10 Reasons for Hiring a Pro

Renovating your home should be a positive experience - free from worry and stress. You should have full confidence in your renovator and know that you are getting the best. That's why you should choose a professional renovator.

From start to finish. A professional renovator will help you to put it all together -  from ideas to design, products to plans, and construction to completion.

 Experienced advice. A professional renovator has the experience and knowledge to help turn your ideas into great results. They listen, make suggestions, and look for the best way of doing things.

Technical know-how. Professional renovators understand construction, how to deal with challenges and problems, and how to improve the comfort of your home.

Expert teamwork. Behind every professional renovator, there is a solid network of staff, sub trades, and suppliers ready to go to work for you.

A proven track record. Their business is an open book. You are invited to talk with past customers, look at their previous work, and check out their reputation.

Accurate pricing. No need to be concerned about low-ball costing, inferior work, or escalating prices once the job begins. Experienced renovators know what it takes to do something right and how much it costs, and they'll tell you upfront.

 A written contract. Trust alone is not enough. Professionals back it up with a written contract that spells your project out in detail-what, how, who, when and how much.

Liability insurance and workers' compensation coverage. Better safe than sorry. In the unlikely event of an accident or damage to your own or neighbouring properties, a professional renovator's coverage protects you from liability and cost.

 Warranty. Like any other consumer purchase, a professional renovation comes with a warranty on labour. And with professional installation, there is no risk of voiding the manufacturers' warranties on materials and products.

 Service, service, service. Professional renovators are in business for the long term. They work hard to earn your trust and make every renovation a great experience.

Advice from a Renovator

When a group of professional renovators were asked what design and planning advice they most often give to their customers, here is what they said.

•    Know why you want to renovate. What problems are you trying to solve? Most renovations begin with practical issues. For instance, your bathroom may be cramped, you need more storage space in the kitchen, or there is nowhere for the children to play or do homework under your supervision. 

•    Evaluate the structure, systems, and general condition of your house. With your renovator, list the repairs and replacements likely to be required over the next two, five and 10 years. If necessary, be prepared to make trade-offs between lifestyle improvements and work needed to keep your home in good shape. 

•    Work with the strengths of your home. And save money at the same time. Check under existing carpeting and sheet flooring for old hardwood flooring. Refinish old trim and molding rather than replace it. Resurface cabinets rather than installing new ones. Turn a large landing into a child's play area, a quiet reading area, or a small home office. 

•    Keep it simple. A complex design can result in complicated and expensive construction. Whether you want to build on to your home, change roof lines or reconfigure interior space, consult with a professional renovator on the impact of design on construction and budget. Less complex designs will often let you achieve the same goals. 

•    Don't just focus on the upfront cost. Renovation is a further investment in your home. Consider the time, energy and cost required on ongoing maintenance and possible replacement down the road. A well-planned renovation can reduce these future costs. 

•    Don't cut corners to save a few dollars, or you may not get the results you want. There may be ways to stretch a limited budget or you may be able to scale down your project or alternatively, do it in phases over time. But don't compromise on quality-it's always better to do less and do it well. 

•    Check local bylaws. Before you get too involved in a particular design for adding to or substantially altering your home, you or your renovator need to know the local regulations-for instance, lot-line setbacks or septic tank requirements. 

•    Look at your neighbourhood. Exterior changes or additions that blend with the existing streetscape will probably add the most value to your home, and they will usually be appreciated the most by your neighbours. If you do want a design with a difference, think about ways of complementing neighbouring homes. 

•    Don't worry about trends. Design trends come and go. First and foremost, plan for comfort, ease of living and personal satisfaction. Enjoy exploring options and possibilities-then design the renovation that is uniquely right for you and your family. 

What to Look for in a Renovator

As you collect names of suitable renovators, you need to think about how you will judge the renovators you choose to interview.

 Presentation. Professional renovators operate in a business-like manner. They respect your schedule and show up for appointments on time. They present themselves well, are organized, and deal with your questions and concerns directly. They earn your confidence because they follow through on promises - if they say they will call you back tomorrow, they do. How a renovator deals with you before a contract is signed tells you a lot about how you can expect to be treated once the job begins.

Communication. Renovation is a "people business" and good renovators are good listeners andcommunicators. Professional renovators must "translate" your ideas and goals into a workable plan and a pleasant experience. This requires a solid working relationship and good rapport. If you're not comfortable with renovators you interview or don't feel you can communicate with them effectively, you should keep looking to find the right person for your job.

Skills and experience. Renovating a home can be a far more complex task than building it in the first place. It takes years of experience in the business before most renovators are ready to manage a major project on their own. It also involves a lot of different types of work, some of which require specialized expertise. Whatever the scope and nature of your project, your renovator needs to have solid experience with that type of work. 

Professional reputation. Established renovators will provide you with references from previous customers, and in fact, you shouldn't even have to ask for them. They also work with a network of other businesses within your community-banks, material suppliers, and trades. It's a good idea to ask a renovator for references to any of these people to find out about their reputation within the industry itself. 

What is a Professional Renovator?

 •     A professional renovator is a general contractor, sometimes referred to as a renovation contractor, who can put your whole project together. The renovator will assume complete responsibility for the work contracted and give you a warranty once it's completed.

•    A professional renovator has an extensive business network of suppliers, trades, installers and experts that they draw on as required for your project.

•    A professional renovator understands the technical aspects of construction in detail and knows how houses work. They can assess your project and explain what is involved, as well as identify potential problems and provide solutions.

•    If your project requires design services, your contractor can advise you on the most suitable approach and recommend a design professional. Design-build renovators offer both design and construction services and you may hire them for one service or both. Alternatively, professional renovators are also experienced in working with architect's drawings.

