Archive for the ‘Real estate terms’ Category

Honey, Our Bi-level is a Raised Bungalow!

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Sometimes the descriptions of homes for sale in Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, Parkland County and the Edmonton region make you wonder what kind of building you’ll see on a property.  Bungalow with a bonus room?  How is that different from a 1 ½-storey house?  Raised bungalow?  How does that differ from a bi-level?  Searching Google to define house styles doesn’t help much because the same term might have very different meanings elsewhere in Canada or the US. 

So, let’s take a look at a few phrases commonly used to describe homes in the Edmonton region.  Note that the descriptions below assume that the homes have basements since that is generally the norm in Alberta. 

Bungalow:  A one-storey home whose basement has the same square footage as the main level.  Basement is reached from a full flight of stairs leading “below grade”; that is, dug into the ground.  Entry into the home is usually at ground level or up a few steps.  May have attached garage that leads directly into main level of the home, or sometimes into the basement.

Honey, Our Bi-level is a Raised Bungalow! | Spruce Grove Stony Plain Parkland County Real Estate | Barry Twynam

  • Raised Bungalow:  Same description as above (one-storey home, full basement reached via full flight of stairs, entry into home up a few steps from the ground), but these homes are built higher up on the land, allowing for larger basement windows and making them better for nanny or mother-in-law suites.  They are also less likely to take on water in the basement.Honey, Our Bi-level is a Raised Bungalow! | Spruce Grove Stony Plain Parkland County Real Estate | Barry Twynam
  • Hillside or Walkout Bungalow:  From the front this home looks like a standard bungalow.  From the back it resembles a 2-storey house – because it is literally built into a hillside, or a steeply sloped yard.  Very popular because the basement appears to be at, rather than below, ground level.  The basement therefore has much larger windows, and residents can access the outdoors without climbing stairs to the main level. Honey, Our Bi-level is a Raised Bungalow! | Spruce Grove Stony Plain Parkland County Real Estate | Barry Twynam
  • Bungalow with Bonus Room:  Basic bungalow format with a single large room above an attached garage, reached via a full flight of stairs.

Bi-level:  Sits higher up on the land, like a raised bungalow, and has the same advantages as a raised bungalow.  Unlike a raised bungalow, the stairs inside a bi-level are split.  From the front entrance, a half-flight of stairs leads up to the living area, and a half-flight of stairs leads down to the basement.  The depth of the basement below the ground is less than that of a standard bungalow, allowing for bigger windows and less of a cellar-like feel.  The home’s back door often exits onto a high deck with a full flight of stairs outside leading down to the yard.  This style has fallen out of fashion with builders, except in areas where digging a deeper basement would be problematic due to soil type. Honey, Our Bi-level is a Raised Bungalow! | Spruce Grove Stony Plain Parkland County Real Estate | Barry Twynam

One and a half-storey:  Full flight of stairs goes up to bedroom area which has a steeply slanted roof with dormers, resulting in reduced head space in the slanted areas – thus, the “half-storey”.  (Two and a half-storey homes exist as well.  Same principle but with two full levels having standard head room and the third with a slanted roof). 

Two-storey:  Main level has a full flight of stairs leading up to the second level and a full flight of stairs down to the basement.  Often built with bonus room above an attached garage.  The most common home being built these days for several reasons:

1) A home’s square footage is determined by the amount of space above grade, and this home style puts more living space above ground on a smaller footprint than a bungalow of equal square footage;

2) Larger homes, ones with greater square footage but a smaller footprint, can be built on today’s smaller lots;

3) Given today’s high heating costs and concern for the environment, a 2-storey home is more energy- and cost-efficient. 

Honey, Our Bi-level is a Raised Bungalow! | Spruce Grove Stony Plain Parkland County Real Estate | Barry Twynam

Split-level:  This home style was very popular around the 1970s.  Many people these days would say the reason it fell out of favor was that residents were always running up and down stairs to get to different rooms in the house!

  • Two-storey split:  One side of this home looks like a bungalow, while the other side looks like a standard 2-storey.  A full flight of stairs accesses the upper portion of the home, and often a living room or family room will be sunken.  There may be less head room in the basement under the sunken areas – a common complaint in split-level homes in general.  Some people mistakenly label this home style as 1 ½-storey (see that description above).

Honey, Our Bi-level is a Raised Bungalow! | Spruce Grove Stony Plain Parkland County Real Estate | Barry Twynam

  • Three- or four-level side split:  From the front, looks like a bungalow on one side, bi-level on the other.  Half flights of stairs lead up and down between levels.  Bedrooms are usually above, family room below.  Some split-level homes have a regular basement under the bungalow-style portion only, and a crawl space under the lowest above-ground level.  This crawl space may have a ceiling height as low as 4 feet.  Other houses will have a basement that is itself two different levels, resulting in homes that have four or even five different levels, all joined by half-flights of stairs. 

