February 13, 2015

Gratitude on the Ice. Back to school at Churchill Alternative.


BusYesterday I had the privilege to volunteer at my son’s annual “skate the canal day” with his school, Churchill Alternative. Every time I walk into the school, I have this sense that I am in the presence of something special. Aidan’s teacher, Ray Kalynuk, is one of those rare people who just come across like he has found his calling and I am always in awe of his energy and his intention.

So, in one of those twists that the universe throws at us from time to time, it turned out that I was not giving of my time but rather receiving an education. An education in gratitude.

This is what is so wonderful and unique about Churchill Alternative. Somehow, it’s this little island of humanity that has cultivated a culture of gratitude in a world that, at times seems to have one of entitlement.

Grade sixers are some really cool people. There is the wisdom of a teen marinating in the background and that innocence of a child bubbling on the surface. I had such a good time because you know you are in the presence of truth and hope. Many thoughts are shared without the filter or fear of condemnation that can so characterize the journey into teenage hood. Nat taught me how to properly initiate a skater’s stop. Ryan taught me a new virtual world of dinosaurs where you evolve. Taylor assured me that she was the most awesome hockey player on her team and much better than Ethan. Ethan shared the same story in reverse. Felix teased that my son might just might have a crush on a girl.

Our little group ended up skating the whole canal. We were the last on the bus and maybe a few minutes later than we should have been. Somehow we just got it in our heads that we had to finish what we had started and well, we left it all on the icy mat so to say.

So, last group on the bus and I have to admit, I was more than a little apprehensive of the reaction we might encounter from the 60 odd kids, teachers and volunteers that had waited for us to finish our journey.

What I was greeted with was acceptance, curiosity and gratitude. My little group was thankful for the photo op, the sense of accomplishment, and for the couple of pushes and pulls of encouragement that I had lent on the way back with the gusts of wind on our frosty faces. Lots of kids were curious about why we were last on the bus, how far we made it, and how we managed to get past the gate keeper. As cool as all this was, what really blew me away and made me pause was the moments of gratitude. From my vantage point, I did not hear a single child exit the bus without offering words of thanks to the bus driver. There was a rousing cheer for the volunteers on the bus. There were thanks from my little group for helping push us along. There was sharing of clothing and water on the way. There was even a moment of sacrifice where one child in my group offered his hat to another for the last kilometre as the hockey helmet was just not cutting it any longer.

SkatingThe kindness and the gratitude in the words and gestures I witnessed on my skates yesterday blew me away and rivalled the gusty winds that we faced. I was on cloud nine all afternoon. One of my colleagues told me that I looked lighter and happier on my return. Wow. Imagine if we could infuse this gratitude into more than this beacon of insight known as Ray Kalynuk’s grade sixers?

I am grateful for the education that Churchill Alternative offered me yesterday. Giving truly started the receiving process and I was the recipient of many lessons and reminders that a very special school has infused into a very special group of kids.

With Gratitude.


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February 6, 2015

Attitude Springs Eternal



I took this shot on my iPhone yesterday and I have a question. What is it that you see?  I live in a little neighbourhood called Westboro Beach inside Kitchissippi. I have a small yard mostly covered in an old trampoline that my boys find so much joy in that I am left with this little slice to enjoy a glass of wine or a summertime cigar from time to time.  On the surface, it’s a picture of my muskoka chairs covered in snow but in the moment, it was something entirely different. The sun beaming down on the chairs triggered happy thoughts of spring – both memories past and hope for things to come.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit that I am guilty of Ottawa bashing just as much as the next parka clad Ottawanian navigating the snow and cold that February so exactingly bestows upon us all. You know the grumblings…I can’t believe I live here and the grass is greener just about anywhere else on the planet and this snow is ridiculous and I am going on vacation and never coming back and so the story goes.  Of course, I am also the guy that straps on my skis, my snowboard, and my skates several times each winter and enjoy all that Ottawa’s extreme seasons afford. The duplicity in all this is not entirely lost on me and the lack of Ottawa gratitude that I display in those rare, but still present moments is worthy of my attention.  One cannot walk North and South at the same time after all.

