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‘A handful of little carnations’: Customers complain Bloomex’s bouquets don’t always arrive as advertised

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When Pat Hodnett’s sister-in-law passed away last year, a bouquet of “cheerful” flowers seemed the perfect way to honour her memory.

“Betty was a gardener … she loved happy, cheerful flowers,” said Hodnett.  

Hodnett looked online and came across Bloomex.ca. With Betty in mind, she selected a bouquet of 50 daisies — an arrangement called the Voyage of the Doves — and paid a total of $73 to have the flowers delivered to the church.

“I just thought she would love them,” Hodnett said.

But when she arrived at the funeral service, her daisies were nowhere to be found.

“I looked at the cards … and when I got to the end, it was a little vase: It had a handful of little carnations.… I looked at the card and it was from me,” said Hodnett.

“It was just very cheap-looking … I was so embarrassed,” said Hodnett. “I just wanted to hide it.”

5 bouquets

Billing itself “Canada’s official florist,” Bloomex advertises that it purchases flowers directly from growers and suppliers in order to deliver a fresh product to customers for a better price.

The Ottawa-based company also claims to be Canada’s largest florist and operates nationally, shipping products from eight warehouses across the country. Bloomex also sells other products, like gourmet gift baskets and balloons.

To test the quality of Bloomex’s products, Marketplace ordered five different bouquets from the online retailer to be delivered within the Toronto area.

None arrived within the selected delivery window, even though Marketplace had paid extra for them to be delivered at that time. Delivery confirmation emails for each bouquet also arrived prior to any of the bouquets being delivered.

Marketplace also showed all five bouquets to Don Waltho, a longtime florist and founder of the Canadian Institute of Floral Design (CIFD), a private career college registered with the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, asking him to compare the delivered products with the flowers that were advertised on Bloomex’s website.

Overall, Waltho graded all five bouquets as a “fail” due to the poor quality and condition of the flowers; he also identified many flowers that were missing or where others were substituted in.

Bloomex’s substitution policy states that “due to our order volume fluctuation, we reserve the right to substitute with similar product of equal or greater value.”

But with the bouquets Marketplace received, Waltho said that wasn’t always the case. He noted all of the greenery in the bouquets was leather fern, for example, what he described as a cheap substitute for the greenery shown in the images.

“If I was your husband [and] I gave these to you … you’d say don’t send me flowers … let’s just go out for our anniversary, let’s go to dinner,” he said.

“I’m ashamed of people in my industry sending this kind of material out to consumers.”

Waltho said he worries that the quality of the Bloomex’s bouquets could tarnish the floral industry — and he’s not alone.

Don Waltho, who has more than 30 years experience in the floral industry, graded all five Bloomex bouquets delivered to Marketplace as ‘fails’ due to the poor quality and condition of the flowers. (Jenny Cowley/CBC)

Marketplace shared footage of the bouquets with other retail florists and floral design instructors, specifying only that the flowers were ordered online, without naming the company they had come from.

“I was actually completely taken aback looking at them,” said Becky De Oliveira, the owner of Blush and Bloom Flower Studio in Toronto. “After 20 years in flowers, I was both mortified and embarrassed.”

De Oliveira has worked in retail shops that offer online ordering and said it was often difficult to meet client expectations and replicate bouquets exactly as advertised, noting factors such as what was in stock and seasonal availability come into play.

But she called the differences in the flowers ordered by Marketplace “astounding.”

Customers are usually not picky about flower substitutions, De Oliveira said, adding she would inform her clients when swaps needed to be made.

But she said the substitutions used in the Marketplace bouquets “clearly compromised the design greatly.” Marketplace received no notice of substitutions for its orders.

Wilting reviews

Marketplace has also tested Bloomex in the past. Since that 2010 episode, dozens of unhappy customers have been in touch with the program, complaining of poor-quality flowers, late delivery, or no delivery at all.

“I ordered flowers for my grandmother’s 81st birthday a few days in advance and paid the extra shipping to make sure it would be delivered on her actual birthday,” said Sage Daniels. “My grandma finally got the irises after two weeks. They never opened … and died with in three days.”

