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Why Do You Need a Real Estate Professional to Sell Your Home?
Posted on Thu, 15 Feb 2018, 11:45:00 AM  in Home selling tips
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Are you ready to put your home up for sale? You may be thinking that you can save a great deal of time, effort, and money by doing it all by yourself. Maybe you think that hiring a professional real estate expert just means involving a middle man that doesn't really need to be there. But this is the case in real life? Can you actually sell your home by yourself? If you think there isn't much more to it than putting out a "For Sale By Owner" sign, you may be letting yourself in for quite a large surprise.


Why Does the "Do It Yourself" Approach Usually End in Failure?Why Do You Need a Real Estate Professional to Sell Your Home

You may have heard a bunch of stories about how a handful of home owners were able to sell their properties all by themselves. However, what you don't usually hear is how many home owners end up having to curtail their "Do It Yourself" campaign. In the end, most people realize that simply hanging a "For Sale By Owner" sign on their front yard just doesn't give them the publicity they need to sell their home.


What is the Approach to Home Sales That Will Really Work?

If trying the "Do It Yourself" approach doesn't really work so well, what does? The answer to this question is as simple as it is clear: You need to hire a reputable and professional real estate expert whose job it is to manage the marketing and eventual sale of your home. There are a thousand small details that need to be handled on your behalf by a qualified real estate professional. The sooner you hire a pro to attend to these matters, the sooner you can really sell your home.


You Need to Use All of the Latest Technology to Sell Your Home

A professional real estate expert can get your home listed. This is the first step toward attracting a wide variety of potential buyers. The more exposure you get in the listings, the more likely you are to sell your home in a timely manner. The important thing to keep in mind at all times is that this is valuable exposure that a "For Sale By Owner" sign simply can't get you. Unless you get very lucky, restricting your advertising to a sign will result in a very long wait.


A Real Estate Professional Can Suggest Needed Repair Work for Your Home

One of the very best things that a licensed real estate expert can do on your behalf is to suggest much needed repair work for your home. Before you can sell your home, it will need to pass the test administered by an official home inspector. This is a perfect opportunity for you to go over each area in your home to make sure that it will pass this inspection. A real estate professional can help you find areas in your house that need to be improved or renovated as soon as possible.


The Time to Hire a Qualified Real Estate Professional is Now

There is no better time than the present for you to hire a professionally qualified real estate professional. If you want to sell your home for the best possible price, this is an absolute must. You can contact a qualified real estate expert in your area to get started on exposing your home to the widest possible market. This is the move you need to make if you want to realize the best return on all your years of investing in your present property.

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What Opportunities Does Canada Have For Business?
Posted on Wed, 31 Jan 2018, 02:50:00 PM  in Home buying tips,  Home selling tips
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Diverse Competitive Economy and OECD Country

Canada features a very diverse and competitive economy, being an OECD country. Furthermore, it also happens to be one of the easiest countries to start a business in, being #2 after New Zealand. The country also has a relatively high level of income, with a median income level of $43,660. Comparatively, the country also offers an easy system for paying taxes and resolving insolvency.


Canadian Advantages Over Other OECD Countries

What Opportunities Does Canada Have For Business?Canada also has a few other advantages over other OECD countries. First, Canada is politically stable. Recent studies have ranked the Canadian banking system as being the most stable one in the world. This confidence in the banking system creates an atmosphere where you are able to grow your business. There are also fewer banks, but they are very well regulated.


NAFTA Membership Creates Opportunity For Trade

Canada is also a member of the North American Free Trade Agreement which allows you to have duty free access to the United States and Mexican markets for many products. NAFTA aims to create opportunity for investment and growth throughout North America. NAFTA also means lower prices for Canadian companies and consumers.


Natural Resources Abound in Canada

Canada is also known for being an abundant source of natural resources. Coal, silver, iron ore, natural gas, gold, copper, and timber all count among the natural resources that can be found within Canadian borders. Canada has a entire government department established to ensure that the natural resources are managed appropriately, and they also help out with mapping and remote sensing to identify new sources of natural resources.


A Bilingual Population With English and French

Canada also has a bilingual population, as people speak both English and French. This positions Canada for being in a great place to conduct business throughout the world. Many emerging economies in Africa speak French, which means that you will have a source of native French speaking Canadians whom share the same language as people in emerging markets.


