Muskoka is land-rich.
In Toronto, there is no open space and the downtown core is becoming like Manhattan with high rises, people and shadows everywhere. Muskoka is the opposite. There are lots of open spaces, beautiful vistas, blue skies with white clouds, and lots of land...acres and acres of land.
A surplus of land makes one want to develop some of it.
Building a country road seems simple enough:
1. First you have to survey it...which you learn once you've started the road and your neighbour claims you are on his land, not your own.
2. Second you have to clear the land of trees. This can be done one by one with a chainsaw or much faster with a very large, very expensive piece of equipment. The first option seems cheaper until you are into your third week of paying the chainsaw operator and are only a few yards into the road.
3. Third you have to figure out how the water flows and redirect it or ditch before you start putting down gravel. This you learn the hard way after the first rain when your road completely washes away.
4. Fourth, you need to bring in hard fill of some kind to set the road on its path. Typical gravel is good, although larger stones are sometimes needed mixed in the gravel depending on how wet, muddy and soft the ground is.
5. Fifth you need to weather 12 months with the road in place to identify the flaws. Four full seasons are required, particularly in Muskoka where the winters are long and there is often a lot of water run off when Spring arrives and things start to thaw then freeze then thaw then freeze then thaw then freeze and finally thaw out completely in preparation for the Summer.
You can spend $200,000 without blinking for your rough country road.
In Toronto there is a big push on by municipal government to eliminate cars in the downtown core. The investment in bike lanes and public transit will theoretically eliminate the need for so many cars to travel downtown.
In Muskoka that concept is laughable. Muskoka's primary public transit system is either your thumb or your feet. Hence everyone wants a car. Those who can afford it drive trucks...big, beautiful, powerful, shiny, expensive trucks. Owning a tractor or a bobcat or a trailer is commonplace. Some even have multiple pieces of heavy equipment to plow snow and move dirt around. One of my school chums has purchased a bunch of mighty machines to build roads and houses on his property. My children have been invited to visit this summer and they cannot wait to drive the tractors.
The implication is that if you own or manage a building in Muskoka, the more parking the better. Our tenants love the abundance of parking we provide. One medium sized company can have ten spots. A small business can have two or three spots. And although getting from your car to the building sometimes requires walking in inclement weather, our tenants view that as a small price to pay for the ample parking for staff and customers.
Parking lots require maintenance and investment year round. Snow plowing costs are significant and snow plow operators must expect to work in the middle of the night on multiple nights throughout the winter and, given this week's weather, sometimes well into the spring season. Every spring and fall two large loads of gravel are needed to be spread out by a front end loader to smooth out the pot holes for the sections of the lot that are not paved. For the paved sections, hot asphalt is required to fill the pot holes and smooth out bumps. And capital must be set aside to pave or re-pave sections of the lot each year. Large pot holes are not uncommon between seasons. As a result, Muskokans value vehicles with four wheel drive and good shocks.
Keeping our parking lot both functional and usable year round is a priority worth the investment. Forget bike lanes. Muskoka businesses value large, well maintained parking lots.
The Muskoka building I manage was almost empty in August of 2015.
Today, thanks to the team on the ground, the owners' ongoing capital infusions and financial support, and strategic asset management, it is now 75% full. It is on track to be completely full by year end.
Early on, it became clear that the owners had to be prepared to invest in their existing and prospective tenants. The owners funded the build of a brand new space for Manna Food Bank even though they only pay $1 per month in rent on a long term lease. The owners funded the build out of a brand new space for Muskoka Yarn Connection and Muskoka Futures in exchange for long term leases. The owners funded the installation of a new garage door entryway for Muskoka Quality Foods. This process continued, with some new tenants requiring far less money - a new desk and chair for example - and others requiring far more - new drywalled offices, new electrical, HVAC and plumbing.
The end result is a building full of tenants who are happy and who feel appreciated. They feel appreciated because they are appreciated. We are now fielding calls from a number of local tenants who want to relocate to the building because it has a positive energy and feels like a hub of business and social activity. We are talking with enough new tenants right now that we expect to be full by year end and hopefully before. We current have 47 different tenants and by year end should have between 55 and 60.
The evolution of the building has been fascinating to be a part of. The building now has an energy and a life all its own. There are such a diverse array of tenants that the Bracebridge Examiner ran a front page article last week on the building and its residents. I am grateful and humbled to be involved with the process and to have met so many interesting and quality people along the way.
I look forward to watching the remaining spaces fill with more good people. Good people make for good buildings. Investing in our tenants has proven to be a very good investment indeed.
At what temperature are you comfortable?
In our family of six, my husband is typically hot; my eldest son is always cold; my youngest son is generally comfortable; my eldest daughter is often freezing; and my baby is a little heater. I of course run at a perfectly normal temperature. It brings to mind the story of Goldilocks. Given the varying preferences, it is challenging to set a home temperature that is agreeable to all.
When you share an office with colleagues and co-workers, you notice pretty quickly the variations from one person to the other. Some of your co-workers will always have a sweater on. Others will be in shirt sleeves all year round. Some people's hands are always cold whereas other people sweat profusely on a constant basis.
As a landlord, it is an ongoing struggle to please everyone. In my folks' building in Muskoka, the first step is to have each tenant agree on a temperature that each of their employees can live with. The second is to install the proper heating for the space, typically through a gas powered furnace serving the entire area with plug in heaters to supplement the base heat and baseboard heaters for colder corners. The third is to ensure that everyone is abiding by the agreed upon temperature. Finally you ideally want to let the temperature drop or rise when the space is not occupied, typically at night and on the weekends.
If you are able to regulate the temperature at an agreed upon level and reduce drafty spaces for your tenants, they will generally be content. Even controlling for the above, some will still wear their sweater year round while others will want to wear tank tops, but you as the landlord will have done your job...just right.
Muskoka has some of the best air quality in the province of Ontario. You breathe in and inhale the fresh, crisp, cool air and somehow feel refreshed and rejuvenated. If it is negative 20 on that particular day, the fresh cold air makes you move quickly from house to car to work and back again but the air quality is always high and that fresh air is one of the benefits of living up north.
Toronto suffers from smog from time to time and although it makes our sunsets quite pretty, air pollution is unpleasant to breathe in and makes you feel unhealthy. You would never breathe deeply on a smoggy day in Toronto and feel refreshed. There are crisp fresh days in Toronto as well, just not as many as in the north. The industry of the city pollutes the air.
Indoor air quality is less discussed but also important given how many hours we spend at work and at home. We recently had our air ducts cleaned and it has made the house feel less dusty and musty. We try to remember to change our furnace filters on a regular basis. We also sleep with fans and a humidifier going. Each night the humidifier goes through at least two full liters of water given how dry the air is. We sleep better with the humid air and find we suffer less sore throats and sinus aggravation.
Air quality at work is an issue. Our Toronto offices are in an old industrial warehouse building and there are often different smells emanating from the various users of the building. We have our own heating and air conditioning for our unit so that helps, but the air quality is dodgy some days.
In my folks' Muskoka property, the air quality is crisp and clean, similar to the air outside. The facility is clean and free of pollutants that cause people irritation. We have recently had a tenant approach us who needs to leave their existing premises because there is a perpetual smell of chlorine in the air that is making the employees sick. What an awful work environment.
Working and living in spaces that boast high air quality will make you feel more energetic, will cut down on sickness, and will make you want to breathe deeply. It only makes sense to do all you can to make the air around you healthy. Then you can...just breathe.
A couple of our tenants have requested that we install vending machines in my folks' building in Muskoka. There is a fabulous food truck called Sully's on site for lunches spring, summer and fall but there is no other food offering in the building. Anything you might want to purchase requires getting into a car.
It is an interesting process to assess vending machine options and evaluate what your tenants might want. There are healthy options including high protein drinks, smoothies and trail mix type offerings, which seem appropriate for a fitness club or a downtown office with lots of health conscious people. There are your typical pop machines that have been common since I was a girl. There are snack dispensers filled with peanuts and M&Ms where you turn the knob. Those always bring to my mind children with dirty fingers. There is the standard brown vending machine with chips in top and chocolate bars underneath. Some newer drink machines dispense Gatorade, Powerade, water and juice. And they now have a hybrid machine that supplies snacks up top and cold drinks in bottom, looking like something you would have seen on the Starship Enterprise.
Hockey rinks in Toronto are replete with vending machines. As I am paying $2.75 for a bottle of Gatorade I mentally scold myself for not buying enough bottles for $1.00 each at the grocery store. York Mills and Hodgson Arenas, both City of Toronto rinks, have vending machines that are usually empty or out of order. Chesswood, ScotiaBank Pond and the Canlan rinks, all privately owned, have well stocked, well oiled machines dispensing all sorts of options at jacked up prices for their captive audiences.