Bloomex offered a credit for the late flowers, Daniels said, but refused to cover the additional delivery cost.

Because of a Bloomex bouquet, Katrin Chitaroni said she spent much of the funeral for her best friend’s parents picking up petals off the carpet.

“The chrysanthemums were so dry and old that they had their heads hanging down.… It was embarrassing.”

JudyAnn Jensen said she used Bloomex to send a “gourmet” gift basket and planter to family friends who just buried their parents. The items that were included were digestive cookies, sour soothers, Bigfoot candies and a box of Triscuits — none of which are pictured in the baskets advertised on Bloomex’s website.

JudyAnn Jensen calls the products Bloomex sent as a condolence ‘gourmet’ gift basket on her behalf ‘absolutely embarrassing and unacceptable.’ (JudyAnn Jensen)

When Jensen complained, Bloomex told her that in the “unlikely event” the company is sold out of a particular product, “we are able to substitute with another similar product.”

Jensen calls that explanation unacceptable.

“I don’t believe digestive [cookies], Triscuits and sour suckers are remotely close to ‘similar products,’ let alone the nature of sending such items to a family who just buried both their elderly parents.”

Marketplace shared the findings of its delivery test with Bloomex, including photos and general delivery locations. The company declined an interview, stating it needed more information. But in letters sent through a lawyer, Bloomex stated that “flowers are perishable” and the company “makes every effort to get flowers delivered in good condition.”

The company also stated it “endeavors to address all complaints quickly” and that their policy requires customers looking for replacement flowers or refunds to send a photo of what they received.

As for Pat Hodnett, when she reached out to Bloomex to complain about her bouquet, she said she was hung up on by Bloomex staff in mid-conversation.

“I told her how unhappy I was, that I was embarrassed and that it wasn’t what I ordered and that I wanted my money back,” she recalled.

Hodnett was told she’d need to email the manager, but when she asked for that contact information, the response was a dial tone.

After refusing Bloomex’s offer of a discount off her next order, it took a complaint to Ontario’s Ministry of Government and Consumer Services to receive a refund.

Ultimately, Hodnett says, it’s not too much for customers to expect to receive what they paid for.

“Be truthful. Do what you say you’re going to do, and be upfront about it.”

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Real Estate

5 ways to reduce your mortgage amortization

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Since the pandemic hit, a lot of Canadians have been affected financially and if you’re on a mortgage, reducing your amortization period can be of great help.

A mortgage amortization period is the amount of time it would take a homeowner to completely pay off their mortgage. The amortization is typically an estimate based on what the interest rate for your current term is. Calculating your amortization is done easily using a loan amortization calculator which shows you the different payment schedules within your amortization period.

 In Canada, if you made a down payment that is less than the recommended 20 per cent of the total cost of your home, then the longest amortization period you’re allowed to have is 25 years. The mortgage amortization period not only affects the length of time it would take to completely repay the loan, but also the amount of interest paid over the lifecycle of the mortgage.

Typically, longer amortization periods involve making smaller monthly payments and having a much higher total interest cost over the duration of the mortgage. While on the other hand, shorter amortization periods entails making larger monthly payments and having lower total interest costs.

It’s the dream of every homeowner to become mortgage-free. A general rule of thumb would be to try and keep your monthly mortgage costs as low as possible—preferably below 30 per cent of your monthly income. Over time, you may become more financially stable by either getting a tax return, a bonus or an additional source of income and want to channel that towards your principal.

There are several ways to keep your monthly mortgage payments low and reduce your amortization. Here are a few ways to achieve that goal:

1. Make a larger down payment

Once you’ve decided to buy a home, always consider putting asides some significant amount of money that would act as a down payment to reduce your monthly mortgage. While the recommended amount to put aside as a down payment is 20 per cent,  if you aren’t in a hurry to purchase the property or are more financial buoyant, you can even pay more.

Essentially, the larger your down payment, the lower your mortgage would be as it means you’re borrowing less money from your lender. However, if you pay at least 20 per cent upfront, there would be no need for you to cover the additional cost of private mortgage insurance which would save you some money.