Transparent Regulatory Environment

The Government of Canada is also very transparent with the regulatory environment. For you, this means that regulations and other procedures related to the government are fairly simple to deal with and understand. Many other places have a regulatory mess which can be very dfificult to understand and manage.


Diverse Economy

Manufacturing, services, and natural resources are the dominant industries, with Royal Bank of Canada being the largest company. The benefit of this is it creates a diverse set of industries. A diverse set of industries means a economy with opportunity for your business to make a mark upon the Canadian economy.


Consider Services of a Realtor to Assist in Finding The Right Place To Live

Many whom relocate to Canada often consider the services of a REALTORŪ for assistance in locating a new property. A REALTORŪ can be a great resource because of the expertise that this individual has on which neighborhoods are safe and which places are generally desirable to live in.

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Where is the Best Place to Get a Home Loan?
Posted on Sun, 31 Dec 2017, 03:00:00 PM  in Home buying tips
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If you are looking for a loan to buy a home with, you have plenty of options. One of the best ones would also likely be the most obvious. You can go directly to the bank that you do the rest of your financial business with. If your credit is in good shape, it is likely to be so positive precisely because of the many transactions with your bank that have helped to raise it. So it shouldn't be much of a problem at all to get a good sized loan from your local bank that will help you to buy the home you currently have your heart set on. It all comes down to your current state of credit.


If Your Credit Isn't So Good, Can You Still Get a Home Loan?

Where is the Best Place to Get a Home Loan?Of course, not everyone's credit is bound to be stellar. Your score may actually have declined during your years of dealing with your bank due to overdrafts or defaulting on other types of payments. You may also have recently lost your job or are between periods of employment. Whatever the reason may be, if your credit is average or poor you may be unable to convince your bank to give you a loan that will enable you to buy your home. However, there are other ways that you can go about getting this loan.


You May Be Able to Get a Loan from Your Insurance Company

If your credit is good and you have adequate proof of income and employment, you may be able to get a home loan from your insurance company. This will be all the more likely to happen if the company you are seeking the loan from is the one you are also using to insure other types of property, such as your car. If your credit and other qualifications check out, you can usually take on a new home loan that will simply become another charge from the same company you are already signing checks to on a monthly basis. However, if your credit is not good, this may not be a viable option.


If Other Avenues are Exhausted, You Can Try a Private Lender

If all of the other possible avenues for getting a loan have been tried and exhausted, there is another option that you are free to explore. You can attempt to get a loan for your home from a private lender. This is an option that you need to think very carefully about before pursuing as there may be a number of conditions that could come back to haunt you at a later date. While most private lenders are reputable and safe to deal with, there are a few shady outfits that may charge you insanely high rates of interest and attempt to impose other conditions that could leave you bankrupt.


You May Qualify for a Loan from the Canadian Government

If even a private lender doesn't seem like a good idea, there is one final avenue that you can check into. Under certain conditions, you may qualify to receive a home loan from the Canadian government. If you are in need of housing due to a serious crisis, you may qualify for an emergency loan that could help you move into a new home. There are a number of other exigencies under which you may qualify for this type of loan. Check with the official Canadian government website to learn more about these types of situations and the loans you may be able to receive to get you through them.

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Purchasing a New Home
Posted on Wed, 30 Aug 2017, 09:15:00 AM  in Home buying tips
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Canada is a country representing a wide variety of properties for sale. Home buyers may choose from a remote cabin in what closely resembles a wilderness area, or they may prefer a condo or townhouse located in the downtown area of a modern city. Their lifestyle and position in life will likely be the deciding factor when Canadians decide to purchase a home.


Retirees may search for a home where they are able to appreciate the beauty of nature if they aspire to an active and healthy lifestyle. Seniors who do not enjoy great health may prefer to live near a hospital or medical facility in case they experience a catastrophic health event. Younger people who have children also prefer to live further away from the city, but usually choose to be close enough that their commute to work is not too long. Residential communities located on the outskirts of larger metropolis areas are popular neighborhoods with children of school age. Singles and young couples in the millennial age group typically prefer to rent near thenew home city center, and many prefer to purchase a condo as an investment.


