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A Day of Firsts: Photographing an Acreage Near Prince Albert (From Above)

Yesterday was a pretty exciting day! Guy Fortier, a realtor based out of Saskatoon, hired Anikio to create a virtual tour and take photos for a sprawling, 3600 sqft acreage about 20 km west of Prince Albert. This was Anikio’s first out-of-town shoot. It was the first home above 2000 sqft that we’ve shot. And it was the first time we got to take some aerial photos!

Yes, Anikio has a drone. And a drone license, by the way. You may not have known this, but Dean is actually a private pilot, so navigating a drone is pretty straightforward. The real challenge in Saskatoon is the extremely conservative rules for use ‘around’ an airport. It is certainly possible to have some drone photos taken in city limits with planning and depending on the location, but it’s not a given that it can be done legally. On the other hand, an acreage 20 km from a town or airport? No problem at all! And this acreage really benefited from the aerial photos. There is just no way to capture the grounds and such a large home together otherwise.

One thing we didn’t account for is how much time this would take. The home faces south and is mostly glass, featuring some beautiful views of the pond outside as well as sunlit rooms. This makes for a lot of post-photography work to make sure that we capture those views well, especially in the virtual tour. On top of that, the size of the home required 45 (!) 360 degree photos for the virtual tour. That’s about double what a more typical 1600 sqft home would take. Photos? The same and more. Not to mention the drone photos, which we offered this time for free since Guy has been a great supporter of Anikio. All said and done, it was a learning experience in terms of time requirements for a home this size.

But we’re really happy with the results and it was a lovely day to spend in what felt like a quiet, remote lodge up north. Especially after being cooped up hiding from COVID for some time.

Take a Virtual Tour

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Maps Issue Resolved At Last!

Well, it’s probably past time I update you on something that isn’t related to COVID-19. We have been experiencing an issue with our use of Google Maps. More specifically, users without registered accounts were seeing “development mode” or “problem loading maps” issues when searching properties on the home page or looking at a specific property’s location on the homepage.

We have been working very hard on attempting to resolve this with Google, our developers, and our even our web host. In the end, the web hosting company came to the rescue with a backup from December this morning. So if you logged in today, you may briefly have seen some Christmas wishes. ’tis the season! We were able to painstakingly re-create every update, tweak and change to Anikio since December until finally we reproduced the issue. Or at least we thought that we had. Then we realized that the browser had just auto-logged us back in. Oops! However, after more searching, it appears the problem was related to the way the website loads. We attempted to make a speed improvement that affected the loading of the map, but only in cases where the user wasn’t logged in. Crazy!

The problem is solved! This is such a relief! It made it impossible for me to try to recruit new landlords and property managers. Which meant less properties available than usual for browsing. The worst part is that I don’t know how long this was going on. Because I’m always logged in, it wasn’t until a user reported a different issue last weekend that we first realized there was a problem at all. So please, if you see something that isn’t working right, let me know! And I’ll do my best to log out once in a while and look around, too! 🙂

Have a great Greek/Orthodox Easter whether you celebrate or not. I know that I will!

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COVID-19 Coronavirus Cases in Saskatchewan Over Time

NOTE: We have moved this post to a dedicated COVID-19 Landing Page. Please see that page for the latest up-to-date information!

With the talk of flattening the curve, we wanted to keep track of how we’re doing in Saskatchewan. We’ll be updating this graph every few days.

Today (Mar 23) there are 14 new cases in the province and wide reports of younger people continuing on as though there is nothing going on; 2 of these new cases are in the age group of 5-19. It doesn’t matter what your age is, we all have to do our part. Shops are closed, people have lost their jobs and many have lost or sacrificed a lot in the name of trying to prevent needless deaths as this virus spreads. This is NOT what “nothing to worry about” looks like. Labatt’s doesn’t stop producing alcohol to make sanitizer for fun. These are measures of war, and we are at war against this virus.

You may feel invincible thanks to good health or age, but house parties and get-togethers have got to stop now. We are a small province with extremely limited resources. Even one sick 25 year old requiring hospitalization can result in a 60-year old that can’t be put on a ventilator and may just die. Is a house party worth that cost? Is the total economic carnage worth that cost? If we are at war against this virus, those disobeying public health advice might as well be planting bombs for the enemy. Ignorance is not a defence.

I do not wish to live in a lock down but if people continue acting without care or regard for the well being of our province then it will be inevitable. Be responsible now. If you are NOT in quarantine or social isolation you still MUST practice social distancing. Go outside, but walk on your own or only with 1-2 people from your own households. Stay away from others, and if you see someone you know, stay at least 2 m apart. Wash your hands lots. We’re in this together.

If you haven’t yet, you may want to check out our guidelines on reducing the risk of spreading or catching coronavirus for renters and landlords/property managers. The key take away for both groups: minimize your exposure by pre-screening as much as possible. Use virtual tours or video tours (we can help), conduct FaceTime interviews and meetings, and really read the listing thoroughly before arranging in-person viewings (if at all).

Take care out there (and better yet, don’t be out there at all)!

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Reducing Corona Virus Spread in the Housing Rental Community

From Wuhan to Saskatchewan, the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic is spreading across the globe. No matter where you live, the fact is that everyone needs somewhere to live. Renting can’t come to a stop, pandemic or no. So I’ve created this post to start the conversation about ways that we can all work together, property managers, landlords and tenants, to reduce the spread and stay healthy and safe. The content below is the opinion of the author and should be considered supplemental and secondary to any and all official guidelines from Health Canada and similar governmental agencies. Where possible, we’ve done our best to seek out guidelines and expertise already in place from official sources.

Disclaimer noted, we’ve developed some guidelines and points for consideration:

  1. Tenants
  2. Landlords and Property Managers

Before you branch off, though, here are some great resources and reading to help you understand the state of COVID-19 in Canada, the world, and the importance of precautions:

NOTE: The ORT (Office of Residential Tenancies or the Rentalsman) will be conducting hearings by telephone only, effective March 16, 2020 in Saskatoon and Regina. 

 

Guide to Reducing Corona Virus Spread for Landlords and Property Managers

The Institute of Real Estate Managers has released a Pandemic Guide which has some valuable information, particularly for multiplex managers.

Keeping Common Areas Clean

If you manage a multi-family dwelling, ensure that common areas are sanitized – particularly high touch points like door handles and bannisters – as much as possible and at least once daily. Encourage your tenants to avoid congregating in common areas at the same time and consider sending a notification of what you are doing and best practices for them to employ. If the common areas are not strictly necessary (party rooms, gyms, etc), consider closing them until the risk level has subsided. Consider a plan for if maintenance or cleaning staff are required to isolate themselves. If buildings include a concierge or anyone regularly in contact with tenants, consider ways that the risk to them is minimized.  

Viewings and Finding Renters

Best Practices for Viewings

The safest practice is to simply put off all tenant searching until the pandemic has broken and things have returned to normal. However, this is probably not practical for most so long as the bills keep coming in. It also could result in stranding a portion of the population that has given notice elsewhere but not yet found a place to rent, which would be disastrous. Be sure to maximize your distance and even conduct as much of the conversation outdoors as weather permits; avoid handshakes and contact. And this goes without saying: if you have a sore throat, fever, shortness of breath, or any other symptoms of coronavirus and have been in contact with anyone that has the corona virus in the past two weeks, stay home and isolate yourself.

So while we accept that in-person viewings are likely to continue, we strongly recommend against conducting viewings of occupied suites while the corona virus is spreading. It only takes one infected stranger in a home to contaminate and potentially infect multiple people – not to mention that those current tenants also need to leave and find somewhere safe to go during that time when we’re all being asked to remain home as much as possible. We recognize that this is not ideal and will likely result in at least one month of vacancy, but it is the right thing to do at this time. Consider it time to make some touch-ups, updates, and repairs.  If you simply will not or cannot halt viewings, consider a virtual tour to limit the number of times your tenants must have potentially infectious persons in their home.

If you must continue with viewings and your tenant search, we recommend that you do not conduct in-person viewings until as much pre-screening as possible has been completed.

Pre-Screening to Minimize Contact

If you are actively searching for a renter, then you are going to come into contact with people. You may meet multiple potential tenants, some of whom may become applicants and one of whom may become your new tenant. You may also be into a currently occupied suite and meet with your outbound tenants multiple times during this search. The best practice, aside from a complete stoppage in viewings, is to make the number of in-person interactions as close as possible to zero. Ideally, you would only meet the to-be-accepted applicant and the rest would be pre-screened before ever stepping foot on the property. How can we accomplish that?

  1. Have a complete listing with all necessary information available (allow tenants to pre-screen);
  2. Have clear, large photos that clearly show the suite, layout, and condition;
  3. Offer a virtual, online viewing: consider a virtual tour or film your own video tour with your cell phone and post on YouTube;
  4. Conduct an initial FaceTime, Skype, or other Video Chat meet-and-greet (you could even arrange this to be at the rental to show it);
  5. Share your application form online (Anikio allows you to save it to your listing) or use an online screening service;
  6. If the application is valid and the tenant is still interested, THEN organize an in-person meeting and viewing to make the application official.