I suspect it will take trial and error to determine what our tenants will find most appealing. Once we get it right I expect it will be a positive addition to the building.
There is clutter in my house. There is clutter in my office.
Happily I have recently been introduced to Smart Boxes. They are sturdy, stackable, water resistant and re-useable plastic boxes that are delivered to your front door and retrieved from your new front door. They are great for moving, reorganizing or decluttering and can be rented for whatever period of time you need them. I like the concept much better than buying cardboard boxes which inevitably fall apart, get wet and get ruined.
Smart Boxes are just that...smart.
Big stuff can be a lot of fun. Big stuff can also support your business.
Whether it be a recreational trailer you use as a cottage or a large transport truck that provides your living, lots of people have lots of big stuff. The challenge is where to store that stuff. Most residential homes don't have driveways large enough to park those items, and neighbours generally frown on your putting it in the back yard.
Our landlord in Toronto bought the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan for $500,000 US. His first utility bill was $400,000 US so what initially seemed like a bargain quickly became a liability. What he realized very soon after buying, though, was that in addition to being a large empty sports stadium, he had purchased 200 acres of paved parking. Soon he was renting out the parking lot to car dealers, car rental companies, trucking companies and the like. Those rentals easily paid those utility bills going forward and he has never looked back.
Our building up north has a large paved parking lot that is perfect for storing such items. We are fortunate to have a number of tenants who park their large items in our parking lot year round. That business requires snow ploughing and maintaining of the parking lot. It is good business for us and a good bargain for those who are storing their items with us. It puts to work a parking lot that has more than enough parking for our tenants plus surplus parking for such storage.
It is a win-win situation for us and perhaps something to think about for those of you with paved parking lots that have space available.
Many people have many items they cannot fit in their house.
Our Muskoka property provides 170 indoor climate-controlled storage lockers and 115 vehicle storage spots for that need. If you consider the investment we make in our trailers, RVs, boats, cars, motorcycles, it makes sense to take care of them. Same with surplus items like our tools or our parents' memorabilia that needs to be protected.
As we downsize our houses, it is no wonder that storage facilities are popping up everywhere to deal with the surplus items of value that we can no longer fit into our streamlined homes. The spare room has been replaced by a storage locker.
Home security is important to people living in the city.
We lock our front door; we lock our back door; we lock our garage door. We have bars in our sliders. We set alarms. Some of us can even see who is at our front door with our phone. We have lights all around our property. In luxury neighbourhoods there are security patrols. Protecting our fortress from intrusion is a priority.
Bringing a similar mindset to providing security for commercial and industrial buildings protects your investment and makes them more attractive to tenants. Although in that case your family is not at risk if there is a break in, it is prudent to do everything you can to prevent theft, property damage, vandalism, graffiti and other problems from affecting your property.
Up north, we have a number of systems designed to secure our building.
The first is a FOB system that opens the doors at a set time each day and locks them at a set time each afternoon or evening. This is an efficient system when it works and we have found some competent suppliers who can fix it when it doesn't. The benefit here is that we can program the system to stay closed on holidays and long weekends. We can also monitor who is entering at which times based on the codes on each individual FOB. Thus if we no longer want someone to have access we can just disable their FOB.
The second system is that we have a number of doors that are locked all the time. Our tenants must have a key to enter those doors. The general public cannot enter through that area. This is a recent change. We used to have doors that you could unlock and leave open, but the challenge was that our tenants would enter through that door but might exit through a different door and hence the entry door would remain unlocked. The change over to doors that automatically stay locked all day has eliminated that problem.
The third measure of security we provide is a night watchman who lives on site. He is always there and can advise us if there is any unusual activity occurring in the building at night. The building has automatic motion lights inside so if there is any movement the lights come on, which triggers an inquiry into what is happening.
The fourth measure of security is a security patrol that checks that all doors are secured each night. This is a fail safe as the security person alerts us to any problems that are occurring on a regular basis, like doors being unlocked at night, allowing us to devise a solution to correct that problem. The patrol also lets us know if any of our security measures are not working for any reason. It gives peace of mind that everything is safe and secure for the evening.
The final measure is ample lighting around the building all night long, discouraging any illicit activity.
Thus far the above measures have made the building safe and secure, providing peace of mind to the owners and a feeling of comfort to our tenants.
Entrepreneur and mom to four amazing kids
Q: Why did the can crusher quit his job?
A: Because it was soda pressing.