By Francie Healy

Got a toolbelt? A saw?

Go ahead and call yourself a carpenter. There’s no one to stop you.

It happens, says Mike Martin, owner of Luxury Renovations, Ottawa. And people often believe what they’re told.

Someone slaps a sign saying “contractor” (or carpenter, electrician, plumber, designer) on a truck andadvertiseslow-cost work. Or there’s a carefully-worded classified ad that tells you all you have to do is call and someone will be there in a jiffy to renovate your bathroom or kitchen, or put an addition on your house.

And so begins many a nightmare.

Mike Martin is one of those renovators who gets called in to clean up the ungodly messes of unskilled, unqualified, fly-by-night people. He knows. He sees what happens.

He listens to the stories of people who have paid cash for work they believe will be good, and then realize their so-called renovation is a mess and their money is gone.

Mike is one of the earliest supporters of RenoMark™. In fact, he’s one of the people responsible for bringing the program to Ottawa.

Renovators and contractors who sign up with the RenoMark program commit to excellence of work, and it’s guaranteed. It’s a client’s safety net and assurance that their renovation will be done correctly.

Perhaps ironically, clients who use RenoMark renovatorsoften save money (as well as headaches) because the big messes amateurs create can cost a lot. Amateurs create victims who pay to get the job done badly, then pay again to have it all torn out, and then pay again to have it done properly by a professional.

Mike gets calls about some kind of botched renoat least once a month. Earlier this year, his wife, Suzanne Martin, a designer and owner of Luxurious Living Studio, investigated a three-year-old, expensively-renovated, kitchen that was literally falling apart piece by piece. There was nothing the homeowners could do. The company that did the renovation simply closed down, changed names, and started all over again.

“These messes could be anything or everything,” says Mike. “Plumbing, wiring, drywall, finish, terrible trimwork. It’s horrible.”

Mike goes in to take a look, tries to be as impartial as he can, and then he or another professional renovator cleansit up.

He says the last 10 per cent of any job is the most critical. This is where the fine-finishing happens. But it’s also where a lot of the bad contractors just walk away. They don’t get paid for that last 10 per cent, but they don’t do the work, either. They leave the home owner high and dry.

“I know numerous – numerous – situations like that,” he says.

Then there are safety issues, especially when it comes to electrical work.

Mike explains that if people are paying cash to “fly-by-night” operatorsor unskilled, unprofessional contractors,they’re not getting any electrical-code inspections done.

“People are crazy if they don’t get the work inspected,” he says. “And they’ll never be covered by insurance.”

He says electrical inspection is so important that his electrician will call and get areport “even if he’s changing two or three light fixtures.”

Perhaps one of the most shocking stories he’s ever seen happened in Ottawa a number of years ago. A homeowner hired a landscaping company to build an addition on his house. (At this point, Mike says: “A landscaping company! If you want a renovation done, you call a renovation company! But people will call anyone. It’s beyond me.”)

The landscaping company tore off the back of the house – not by hand, as they should (explains Mike), but with a backhoe. The whole house was left wide open, without tarps or any other kind of covering.

Then the landscaping company dug a big hole for a foundation (for the addition) and demanded a further $70,000 in order to continue. The homeowner had no idea this would happen. He went to the bank to try to get a bigger loan, but the bank wouldn’t give it to him. There was nothing he could do. He abandoned the project; the landscaping company went away with his money, and the house filled up with pigeons and squirrels. Eventually the whole house had to be torn down. The company went bankrupt, and the homeowner was left with no recourse.

Today there’s just a big empty hole on that lot.

Mike says more and more people are learning about the RenoMark™ program and are demanding that the companies they hire are RenoMark members. The program, which is coast-to-coast, is becoming increasingly well known. It seems people are looking beyond the toolbelt or truck or classified ad and refusing to take chances.

Mike adds the program is also attracting more and more renovators and contractors, because they realize it’s in their own best interest as businesses to be able to display the RenoMark logo.

“We’re telling everyone not to get a renovator unless they’re RenoMark members,” he says. “The message seems to be getting through.”