We want to do our part and are offering free consultation on rental ads posted to Anikio during this pandemic. Simply contact us to get help making your listing as complete as possible. We are also happy to help those creating their own video tours or taking their own photos in any way we can, again at no charge. Finally, we also continue to offer professional-grade rental photography and virtual tour creation to maximize your pre-screening efforts.

Rent and Notice Considerations

Reach out to your tenants to let them know what steps is any you are taking to ensure their rental remains safe, and ask them to reach out to you should anything come up that could compromise their ability to fulfill their obligations as tenants. Everyone should have a contact in the city to help them should they need assistance during this time, if it is in your power to be a contact for your tenant then consider doing so. Regardless, keep the line of communications open and consider that a two-week absence from their work may be enough to severely limit their well-being and ability to pay rent. Consider extensions and partial payments but always be sure to have any arrangement in writing.

If a tenant has given notice, reach out to ask if they have found a place or would like to consider extending their tenancy until the corona virus threat has subsided. Be sure, again and always, to have any agreement in writing and consider putting a finite time (one month or two months) on the extension. As mentioned above, we strongly urge against conducting viewings of occupied suites while the corona virus is spreading.

Prime Minister Trudeau has stated that there will be relief measures to reduce the financial burden but hasn’t defined them at this point. Italy, for example, has instructed banks to not collect mortgage payments during their shut down and landlords not to collect rent. This can be more complex an issue when rent includes utilities but certainly can relieve some of the strain on individuals during a difficult time should it come into place. More likely in Canada, those that have tested positive for the virus or have been temporarily laid off will have access to emergency funding through the EI program but that remains to be seen.

Tenant’s Guide to Reducing Corona Virus Spread

Covid-19 Infographic

Stay in Contact with Your Landlord

No matter what, you should have a ‘buddy’ in the city that can assist should you be unable to leave your home (and vice versa). It’s also a good idea to keep in contact with your landlord or property manager. You’re under no obligation to notify your landlord or property manager if you have the corona virus but you definitely should. In addition to self isolation, it’s the responsible thing to do for you and any others in the same building. Maintaining an open line of communication can also help should a complication arise that leaves you, for example, unable to pay rent on time. A landlord informed in advance should be much more forgiving and willing to work with you than one that has to contact you to find out what happened to the rent. Moreover, being as straightforward with your landlord, even if you don’t expect them to be understanding, will be to your benefit should you end up at the rentalsman.

Roommates

Living with roommates, any one of you becoming sick is cause enough for all of you to self isolate. If you are the one to develop symptoms, self-assess (check the province’s COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool to determine if your symptoms could be coronavirus and to organize a test. The province notes that if you have not been exposed to someone known to have COVID-19 or that has returned from an international travel, you currently do not need to test but expect this to change within the next week or two as more community cases are likely to arrive. If you are in a position where a test is merited, everyone in that house should isolate themselves until a negative test result is received (i.e. you do not have the virus). Your roommates will need to be notified immediately. Should you have the virus, everyone in the house should remain isolated for two weeks even if they do not have symptoms; it is possible for COVID-19 to spread even among asymptomatic people that have been exposed. In the meantime, all common areas must be sanitized regularly and any symptomatic roommates must isolate from healthy but at-risk roommates to avoid spreading. Consider scheduling use of common areas like kitchens to minimize contact. Sanitize shared surfaces and items thoroughly.

Apartment Dwellings

Even if your property manager hasn’t closed off common areas like gyms, stay away. Be cautious of door handles, keypads, bannisters, and any other frequent touch point and do your best to avoid or immediately wash or sanitize your hands if you must touch those surfaces. Do not touch your face until after you have cleaned your hands.

Searching for a Rental

The safest practice is to simply put off all rental searching until the pandemic has broken and things have returned to normal. If you’ve already given your landlord notice, consider contacting them to see about extending your tenancy until the outbreak has passed. As always, get anything relating to your tenancy in writing.

If you must move, do yourself a favour and screen meticulously before going to a viewing. Read the listings carefully, look at all photos, take the virtual tour or video walkthrough if available (ask for one if it’s not), and then contact the landlord or property manager to ask any questions you have if you’re still interested. Ask to see a copy of their application form in advance of meeting and consider having a video chat (FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Skype, WhatsApp, and so on) to have an initial face-to-face chat and ask any questions you still have. The point is to minimize your viewings and in-person contact with others. 

When you meet in person, don’t shake hands and maintain a bit of space to minimize contact. Bring your own pen to sign anything you may need to.