Canada's economy is relatively stable, and Toronto is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. The diverse metropolis is the capital of Ontario and is located on the shore of Lake Ontario. Toronto offers many employment and educational opportunities as well as a wide variety of outdoor activities. The number of new constructions and home improvement projects is a testament to Toronto's healthy economy. The Greater Toronto Area is a popular residential location due to the availability of transportation into the city center where most people are employed.


People who live in Canada are well aware of the frigid winter temperatures, but they have obviously come to appreciate the advantages of living there so much that the weather is tolerable. The far northern areas of the country are less occupied which is likely due to the much colder winters there. The most populated regions of Canada are situated in the southern half of the country.


When it comes to the Canadian climate, Victoria, British Columbia is the warmest. The city is located on Vancouver Island about 100 km south of the city of Vancouver. Victoria is British Columbia's capital city, and boasts amazing mountain and ocean views in nearly every direction. The peaceful atmosphere of the city is popular with retirees, although families and students are drawn to the wide range of outdoor activities that include biking, water sports, golf and zip lining.


Anyone planning to purchase a new home in Canada will be wise to contact a reputable REALTORŪ in their desired location. A real estate agent will be able to search for the type of property that meets their needs and wishes. While it may be quite possible to successfully purchase a private listing, a professional will guide them through the process with less risk of purchasing a home with problems. In addition, a REALTORŪ has access to homes that are just coming on the market or homes that are foreclosed and bank owned.

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How to Make Your Home Stand Out on the Market
Posted on Tue, 15 Aug 2017, 04:10:00 PM  in Home selling tips
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When you're ready to list your home, it's important that the property stands out to ensure that you find the right buyers. Home sellers often want to sell the property as soon as possible to prevent the home from losing value. If you want the house to stand out on the market, there are a few important tips to follow.


Stage Your Home

Staging the home is necessary to help buyers envision themselves living in the property instead of feeling like they're taking a tour of someone else's home. Use neutral furniture and decor to create a contemporary setting that isn't overly bold or dramatic. Repaint red or dark walls with beige or off-white color shades. Remove personal items that include family photos or children's artwork on the fridge. All clutter will also need to be hidden to prevent it from detracting from the features of the interior and exterior setting. Consider renting a storage unit to place extra belongings instead of stuffing everything inside of cupboards or closets where buyers may inspect. All animals or pets should also be removed from the property.  The Zoi Ouzas Team are not just experienced realtors, but also Accredited Staging Professionals.  We can help you every step of the way in preparing your home for sale and maximizing your home value.stnad out on market


Take Quality Photos

The photos that you use to advertise your home will determine how many people want to take a look at the property. Hire a professional to take quality photos during the daytime when there's plenty of natural light present to create an uplifting setting. The photographer can take pictures of the best features of the property after the home has been staged. The professional should also be capable of editing the images to ensure that they look attractive.


Increase the Curb Appeal

It can often be difficult to sell your home if the inside setting is updated, but the curb appeal of the property looks dire and neglected. Boost the curb appeal by increasing the quality of the landscaping and using potted plants on the porch. Consider painting the front door to make it pop and stand out on the home. You can also add a water feature like a pond or a fountain in the yard for extra appeal or a few chairs on the porch.


Updating the mailbox and address numbers will also make the home appear newer and maintained well. Having a beautiful front yard and exterior setting will allow buyers to notice the property when driving by and seeing a sign in the yard that the home is for sale.


Make it Personal

Your goal should be to make your guests feel at home when they tour the property. Consider leaving fresh cookies out on the kitchen countertop or hanging clean white towels in the bathrooms. Adding air fresheners or lighting a few candles will create a pleasant setting that allows them to feel comfortable in the environment.


Avoid being present on the property when buyers tour the property, which can make for an awkward encounter. Let your real estate agent represent you and show off the different features while you're away to help potential buyers feel at ease as they take a look around.


Make Use of Each Space

Empty rooms can be a turnoff to buyers because they may not know what to do with the space if they purchase the home. Make use of each space in the home by staging an area that can be used as a home office or a home theatre for the family. Getting creative can allow potential buyers to see that the house will serve many different purposes.

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New Canadian Home, New Canadian Lifestyle
Posted on Sat, 15 Jul 2017, 08:55:00 AM  in Home buying tips
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Do you already live in Canada but are moving to a new location? Are you from a different country and are looking to move to Canada for the first time in your life? Maybe you have children, medical needs, or work-related demands that can best be filled only by moving into your next Canadian home. In any event, moving into a new home is the perfect opportunity to start fresh and live a lifestyle that is be different than the one you are currently living. Consider the following advice if you are interested in creating a new lifestyle for yourself.


