Saturday, March 20, 2010
Renovation can be tougher than new construction
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 (www.the-renovation-coach.com; 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.