Renovating is like falling in
love – at first anyway. Every -
thing’s so thrilling as you
imagine yourself basking in
the new and exciting space
your wonderful contractor will build. But
then, reality sets in. Hiding behind all
that bubbly infatuation lurks real danger
– financial, emotional and legal. I’ve seen
bad renovations hurt people hundreds
of times during my 30 years in the business.
As a renovation coach working with
clients and contractors, I know that these
six strategies are key to avoiding renovation
1. Know What You Want
As a client you need a firm idea of what
you want. Contractors can’t give you this,
so don’t expect them to. Designers and
architects won’t either. I can't count how
many times I’ve seen expensive, professionally
designed plans never get built
because the client hadn’t first developed
their own clear vision of what theywanted. Next, you need to find the right
contractor and create the right contract.
This is absolutely essential.
2. Hire Diligently
In my experience, only 20 per cent of
homeowners actually check references,
and that’s a tragic mistake. But even
worse, few people check references properly.
Does the contractor you’re considering
work on renovations or new
construction? The two roles are very different.
The ability to put up a new bungalow
efficiently has almost nothing to
do with renovating a 100-year-old stone
house tastefully. And, even if you do think
you’ve found the contractor from heaven,
visit at least two job sites, one under construction
and another completed. This
is crucial. It gives you a chance to see
how organized the contractor is, and if
the quality of workmanship meets your
3. Never Start Without a Contract
One of the biggest dangers to you as a
client is you. It’s easy to get so excited at
the start of a new renovation that you
forget the basics, especially the financial
basics. Never let work begin before a
contract has been finalized, and never
finalize a contract unless it’s complete
and technically specific enough to offer
value. Step back, slow down and realize
that you must have all details worked out
and in writing before the job starts to
roll. Every contract must include start
and finish dates. Small financial penalties
attached to these dates also means
you’ll never have to call your contractor
and wonder when things will happen.
You’re always number one when cash is
tied to the calendar.
4. Insist on a Detailed Contract
Every contract worthy of the name must
be extremely detailed. It’s definitely not
enough to specify “a bathroom with vanity,
tub, toilet and tiles.” Every item needs
to be specified: make, model, colour and
type of material. Useful contract details
look like this: kitchen cabinets, shakerstyle
with maple doors with 35-degree
clear coat, dovetail drawers and fullextension
undermount slides with softclosure
shocks. This kind of detail
eliminates most disagreements down the
road. Also, watch out for contracts that
only cover half the project, just to gain
entry to your job.
Strategies to avoid getting stuck in a rut By Reiner Hoyer
Newly renovated 20-year-old Marina Del Ray
condo-loft at Toronto's western lakefront.
5. Get Proof of Insurance
Your contractor and sub-contractors need
insurance, and not just for their protection.
Ask for, and verify, copies of liability
insurance and WSIB documents.
Even a tiny leak in a 1/4-inch water line
for a fridge, for example, can cause hundreds
of thousands of dollars of collateral
damage. What happens when you
find out too late that the plumber hasn’t
paid his insurance premiums for months
and the damage caused by his mistake
just became your financial nightmare?
Get and keep copies of everything.
6. Pay At The Right Time
Many contractors ask for more money
up front than you should ever give. A
good payment schedule is tied with project
milestones on specific finish dates.
So much money when framing is done
and has passed inspection. More money
when mechanicals and electricals are in
place and approved. Final payment due
only when job is complete and you’re
happy. As a consumer you have the right
to hold back 10 per cent when the job is
substantially finished to make sure no
liens have been placed on your property.
A good renovation can be like a great
romance or a nightmare divorce. It all
depends on how you handle it. ■