Viewings of Your Current Tenancy

If you’ve given notice and are determined to move, ask your landlord if they’d consider not having showings of your place during the outbreak. They are under no obligation to do so but it is best practice to minimize potential contamination of your home while you’re living there.

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Similar Property Recommendations

Yesterday, I was running through analysis of user flow through the site. This analysis shows anonymized data that lets us understand how users interact with the site, where they come in, where they go, and when they close the window or move elsewhere. Obviously, the more time a user spends on the site, the better chance that they’ll find a property that suits their needs. And the better chance for landlords to have their property seen.

Part of the power of Anikio is the amazing search capabilities, which is designed at the outset to make sure users see what they’re looking for. But not all of our users come to Anikio through the homepage or even use the search function. For example, they might see a listing shared on social media and click to go right to that listing. At that point, we have no idea what they’re looking for, our best guess is that the property they’re looking at is of enough interest to have brought them over. The question I had was how do these users interact with the site?

What the analysis showed us is that, for people people coming to Anikio on a specific property page, most look at that listing and then leave. Some do go to the home page, click on the Properties button in the menu, etc. but far too many look at one place and leave. This is good for nobody!

So today we’ve rolled out a new feature for listings. At the bottom of each listing, we now – as of this afternoon –  recommend a few similar properties. Someone looking at a downtown property might be interested in seeing other downtown units that are in a similar price range, for example. Unfortunately, there’s still some work to do to make this happen on mobile but that’s coming. Hopefully, this will result in a better experience for everyone! As a side note, we expect that it will help improve our ranking for each listing with search engines. And all this just in time for the weekend. Enjoy! 🙂

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Moving on Up

up-logo-uniting-the-prairies

Today we registered to attend UP and we’re pretty excited for it! While we haven’t attended before, there’s a pretty interesting program and will likely be a good turnout among the local tech startup scene as well as venture capitalists, angel investors, and others in the space. So it’s a great chance to meet some really interesting, dynamic people, learn some things about starting, and hear some of the great things others are doing to get a business going. If you’ll be there, we’d love to hear about it. And if you’re interested, I’ll post a  link below where you can get tickets – there’s an early bird sale on right now, you just need this code: EarlyBirdGetsTheWorm.

Get Tickets

For your reference, I’ve pasted the program below also. Note there’s a private event 5-9:30 for specially invited founders on Wednesday. So far we aren’t on that list, but just FYI in case you happen to be a founder and reading this.

Thursday (May 7)

7:30am – 8:30am

  • Breakfast (Provided)

8:30am – 9:15am

  • Golden Handcuffs

9:30am – 10:15am (Choose One)

  • Topic #1: A Partnership By Any Other Name
  • Topic #2: Duolingo for Cross-Functional Teams

10:30am – 11:15am (Choose One)

  • Topic #1: Talk Technical to My Baby
  • Topic #2: SEO Won’t Save You

11:30am – 12:15pm

  • Topic: Data Highway

12:15pm – 1:45pm

  • Lunch Break (Not Provided)
  • A map of the best restaurants in Downtown Saskatoon will be provided

2:00pm – 2:45pm

  • Topic: Strategy after $100M in Revenue

3:00pm – 3:45pm (Choose One)

  • Topic #1: Dude, Where’s My ________: A Story of Communication, Data, and Tracking
  • Topic #2: Big Corp Cheat Sheet

4:00pm – 4:30pm

  • Keynote

4:30pm – 5:00pm

  • Closing Remarks

5:00pm

  • Dinner Break(Not Provided)
  • A map of the best restaurants in Downtown Saskatoon will be provided

8:30pm – Close

  • Afterparty
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February Update

It has been a busy beginning to the 20’s here at Anikio. As usual, we’re reaching out to try to get new landlords on board. We’ll be focusing in February on some of the smaller and most reputable property managers. Let’s take a few minutes to talk about what’s new and improved.

New Video Content

Chalk this up as a fail. Unfortunately our first ‘pro’ project didn’t go very well. Fans will remember our video with my uncle Nick as the first attempt. Amateur but definitely useable. This time, I made all sorts of rookie mistakes. I wore a collared shirt and the lighting from below – great for removing double chins – made it look like my head had been cut-and-pasted on some other body. It was kind of funny, actually, but not in a useable sort of way. The green screen was also probably more than we needed, and somehow I came out looking like a blurry blue alien (see above). Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Also, I’ve discovered that you can’t adlib a script when you talk with your hands and expect to be able to do jump cuts. And finally, I’ve learned what jump cuts are. So you can see, failure silver-lined with lessons and amusement!

