Renovating? Time to turn off the TV!

By: Janice Clements

If there’s one thing I’ve seen repeatedly when working with clients, it’s a genuine misunderstanding about the “costs” of renovating and the need to plan for access to contingency funds.

Renovations are seldom what people think they’re going to be. The planning, along with the work itself is rarely straightforward. There are hidden gems in your home that rear their not-so-shiny heads when walls are opened. It is incumbent upon you and more importantly, your contractor to make things right when something is found to be wrong.

This goes beyond the “do it once and do it right” principal that I and most good contractors wholeheartedly espouse. What’s often at stake is the health and safety of you and your family and yes, the insurance and business licenses of those working in your home.

As you begin your renovation planning do yourself a favour: stop watching TV renovating shows and immerse yourself into a full understanding your own project. Why?

Unless you’re watching them purely for creative ideas, TV renovation shows fast-track projects while making them look inexpensive. By the end of the 30- or 60-minute show, what is typically a massive undertaking has been tidily wrapped up, the homeowners are happy, and the contractor is pounding his chest with pride. Ugh.

You will often hear during these shows, “Excluding labour, the cost of this renovation was…” I ask you, where in the world does one need to live to access labour at no cost? Be assured, the cost of both labour and materials in Toronto and the GTA is MUCH higher than in many of the locales of the American produced shows.

Anyone who has ever lived through a renovation will tell you about the months of planning, waiting and planning again in preparation for construction work. Even after the major work is completed, there are sometimes straggling, outstanding or deficient items that need to be addressed. 

Then there’s the small matter of living in white powdery dust that seems to attach itself to every surface of your life. Or how about the less than appetizing temporary kitchen or a less than relaxing bathroom, having people traipsing through your home each and every day for months at a time and the regular, pulse-elevating fire-fighting required as unforeseen issues arise on site. At times, the true costs are not financial, but rather are a palpable strain and drain on the peace and sanity of a homeowner’s day-to-day life. 

The worst-case scenario is one where your contractor finds a can of worms (not literally, though that would be awful) once he opens your walls. Termites, electrical or plumbing problems are the hot spots, but major structural challenges can drive costs as well. Discuss with your contractor what he or she considers a reasonable amount of money to plan for contingency funds and be sure to set it aside. If you don’t spend the money, it can go safely back into your savings account. But if something arises, you will be prepared.

TV reno shows are also incredibly good at showing a home completed – furnishings and all. But what they don’t tell you is that with some exceptions, the décor items in these nicely staged homes have been borrowed for the purposes of the shoot and need to go back to the supplier as soon as filming is done. The homeowner can certainly purchase the items in their newly constructed space, but make no mistake, the show is over when the show is over.

Moreover, the décor in these staged homes does not take into consideration any budget that a homeowner may have guiding their purchasing decisions. Designers on these shows will use any and every item at their disposal to make the home look it’s best. Take it from someone who knows, cost is not a concern when you’re not paying for something. Often times, the furnishings in these TV homes far exceed the homeowners’ budget restrictions and create unrealistic expectations for the viewer.

Now, put the converter down and step away from the TV. 

Happy renovating!



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