2. Make bi-weekly payments

Most homeowners make monthly payments which amount to 12 payments every year. But if your bank or lender offers the option of accelerated bi-weekly payment, you will be making an equivalent of one more payment annually. Doing this will further reduce your amortization period by allowing you to pay off your mortgage much faster.

3. Have a fixed renewal payment

It is normal for lenders to offer discounts on interest rate during your amortization period. However, as you continuously renew your mortgage at a lower rate, always keep a fixed repayment sum.

Rather than just making lower payments, you can keep your payments static, since the more money applied to your principal, the faster you can clear your mortgage.

4. Increase your payment amount

Many mortgages give homeowners the option to increase their payment amount at least once a year. Now, this is very ideal for those who have the financial capacity to do so because the extra money would be added to your principal.

Irrespective of how small the increase might be, in the long run, it would make a huge difference. For example, if your monthly mortgage payment is about $2,752 per month. It would be in your best interest to round it up to $2,800 every month. That way, you are much closer to reducing your mortgage amortization period.

5. Leverage on prepayment privileges

The ability for homeowners to make any form of prepayment solely depends on what mortgage features are provided by their lender.

With an open mortgage, you can easily make additional payments at any given time. However, if you have a closed mortgage—which makes up the larger percentage of existing mortgages—you will need to check if you have the option of prepayments which would allow you to make extra lump sum payments.

Additionally, there may also be the option to make extra lump sum payments at the end of your existing mortgage term before its time for renewal.

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Real Estate

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: What you need to know

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Your home is likely the biggest asset you’ll ever own. So how can you protect it in case something were to happen to you? To start, homeowners have a few options to choose from. You can either:

  • ensure you have mortgage protection with a life insurance policy from an insurance company or
  • get mortgage insurance from a bank or mortgage lender.

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: How do they each work?  

The first thing to know is that life insurance can be a great way to make sure you and your family have mortgage protection.

The money from a life insurance policy usually goes right into the hands of your beneficiaries – not the bank or mortgage lender. Your beneficiaries are whoever you choose to receive the benefit or money from your policy after you die.

Life insurance policies, like term life insurance, come with a death benefit. A death benefit is the amount of money given to your beneficiaries after you die. The exact amount they’ll receive depends on the policy you buy.

With term life insurance, you’re covered for a set period, such as 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. The premium – that’s the monthly or annual fee you pay for insurance – is usually low for the first term.

If you die while you’re coved by your life insurance policy, your beneficiaries will receive a tax-free death benefit. They can then use this money to help pay off the mortgage or for any other reason. So not only is your mortgage protected, but your family will also have funds to cover other expenses that they relied on you to pay.

Mortgage insurance works by paying off the outstanding principal balance of your mortgage, up to a certain amount, if you die.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes directly to the bank or lender to pay off the mortgage – and that’s it. There’s no extra money to cover other expenses, and you don’t get to leave any cash behind to your beneficiaries.

What’s the difference between mortgage insurance and life insurance?

The main difference is that mortgage insurance covers only your outstanding mortgage balance. And, that money goes directly to the bank or mortgage lender, not your beneficiary. This means that there’s no cash, payout or benefit given to your beneficiary. 

With life insurance, however, you get mortgage protection and more. Here’s how it works: every life insurance policy provides a tax-free amount of money (the death benefit) to the beneficiary. The payment can cover more than just the mortgage. The beneficiary may then use the money for any purpose. For example, apart from paying off the mortgage, they can also use the funds from the death benefit to cover:

  • any of your remaining debts,
  • the cost of child care,
  • funeral costs,
  • the cost of child care, and
  • any other living expenses. 

But before you decide between life insurance and mortgage insurance, here are some other important differences to keep in mind:

Who gets the money?

With life insurance, the money goes to whomever you name as your beneficiary.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes entirely to the bank.

Can you move your policy?

With life insurance, your policy stays with you even if you transfer your mortgage to another company. There’s no need to re-apply or prove your health is good enough to be insured.

With mortgage insurance, however, your policy doesn’t automatically move with you if you change mortgage providers. If you move your mortgage to another bank, you’ll have to prove that your health is still good.

Which offers more flexibility, life insurance or mortgage insurance?

