Should I Renovate?
Renovation, restoration, home improvement, retrofitting, home upgrades; have these terms passed through your mind recently? If you are a home-owner I'm sure they have.
Regardless of whether your home is brand new, 25 years old, 50 years old or even older, there is always something you can find to tinker with that could make your home more enjoyable or more in keeping with your changing needs. Some people would rather buy a new house and move than expend the effort to improve their existing home. Before you do however, stop and think for a minute about all the conveniences that surround your existing home; your favorite shops, the schools, hospitals, doctors offices, emergency services, walking trails, parks, the list goes on and on. It's not always that easy to replace these conveniences.Keep in mind that older, more established neighborhoods are often highly sought after and remember the old adage "location, location, location"!
Before you decide to move, make the effort to document your everyday movements around your existing community for at least a week or two and don't forget to add the things you do during the other three seasons of the year.What about your community recreation facilities? Where do you go for walks? Do you get much snow and is it easy to make it home when it snows?How much noise is there?Do you live in a nice quiet neighborhood?What are the demographics like?Do you have good neighbors? Do you have your favorite pizza restaurant that delivers right to your door?Where do you rent your videos? Get the picture? (No pun intended.) Many homeowners end up second-guessing their decision to move after it's too late. Typically, at least some regret can come from the need to replace their long list of existing conveniences.
Having said all this, maybe you'll find that you aren't giving up too much after all and moving is exactly the right thing to do, but that's another story.
Well, now you know why this editorial is entitled: "Should I Renovate?"
The majority of homeowners have never undertaken a renovation of their home. For many people, the simple act of calling a repairperson is the extent of their experience when it comes to hiring an outside service contractor.
If you make the decision to stay where you are and make some changes to your home, the first step is to take inventory and identify where you think your home is lacking. Create a wish list. This wish list will be the starting point for planning your renovation.
You might want a new or larger kitchen, a new great room, a media room, new bathrooms, an extra bedroom, a solarium or maybe a back yard deck with a hot tub. Take whatever ends up on your wish list and discuss it with your family, friends and even co-workers. A great way to get ideas is to check out open houses at new housing projects or wander around the Home Shows or even the HouseSmart Centres.Look around to determine what you like, what you don't and try to figure out why. Make notes.Look for features that you would like to incorporate into your project.Don't forget your camera when you go to open houses and home shows. Even in this economy, a picture is still worth a 1000 words.
Once you have established what changes you would like to make to your home ask yourself, "Do these changes mean that we need to create a larger physical foot print for the house?" (An actual addition to the existing outside walls.)If the answer is yes, your first step will be to make a trip to your local building permits office to determine whether you will be allowed to add onto your house or not. Some building consultants might suggest that you leave this task to an architect or builder but I disagree.You will learn a lot by doing this yourself. For instance you may want to ask the city fathers (planning department) what is in store in the future for your area. There could be more development such as a new shopping center, a new church, new transit options, wider roads, overpasses, a bridge, who knows what? This knowledge is much more important to you than it is to your builder or architect.
By now you might have guessed that you have a bit of homework to do before you start your home renovation. You have to plan ahead if you hope to successfully complete your project.
Now, let's get going on your renovation. You have refined your wish list and you know what you want. You've been to city hall and have received the approval (and permits) to proceed. Now comes the potentially scary part, you need to decide WHO is going to make your dream come true and take on your project for you.Anyone who knows me will remember my slogans:"Good, Better, Best""The How to, What to, Where to, Why to, When to, and most importantly, the Who to" in order to get the job done" and make it "Just that Easy".
Okay, enough slogans. But the reason these slogans came to be is because of the types of questions I've been asked over the past 40 years in the home improvement business.Literally thousands of homeowners have asked me what they should do and who they should get to do it.
How are you going to go about this?Do you hire an architect, a general contractor or a renovation contractor first? I like to answer this question as follows: If structural changes are required to the existing home in order to accomplish your renovation, I suggest you retain an architect or a general contractor who employs a structural engineer.If structural changes aren't required, you may find that what you're looking for is a general contractor or renovation company that employs interior designers to draw plans for kitchens, bathrooms and interior changes to room sizes, etc.As soon as you have a set of plans that show all your changes, and you have given it your stamp of approval, you now have control over what your project is going to look like when it's finished.Make absolutely certain that you own the plans for your project, no matter what!I'm not always in agreement with the tactic of some who might say, "If you use our
company, we will deduct the cost of the plans from the contract price."Please, whatever it takes, pay for them, the plans must be yours.