Location Mattersnew lifestyle

Canada is one of the largest countries on the planet. There are plenty of opportunities to live in the type of location that makes you happy. Different locations have different climates, different language preferences, and different types of jobs. Make sure that you are moving to the area of Canada that best meets you and your family’s needs.


Size Isn’t Everything

Not all homes that are large are expensive. Not all homes that are small fit into everyone’s budget. You do not need to have a 10 bedroom home to live the life of luxury that you desire. Your home should fit your needs and make you happy before it makes anybody else happy.


Proximity to Civilization Varies For Everyone

Living in the remote forest is not for everyone, but living in the city is not always the perfect location either. Thankfully, when you purchase your new home in Canada you’ll have plenty of options ranging from “far away from any signs of civilization” to “right in the middle of a city that never sleeps”. You must recognize that you do not have to have the same preferences as your parents, grandparents, or friends in order to be happy.


Change Is a Family Effort

Change can be hard, buying and selling homes can be hard, and meeting with professionals like sales representatives and inspectors can be hard. You cannot expect that you can change your entire lifestyle upon moving if you do not have the support of your family. Maybe this means living more simply in the forest or the mountains. Maybe this means giving up a little more family time so that you can go to work to make a bigger paycheck. Change has to be a family effort in order for it to work.


Be True To Who You Are No Matter What

It is hard to be a free-thinking, creative, and carefree type of person if you have always had demands placed on you to fit within the constraints that society has outlined. If you have worked an office position for the past few decades but would rather make a living opening up your own art studio, then open up the art studio and abandon the suit. If you want a small home with the bare essentials necessary for living, then do not let yourself buy the types of items that build up into clutter. This new home is your opportunity to embrace the true you.


Take Home Advice

Congratulations on making the decision to move into your new Canadian home and again for choosing to embrace the lifestyle that you have always wanted to live. Even if the advice above differs from your own personal ideals, you are sure to have started the brainstorming process necessary to find the lifestyle that does fit your own unique personal situation, lifestyle, and preferences.

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Form These 4 Lists Before You Even Consider Looking For Your Next Home
Posted on Fri, 30 Jun 2017, 10:00:00 AM  in Home buying tips
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It can sometimes be difficult to gather and organize your thoughts when you are looking to buy a beautiful new Canadian home. If you are in this position, then you may wish to consider forming the 4 lists below to organize your thoughts and your needs. Remember, every list is negotiable and may not include every component of every house that you are about to view on your search.


Your New Canadian Home Needs...

The items on this list are non-negotiable. These are the items and components of a home that you need to have or desire so strongly that you are not willing to even consider homes that do not have them. You may have items like 3 or more bedrooms on this list if you have two children of opposite genders, for example. You may need a home in a specific town or province in which you would like to place on this list as well. You can get as detailed or vague as you need to be to meet your needs.


Your New Canadian Home Cannot Have...Form These 4 Lists Before You Even Consider Looking For Your Next Home

Like the list above, the items on this list are also non-negotiable. You will not even consider looking at homes that have these items or components. You may wish to put such things as mold, damaged roof, or long commute on this list. If you tend to think more negatively, you may even put such things as “fewer than 3 bedrooms, less than 2 bathrooms, or unfinished basement”. You can also take this opportunity to list items like stairs if you have a member of your family that is handicapped and cannot handle stairs in the home. Whatever the case may be, you are not willing to live with the items on this list and they are considered to be non-negotiable.


I Do Not Care Whether Or Not The House Has...

This list is where you can put everything you do not know how to organize into the two above categories. You may want 4 bedrooms but only need 3, so you can list that here and let your sales representative know that you are flexible in this area. You may wish to put the size of the yard, the material used in the driveway, and the landscaping ideas you have under this category as well.


I Can Afford To Fix This...

If you are looking for a fixer upper or a home that needs a little bit of tender loving care, then you may find this list extremely helpful. You could even use this list if you can think of things that you can fix up when you buy the home if you can get a decent price on it when you close. You may include such things as a driveway that really needs to be repaved, roofing that needs to be replaced, or appliances that are outdated throughout the house.