This picture however captures an entirely different moment. This my friends was a moment when my attitude was such that I found joy in my snow covered muskoka’s, a moment when my focus was on the intensity and the beauty of the Sean instagramsun shining down on my little slice of Westboro Beach, a moment where I saw summer and inspiration in this scene. It struck me in one of those rare sun beams of insight that attitude can determine the focus of our life lens. That focus can dictate the stories that we tell both internally and externally and that those stories create our experiences of the world around us. Thoughts are indeed things. I took my life lens off of auto focus just long enough to look past 18 inches of snow on my muskoka chairs and I saw a better truth, a gratitude for the beautiful contrast created between the snow and the sun. Wow. My attitude created a new focal point and the outcome was a warm bath both in the rays of the sunshine and in my thoughts of spring eternal.  In a way, it was my groundhog moment.

I have a second question. Do you see a different picture now? The picture is static yet your reality might very well have changed. Such a gift this free choice of thought and manual override we all possess over our life lens. Perhaps it’s worth switching off auto focus from time to time.

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January 28, 2015

As You Think, So Shall You Become



As many of you know, I have two sons. Emmett turns 10 on the 17th of February. He has long hair, a penchant for drama and a deep well of emotions and he is infamous for having a prop with him. One year it was a pink dress he wore over all of his clothes, another it was a stuffy. This year it is his hair. He is a beauty. Aidan is 11. He is an effervescent fella who vibrates even when standing still and he dances through life with a sense of adventure and very little care.

So these two little monkeys are in freestyle skiing and Aidan is in competitive trampoline. I spent the holidays taxiing between the ski hill and the Ottawa Gymnastics Centre without incident and this is where the story begins. After New Year’s Eve dinner at a local Thai place called Silver Spoon, the boys and I headed over to a friend’s house to ring in the New Year. Aidan joined a game of Wii Just Dance 2015, and with a typical display of his aforementioned exuberance, he did a massive twist and ended up with an epic sprain. The kind of sprain that turns black and blue and makes an ankle look like a football. The emergency room and physiotherapy ensue and the rest is history as they say, but also a lesson that I would like to share.

You see, Aidan was due to compete on Friday January 23rd with his trampoline club in an intra club sort of thing and by all accounts he would not be on deck.  His mom and I went back and forth on what we might do because a decision had to be made as to whether he would attend as costumes needed to be ordered and arrangements made.  Finally, in a moment of insight, we realized that Aidan needed to go to the competition regardless because he was a member of a team, he needed to support his team and this would be his first exposure to a completion.

Well, this became a cause set in motion. Aidan had thought he was out. He missed several ski days and lots of trampoline, but he knew he was going to the competition. The next thing you know, we had a case of “I think I can” happening. He went to a trampoline class and took it easy. He went to a second one and felt sorta ok, but needed rest and reassurance afterward. Yet again, he said I think I can…

The decision was made to allow him to compete. The thought was that he had nothing to lose and the experience would be invaluable. Then the scores started to emerge. I watched the routines one after another and I said to Aidan’s mom, that little monkey is going to win a medal!

Fast forward to the awards presentation. I had him pegged for a third place or so. We had done a quick tabulation on the scores and frankly, I was filled with ignorance about how it all works and how the difficulty bonus factors in and how the lowest and highest scores are removed from the calculation and considered outliers. Ah lessons learned in life.

So, third place was announced. It was not my boy. My heart sunk a little and my curiosity raised a little. Second? I thought.  No, not possible. And alas, it was not to be. Second place was called. It was not my boy. My heart sunk a lot and I quickly started developing my script about effort and experience as any daddy might do in a moment where a lesson might be imparted. I waited to hear who had come in first. The announcement for first place came in. AIDAN MCCANN. My heart exploded!  Not three weeks earlier we were in emergency at CHEO, and tonight Aidan was the number one trampolinist in his age category at the competition!