Now a little about the hiring of a contractor. Hiring the right contractor can make the difference between having a fantastic experience or an ugly nightmare. Word of mouth is still one of the best ways to choose service trades but whom should you trust for their opinion? Earlier in this editorial I suggested talking about your renovation project with family, friends, building supply stores, city planning and permits offices, etc.If you are lucky enough to find someone who had a similar project go well, you are off to a great start.
I might also recommend that you visit my HouseSmart Centre and listen to the Home Discovery radio show on CKNW and around much of Canada on the Corus Network to help you flesh out your ideas. (Visit our website and click on "Radio / TV Shows" for a listing of stations and broadcast times for the weekly Home Discovery and HouseSmart Radio shows as well as a listing of stations that carry my Home Check Television Show.) And don't forget, our HouseSmart Referral Network is made up of carefully screened contractors that we will recommend to you.Always consider obtaining three quotes on your project and make sure that you compare apples to apples.By that I mean to make sure that all the parties who provide you with an estimate have an identical understanding of your needs and will provide the same deliverables and quality.
When hiring a contactor there are a few questions you should ask;Do you have a show room? Are you a member of the Better Business Bureau? Are you bonded, licensed to do work in this city/municipality and are you insured? How many years have you been in business? Will you provide me with a list of your recent customers that I can use to do a reference check? Can I see any of your completed projects? Do you have a home and/or office phone number? Personally, I wouldn't associate with companies who operate exclusively with a cell phone or pager. Many of these companies will be what I refer to as "tail-gaters" who may be here today and gone tomorrow.
Who will supervise the job while it's under construction? I find that when I personally go out to visit the projects that our HouseSmart Renovations team have on the go, it gives the homeowner assurance and peace of mind.
Who pays for the material to be used? Is the project budget based on time and material? How are sub-trades paid? Keep in mind any unpaid services to sub-trades can show up as a mechanics lien on your home making you
responsible for payment.
Spell out and detail your wish list in writing. Resist entering into verbal agreements because they can backfire.Make sure you document quality expectation issues such as the model numbers and brands of your new fixtures such as kitchen cabinets, sinks, faucets, lighting, etc. As an example, if you want Columbia cabinets, they must be Columbia cabinets - no substitutes.
Get the contract in writing with a breakdown of material and labour charges.Any changes made to the plans or any part of the project must have a change order form filled out and signed by you before the changes are made.
You should expect to pay a deposit prior to the work beginning.
Other things to think about:
Typical Deposits:25% of budgeted labour costs15% of budgeted material costs (unless you have agreed that you will pay all material costs as they occur)
Remember warranty issues.Ask about a (written) warranty that should cover:Project workmanshipMaterials - including any manufacturer's warranties
Think about quality assurance issues.Is the contractor a member of?The Better Business Bureau, and/or;The Canadian Home Builders Association, and/or;The HouseSmart Referral Network, and/or;An appropriate accredited organization
Insurance: Will all work to be performed by qualified trades with paid-up Workers Compensation premiums? What happens if a worker injures himself
while on your property?
Completion Issues:Estimated date of project completion (with a clause outlining what happens in the event of a weather delay, etc.)What are the penalties in event of delays?Agree on the final completion date, inspection and final payment of contract.
On many of our major renovation projects, I ask my HouseSmart Referral Network contractors to invite me to visit the site when they have completed their task. I then perform an inspection and give it my stamp of approval. This provides me with the opportunity to show the homeowner that we care about quality, value and customer service. Hopefully, your renovation contractor will do the same.
Hopefully this will better prepare you to take on that renovation project you want to do.It is a bit of work but proper preparation will help ensure that your project goes as it should, that there are no nasty
surprises and you end up with the result you were hoping for.And just think, if you renovate instead of move, you don't have to find a new butcher or dry cleaner or ..?
For more information, feel free to visit our HouseSmart Centres located in South Surrey/White Rock and Burnaby.