BY PATRICK LANGSTON
Renovations are tricky, with everything from hidden structural problems to rising supply costs throwing a wrench into the works.
But if cost and time have you thinking you should hire that friend of a friend who says he can do the work quickly and save you money by making it a cash job, ask yourself if you want to put your home, and possibly your family’s safety, in the hands of a non-professional.
Instead, look into hiring a RenoMark® contractor.
Established in 2001 by the Toronto-based Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), RenoMark is now a cross-Canada program that identifies professional contractors who have signed on to a code of conduct that protects the homeowner.
The program is delivered in partnership with the Canadian Home Builders’ Association and local home builders’ associations, including the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA).
That code of conduct — which includes providing a two-year warranty on work, carrying at least $2 million in liability insurance and a promise to return homeowners’ calls within two days — isn’t something a cut-rate cash-only renovator bothers with.
And in the wild west that has long been one aspect of the home improvement industry, that person calling themselves a renovator doesn’t have to possess any special qualifications.
“Anyone can call themselves a renovator — get a truck, get a ladder and go out and start renovating,” says Greg Simpson, former chair of GOHBA’s Renovators Council and co-owner of Sunshine Design and Build. RenoMark is “bringing regulation to a fairly unregulated industry.”
Hiring that person with a truck, a ladder and a mile-wide smile can turn into a nightmare. No permits, no insurance, no oversight: the consequences for the homeowner can be frightening, from a dangerously botched wiring job to a jump in your own insurance rate following an on-site accident or property damage. The risks, including the potential dangers of hiring an uninsured contractor, aren’t worth the money you might save by hiring a cheaper but unqualified renovator.
Even if it’s just the classic case of the renovator who never bothers finishing the job once he’s been paid most of the money, the homeowner is left holding the bag. After all, if there’s no written contract with a clear scope of work — a requirement for RenoMark members — it’s your word against the renovator’s if you decide to prosecute.
The RenoMark code of conduct also requires members to be properly licensed, hire only subcontractors who have workplace safety and employers’ liability coverage, and maintain a safe and organized work site.
Hiring a RenoMark renovator means you “avoid the issues of the underground and bad renovators… the risk of losing your deposit or money, or of non-code-compliant work,” says Steve Barkhouse, owner of Amsted Design-Build, which has been a RenoMark member since the program’s inception.
A RenoMark project is a “low-risk, peace-of-mind renovation, which is all that people care about after the reno is complete,” adds Barkhouse.
RenoMark’s website is a valuable resource when contemplating a renovation. Its five-step guide to the renovation process, including advice on establishing project priorities, deciding whether contractors will have access to your bathroom and a reminder that price isn’t everything, is a must even for homeowners who have been through prior renovations.
When selecting a renovator, Simpson suggests three must-dos:
Discuss your proposed renovation with at least a couple of renovators and have a standard list of questions so you can compare apples with apples. “Compare the responses — you’re not just having a conversation.”
Request and speak with three references “and make sure it’s not their mom,” Simpson says. Ask those homeowners pointed questions about how the renovator dealt with project problems and issues.
“No renovation is ever a smooth sail from start to finish. There’s always going to be some kind of issue that comes up, and it’s how you deal with that issue that sets the OK guys apart from the great guys.”
When considering a renovator, ask if they have Workers’ Compensation and liability insurance coverage. And don’t just take their word for it, make sure you actually see the documents, says Simpson.
Patrick Langston is co-owner of AllThingsHome.ca and a veteran journalist writing for several well-known Canadian publications including Ottawa Citizen.