Thinking of renovating? Here’s our advice on what to consider – and what not to do – before you begin.
BY SHANNON MONEO
Andrew Hobbs well remembers a client to whom he sold a condo. After moving in, she painted the walls pink and then created a Hello Kitty theme throughout the space. When Hobbs was her listing agent several years later, a few coats of a neutral paint colour took the bloom off the rose and voila, goodbye kitty, hello broad appeal.
That single owner is one example where some home renovations can be solved easily. Snafus, on the other hand, usually have a root cause.
“At the top of my list is lack of a clear purpose … why you’re doing the renovation,” says Hobbs, a realtor with Island Realm Real Estate and also the principal at Victoria Character Homes. Those who approach a reno from an investment angle should consider who will embrace the revamped space while those who plan to truly live in a renewed home should do what their heart desires.
“People worry too much about resale value,” Hobbs says. A decade or more from now, trends will have moved on and the farmhouse white kitchen and grey everywhere will be passé.
Go with your head, not your heart
Yet, what the heart wants and what the piggy bank can afford often differ. Hobbs has seen many instances where a renovation budget needs major renovating. “Most people underbudget. Sixty percent of the work is done but 90 percent of the budget is spent. A miscalculated budget is one of the hardest things to overcome,” he says.
It often leads to choices being made that are not good and are related to quality of materials or workmanship. Buying a plumbing fixture from a big box outlet will cost more in the long run than purchasing a quality product from a specialty plumbing store. Hiring the lowball bid may lead to regrets.
To conquer the budget beast, Hobbs says that having a very good idea of all choices, from the costs for trim to appliances is necessary. He also warns that some contractors lean towards having the owner spend more than planned. Good contractors warn their clients before a majority of funds are spent.
Design before you demolish
The owner of Shane Murray Contracting Ltd. approaches a renovation from the roadmap perspective. “Always get a designer before you talk to a contractor,” says Shane Murray. “You need to have a plan. I’m a builder. Once the plan is in place, I’ll bring in all the trades.”
Murray has seen too many cases where the homeowner either tried to do the work themselves or went the low-cost route. “If you get a designer or architect, things are done legitimately,” he says. Moving a toilet or extending heated floors from the kitchen to the rest of the house may look doable on paper or after having watched a YouTube video, but it’s deceptive.
Cosmetic work, like painting, is relatively simple to remedy, but when it comes to electrical or plumbing work, the BC Building Code and safety are priorities. “Everything has to be done to Code behind the walls,” Murray stresses. An electrical fire due to shoddy work is not unknown.
The hidden costs of renovating
Related to behind the walls, are practicalities. Hobbs has seen many new homeowners make fresh flooring or a revamped bathroom the priorities, but then forget about the bones of the house. A ready fund for a new roof or hot water tank are non-existent. “Nobody gets excited about spending $7,000 on a sump pump,” he says. Due to his experience with Victoria Character Homes, his advice is to look under the roof and behind the walls.
And, he adds, extend that to the outside. Septic fields, sewer lines and perimeter drains should all be considered when major interior work is done. “Water is a big concern,” he says. Mold can become a major problem. As well, in older homes, asbestos may be lurking. “It can cost thousands to remediate,” he says.
Another consideration with older homes is that the new owner wants to maintain the original outside appearance in conjunction with a modern interior. Again, individual desires are allowed, but ill-suited renovations include vinyl windows or vinyl siding on an older home, Hobbs says.
Find your contractor fit
Finally, choosing a solid contractor is important, but not easy. “Victoria is a really competitive place to get people,” Hobbs says. Sometimes, the contractor who is available or one with a lower quote is invariable chosen. Hobbs recommends asking a realtor for a recommendation or interviewing at least three prospects.
And always ensure that whoever is hired has liability insurance and Workers’ Compensation coverage. No one wants to be on the hook for a $150,000 expense after a tradesperson’s blow torch ignited a fire on the side of a home.
A renovation is a financial endurance test where the finish line can change. When asked for a timeline, Murray says, “You don’t know until you open up the walls. Prepare for the unexpected.”