Once you have settled the “to move or not to move” dilemma and decided this is the place for you, renovations may be in order. If you are still wrestling with the “stay or move” decision, pricing necessary and desired renovations may make it easier to compare this home with your alternatives. The renovation industry contributes billions of dollars and thousands of jobs to the economy so get used to the idea that you have more to choose from than “getting the local handyman in.”October is renovation month so check local papers at that time of year to see whether local home builders’ associations, municipalities or home renovation suppliers are hosting renovation seminars in your area. The rest of the year, these organizations usually have literature and websites on renovating and on dealing with contractors. The Canadian Housing Information Centre (CHIC) also offers a wide range of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) renovation publications and videos. Contact your local CMHC office to reach CHIC. What is the renovation limit?Don’t be afraid to indulge yourself if you are retiring and renovating at the same time. Home will be headquarters for retirement, and perhaps for your new business, so make yourself as comfortable as possible. Perhaps both you and your partner would like to see the same renovations take shape or you may each have a different renovation wish list. Have you always wanted to add a sunroom, replace the kitchen window with a greenhouse bay, build a terraced patio or enjoy the convenience of a mainfloor bathroom? Or perhaps , you’d like all of these changes. How much is too much when it comes to renovations?If you have an older home and are not a home-renovation whiz yourself, a professional home inspection will reveal snags in your renovation plans before they become expensive obstacles. You may plan to renovate until the home inspection makes you realize how much additional work the house needs now and over the next few years. The home inspection may tell you more about your home than you want to know, but you will be glad you asked.
Inspections usually cost less than $400 but make sure you hire someone with a structural engineering background and a solid business reputation so they will be around to sue if something goes wrong later. Tell the home inspector what your renovation plans are and get feed back on what problems and alternatives may be open to you. Knowing the details in advance will help you weed out renovation companies that are not honest and capable. The following suggestions will help you with the “should we or shouldn’t we renovate” dilemma:
• Be sure this is the right place for you.Don’t stay just because you’ve lived there so long. Visit the housing alternatives in your area or in the other locations you’d consider. You may find what you want in another home and save money in the process.
• Keep value in perspective.If you renovate beyond the value of similar homes on your street or immediate neighbourhood, you may run the risk of not getting any of your investment back or of wanting to price your home out of the real estate market when it comes time to sell. Check with two or three local real estate salespeople and have at least one complimentary market evaluation done on your home. Ask whether your renovation plans would add value, be value-neutral but decrease selling time or make your home harder to sell.
• Value is in the eye of the beholder.If you plan to age-in-place, that is stay there for the rest of your life, the final sale price of the home may not be as important as the years of pleasure or convenience you’ll gain. But be sure you work out Plan B in case you do move in the future.
• Think beyond today.While you’re renovating, consider barrier-free modifications at least for the renovated area. Although you and your partner may be active and mobile now, things change. CMHC and organizations like the Ontario March of Dimes can provide you with barrier-free information.
• Is there financial help out there?Check with your municipal office, local politician or CMHC to find out whether you and your proposed renovations qualify for grants or low-interest loans. For instance, the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program (RRAP) provides loans and grants to low-income homeowners bringing their homes up to health and safety standards. The program can also be used to make homes accessible for disabled residents, enabling them to live independently. Home Adaptations for Seniors’ Independence (HASI) assists low-income elderly Canadians, whose difficulties in daily living can be addressed by certain adaptations to their homes.
• If you must deal with door-to-door salespeople, ask for identification. Write down the details and check with the Better Business Bureau, municipal office, the police community support division or neighbours who have hired these people already. Do not sign up the first time you talk to anyone.
• Always ask for a written estimate. Never sign a blank form or piece of paper.
• Read any contracts carefully. Once you have signed you are committed so be sure you understand what you are committing to. In some areas, brief “cooling off” periods may exist but check with the provincial government’s consumer protection branch to be sure.
• Be sure the contract allows you to withhold at least 10% of the total cost for 45 days after completion if you are using a general contractor who hires other workers to do the job. This protects you from overpayment should you have to pay subcontractors who were not paid by the general contractor.
• If this is your first renovation, talk to family and neighbours who have done similar renovations to find out what they learned the hard way and save yourself some grief. Be prepared for inconvenience and unexpected problems, especially if your home is more than 10 years old.
• Arrange estimates from at least three reputable renovators. Ask neighbours for references and take a look at the work that was done. Your standards may be higher than your neighbour’s.
• Do not pay for work in advance. Deposits of between 5 and 15% of the total price are common, with another 20% or so paid as work progresses.
• Warranties vary with manufacturer and contractor. Collect the warranty cards from any parts used in an envelope or file them in a safe place. If anything breaks you’ll be able to find the warranty information.