Sunday, April 1, 2012
I had previously (on another social media website, I can't say its name, but it starts with an "F", and ends in "acebook") asked you all to submit your questions (as I also do on my front page here but you're all too busy it seems), any question at all, and here are those questions for your reading pleasure! And the answers, of course.
"When hiring you, is it better to use your suppliers for materials, or buy on our own?"
Really, you're free to do whatever you'd like, but its a bit of both. Let's say its a bathroom renovation, which involves picking tiles for the main floor, shower floor, and walls, maybe countertop stone, toilets, tubs, vanities, and fixtures. I will recommend to you my favourite places (based on variety, price, and stock inventory), and I always give you my discounts whether you're paying or its part of the overall materials budget. I usually go with my clients as I also help out in the design, but sometimes availabilities cross and you are free to go on your own, I always tell you who to ask for so you'll be in good hands. Simply, for Tiles: you'll buy from a tile place, but I'll point you to who the better ones are. However, for tubs, toilets, etc, just let me know what you've found, wherever you found them, and you are free to purchase that through my suppliers as you will get the cheapest price that way.
"If a contractor is not insured and something gets damaged or burned, will my home insurance cover it?"
Seriously? The fact that you would even consider using an uninsured contractor is ridiculous. So my answer is: who cares!? If he/she is not insured, then he/she doesn't touch your house.
"Why does your pee smell after eating asparagus?"
Well, I'm no anesthesiologist, however, researchers believe that, during digestion, the vegetable's sulfurous amino acids break down into chemical components in all people. And because those components are airborne while urinating, the odor wafts upward as the urine leaves the body and can be detected as soon as 15 minutes after you eat this spring delicacy. But only about one-quarter of the population appears to have the special gene that allows them to smell those compounds. So the question isn't why your pee smells; it's whether you're able to smell it. If you smell a funny fragrance in your urine after you eat asparagus, you're not only normal, you have a good nose. Hope that helps.
"What's an average cost for a basement renovation?"
Well, that's hard to answer, as there are TONS of variables, some include size, design, or if there is a bathroom. However, a ballpark for research for you, around 1000 square feet will cost around $30,000, including pot lights, a full bathroom, permits, licensed trades, and completed in 6-8 weeks from drawings to the final passed inspection. I am always available for a firm estimate anytime, I love basements.
"What is a good number of references to receive?"
What, haven't you been reading my blog?? A good number is any number that makes you feel comfortable, however, in my opinion, if they cannot come up with at least 5 that are relevant to your project (ie, don't accept 10 references from deck jobs when he's quoting on your kitchen reno), then they're probably not experienced enough to ensure your investment is protected with a great job in the end.
"Why do good things happen to bad people?"
I'm not sure, but I think it has something to do with me not being on TV.
"For a deck, screws or nails?"
Screws, period, for everything. The industry is just like any other, where progression and material advancement is necessary to continue to make things better, safer, and longer lasting. There's a reason screws were invented.
"Do screws make a project take longer than nails?"
A different person asked this question, it's great to see people thinking about details. Yes, screws take longer, maybe by a couple hours. Screws will make a fence or deck hold together for at least twice as long, so I'm pretty sure that you'll be just fine with waiting an extra 2 hours for your completed project.
Hope those helped, keep the questions coming and look out for Part Deux! :)
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Monday, March 5, 2012
We're past the 2nd date, You've found your "Sheldon", you've agreed to the marriage, you've finalized the details, you've finalized the price, now it's time to put pen to paper for the pre-nup. This Blog is all about the contract itself. I will explain how I do them, as over the years, I have found my way is straight forward, yet extremely detailed, and leaves no grey areas. Not all contracts will be the same, however I believe the following information is an absolute must for both the contractor and the client to keep all on the same page.
1. Header Info: whether its letter-head or not, each page should have all contact info for the contractor: full name, business name, email, phone, and website address if applicable.
2. Work Line: a simple line dictating the area of renovation: Master Ensuite Renovation, Kitchen, Basement, etc.
3. WDO: now this is something I do that not many do, I call it the Work Detail Outline. This is the bulk of the estimate/contract that explains, step by step, each part of the renovation, right down to the brand of drywall I'm using behind a shower, for example. What I'm using as Sill Gaskets, what brand and R-Value insulation, copper lines, PEX lines, type of paint (always VOC Free for Stanleigh Renovations), fan brands, etc. This way, you know exactly what's behind your walls, and you can use this as a check-list if you'd like to make sure your contractor isn't trying to pull a fast one on you.
4. Time Estimate: using bathrooms as an example, a typical 4-piece from demo to paint is 3-4 weeks, and maybe a another week waiting for the glass or stone vanity top if you've gone custom. I've done in the area of 40 bathrooms so far, and I still can't tell you exactly how many days it takes, as every style and location creates their own timelines, so don't expect a firm time estimate from anyone, but keep on top of things, especially at the 2-week mark.
5. THE Estimate: here's your number, and aside from unforseen circumstances that are out of anyones hands, this number should remain absolutely firm from start to finish, no exceptions, especially in regards to labour costs. Time is money, if a contractor estimates 2-3 weeks, and it takes him 4 while no issues arise, then that's his problem.
Some estimates will include all materials, and some won't, and then there's Sheldon: I include all "non-variable" cost items such as framing, electrical, plumbing, trim, doors, paint, plaster, drywall, permit costs, engineering costs, labour costs, etc. "Variable" cost items are materials that have great cost ranges, things like tiles, custom glass, vanities, carpet, faucets, toilets, etc. Its impossible to figure this out as tiles, for example, range from 50 cents to $100/sq.ft. So make sure that any costs that will be your responsibility are clearly and fully detailed, and noted in the estimate. If you don't see this, inquire, however you'll never have to because you're using me anyway ;)
6. Payment Schedule: Have one, it's that simple, I don't work without them, they are just as important for me to keep the job running smoothly, as they are for you to make sure you don't give a dime until certain job milestones are met. Any job lasting over 5 days should have at least 3 payments, the number and percentage of the payment after this is dependant on the amount materials and labour required at certain points in the project, so it can vary greatly depending on the size and type of project. Here's a typical Stanleigh Renovations basement payment schedule:
First Deposit: 20% of the Estimate, due 10 business days prior to beginning the project.
2nd Payment: 20%, due upon completion of the framing and plumbing
3rd Payment: 25%, due upon completion of electrical, insulation, vapour barrier, and full passed Rough-In Inspections by the city and the ESA.
4th Payment: 25% due upon completion of the drywall installation and all plasterwork
5th Payment: 10% due upon all passed Final Occupancy Inspections, and clients full satisfaction.
(The importance and necessity of the dreaded Permits is the next Blog)
7. Warranty Information: what is covered, to what depth, and for how long? Pretty simple, make sure there's a warranty. Cosmetics such as nail-pops and seam cracks are usually only 1-2 years as they are typical in new construction and renovations in settling homes. