Choosing a Contractor and Avoiding the Renovation Nightmare

home renovation

Everyone knows a renovation nightmare story. Either directly through first-hand experience, or indirectly through someone they know. They are real. People have suffered.

Here are a few friendly suggestions on how to help ensure that your next renovation is a pleasant experience for you and your contractor.

Don’t think that the cheapest deal is the best deal – you get what you pay for.

It is standard practice to get at least 3 quotes for any work you need to source out for your renovation. Whether you’re tiling your powder room, building a deck, or looking for a General Contractor to oversee the entire project, you want to make sure you aren’t getting ripped off. This is the most crucial part to any home renovation project.

If a contractor is offering you a deal that is too good to be true, or if you don’t have a realistic budget, prepare to be disappointed. Like any industry, quality takes time and money, so if you are being offered quality without the cost, something is not adding up. Often, those who choose the cheapest route will end up with a “contractor” who is going to cut corners, use second-rate materials and practices, and ultimately leave them disappointed. In a lot of cases, these fly-by-night criminals will low-ball everyone, take your deposit, and never be seen again.

Trust your gut instinct – it is usually right

When I first started out as a renovator, I realized very quickly that people wanted to see what I’d done in order to judge my qualifications for their own project. I obviously had no portfolio and my main order winner was my personality and promise that I was giving them the best quality for their money.

Fortunately, I still managed to get sufficient work, and I always delivered on my promise at a price they could afford; a great scenario for my clients. The important part was developing the relationship – I made sure that both parties were comfortable with each other before any paperwork was signed. Today, like then, I never ignore my gut when it comes to weeding out problem clients, and homeowners should definitely follow their gut when it comes to contractors. Get to know potential contractors well. Your personal relationship with them will make all the difference.

Have a back-up (buffer) budget for incidentals

The nature of home renovations means that you are removing layers of old stuff and replacing it with layers of new stuff. During the ‘old layers removal’ phase, there are always discoveries that neither the homeowner nor the contractor could possibly have planned for – I could dedicate a whole book to the topic of surprises that I have uncovered in clients’ homes. So if you are financially in the deep end going in to your renovation, you are going to drown when your contractor discovers that you have been growing an entire ecosystem of mold and fungi behind the wall of your leaky shower wall for the past 63 years.

By way of example, I recently removed the drywall from a client’s kitchen ceiling only to discover that the previous contractor had practically hacked completely through floor joists to install a vent duct, and there were no less than 8 hidden electrical junction boxes feeding various lights and outlets (according to code, any electrical junction boxes must be readily accessible). Always, always, make sure you have a little tucked away so that should the time come, you can easily stay afloat.

If you want a pleasant renovation experience, you’ll do well to follow these guidelines. However, if your goal is to attract a lot of untrustworthy, poor quality, unreliable contractors, and have a miserable renovation experience to boot, the best bait is an insufficient budget, an over frugal mindset, and an inadequate buffer. You’re going to catch some beauties.

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