If you are a serious fixer upper type of buyer, then you may have many more items to list in this category than the average person. You can include things like flooring, insulation, complete bathroom and kitchen remodels, and poor landscaping in the frontyard or backyard.


Take Home Advice

The lists above is just meant for you to use as an example. You should feel like you can add, subtract, and modify any of the examples that were listed for you to use as reference. Remember, these lists are for you and your sales representative to use towards buying your next Canadian home.

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Guideline for Canadians Looking to Buy or Sell a Home
Posted on Fri, 31 Mar 2017, 03:40:00 PM  in My services
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As stressful as it might be, buying or selling a home is probably the most important undertaking you will ever be involved in. The procedure for selecting a house involves both finance and lifestyle considerations; one needs to choose wisely to avoid regrets in the future. In the Canadian market, one needs to secure a good deal and at the right time. By the basic law of supply and demand, one should buy at a time when many people are not looking for houses. You also need to be aware of the details during contract negotiation, have knowledge on what qualities to look out for, and still keep the mortgage interest as low as possible. Selling on the hand should be done at a suitable time to ensure that you make enough money to secure yourself another home.Guideline for Canadians Looking to Buy or Sell a Home

There are myriad reasons that may drive you to sell your home. If you find your home’s location unsuitable, then that may be a reason enough to sell it. Location may be unsuitable in relation to work, or if you are retiring and therefore require to move to a place with a low maintenance cost. The size of a house may also drive one to sell. If your family is growing and you cannot get a permit to expand it to add more bedrooms, then perhaps it is the right time to sell. On the other hand, if your kids have all moved to college, it is always a good time to downsize before any of them decides to move back. You may decide to sell for unfortunate reasons, say divorce or at worst death of a family member. This may be crucial in helping you leave bad memories. Financial reasons are a key factor to selling. If you cannot sustain the cost of a house or you need money to pay for something else, relocating is always an option. For a change in lifestyle, especially among young and rich, many people move to more classy homes in reputable cities.

Buying a home should always be done with utmost keenness. One needs to ensure that the previous owner had properly maintained the house. This helps to reduce repair costs when you later discover damages in the house. One needs to check every area of the home from ensuring that roofing is in good condition and has a long lifetime to checking whether the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working. For the windows, they should be well sealed and double paned, and the foundation should have no cracks, especially on the outer side. Plumbing and wiring is another important area. One should ensure that knob and tube wiring is not made of aluminum because it is expensive to replace, and that the plumbing is not leaking and the water is adequate. The areas around bathtubs or showers should have no signs of water damage or mold, and all appliances such as fridges should be in good working condition.

Before purchasing a house, it is always important to find out if it is right for you. You need to evaluate your current and future needs. This is very important in determining the size of the house you will buy. If you are in a young family that is looking to having children soon, you should buy a home that has several rooms. If you are looking to fit in into a group of rich friends, then you will require buying a good house with additional features such as a pool. There are extra things to check such as house maintenance and energy efficiency if you need a mortgage home loan.

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Buying a Home: Tips for Surviving a Bidding War
Posted on Wed, 15 Mar 2017, 03:35:00 PM  in Home buying tips
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Buying a home can feel like a roller coaster ride filled with emotional highs and lows. One of the lows that buyers dread the most is finally finding the perfect dream home only to get caught up in a nasty bidding war. Your heart tells you to do everything you can to get the house while your head tells you that you need to stay within budget. The following tips will help you put your best foot forward and improve your chances of getting your offer accepted.

 Buying a Home: Tips for Surviving a Bidding War

Have Financing in Place:

You may be up against all-cash offers, so ensuring that you have a lender's preapproval in hand will strengthen your position by allowing you to remove the financing contingency from your offer.


Make a Competitive Offer:

You should avoid the temptation to make a lowball offer. You run the risk of insulting the sellers to the point that they refuse to even counteroffer. An experienced REALTORŪ can help you prepare a thoughtful offer based on market analysis, their experience with the local market, as well as information they can learn from the listing agent regarding the seller's motivations.


Adjust to the Seller's Schedule:

Closing dates are typically negotiated for a time that is convenient for both sides. Agreeing to close at the seller's convenience may give you a leg up over the competition. If the sellers need a little extra time to arrange their move, you can even agree to rent the property back to them after closing.


Remove Sales Contingencies:

Offers that are contingent upon inspections or you selling your current home can make a seller nervous. Removing these stipulations can improve your odds of acceptance when there is stiff competition; however, you should consider the consequences of removing the contingencies very carefully. For example, you want to ensure that you have enough funds in reserve to cover two mortgages for a while. You may also opt for an "information only" inspection so that you will at least have an idea if there are potential issues with the home and can plan accordingly.


Make it Personal:

Realtors often recommend that buyers in a bidding war submit a personal letter with their offer detailing why they fell in love with the house and what it will mean for their family to live there. This will help the seller connect with you on an emotional level and may help tip the scale in your favor.


Know When to Walk Away:

It is important to know your top price before submitting your offer. It is all too easy to overpay for a home when we let our emotions gain control. No matter how perfect a home may appear, it is not worth it if you end up struggling every month to meet your mortgage payment. If you are patient, you will find the right house at the right price.

Finally, you should trust your REALTORŪ. There is a good chance that they have been through more than one bidding war and can help you come up with best possible strategy to get your offer accepted.

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First-Time Homebuyer Mistakes to Avoid
Posted on Sun, 15 Jan 2017, 09:15:00 AM  in Home buying tips
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Probably you have been planning to acquire your dream house for long. You have scrimped and saved enough to cover the down payment, and you have even come across these lovely apartments for sale. It is your first time in the real estate market; so, you aren’t sure how to go about a successful purchase. If you don’t want to be caught up in a financial mess, here are the mistakes to avoid:First-Time Homebuyer Mistakes to Avoid


  1. Not Considering What You Can Afford

Consider what you afford so that you look at homes within your price range. Looking at homes outside your price range will make you lust for relatively expensive homes thus stretching your means financially. Experts suggest that you prepare a list of all your monthly expenditure including student loan payments, groceries, vehicle costs, credit card payments, health insurance and so on. Also, remember significant expenses that occur only once a year, such as annual vacations or insurance premiums. This will help you realize how much you can spend on your new home every month.


  1. Skipping Mortgage Qualification

What the bank is prepared to lend you and what you can afford may not match up, particularly if you have unstable income or poor credit. So, before placing an offer on a home, ensure you get pre-approved for a loan. This will help you save the seller, the seller’s agent and your agent’s time if you sign the contract and then realize later that your bank is willing to lend you a mortgage you find unacceptable.


  1. Neglecting To Inspect

Let’s face it—owning a home is a dream that many would wish to accomplish however tough it may be. Sometimes we come across an offer that we find hard to resist: a house that looks like it is in a perfect condition, and the price is affordable. You quickly rush to sign the papers ignoring the inspection while not knowing what is awaiting you— this is a money pit of expensive repairs.


  1. Not Getting Professional Help - Hire an Agent

Avoid walking into an open house alone. Always hire a real estate agent. A real estate professional will help you a great deal to avoid some of the simple mistakes you could otherwise make.


  1. Being Too Particular

It is good to put everything you wish for in your new home wish list. However, avoid being too inflexible because you may end up continuing to live in a rented home for a significantly longer period than you anticipated. Usually, first-time homebuyers have to compromise on some items because of limited funds. You may be forced to live on a busy street, make some repairs in the home, accept the outdated decor, or live without that extra bedroom. Though you can choose to continue living in rented space until you can afford everything on your wish list, you will have to make a decision whether it is important to become a homeowner now or a few years later.


  1. Lacking Vision

Even if you can’t afford major renovations in the home, it is worth to cope with the ugliness for a while and in turn get a house that you can afford without strain. If the home fits your needs regarding the unchangeable things such as the size and location, don’t allow the physical imperfections cloud your judgment and turn you away. Furthermore, upgrading the home by yourself is far much cheaper than paying the seller who has already upgraded it for you.

Buying your first home may seem stressful and devastating, and it isn’t without its fair share of potential pitfalls. Being fully informed of the issues ahead helps you protect yourself from these costly mistakes thereby giving you confidence while shopping.

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ZOI OUZAS Sales Representative
RE/MAX Garden City Realty Inc., Brokerage
64 Main Street West, Grimsby ON L3M 1R6
Office: (905)-945-0660 Office: (905)-563-8527


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RE/MAX Garden City Realty Inc. Brokerage Independently owned and operated