Home Improvement

Not everyone aged 50 and up wants to leave their present home for another that may be tailor-made for retirement.

For many, renovating holds greater appeal. After all, isn’t this the home where the kids were raised, memories made? Not to mention big bucks and countless hours of hard work maintaining and upgrading. For these folk, home is much more than just bricks and mortar — it’s part of the family. The best solution for those who really want to stay put is renovation. Basements can be finished, walls painted, and rooms adapted for easier access. If you’re thinking of “retrofitting” your home, there are many precautions you can take to safeguard your interests, plus keep the cost of renovating down.

The Renovation Survival Guide
From finding a reputable contractor to protecting yourself from fly-by-night con artists, the following pointers will help keep your renovation dream from becoming a nightmare.

  • Always consider your future needs. Seemingly insignificant devices like levered taps in a bathroom or lower light switches could save a lot of aggravation in later life.

  • Ask trusted names and relatives for names of reputable contracts. Look at the finished work: was the owner happy with the quality and cost? If you come up empty, try your local building suppliers. They can recommend contractors they deal with on a regular basis. Also, contact your local home builders’ association for references.

  • Get a minimum of three quotations for the work, even if you already know who you want to do the job. And remember, the cheapest isn’t always the best option, and the highest doesn’t always mean you’ll get better workmanship.

  • Budget down to the last detail before giving a contractor the go-ahead. And try to avoid changes once work has started. Allow for at least a 15 per cent overrun in expenses to deal with unexpected extra work.

  • Don’t hesitate to negotiate, and put everything you agree upon in the contract. Make it as detailed as possible, covering everything from quality of materials to completion (larger contracts may contain a penalty clause for each day the job extends beyond the completion date). And watch out for “hidden extras.” The contract is legally-binding, and is in place to protect the contractor, too.

  • The contract must also contain a payment schedule, with a reasonably low up-front payment. Also, hold back 10 per cent for 45 days after the work is completed to determine whether any liens have been placed on the job or if something is structurally unsound.

  • Include in the contract a clause regarding the disposal of refuse from the job site. Debris soon mounts up, even from minor renovations. Ask to see the necessary paperwork your contractor must have regarding dumpsters and the material removal.

  • Warranties are important, particularly where newly-installed features like tubs and sinks are involved (these should come with a manufacturer’s warranty).

  • Once work has begun, ask questions prior to the day’s work, or at the end of the day. Contractors have to pay their tradesmen, and if they have to stand around waiting for a decision, you’re indirectly paying for their time.

  • Keep the phone numbers of the Better Business Bureau and the Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations handy — just in case. They can be a good leveraging tool should a dispute arise. If they can’t solve your differences, they can offer advice and point you in the right direction.
  • Finally, don’t believe all the horror-stories you may have heard about contractors. While some may be true, the majority are professionals who want to provide you with a level of service and quality you’ll be pleased with — plus referrals for future jobs.

    Spotting a Scam
    Be particularly cautious regarding unsolicited visits from individuals offering home repair and maintenance services. While most are reputable, you’re wise to be suspicious.

    If approached in this manner, the following tips will help safeguard you against unscrupulous, bogus contractors:

    • Watch out for anyone claiming they’re in the area for just a few days, and can do your job only if the order is placed immediately. If they can’t wait longer, it’s unlikely they’d return to fix any problems arising from their work.

  • Always ask for and check on a contractor’s references.

  • If you live alone, never allow a contractor into your home. Make an appointment, and have someone with you to help assess the deal.

  • Never pay a deposit until obtaining a written quotation with the proven name and address of the contractor, a detailed description of the work to be done, along with the price and terms of payment. Again, have a witness on hand.

  • To cancel a job, you must notify the contractor within 48 hours of signing a deal, and deliver it either in person or by registered mail. Keep a copy of the receipt, as the day you mail is considered the day notice is given.

  • If you encounter problems with a contractor, contact your local Better Business Bureau or the business practices agency of your provincial government.
  • Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) — The CMHC has some useful information and tips regarding home renovations. To get the latest publications, check the blue pages of your phone book for branch nearest you.