Honey, Our Bi-level is a Raised Bungalow! | Spruce Grove Stony Plain Parkland County Real Estate | Barry Twynam

  • Back split:  Same as the previous description but oriented on the lot so that the home looks like a standard bungalow from the front, taller portions behind. 

Duplex:  The true definition of this term is a home that looks like a standard bi-level with one dwelling on the upper level and another on the lower level.  But many people use the term to refer to what is technically a side by side duplex:  two homes above grade (with basements) joined by a common wall. 

Honey, Our Bi-level is a Raised Bungalow! | Spruce Grove Stony Plain Parkland County Real Estate | Barry Twynam

A couple of other things to note when house-shopping by style:

  • Townhouses may allow first-time buyers to enter the home market since they are generally less expensive than stand-alone or detached homes.  Usually a 2-storey home with basement, sometimes with attached garage, joined to similar neighboring homes in a row.
  • While many people think of apartments when they hear the word “condo”, a condominium is not really a style but rather a type of ownership that allows people to own their space to the walls and share common property (buildings and land) with other condo owners.  (See my blog article “Is Condo Living For You?”)
  • A villa is a condominium style that may be a detached home or perhaps half of a side by side duplex.   Often located in “gated communities” where summer and winter outdoor chores, such as lawn mowing and snow removal, are provided to the residents. 

Need more information about this topic?  I’m happy to help.  Call or text me at 780-910-9669, email me at, or contact me here.


Make a Conditional Offer Work For You

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Make a Conditional Offer Work For You | Spruce Grove Stony Plain Parkland County Real Estate | Barry TwynamAfter looking at many houses in Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, Parkland County or the Edmonton area, you finally find one that meets your needs.  But before you offer to buy the property, you realize you have questions that need to be answered.  Does the house need repairs that you couldn’t see during your visit, such as worn-out shingles or a leaky basement?  Will you be able to put financing in place?  Will you be able to sell your present house before taking possession of the new one? 

Real estate purchase contracts often contain buyers’ conditions; that is, things that the buyers spell out as needing to be satisfied before they go ahead with purchasing the house.  If the sellers agree to the terms, then a deal is made.  The deal will be finalized and the house considered “sold” when all conditions have been removed. 

Here are some of the most common conditions you as a buyer might put on the sale:

  • Financing Condition:  If you are able to obtain a mortgage, you will buy the home.
  • Property Inspection Condition:  If a qualified home inspector that you as the buyer have chosen to review the home declares the home free from major defects, you will buy the home.  Should your inspector discover something that you are not prepared to live with, you can choose not to waive this condition, meaning the deal is dead.  Or, you may ask your realtor to renegotiate a lower price, money for repairs, or the actual repair itself.
  • Sale of Buyer’s Home Condition:  You specify a date by which your home must be sold in order for you to take on ownership of the new home.  If your own home is priced well and has a reasonable chance of selling within the allotted period, say 60 days, sellers will often agree to this condition, especially in a slow market.  (You should be aware, however, that a seller may put a condition on the condition, such as retaining the option to sell to someone else if you are unable to remove this condition within a specified period, such as 48 hours, of a new offer coming in without this condition.)
  • Additional Buyer’s Conditions:  This could be anything that the buyer would like the seller to do to make the home more agreeable, from repainting the home, to replacing the roof, to relocating a storage shed, etc. 

A conditional offer can protect you and make it possible to walk away from a deal if problems arise that you did not see during your initial visit to the home.  But you should be aware that a seller always has the right to refuse your conditions.  It is especially risky to impose conditions when the market is competitive.  More than one buyer has lost a good home because a second offer with fewer or no conditions has been placed before the seller!  This could happen to you even if you are offering a higher price. 

To make conditions work for you, they need to be used in the right way and in the right circumstances.  Your REALTOR® can help you decide whether it is in your best interests to write conditions into a deal. 

Comments or questions about this article or real estate in general?  Call or text me at 780-910-9669, email me at, or contact me here

RPR or Title Insurance?

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

RPR or Title Insurance? | Spruce Grove Stony Plain Parkland County Real Estate | Barry TwynamRecently, a number of my clients buying homes in Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, Parkland County and the Edmonton region have agreed to accept Title Insurance in place of an RPR.  What do these terms mean?  What are the advantages and disadvantages? 

An RPR, or Real Property Report, is a survey of a property showing exact measurements of boundaries and the placement of all improvements or permanent structures (house, garage, shed, deck, fence, etc.), as well as the location of easements, utility rights of way, and so on.  The RPR is a legal document prepared by an Alberta Land Surveyor.  A certificate of municipal compliance attached to the RPR means that local rules have been followed regarding the current state of improvements.  That is, every structure on the property is the proper distance from the property boundaries or rights of way, permits are in place for things like attached decks of a certain height, and so on.

Real estate purchase contracts in Alberta require a seller to provide a buyer with a current RPR in conjunction with written proof of municipal compliance.  This could be problematic if the sellers have made improvements to the property, such as adding on to the home, putting up a fence, building a deck, and the like, and maybe they did some of these things without getting a municipal permit.  This would mean that the RPR they received when they purchased the property no longer reflects the current state of the property.  The sellers are then obliged to order a new RPR from an Alberta Land Surveyor (and this isn’t cheap or quick), or update the old one.  The sellers must also seek retroactive municipal compliance for neglected permits, sometimes a lengthy, complicated and difficult process – unless the buyer waives the requirement for the Real Property Report with municipal compliance.

Waiving that requirement may put the buyer at risk should it turn out that the improvements do not comply with municipal rules.  What if the detached garage was built too near the property line, or on top of the gas line?  What if the deck built on to the side of the house hangs over the neighbor’s property by a foot?  The new owner of the property could be on the hook for the considerable expense of making these things right, not to mention the hassle of tearing down perfectly good structures that just happen to be in the wrong place.

That’s where Title Insurance comes in.  Title Insurance in Alberta “guarantees” that improvements on the property comply with zoning bylaws and that there are no encroachments either from other properties or onto other properties.  Title insurance doesn’t magically make problems go away.  But, if bylaws have been broken or encroachments exist, title insurance (with some restrictions) will pay the cost of obtaining compliance or removing encroachments. 


  • Title insurance can be a good compromise in situations where a new RPR would uncover a problem (for example, no permit for an attached and covered deck) whose solution would be much more costly or invasive or time-consuming than either seller or buyer wants to undertake.
  • It can also be an excellent hedge against such things as mortgage or title fraud, builder’s liens, or hidden deficiencies, such as basements developed without permits, underground storage, and the like.
  • Title insurance usually costs considerably less and is often easier and faster to obtain than a new RPR.

However… there are some disadvantages that buyers in particular should be aware of:

  • Property buyers in Alberta should know that the concept of title insurance originated in the US where citizens do not enjoy the same level of protection that the Alberta system of land titles registration provides.  An up-to-date RPR with municipal compliance is still the best protection for a buyer, as it ensures that the property meets all current bylaws, regulations and the like.
  • Title insurance does not reveal underlying issues or correct structural deficits.   It merely provides the financial means for the future to clean them up should they be discovered and should there be an insistence that they be made right.  Note also that title insurance, even if obtainable, does not absolve sellers from the legal obligation to disclose all known defects about their property.
  • The usual arrangement when title insurance is offered in place of an RPR is that the buyer purchases the insurance and is reimbursed by the seller, as per the purchase contract.  The new owner of the property is then the holder and beneficiary of the insurance policy for as long as he owns the property.  But… when it is time for him to sell the property, he must either pay for a new RPR after correcting problems, or offer and pay for the same deal he accepted, hoping that the new owner will agree to title insurance – not a foregone conclusion.

So, as a buyer, what is your best course of action?  Given the above, it might seem that you should always insist on a new RPR.   Sometimes that is the right thing to do.  But there are many situations, especially in cases where “correcting a problem” may be worse than living with the status quo, and where time is a limiting factor, when accepting title insurance in place of a missing RPR or in addition to an outdated RPR is the way to go.  Your realtor and lawyer are in the best position to help you decide.

For more information and detailed examples:

Real Estate Council of Alberta (RECA) Information Bulletin:  Title Insurance

Real Estate Council of Alberta (RECA) Information Bulletin:  Real Property Reports

(The above article is not intended to cover all aspects of the topic of RPRs and title insurance.  Buyers and sellers are urged to seek detailed expert advice relevant to their personal situations.)

Questions or comments about this or other real estate matters?  I’m here to help!  Call or text me at 780-910-9669, email me at, or contact me here.

Barry Twynam, Realty Executives Leading
#1 14 McLeod Avenue, Spruce Grove, Alberta, T7X 3X3
Tel: 780-962-9696 Cell: 780-910-9669 Fax: 780-962-9699
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