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Purchasing a Home Renovation?

Bang your head against a wall. Repeat 3 – 5 times. Then tell your friends and neighbours how badly it went. Welcome to the world of home renovations. You have heard it all many times, but does it really have to end that way?

Most homeowners will go through the process of renovating their homes at some point. The majority of people only go through one, possibly two major renovations in their lives. Many of the homeowners that are on their second renovation did not have a great experience with their first go around. We have an entire media industry related to what goes wrong with renovation projects. There are thousands of experts writing thousands of articles about "how to hire a contractor". If there is this much information out there on how to do this right, how come it seems to go so wrong, so often?

The simple answer is we aren't doing it right. We are doing it wrong and "it" is broken. The vast majority of information available to the homeowner on how to go about a renovation project is exactly why renovations don't go as they should. It is why homeowners continue to hire the wrong people to complete their renovations. It is the reason why homeowners are, more often than not, disappointed with their renovator, their renovation and their renovation experience. Please allow me to elaborate.

I like to stay on top of my industry. I read magazines and cruise websites reading articles about home remodelling and renovation. If you read enough of anything out there these days you will start to see that a lot of the information available to us is rehashed over and over again. This holds true for the renovation industry. I just Googled, "How to Hire a Contractor" I got back 1,840,000 hits in 0.41 seconds. There is probably a little bit of duplication there don’t you think. Just for fun; I Googled, "How to Hire a Doctor" and I got 7 hits in 0.40 seconds. My point being; there is a ton of information out there. Some of it is good. Some of it is very far off the mark and often leading the homeowner down the path to renovation hell.

You must do your research. You need to hire a firm that can do the work, have done the work, and have a history and expertise in their given field. It is unlikely that any “one man show” contractor can do all things well. There is just too large a variety of skills, knowledge and talent required to do all types of renovation work. Yes, you need to check references and speak with past customers. Your contractor should be a professional, hold the proper licences and permits. You must have a written contract. All of these are common sense items that most homeowners understand. All of these recommendations are good information and important, and most of these guidelines you will find on many of the "How to Hire a Contractor" websites and in similar magazine articles. And of course; you should get 3 - 5 prices. Right? That is mentioned every time....but that is the exact point where the whole thing comes crashing down.

We are pre-programmed, and we have been for decades, to get 3 - 5 prices for a renovation project. This concept has evolved from other industries, custom home building and commercial construction. Architects have been around for centuries producing plans and specification and putting them out to tender. And this is the hitch. There is an exact specification of an exact product. The vast majority of renovation customers that contact our firm call us for "a quote". A quote is the cost to supply a known entity. In commercial construction if a company is invited to submit a quote on a project; they are given enough information, through plans and specifications, site visits and meetings to have such a thorough understanding of the project that they can comfortably submit a fixed-price cost to complete the project. The intention being that with all tender invitees will be submitting quotes on exactly the same product. The intention is that IF all the information is there and each bidder is quoting on the same product we can safely choose the lowest bidder. This process even works sometimes…..ever hear of a government project going over budget? Of course; it happens all the time. Now what happens when we take away all the detailed information, the plans and specifications, the consultants and architects? That is exactly what most homeowners do when they go out to get quotes on their renovation project.

The vast majority of renovation projects put out for “a quote” have absolutely no detailed information, no plans, and no specifications available. Three “contractors” are called in to give a cost to complete a project that no one knows anything about, including the homeowner. They are leaving the interpretation of what it is they want to the contractors. This is how it goes….

Contractor: “What kind of flooring were you thinking of Mr. Homeowner? “

Homeowner: “Well I’m not sure, we hadn’t really thought about it. I guess we would like to do carpet.

Don’t most people do carpet?”

Contractor: “Yup. Carpet it is then.”

Now, repeat that conversation 3 - 5 times with 3 - 5 different contractors.

Here comes the scary part. There can be literally hundreds of architectural, design, décor and finish selections and decisions, just like the one outlined above, that have to be made to complete a renovation project. But, even the homeowner may not have these answers yet. And remember; you are using a process that was designed to find the lowest bidder.


Without the benefit of proper planning and design; the homeowner is doomed before the project even starts. The contractor can actually supply the lowest cost (cheapest) materials, trades and labour available to complete the project. He would be doing what you asked. He could eliminate all “best practice” construction details, work, and techniques that you never discussed. Did you ask about….job site safety, protecting your home, legal permits, liability insurance, appropriate trade licensing, security, financial management, applicable laws? Did you define what style of carpet, what material, what quality, what under pad to include in the “quote”?

If we all bought cars this way we would all be driving what? I can’t even imagine. “Oh, did you want four tires; I thought you just wanted three.”

You might ask then; if the widely adopted method to find out the cost of a home renovation doesn’t work what should we be doing.

First, you should really spend some time discussing with your family and thinking about what you really want from this renovation. Do this before you consider contacting anyone. Why are you doing this renovation? Who will be using the space? When will we use the space? Develop a wish list of rooms and features you are interested in.

Secondly, consider your budget. If you want a space that fits with the rest of your home, is well design and well constructed; you will need to spend an appropriate amount of money to achieve that. If you would like your family to enjoy the space for years to come you have to be realistic about the cost of such a renovation. If you paid $ 527,000 for your 2500 sq.ft. home; don’t think that you can add another 1000 sq.ft. of quality living space for $35,000. It can’t be done. Set a realistic budget and discuss with a design-build firm the feasibility of your project. Be prepared to compromise, either on the budget or on the wish list.

Now that you have a good idea of what you want, find someone you can work with. You are about to enter into the treacherous waters of home renovation. Do your homework, you due diligence. Find a company that fits you, your home and your family. Find a company that fits with the vision you have for your renovation experience. You are looking for a relationship, a partnership. Hiring the lowest cost supplier only sets you up for an adversarial relationship with the contractor. As one of our customers once said, “You only cry once when you pay for quality”.

There are quite a few parts of a renovation project that have to come together in the right way for the project to run smoothly. Developing a relationship with a firm that you can trust will go along way towards a successful renovation project. If you find the proper partner and build a professional relationship with that firm; a home renovation can be an exciting and fun experience. If you try to find the lowest price you will most assuredly get what you pay for.

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