By Francie Healy

The thing about renovation is, well, it can be like dark and light. Daylight and midnight. One hand and the other hand. There are, simply, the good guys and the bad guys. The problem is, the bad guys can cost you a fortune before you even know what hit you.

His name was Charlie. He had dark curls and a smile that would light up a room. He was charming and cheerful, a cool dude. He also had a shiny black truck with a nifty sign on it that said “Charlie’s Creations”.

He charged significantly less than the going rate for renovation, as long as you paid him cash. He had printed references and a book of photos showing some of his impressive work.

A homeowner in a well-established neighbourhood in Ottawa hired him to put in a new kitchen. A neighbour, seeing his truck parked next door, inquired and ended up hiring Charlie to add a new deck to the back of her house. Both homeowners paid him half down, with half promised when the job was done. It all looked great.

Two weeks later, when Charlie hadn’t shown up to start the work, and when phone calls to him went unanswered, one of the neighbours decided to investigate. She found there was no such person. Charlie, if that was his real name, had vanished with about $60,000 in his pocket. The police said he was probably working his way through another region of the city, under another name, with a new sign on his truck.

Meanwhile, around the block, the neighbours were noticing Sam. Not just Sam, but Sam’s whole crew. The crew arrived at the home they were renovating with clean, well-labelled vehicles. They were quiet. They were polite. When they left at the end of each day, the worksite was noticeably tidy and safe.

A young couple hired them after much investigation into renovation companies. They did their homework, asked questions, got references. This was their first home and first renovation, so they were nervous. They had to watch their budget, but they dismissed offers from people who would do it cheaper, and cheaper still for cash. (They had heard the stories.)

Two weeks later, their house was starting to take shape. The couple emerged from their front door each morning with smiles on their faces as they headed out to work. The crew was there bright and early. They could be trusted.

You know the ending. It was happy.

There are dozens of Charlies. They’re everywhere. Sometimes they just vanish after you give them a down payment. Sometimes they rip up a room and then don’t come back to finish the work. Sometimes they do the work but with shoddy materials, and when things go wrong, they’re nowhere to be found. This is the renovation underground, and people still fall for it. Customers pay cash, so there’s no paper trail. If they supply phone numbers, they go unanswered, or they’re invented. These scam artists are criminals, but they’re hard to catch and convict.

But there are also dozens of Sams. They’re honest, decent, qualified, and – more often than not – they carry the RenoMark™ logo: a big indicator of a job that will be well done, with no regrets. They spend time with you to make sure you’ll get what you want. They’re respectful. They’re skilled. They come with contracts and warranties and knowledge. They’re in this with you, and they’re there for you when the job is finished.

The RenoMark™ logo means verifiable references, insurance, at least a two-year warranty, and confirmation that all the safety codes, licenses and permits are respected. It’s a homeowner’s comfort zone. It’s where the good guys are.