To think days earlier, Aidan’s mom and I stepped an inch outside of our comfort zones buoyed by the desire to produce a team player out of an injured contender and now this little 11 year old boy was filled with the joy and pride of a win! I had our annual Royal Lepage Awards Gala that evening. I don’t think I aidan medalcongratulated a single one of my colleagues on their amazing accomplishments in the past year but I can promise you that I told all 400 of them a minimum of 5 times each that Aidan was a champion. Yep, that was the pride of “daddy Sean” in a moment and I have forgiven myself for my shameless excitement. Hope you can too.

So in this little 11 year old boy’s story and in his heart lies a lesson for us all. As you think, so shall you become

Aidan thought he could, so he did and he became…

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January 21, 2015

Good to Great Neighbourhoods


Good_to_GreatIt’s a sunny mid-January day, and I am reminded of a book that I just re-read by a fella named Jim Collins under the title Good to Great. The book is a research based analysis of how long standing good companies become great companies and what factors contributed to their breakthrough into greatness. It’s a fascinating and humbling read in many ways and one might say that it is a story about a tortoise and a hare. As many of you might imagine, I have put my real estate looking glass on and I am curious about what makes a neighbourhood great?

Today, my associate Daria Kark is faced with both the excitement and the trepidation that comes from being in a bidding war. The home in question is either a full gut or a tear down depending on which way the wind blows for the lucky victor. At last count the showings in under a week are well into the thirties and there is rumour of as many as nine offers today.

This little gem calls the Glebe home.

How is it that this little Glebe home has 9 offers?

What strikes me about all of this is the prevailing market backdrop that we find ourselves in. Ottawa’s real estate market certainly is not all doom and gloom but most would argue that we are more balanced and moderate than we have been in quite some time. The contrast of it all just fascinates me and causes pause.

We all know the famous reference “Location, Location, Location”…but what is it that takes a neighborhood from Good to Great? From one offer to nine offers?

The neighbourhoods inside Kitchissippi form an interesting case study for my query. The Glebe less so as few of us can remember a time when the Glebe was not a great neighbourhood, but many of us can remember when the Kitchissippi ward was not considered a great neighbourhood. The name that many would be familiar with inside the Kitchissippi ward would be Westboro. In fact, several neighbourhoods make up the Kitchissippi ward including McKellar Park, Westboro, Wellington West, Hintonburg, Little Italy and West Centretown to name a few.

What happened inside Kitchissippi to move it from Good to Great?  What was its overnight success 50 years in the making?

Well folks I don’t have a definitive answer, but I have some thoughts. I would suggest that the transformation from good to great is one part DNA, one part speculation and one part luck.

The DNA in real estate speak is the location. The Richmond and Wellington corridor with all its walkable shops and restaurants, the Ottawa River, the beaches, the bike paths, the Parkway with its Sunday morning cycle.  This stuff in one form or another had been present long before the neighbourhood became great.  The DNA was there.

Mountain Equipment Co-op’s arrival in around the year 2000 by many was considered an anchor and speculation ensues. If a big progressive organization was investing in Westboro, then maybe I should too. A clustered effect of sorts occurs and others join the party to either compete through nuance or support through adding other services and products. Alas, all of us that call Kitchissippi home are the net beneficiaries, as our playground just gets more and more interesting with the passage of time.

The boomers move towards retirement and look to a home as a lifestyle rather than a roof to shelter their aspirations. The millennials emerge as the dominating force in terms of sales volume and they reject many of mom and dad’s preferences and they seek ways to live in a home that is efficient and allows for more collaboration with family and friends and more freedom from thoughts about a linear career path or material possession. A Kitchissippi type community is a net beneficiary of many of these preferences.

tortoise and hare

So my question to you is this. What’s next? What tortoise is about to become the hare? The next overnight success 50 years in the making……….


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January 14, 2015

How Sir Terrence Matthews Might Pick an Agent



We had our Royal LePage New Year Kick-Off Breakfast Meeting yesterday morning. Amongst the bacon and eggs and well wishes for the coming year was a speaker by the name of Sir Terrence Matthews.