•    A professional renovator has extensive knowledge and experience with the latest products and materials. They keep up-to-date and can help you make the selections that will work best for your project and budget.

•    Professional renovators are familiar with the regulations and bylaws in your community and how the system works. When needed, they can look after permits and inspections on your behalf.

•    Professional renovators can work with you on the financial aspects of your renovation. They know what things cost and can help you set a realistic budget to achieve your renovation goals. And they know how to stretch your budget without compromising quality.•    A professional renovator ALWAYS uses a written contract that clearly describes the work, materials to be used, timelines, price, and responsibilities of both parties and other details as appropriate.

•    A professional renovator knows how to organize and manage a project-scheduling workers, trades, and delivery of materials; keeping track of expenses; maintaining a clean and safe work site; and minimizing the inconvenience to you. When necessary, they know how to deal with the unexpected and the surprises that sometimes occur in renovation.

•    Most importantly, professional renovators put their customers first. They listen carefully so they know what you want. They provide you with names of previous customers so you can check out the company's track record yourself. They explain the process so you know what to expect, and once the work begins they give you regular updates so you always know what's going on. They also encourage you to voice any questions or concerns you may have as the work progresses. In brief, they work for you and with you to make sure that you are satisfied and happy with the final results.

Deciding Who to Hire

Once you have interviewed renovators, checked their references and received written price quotes from those you are interested in hiring, it’s time to decide who will be doing your job.

Renovators should be allowed adequate time to prepare a bid for your project, and you must ensure that each renovator is working with the same plans and specifications. For all but the simplest projects, you should expect the renovator to present their bid in person, so that they can discuss each aspect with you and answer any question you may have.

Once you have met with renovators who are bidding your job, you should review each set of documents carefully before deciding who to hire.

 Compare every aspect of their bids - the description of the work, specifications (materials and products) price and allowances, deposit and payment milestones, project schedule and any additional recommendations or ideas for your project.

 Review the information you collected during and after your initial round of renovator interviews - your initial impressions of each renovator, and what their previous customers had to say about them.

 Decide the importance of each aspect of your evaluation. While overall price is important, it is only one factor. Many homeowners who have successfully completed major home renovations speak about the importance of "peace of mind" - working with a renovator they trusted and felt confident in.

 If you have a particularly strong sense of confidence in one of the renovators, they are probably your best choice, even if their price is not the lowest. In the end, you should choose the renovator based on your sense of the overall value they can provide to you.

Developing Your Wish List and Priorities

Now that you have set goals for your project, it's time to look for ways to accomplish what you want. This next part of renovation planning can be the most fun and exciting.

Developing a "Wish List" involves listing the specific features you would like to include in your renovation. You should also give some thought to the importance of each item. Is it something you absolutely need? Or is it something you would like to have, but not essential if your budget can't accommodate it?

This stage of planning is all about exploring design and product ideas and learning as much as you can about what is available. Get out and see what others have done, what new products are available and what type of "look" is right for your family and home. Here are some ideas:

  • Visit family, friends, or neighbours and find out what they really like about their home, particularly if they have renovated recently. 
  • Look for design and home improvement magazines at your local newsstand or library. Collect pictures of homes, rooms, and products that appeal to you. 
  • Visit new homebuilders' show homes to see the latest in design, construction, and finishing of homes. 
  • Visit kitchen, bathroom, and other retail showrooms. Talk with salespeople and pick up manufacturers' literature on the types and brands of products you like.  
  • In many communities, home shows are held during the year. Renovators, designers, and product manufacturers take part in these shows. This provides an excellent opportunity to see what's new. Check with your Local Home Builders' Association for information about home shows. 
  • In some communities, local renovators will organize renovation open house tours to showcase recent renovation projects. Again, check with your Local Home Builders' Association for details. Some community colleges and night school programs include renovation-planning courses for homeowners. 
  • And, of course, the Internet is a great source for home renovation information. Visit the websites of Canadian product manufacturers and suppliers, governments and financial institutions. 

Keep the information you collect in a file or box for later reference. This material will be very useful in discussions with renovators and will give them a good idea of what you like and want.

Deciding on Changes

    The decision to renovate can be triggered by a number of things. You may need to repair or replace something, such as roofing, siding or windows. It may be time to "freshen up" a tired-looking kitchen. Changes in your household, such as the arrival of a new child or the need for a home office may require changes to your home. Often, homeowners simply want to update their home so that it better suits their lifestyle.

Take inventory. Make a list of everything in your home that you need to or would like to change. This includes "must-do" repairs and replacements to maintain your home in good shape, as well as things that don't work well and things you would like to change. Finally, also note down what you really like about your home and wouldn't want to change; this can help you, and later your renovator, to focus on the assets of your home that you want to preserve. 

Describe each item on your list briefly in terms of your day-to-day living experience. Here are a few examples of how homeowners describe some of the more common problems that lead to renovation:

  • "We only have one bathroom and with two teenagers and two working parents, getting everyone out the door in the morning is a real headache. I feel like I've been in a traffic jam before I even leave the house.
  • "We never really use our living room. It's too formal for the way we live, and with the smaller windows in these older homes, it's too dark and feels closed-in." 

Make sure that everyone in your home participates. Professional renovators find that people often overlook things that are inconvenient in their homes simply because they are used to them. So take some time doing this inventory and get input from all members of the household. 

Think about seasonal conditions. If you are planning your renovation in the summer, think back to last winter. Did you have enough closet space for coats and boots? Are there areas of your home that are drafty or hard to heat? Conversely, if your planning is taking place during the colder months, think about your lifestyle during the summer.