With life insurance, your beneficiaries have the flexibility to cover the mortgage balance and more after you die. As the policy owner, you can choose how much insurance coverage you want and how long you need it. And, the coverage doesn’t decline unless you want it to.

With mortgage insurance through a bank, you don’t have the flexibility to change your coverage. In this case, you’re only protecting the outstanding balance on your mortgage.

Do you need a medical exam to qualify? 

With a term life insurance policy from Sun Life, you may have to answer some medical questions or take a medical exam before you’re approved for coverage. Once you’re approved, Sun Life won’t ask for any additional medical information later on.

With mortgage insurance, a bank or mortgage lender may ask some medical questions when you apply. However, if you make a claim after you’re approved, your bank may ask for additional medical information.* At that point, they may discover some conditions that disqualify you from receiving payment on a claim.

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Real Estate

5 common mistakes Canadians make with their mortgages

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This article was created by MoneyWise. Postmedia and MoneyWise may earn an affiliate commission through links on this page.

Since COVID-19 dragged interest rates to historic lows last year, Canadians have been diving into the real estate market with unprecedented verve.

During a time of extraordinary financial disruption, more than 551,000 properties sold last year — a new annual record, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. Those sales provided a desperately needed dose of oxygen for the country’s gasping economy.

Given the slew of new mortgages taken out in 2020, there were bound to be slip-ups. So, MoneyWise asked four of the country’s sharpest mortgage minds to share what they feel are the mistakes Canadians most frequently make when securing a home loan.

Mistake 1: Not having your documents ready

One of your mortgage broker’s primary functions is to provide lenders with paperwork confirming your income, assets, source of down payment and overall reliability as a borrower. Without complete and accurate documentation, no reputable lender will be able to process your loan.

But “borrowers often don’t have these documents on hand,” says John Vo of Spicer Vo Mortgages in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “And even when they do provide these documents, they may not be the correct documentation required.”

Some of the most frequent mistakes Vo sees when borrowers send in their paperwork include:

  • Not including a name or other relevant details on key pieces of information.
  • Providing old bank or pay statements instead of those dated within the last 30 days.
  • Sending only a partial document package. If a lender asks for six pages to support your loan, don’t send two. If you’re asked for four months’ worth of bank statements, don’t provide only one.
  • Thinking low-quality or blurry files sent by email or text will be good enough. Lenders need to be able to read what you send them.

If you send your broker an incomplete documents package, the result is inevitable: Your mortgage application will be delayed as long as it takes for you to find the required materials, and your house shopping could be sidetracked for months.

Mistake 2: Blinded by the rate

Ask any mortgage broker and they’ll tell you that the question they’re asked most frequently is: “What’s your lowest rate?”

The interest rate you’ll pay on your mortgage is a massive consideration, so comparing the rates lenders are offering is a good habit once you’ve slipped on your house-hunter hat.

Rates have been on the rise lately given government actions to stimulate the Canadian economy. You may want to lock a low rate now, so you can hold onto it for up to 120 days.

But Chris Kolinski, broker at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based iSask Mortgages, says too many borrowers get obsessed with finding the lowest rate and ignore the other aspects of a mortgage that can greatly impact its overall cost.

“I always ask my clients ‘Do you want to get the best rate, or do you want to save the most money?’ because those two things are not always synonymous,” Kolinski says. “That opens a conversation about needs and wants.”

Many of the rock-bottom interest rates on offer from Canadian lenders can be hard to qualify for, come with limited features, or cost borrowers “a ton” of money if they break their terms, Kolinski points out.

Mistake 3: Not reading the fine print

Dalia Barsoum of Streetwise Mortgages in Woodbridge, Ontario, shares a universal message: “Read the fine print. Understand what you’re signing up for.”

Most borrowers don’t expect they’ll ever break their mortgages, but data collected by TD Bank shows that 7 in 10 homeowners move on from their properties earlier than they expect.

It’s critical to understand your loan’s prepayment privileges and the rules around an early departure. “If you exit the mortgage, how much are you going to pay? It’s really, really important,” Barsoum says.

She has seen too borrowers come to her hoping to refinance a mortgage they received from a private or specialty lender, only to find that what they were attempting was impossible.

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