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The Home Work Controversy and 5 Tips for Home Renovation

by - Monday, January 17, 2022

When you're looking for tips for home renovation projects, a likely source for renovation and remodelling know-how are the home renovation shows found on TV. The formula is intriguing: professional or semi-professional designers help homeowners create their dream homes in just a few weeks, with a bit of budget drama and renovation obstacles thrown in to make it entertaining.

And most times, the drama behind the scenes doesn't make it to air.

Why Home Renovation Projects Go Wrong

If you follow design influencers on Instagram, no doubt you caught wind of the controversy this past week surrounding the home renovation show Home Work hosted by Andy and Candis Meredith on the new Magnolia Network.

Here's a good synopsis of the situation but to summarize, several homeowners who appeared on the show came forward with accusations of poor workmanship, financial mismanagement, and broken promises from the Merediths. In response, Magnolia Network pulled Home Work from its platforms (but has since returned it to the lineup). You can see the homeowners' posts here, here and here and the Meredith's response here.

There's a lot that went wrong on these renovation projects and I don't think any one party is entirely to blame. From reading the homeowners' stories, it might seem near impossible, but you can achieve a successful home renovation or remodeling project.

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Did the homeowners have unrealistic expectations about what could be done on a tight budget? Did the Merediths take on too much, overpromise, and not convey clearly what compromises needed to happen in order to meet those budgets? Yes and yes.

Did the homeowners move in blind faith, accepted some things they should have questioned, and failed to speak up during the renovation process, perhaps because they were friends or fans of the couple? Yes. Did the Merediths lack project management experience, fail to monitor the quality of the work being done, and lack in communication? Also yes.

Throw in an extremely short made-for-TV production schedule, Covid delays, and multiple projects being completed at the same time and it's not difficult to see how so many problems could happen.

But - as someone who has hired contractors and trades and lived through several home renovations - I can say that none of this is unexpected.

Tips for Home Renovations

That so many poorly executed renovations happened in a short amount of time with one team at the helm is noteworthy, but generally, you can expect every renovation to go over budget and off schedule.

Whether you're doing a DIY renovation or bringing the professionals, renovations and home remodels can be a major undertaking and shouldn't be approached lightly. Ideally, the extra money you spend on home improvement projects will increase the value of your home in the long run. Hiring a high quality renovation team is a great way to improve your living areas and and take a lot of stress off your hands.

But even with professional help, there are simply unforeseen circumstances that cannot be anticipated before you open up the walls. Even with extensive prep work, there's surprises, unexpected costs, delays, and things that need to be redone, changed, or Plan B'd. Good planning upfront and and strong    management during the renovation can help minimize some of these potential problems.

But what can you, the homeowner, do to ensure a home renovation project runs smoothly? A lot!!

Here's 5 things homeowners should keep in mind when using a general contractor for their next home renovation:

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1. Do Your Research

Many of us hire tradespeople based on the recommendations of friends and family. But renovations can be costly, and you shouldn't base a significant financial decision solely on the fact that your Uncle Bob had a good experience with a particular contractor six years ago.

The best way to assess a contractor is to do your own research. Don't just pick the one that had the lower price on their free estimate. Get multiple quotes and check references. Consider everything, from how long it takes them to respond to your initial outreach, to the level of detail provided in their quote, to how knowledgeably they can answer your questions.

Look at the contractor's qualifications and not just their after photos. Do they hold the right license, certification, and insurance? Are they experienced in the type of renovation you want to do? Are they doing the work or are they subcontracting it out? Know who is coming into your home.

2. Your Contractor/Designer Is Not Your Friend

Renovations can be long and filled with emotion - you're bringing someone into your most intimate spaces. You're giving them a lot of money. You're trusting them with your dreams!

And yes, it's nice to have a friendly relationship with the people you entrust to build your dream home but don't assume that they are your friends. This is a business transaction to the contractors, trades, and designers you hire. You are paying them for a service and it's up to you to ensure they meet your expectations.

