this helps,

@ profbruce





Manchester Station Flags

In the Internet age, it’s sometimes important to recall that outdoor, low tech signs still work.

Thanks to—

Sean McCormick, mortgage broker

Mitch Ghosn, Agent Signs

Manchester Station

Century 21 Explorer Realty

@ profbruce


Water and the City of Ottawa

The Giza Prize

Water is an important element in city design. People are calmer around water. People will sit for hours beside water (and campfires); the same people who can’t concentrate on an anything longer than it takes to watch a vine video (6 seconds).

Ottawa is fortunate to have three glorious rivers—the Gatineau, the Ottawa and the Rideau plus one great canal. Imagine what this place looked like 350 years ago before our rivers became polluted and the great pines and other trees were logged?

Given the magnificent setting, what have we done with it? Well, most of the waterfront is owned by the GOC (Government of Canada) via the NCC and they have built roads (called ‘Parkways’ for goodness sake) along the water separating people from their rivers and Canal.

Three Rivers and a Canal
Three Rivers and a Canal

Think Paris and the Seine or London and the Thames. Think the Left Bank. Then compare those places with Ottawa’s treatment of its waterfront; it’s a travesty.

Pont Alexandre III
Pont Alexandre III

Why not marvelous cafés, artisans’ lofts and much more along the Ottawa? How about building a national boardwalk alongside Ottawa’s waterfront to celebrate Canada turning 150 in 2017

Paris Café
Paris Café (Note how many people are facing out to the street)

Take Carleton University as an example—set between the Rideau and Dow’s Lake, it has incredible potential. And yet the entire campus turns its back on the water. Again, roadways separate the campus from water.

When I was at UCSC (University of California at Santa Cruz) back in the day, I couldn’t find their library despite being shown the way by a pretty co-ed. Huh? Turns out, they buried the entire building in the side of a cliff rather than mar the vista of the canyon below. Ottawa can do better with its land use planning and urban design.

One of my favourite places as a boy was to explore along the river banks of the Ottawa below Rockcliffe Park (and out of sight of passing cars and the prying eyes of adults). We built and launched rafts from there (I was arrested as a ten year old for cutting down tree branches for raft purposes) and we were the Tom Sawyers of our day (circa the 1960s).

The Park had a most wonderful stone pavilion. This huge structure overlooked the confluence of the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers. It had a live element to it—a tuck shop in its lower level that made the best hot dogs on the planet. You know the kind—toasted bread instead of buns and b.b.q.’d to perfection. Mustard and relish and 25 cents at the end of a long day … The money was free too. We collected glass bottles, which we got 2 cents each for at the tuck shop and there were always enough of them for at least one dog each. Can it get any better than this? In those years, money for kids was much harder to come by than it is today. Here was opportunity (the shop) and the cash was at hand.

They had these fantastic WCs too—vast porcelain and tile areas—huge places in the bowels of the place so to speak.

There are a couple of lessons here for today’s neo urbanist. Firstly, kids and people without cars weren’t disenfranchised. They could get to places like a tuck shop, a corner store, a hardware store, whatever on their feet or by street car. Secondly, public parks weren’t these pristine, soulless places that they are today. Did you know what the NCC did with that tuck shop—they boarded it up 30 years ago (the WCs too). It remains that way to this day. We used to have change rooms and pavilions like this on all manner of Ottawa beaches; they were shut or torn down too.

Park and beach utilization has plummeted since then. It’s pathetic really. If you want public spaces to work, you have to allow for live uses like this. They become better places and safer too.

Last night, my wife and I visited Britannia beach. Here are a few scenes taken just before sunset—







If you look at the last image, you can see how carefully the seawall was built—each boulder strategically placed by huge diesel-electric shovels and their operators in a maze of protection for the beach. It’s worthy of a Giza prize, an imaginary honor I just created to bestow upon talented builders who use their machines as extensions of their own hands and minds. 


Watching the sun go down, I realized that you could never get the earthworks/seawall/fill/commercial enterprises at Britannia beach approved today. First of all, people with the vision and guts to do things like this (folks who made up perhaps the greatest generation ever—those that walked this earth sometime between 1913 and 2013 and who were born in the period 1913 to 1945) are all gone or retired now and, secondly, the National Capital Commission, the local municipal government, the governments of Ontario, Quebec and Canada together with all their ministries would require so many useless studies that one of two things would happen—either the proponent would run out of money and give up or s/he would die. Frankly, none of the above would care which came first.

@ profbruce



Hi Bruce,

I read and enjoyed your article and agree with you 100%. We have such a beautiful city but unfortunately, counting the NCC, have four levels of government that can’t agree with each other. Maybe someone should mention to them that there is only one taxpayer. The government bureaucracies that have been set up, at all levels, have become so cumbersome that they prohibit any visionary ideas. It is easier for them to just say “no” and hope that the developers and innovative thinkers go away. Thanks for now.

Glenn Falls
Vice President
Karson Group
3725 Carp Rd.
Carp, ON, K0A 1L0

More about livable cities at:


Investors Beat Savers

A client of mine, originally from Iran, invests in two things—his own operating business and real estate. He thinks financial services, bank products and insurance are for suckers.

When he first came to Canada with his beautiful family, his first visit was to City Hall where he asked, in his then broken English, a local planning bureaucrat over the counter where Ottawa’s growth would be strongest in the next ten years. The bureaucrat pulled out a map of the city and pointed to what would eventually be the Barrhaven Town Centre, not telling him that, at the time, it was a farm field. My friend and client bought a copy of that city map, got in his third hand car and drove to Barrhaven, which some locals disparagingly refer to as “Farrhaven”.


