Renos Done Right

The dos and don’ts of planning a job on the home front

By Rachel Naud, Canwest News Service February 28, 2009

Chris Meyers was determined to transform his family home into a dream home, but not before he plotted every step along the way.

Meyers, a 48-year-old engineer, was eager to double the square footage of his Oakville, Ont. home. He and his wife began thinking about the project in 2006, and started by hiring a designer. That working relationship didn’t pan out, but the designer’s advice helped focus Meyer’s thoughts about the type of home he wanted.

From there, Meyers bought 3-D software that helped him conceptualize different strategies on how to make the space bigger. He began searching for a contractor in April 2007 and took his time finding one. It wasn’t until early 2008 that he hired a company to do the job.

“I started searching online, first on sites like handycanadian.com,” Meyers says. I sent different contractors questionnaires to find out if they were competent enough and knew what they were doing to warrant their consideration. After that I conducted phone interviews for about a dozen and then did about four face-to-face interviews. I also visited their job sites to see the kind of work they did.”

Mike Holmes wishes more people would do this kind of advance work.

“People tend to do things backwards,” says the host of HGTV’s Holmes on Homes, where he rights renovations gone wrong. “They start a renovation after seeing something in a magazine and they bring in a contractor and away they go. This is not the way to do it. What people need to realize is it will actually take more time to set up the job than it will to do the job.”

Meyers’ due diligence was vitally important considering the type of money he was about to spend. He was first told the project would cost approximately $240,000, but after he changed his plans and made adjustments, his renovation bill rose to about $300,000. Spending big money on home renovations is not foreign to Canadian homeowners, who are still investing money in their homes in these recessionary times.

According to a survey conducted by the Royal Bank of Canada, 56 per cent of home owners are planning on renovating their home during the next year, while an additional 14 per cent are planning on renovating within the next two years. Approximately 18 per cent of respondents plan on spending between $10,000-$50,000 on renovations, while 17 per cent are planning on spending between $5,000-$10,000.

And with the introduction of the home renovation tax credit, which allows Canadians to claim 15 per cent of the portion of eligible expenditures exceeding $1,000 but not more than $10,000, doing renovations right has never paid off more.

Before shelling out the money for your home renovation, take the appropriate steps to ensure the renovation is done right.

The first step, says Bryan Baeumler, CEO of Baeumler Quality Construction and Renovation Inc. and host of HGTV’s Disaster DIY, is to get your budget in place.

Once your budget is in place, Baeumler advises to take 20 per cent of that budget and stick it in your back pocket to cover unforeseeable events or changes in the plan.

“I don’t think there’s been one home where we’ve gone in and everything is as it should be,” says Baeumler.

“There’s always a surprise. Especially with older homes. Renovating an older home is part archeology.”

After your budget and contingency is in place, Baeumler suggests hiring a designer to get ideas about colours, palettes and materials.

Deriving inspiration from home shows, magazines and TV shows is another good way to start.

Educating yourself is imperative, adds Holmes.

“If you’re doing a new bathroom or kitchen, find out about new products on the market and why you should be using those products and their benefits,” says Holmes. “The more you educate yourself the better.”

Don’t rush the process of hiring a contractor.

“I call it the dating game,” says Holmes. “You need to bring in up to 20 contractors and ask them questions that they’re not going to expect.”

In addition to questions about their past working experience and specializations, Holmes suggests finding out if they’ve changed their company name in the last 10 years, and if so why.

“There’s no policing out there that says ‘Bob the builder has been really bad so we’re going to put him in jail,’” says Holmes. “There’s nothing like that. That’s why it’s important to ask these questions.”

Make sure you get references — and make use of them.

“Find out if they started the job on time, were they courteous, did they charge more money at the end of the day and did they come back to fix any problems,” says Holmes.

“Once you are 100-per-cent satisfied that you’re dealing with the right contractor, then you can sit down and talk about your home renovation. The more you do at the beginning, the better off you’ll be at the end.”

KEY DON’TS

Mistakes to avoid, and learn from, when doing renovations.

– Don’t jump. “Sit back and think about what you’re doing,” says Mike Holmes. “People don’t realize that this is probably the most amount of money they’re ever going to play with.”

– Don’t ignore your instincts. If you’re starting to see a bad pattern with your contractor regarding timeliness and work ethic, nip it in the bud. “Don’t be afraid to stand up to your contractor and say ‘get the hell out of my house, ‘” says Holmes. “If you continue the cycle [of bad behaviour], trust me, it will always get worse.”

– Don’t pay under the table. Paying a contractor under the table in cash may get you a discount in the short term but can also have you paying more in the long run. “You’re putting yourself out there for liability,” says Bryan Baeumler. “If you don’t have a contract, you have zero recourse and chances are he’s not paying his workers’ compensation, he’s not licensed or he’s not insured.”

– Don’t be unrealistic. If your budget is $5,000, don’t think you’re going to renovate your entire kitchen for that.

– Don’t assume there won’t be changes. “Assume the unassumable,” says Baeumler. “Be ready for your budget to increase and your plan to change.”

– Don’t live through major renovations. If you’re tearing up your entire house and doing a major renovation, do yourself a favour and move out. Big renovations can be messy and mentally exhausting. They can end marriages.

– Don’t stop until you’re done. If you’re renovating DIY-style, don’t start another project until you finish one. – http://www.newscanada.com

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