Sometimes you don’t get what you pay for 

By Francie Healy

It was miserable, tragic. Ellen Heide didn’t deserve it. Sadder still, it didn’t need to happen at all.

You may have seen Ellen’s story in the news. She was the woman who hired a contractor to build an addition to her house. She had dreams of creating a safe, comfortable place for her dying father.

Ellen chose Alma Construction because she thought it seemed okay. Unfortunately, thinking it was okay turned out to be a huge mistake.

She told the company what she wanted. She paid them $48,000. They began the addition but didn’t go far.

And then they left, never to be seen again. The phone number they gave was suddenly out of service. There were no tracks – nothing and no one to follow.

Ellen’s money was gone, her dream shattered.

Eventually animals began burrowing their way through the rough structure that was just sitting there as an eyesore in her yard. It was a terrible ending to something that hadn’t even really begun.

However, there is hope for Ellen now, even if in some ways it’s too late: she has lost that money, and her father has died.

Moe Abbas of Ottawa General Contractors came to the rescue. His company is one of many solid businesses of honest renovators and contractors in the Ottawa region who bear the RenoMark™ seal of approval. That meant Ellen could trust the job would finally be done as it should have been in the first place.

Adena & Moe - The Wedding Session0153

“[Ellen] was in despair,” says Moe. “She was ready to sell a half-constructed house. She was taken advantage of and largely ignored by everyone she asked for help. Her father was dying and she was out $48,000, trying to handle the affairs of her father while figuring out what happened to her contractors.”

He says his team surprised her. They introduced her to a side of construction she hadn’t known existed.
“We showed her security and safety,” he says. “We showed her service and systems. We showed her an organized company that can be held accountable for its actions. This is a far cry from never getting a returned phone call and always feeling afraid and uneasy.”

What happened to Ellen Heide still makes Moe furious.

“I’m sure the sales guys [at the uncertified business] were top-notch in their sales,” he says. “Maybe they even  accomplished a few successful projects here and there. But obviously that’s not enough.”

Watch out for disappearing acts

You don’t need glossy salespeople or flashy deals, he says. You need security. You need peace of mind.

You also need your renovator to give a minimum two-year warranty, abide by WSIB safety codes, and carry proper insurance.

One thing to be wary about, he adds, are companies who let their workers go when the seasons change. That just means they have to keep retraining a new labour force.

“You’ll see people who spent six months for a company who let them go because the season was over… and then they think they have enough experience to start their own exterior company. Or a company will hire someone with, say, two years of experience — but that experience is the equivalent to one year of another business that works year-round. Exteriors is one of the highest-risk areas with the least amount of relative experience.”

For BBB Torch

When it’s time to hire a contractor or renovator, he says, it comes down to one important question: Can this company be held accountable?

The RenoMark program answers “yes” to that question. RenoMark renovators must pay a fee to be certified. They must also follow detailed guidelines. They pledge to call you back quickly, to stay in touch, to be courteous, to enforce strict workplace safety.

They must carry $2 million liability insurance. They must also:

  • Give you a detailed written contract for all jobs, big or small
  • Provide a minimum two-year warranty on all work except minor repair
  • Carry the proper licences and permits
  • Keep their worksite organized and safe
  • In the Ottawa area, be a member in good standing of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA) and abide by the GOHBA Code of Ethics
  • Stay current, through consistent and continuing education, in their professional knowledge of building codes, permit procedures and technical skills.


If only Ellen had known that.

“This is something that needs to be communicated to everyone,” says Moe, “because many other victims have fallen prey.”


If you have any renovating horror stories you’d like to share, we’d like to hear them. Please send them to .