From the empty field, he called a major national pizza chain, based in the big smoke (aka Toronto) and asked to buy their franchise for the area. The guy in their real estate group thought he was crazy so, of course, he sold it to him right away taking almost all his lifetime savings in the process. Later, when the Town Centre was built, he got a key spot in the power centre for his franchise since the developer had to deal with him.

He worked every day for three years in that store along with his wife and three daughters. Every day for three years, they worked with a smile despite the fact that they lost money every day for the first two and a half years. If you were having a bad day, they’d buy you a free slice of pizza. That’s the kind of nice folks they are.

Eventually the store was making so much money, the national franchiser said, “We can’t allow that! We have to have another location there.” So they decided, after he and his family pioneered the market, to split it. That’s what big corporations do. PROFIT MAXIMIZATION, not for the entrepreneur franchisee of course, for them naturally.

His other investments fall into three categories—owning his own home, owning townhomes that he rents out (only) to his vast extended family at below market rents (more than made up for by 0 vacancies, 0 damage to his homes, 0 bad debt and 0 run ins with the RTA, the Residential Tenancy Act which allows bad tenants to destroy a landlord’s property, not pay rent for months and totally get away with it) and buying land because they aren’t making any more of it.

I sold him a piece of investment property (zoned industrial) in the south end of Ottawa not far from Barrhaven three years ago. Land is a low intensity investment. All you have to do is: pay your property taxes once per year, cut the grass every so often, keep people from dumping their trash on it, and not let the City back door you with some sort of idiotic downzoning that some fool city planner dreamed up to take your property rights away. Why should a city planner care? They have a secure job for life and look forward to a nice retirement with a fully defined benefit pension plan. I mean like they’re ok, right?

Anyway, the investment has matured and we just sold it for him. How did he do? Did he do better than the .7% his bank generously offers him on his savings account? Did he do better than 1.5% on a GIC? How about those mutual funds that promise 8, 10 even 12% (!!!) 7 and 10-year returns but never seem to deliver more than 2%? My private bank managed to turn $100,000 of my money into $92,000 using their mutual funds as an investment vehicle. This was during the biggest stock market boom (1995-2000) since the railroad-inspired one in the 19th century. A monkey throwing darts at a chart of mutual funds almost certainly would have done better. Hey, my mattress would have done better. Maybe he should have invested in life insurance, another channel that former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (Bora Laskin) once called nothing more than a rip off of ordinary Canadians by giant companies. 

Here’s how he did:

1. he invested $104,175 of his money to buy 6 acres;

2. he leveraged his equity with $200,000 in borrowings;

3. he paid $9,000 per year in realty taxes and $13,000 in interest on his mortgage;

4. he sold it for $499,500 after 3 years;

5. he ended up with $271,078 in cash;

6. his rate of return as measured by IRR (Internal Rate of Return) was 22.1% p.a.

So he turned $104,175 into $271,078 in three years. If he had left his $104,175 with his bank in a GIC with compound interest of 1.5%, he would have ended up with $108,933.54 instead.



@ profbruce


Postscript: for real estate coaching or realtor services, contact Bruce M Firestone, PhD, Century 21 Explorer Realty Inc broker 613.422.6757 x 250.

Postscript 2: you can safely download the spreadsheet for the above case study in .xls format from my server and see how I calculate his returns:

Postscript 3: here’s an excerpt from something I wrote about a place called Grassel where mensa ants are eating everyone’s lunch—

Grasshoppers, Squirrels and Ants in Grassel

Occupy Grassel Movement Picking up Steam/Government Planning Action


French economist Thomas Piketty in his work Capital in the Twenty-First Century shows that r, return on capital (world level), has ranged over recorded history between 4.2% and 5.4% pa while g, growth of world output, has ranged from near 0% to as high as 3.5%, averaging around 1% to around 1.5% pa. For all of that time r > g and for most of it, r » g. Wages tend to track productivity, which is closely linked to g, overall growth, while wealth (asset values) tracks r; hence, the gap between rich and poor tends to widen over time.

This effect is magnified if the wealthy use low cost borrowing to leverage their returns. For example, a 4.8% pa return on capital can turn into an 8.3% pa return via borrowing. See my example below.

It also happens that the wealthy are likely to have greater access to sources of low cost financing so the gap between poor and rich will tend to grow much more quickly than a simple comparison between values of r and g would suggest.

Here is my sample calculation–

6-Jun-14 Return on Capital

Case 1 No Leverage

Capital Value $10,000
Equity $10,000 100%
Borrowing $0 0% 35 years 1.40% pa
r 4.80% pa
ROI $480.00

Case 2 Leveraging

Capital Value $10,000
Equity $2,500 25%
Borrowing $7,500 75% 35 years 1.40% pa
Borrowing ($272.52) per year
NOI $207.48
ROI $829.91 4
r 8.30% pa


Explained another way, investors almost always beat savers. In most nations, the top .1% control a higher percentage of assets than they do national income although they control in most cases amazing percentages of both.

The Story

The majority of the population of Grassel is made up of Grasshoppers, Squirrels and Ants. Mensa Ants account for 1% of the population. These are the groups that populate the World of Grassel, viz:



Real Estate Investing Coaching and Mentoring That Really Works

By Bruce M Firestone, B Eng (Civil), M Eng-Sci, PhD

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Read a real case study of how a land investor made more than 20% per annum on his money for three years: