Thursday, May 13, 2010

Renovation Realty Strategies to avoid getting stuck in a rut

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 they
wanted. 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
Renovation Reality
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. ■

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Renovation can be tougher than new construction

If I had to select just one word of home renovation advice, my choice would be simple. Beware. Major renovations not only hold a lot of potential risk, but it's the worst kind of risk because it's hidden.
Renovations looks so easy from afar, and that's the deception. I regularly get emails from intelligent, successful people caught in renovations gone wrong, and I can tell you that it's a painful, costly and emotionally debilitating thing. Renovation nightmares are easy to fall into, and they're traumatic enough that they're worth every effort to avoid. This is why I was curious when I discovered a guy calling himself a renovation coach.
Reiner Hoyer (; 888-688.8864) is his name, and I've been sizing him up ever since September. I've never seen anyone doing what he does, but I wish I did. Reiner does good work. The world needs more people like him. He leverages decades of contracting experience to function as an independent renovation advocate — not a builder — helping homeowners achieve successful renovations at fair prices. Isn't this what contractors are supposed to do? No, not necessarily, and to understand why, you need to look below the surface of the renovation business.
First off, understand that I'm not here to bash contractors. Some of my best friends are in the business, and I know they work hard and deal fair. That said, the success of what they do depends on their skill and honesty. Take these two, key attributes out of the equation, however, and you've got trouble. I know because I've seen it. Many renovation nightmares spring from a lack of these two virtues, and that should lead you to some important questions.
Do you really know a potential contractor well enough to trust him with your cheque book? Do you really know the building business well enough to see technical trouble coming and avoid it? A contractor's role is to coordinate various trades, then charge you more than the cost of materials and labour. Do you know enough to judge whether or not your job has been priced with honesty or greed?
A good renovation coach typically saves more than they charge by knocking financial fluff out of padded cost estimates and by streamlining unnecessarily expensive and complicated renovation concepts. Creating an effective contract, agreeing on fair prices, establishing equitable payment schedules and dealing with building permit issues and code compliance details are all areas where I've seen Reiner help. There's something else, too. A good coach saves homeowners from themselves.
While the incompetence and dishonesty of contractors may be fodder for successful television shows, this picture is not complete. At least as much homeowner grief is caused by homeowners themselves. Excessive enthusiasm, overconfidence, lack of a practical renovation vision and cheapskate attitudes are the four most common ways homeowners regularly shoot themselves in the foot. When you partner with a renovation coach, you've got to do it with enough humility to accept the fact that you probably don't know as much as you think you do. Heaven help the know-it-alls.
Of all legal areas of our economy, the renovation business is by far the most dangerous and least regulated. Tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake on jobs everywhere, with deals often completed between virtual strangers on nothing more than a lot of hope, a quick handshake and a toothless piece of paper masquerading as a contract.
Sometimes these deals work out, and sometimes they don't. Here, in Canada, we're used to government protection against risks of all kinds, but while you're waiting for meaningful help from big brother in the renovation game, you might just consider a little third-party advocacy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Disaster DIY is a renovation show where unsuspecting

Are you or someone you know halfway through a botched renovation, and
don’t know where to turn next? Are you watching the mistakes pile up?

Disaster DIY is a renovation show where unsuspecting
do-it-yourself-ers are turned in by their loved ones. HGTV host Bryan
Baeumler comes in, and with his construction know-how and special
brand of humour, teaches the do-it-yourself-ers how to plan, execute,
and complete their home renovations the right way.

In order to qualify for the show:
A. You must live within a short commute of the Greater Toronto Area
(Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
B. For Disaster DIY Cottage Edition; your cottage must be within a
3-hour driving distance from the GTA.
C. You must be in the middle of an attempted renovation (we need to
see your attempts at renovation, not the mistakes of the previous
D. You must own the home or space you’re renovating.
E. You must complete the application in full. Incomplete applications
will not be considered.

Please respond to the following questions below and send to:


1. Please tell us your your name, address, and phone number. What is
the name, address, and phone number of the DIY-er (if different that
your own).
2. What stage is the reno at now?
3. What are the measurements of the room? Length, Width, height of ceilings?
4. What has the DIY-er done so far? Has the work been electrical?
Plumbing? Structural? Building? Demolishing? Dry wall? Please be
5. How has the DIY-er messed things up? LIST THE MISTAKES!!! Be as
detailed as possible please, this is what will get you on the show!
6. What's the story behind this botched renovation? Your version &
their version.
7. What is the impact on the family, lifestyle? (Tension? Frustration?
Please use specific examples. (Eg. Showering at neighbour’s house?
Gained 20lbs because you can’t use your kitchen? etc.)

** Please send photos/video to, or snail
mail to 239 Kingston Road, Toronto ON M4L 1T5