I know I can be swayed by someone who speaks to me in a friendly, reassuring tone, but in a home remodel project, that can lead to problems being ignored or minimized. Lots of homeowners are not experienced in home renovations so they place their trust in their contractor to tell them when things go wrong. 

While many contractors will do that, ultimately these professionals are motivated by their own budgets and timelines. It's not in their best interest to spend more time and effort on highlighting and fixing issues when they can convince you things are "good enough". Ensure the work done is to your standards.

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3. Get Your Renovation Contract In Writing

It goes without saying that you should have a clear contract with the contractor for your renovation project. The contract should include a thorough description of the work to be done and the materials to be used. It should also include a project schedule and payment schedule.

The contract should also list any warranties, who is obtaining permits if required, and if there are any subtrades being used (and who is responsible for paying those subtrades). Any changes to the scope of the work and additional cost should also be in writing.

Tie payment schedules to the construction schedule. 

One couple from Home Work stated that the Meredith's were paid $50,000 before any of the work was ever completed. This should never happen and unfortunately is a common and very costly renovation mistake homeowners make.

A contractor may include a payment schedule in the proposed contract, but you don't have to accept that as is. You can suggest your own. A good rule to follow is to tie your payments to milestones in the renovation plan. For instance:
  • pay 10% deposit upon signing
  • pay another 15% once materials are onsite
  • pay another 40% once 50% of the work is complete
  • pay another 25% once the job is complete
  • pay the final 10% as a "holdback"
The 10% should only be paid after final inspection of the finished renovation and about 45 days after the completion of your renovation. The holdback achieves two things. First, it's an incentive for the contractor to come back and fix any small repairs or deficiencies left outstanding. Secondly, here in Ontario, it is put towards any construction liens that may have been placed against your home by the contractor or subcontractors.

4. Communication Is Your Responsibility Too

What's the role of the contractor? Is it the person that assembles the team, creates and manages the schedule, oversees the work, organizes the construction area and equipment, ensures the work is to code, and keeps you informed? Yes to all those things.

But consider this: your home renovation is likely not the only project your contractor is working on (especially now, when everyone wants to renovate while stuck at home!). Your contractor may have multiple major renovations on the go and could be managing more than one construction site and subtrades.

The implication of this is that your contractor devotes attention to your project only 33% of the time (for example, if there were 3 simultaneous projects). That means he is not on-site all the time, he's not there to check the work being done, and things can fall through the cracks.

The flip side is that YOU are 100% devoted to your project. You have the opportunity to be in the work area in real time to communicate to the drywaller if the finish isn't as smooth as you'd like. You can tell the electrician if he missed something that was on the scope of work. 

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Having a contractor doesn't mean that you forsake any responsibility or oversight. 

Even if you feel inexperienced or unqualified to ask about the things happening during the home remodel, speak up if you have questions - you've paid for the right to do so! 

Is some of the work questionable? Do you feel like the materials on site differ from the ones specified in the renovation budget?  You shouldn't feel afraid to ask 'dumb' questions. You might learn something along the way and that can benefit your future renovations.

5. Know Your Renovation Plans

While you might hire professionals like an interior designer and architects to draw your renovation plans, you need to have a good understanding of those plans as well. Knowing what is to be delivered for your living space will help you ensure, when you're on site, that you can spot any deviations.

Renovations are complex and can involve many people. Things can get overlooked and it's not reasonable to expect that each trade has 100% understanding of the entire plan. Often, they are only aware of their limited scope of work.

We had a situation occur when we renovated our old basement bathroom. The plumber had come in and moved the plumbing through this empty cavity. He was unaware that we were going to finish the area and install open shelves. Because we knew the full plan, we were able to spot this mistake and have him re-route the plumbing.

Knowing your plans, you can also make changes during construction. Would it be better to have the electrician add extra potlights? Or move the location of the switch so it doesn't interfere with the placement of artwork? Does the width of the door need to be extended because you've bought larger appliances? You can only make beneficial changes like this if you understand the plans and what's to come.

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Renovation work at any level, from a new home, kitchen remodel or entire house, can be stressful. With proper planning and using best practices, you can head into them confidently and ensure that your house will become the home you dream of.

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