CMHC Report

The annual report on the Saskatoon rental market was released in January, but we wanted to go beyond the 2-3 page summary and try to find some insights. As this was our first deep dive, it took some time to find historical vacancy rates and outside contextual information and also to build up some nice infographics for the different looks. And then we swam in numbers from the 30 or so tables of raw data. I’m happy with the result – if you’re logged in, you can see check out the full report in the 2020 update. But I think there’s a lot of room to improve in terms of capturing the independent landlord experience (versus apartment buildings). I hope that as we sign up more independent landlords, we will be able to represent the entire rental universe.

Speed Thrills

January we were really trying to find ways to speed up Anikio; especially our home page. We have done some work with caching – having pre-loaded static content ready to go. We’ve enhanced and compressed every single photo on the site (even the ones you can’t see right now) so that they’re smaller and quicker. And it turns out that the contact forms we use are notorious for slowing things down across the website. So we’ve made adjustments to only load those forms on the pages where they’re needed. You may have noticed that the feedback form in the footer of the website is gone. That’s why. An added bonus, we’ve upgraded our reCAPTCHA to version 3. You no longer have to click a button to prove you’re not a robot, that is now automatically detected and, according to Google, more difficult to fool. So we hope to see less spam and one less click to help connect renters and properties.

Signs of the Times

We have street signs to advertise properties For Rent. So far we’re trying them out and we don’t have many people using the QR codes to go right to the listing. We’re not sure if that’s because they’re too small (so you have to either zoom in or be closer to the sign) or because people don’t know what to do with them. On the plus side, we have gotten feedback that they are being noticed and resulting in calls. So while we haven’t so far pushed the envelope of what a sign can do, at least they’re doing what signs have always done. And, if we may be a little bold, looked good while doing so!

That’s all for now. We have a new ‘staging’ server that will make it much easier to continue updating the site incrementally and with some capabilities. But no spoilers here!

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Saskatoon Rental Market Update for 2020

Saskatoon Vacancy Rate Map By Area - 2018 and 2019

Last week, the CMHC released its annual Rental Market Report. The report, based on October 2019 data, has some good news for local landlords: a decrease in Saskatoon’s overall vacancy rate to 5.7%. That’s down from 8.3% last year, when Saskatoon had the highest vacancy rate of all major Canadian cities. The recent data brings Saskatoon’s vacancy rate below Regina’s for the first time since 2007 and below this year’s new high-vacancy capital: St. John’s, Newfoundland. Within that overall vacancy rate, condominium vacancy declined from 4.7% to 1.7%, even with a 4.4% increase in the number of condos. And townhouse vacancy, also 4.7% last year, dropped to 3.7% this year.

Average rents also increased 2%, bringing rents back to approximately what they were five years ago. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting, property taxes in Saskatoon have increased an average of 4.5% each year. Beyond those highlights, our full report looks at what’s happening in different areas of the city in detail. The full report adds some colour and more detail to the CMHC summary. Download the full report below (you must be a registered Anikio user):

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You Need More Video Content!

These days it’s more important than ever to have video content. Every person with a marketing background of any kind that I talk to says that. I think one of them even had it tattooed somewhere. While I’m a very visual person and definitely understand the importance, I’m not great at taking video of myself. Worse, I have perfectionist tendencies. So even when I DO take some video of day-to-day or clips showing what sort of work we do with our customers, it sits in my ‘not quite done’ pile just long enough to be irrelevant or out-of-date.

The solution? Have someone else that knows what they’re doing (and isn’t obsessive like I am) do it! I met up with Carter Johnson, a local cinematography student at the Recording Arts Institute of Saskatoon, and we filmed a few different video clips that I’m hoping will help explain a bit more about who we are at Anikio, what we do, and why we do it. I’m looking forward to seeing the end results!

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Merry Christmas from Anikio!

List Your Property By Christmas to Get 2 Months Free Listing

It has been a year filled with many new challenges, experiences, long nights… and fun! Most of all, it has been a year filled with gracious support, from those willing to try a new way to rent to friends and family sharing the word and passing on our name to others. We’re so grateful to all of you that have supported us this year.

So, our gift to you. If you have a rental property, all you have to do is create your listing by Christmas. Keep it as a draft until you’re ready to publish it. Whenever that may be, you’ll have two months of free listing credits added to your account!

That’s it. No obligation, tricks, payment information, or anything else required. What kind of gift would that be?! You don’t even have to celebrate Christmas; it’s just a gift from us this season.

Sign up to get started (registered users click here)