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Renovation Information

Blog by FRESH Real Estate Team | January 30th, 2013

Last summer, my home underwent some renovations.  The process of searching out contractors and going through the whole renovation process was quite a learning experience for my husband and me.  Here’s our experience and key things to look out for.
Simple, small job – right?  Maybe not.

There’s a tonne of renovation companies and independent contractors in Calgary, so the daunting task of finding the right one can be overwhelming.  Our upstairs bathtub needed to be replaced with a two piece acrylic tub.  The old tub would be removed, along with the tiling surrounding it. The two piece tub is an acrylic tub and acrylic wall.  We found our contractor through a website that had postings of ratings by clients, and this company was one of the top three.  All the reviews were good, and when we met the contractor himself, he seemed friendly and knowledgeable.  We then interviewed another contractor, but decided on the first one instead.  

So renovation day comes.  The renovation company had a plumber and a general trades person come do the upstairs bathroom job.  Right away, they asked for full payment before they started the job.  Red flag #1!  Right off the bat, that didn’t seem right to me.  Giving a deposit would be more reasonable, and then payment of the remaining balance after the job is complete would make sense.  However, this was my first time dealing with a renovation and I figured this must be standard protocol.

The renovation took two days to do.  After it was complete, the tub was complete mess from muddy shoes and the clear silicone caulking was full of dirt.  On top of the lack of courtesy to leave a clean job, there was a small crack in the tub itself.  Fortunately it was in the upper portion of the tub, where water wouldn’t go directly through.  However, moisture could eventually get in.  So the owner of the company comes and fixes the dirty caulking (which he had to remove and re-caulk), and repairs the crack by bonding some enamel to it.  Fast forward two weeks - we didn’t use the tub at all because my father in law was going to come visit and tile the bathroom for us.  So until then, no water has been turned on with this new tub installation.  My father in law comes into town, does a beautiful job of tiling, and so the tub is ready to use.  Great!  Husband has a shower, and next thing you know, there is water dripping from our kitchen ceiling onto our kitchen table.  Apparently the plumber did not solder the pipes closed.  The damage came to over $10,000.  Large panels of our ceiling had to be removed to ensure no mould would develop, and the entire main floor ceiling stipple had to be scraped and redone.  
By the time we contacted our contractor about the water leaking through our ceiling, he had closed his business down.  I’m assuming he had a lot of issues, and because he was a limited liability corporation, we couldn’t go after him personally.  Fortunately, we were able to work things out through both parties insurance companies.  Ridiculous how a $1700 tub removal and installation could have cost us almost $12,000.

We then had our basement completely finished shortly after that job, not using that contractor of course.  We learned our lesson about what to look for when hiring renovation companies/contractors, and so we had a much better experience.
Here are some things to look for when searching out contractors for your home renovation:

Are the trades the renovation company hires, all licensed?
- Every trade the renovation company you hire should have licensed trades that are licensed with the City of Calgary.  As well as insured with the Worker’s Compensation Board.  

How does the company price their projects?
- Every company prices their projects differently.  Find out how each company differs, and see which company offers the most transparency.  And example of an estimate would be: contractor’s fee (fixed cost) and estimated material and labour costs (variable).  Contractor’s fee is a set fee and will not change.  The material and labour costs are dependent on the items you choose to install in your renovation.

How much control do you, the client, have?
- Some contractors allow you to be in control of the materials used in your renovation, some you would be limited to what is in their inventory.  If you want to save money and purchase less expensive fixtures, or would like to upgrade to higher-end, these are things to ask the company.

Beware of accepting the lowest priced quote
- Very often this contractor will be inexperienced in your type of renovation, and doesn’t have realistic views of the true costs.  These types of renovator’s always quote low in order to get the job, and end up charging more in the end.

Beware of the highest priced estimate
- The quality of work will not necessarily increase with the inflated price.  You may be paying for fancy showrooms, executive staff and fleets of vehicles.

How close will the cost of the estimate be?
- No one wants to pay more in the end than what was estimated.  Ensure that you deal with a company that is diligent about keeping track of their costs, so that there aren’t any “surprises” in the end.

Will the project be completed on time?  Find out if there are repurcussions if they go over their projected completion date. My basement renovation took 90 days over the projected completion date. 

Is there a warranty?
- Many companies guarantee their workmanship 1 year after completion of the renovation.  This should be the minimum warranty when hiring the renovation company.

Do you have references that can be contacted?
- If a company is reputable and confident in their work. They’ll happily provide this for you.

Interview as many renovation companies as you can.  With our bathroom renovation, we interviewed two contractors. With our basement renovation, we interviewed four.  Not only are renovations a costly investment, it also costs a lot of your time if you don’t hire the proper people to do the job. 

And most importantly, trust your gut and never hesitate to ask questions.

Yvette Ramos

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