Some of you might know the name. A 72 year old Welsh man that inspired 400 plus of my esteemed colleagues for over an hour and he did so in the name of charity. Wow. Sir Terry was part of Mitel in the early 70’s, was the founder of Newbridge Networks , and all told, he has tinkered with over 100 companies in his day. He owns the Celtic Manor in Wales along with its three championship golf courses and the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata.  He is the Chairman of Wesley Clover and he is known as a serial technology entrepreneur and Wales’ first Billionaire. Oh and he had a driver. That was cool.

As impressive a resume as Terry’s is, what really struck a chord was the simplicity of his message. Passion, a hard work ethic and an unwavering curiosity for what needs sorting and solving next were the three legs on his stool so to speak. A convivial spirit, a humility and a profound curiosity for the world he finds himself in radiated in his every word and gesture.

There is no doubt in my mind that Sir Terrence Matthews possesses brightness beyond the standard 60 watt incandescent but equally, I believe that passion, curiosity and work ethic are takeaways that we mere mortals can aspire to and incorporate in our day to days to truly live our highest and best.

I am reminded of an appraisal I did this past weekend. A lovely couple grappling as many do with which agent to go with. I suggested that one should not choose an agent on the basis of the commission charged or the suggested list price. For not all agents produce the same results in terms of sale price and the correct list price exists in the market as much as it does in the agent’s appraisal. Radical, unpopular thoughts to some but I am comfortable calling them my own.

The value of an agent lies in their ability to negotiate on your behalf, to see what is coming around the next corner and anticipate solutions. It resides in their passion, in their work ethic and in their unwavering curiosity about what needs sorting and solving next. I would encourage you to dig just a little deeper. To move beyond thoughts of list price and commissions and to a place where one assesses what outcome a given agent might accomplish given the chance.

In Sir Terrence Matthews hands, a four thousand dollar loan from the bank of Nova Scotia to buy lawn mowers translated into a 7.1 billion dollar sale of Newbridge to a company by the name of Alcatel.

Not all serial technology entrepreneurs are created equal, nor are all Realtors.

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January 8, 2015

How to sell your home when “all I want for Christmas is iTunes”


How to sell your home when all I want for Christmas is iTunesWith Christmas a faint   memory past, my thoughts are once again orienting towards providing insight into what it looks like to be successful as a consumer in this thing we call Real Estate. I am reminded of the lead up to Christmas and the proverbial questions that daddy Sean inevitably asks his boys of 11 and 9 years respectively. “Aidan, Emmett, what do you guys want for Christmas?”

The answer this year, without hesitation and from both of these guys was “an iTunes gift card”. “What else” I asked. “I don’t know, thats pretty much it dad”.

Wow. Let that one marinate for a minute if you would. This really has some interesting and far reaching implications.  Our world is in fact, a virtual one in many ways. We all  live in the matrix as it were and some  find so much value there that all they want for Christmas is a means to further invest in the matrix. Without attaching any judgment, I think it is a fair assessment to state that our world is an increasingly tethered one and this creates more connection yet more loneliness, more options but often more paralysis as well. Success in a highly connected world is very much about making distinctions, about pushing through the noise and creating an experience, a moment that is worthy of one’s attention. I like to call this a high touch point.

I believe that this is  the key to being a  successful seller in the current Ottawa  real estate market where we have 6 months of standing inventory and only 50% of MLS listings are selling. Create an experience that is compelling enough to be worthy of a pause. The homes that sell and thrive in this market are the ones that do just that–they bring some humanity to a world that sometimes can feel  busy but lonely. Case in point, the CHEO Dream Home… Each room invites you to tell a story and dream.

As you prep and price your home to go to market this year, I encourage you to think about wether your home is a commodity or an experience. Does your pricing stand out as a beacon of transparency and accuracy of market value or is it lost in the noise. There is no where to hide in an increasingly connected landscape but there is plenty of room to standout amongst your peers by connecting with that which brings value to people in their busy, complicated lives.  Think about spaces that inspire and sooth, features that tell a story, conveniences that help connect family friends and neighbours.

Within these insights lie the points of distinction that change the game from selling a home to building a lifestyle and creating stories for your prospective buyer.

Create an experience, reap the rewards.




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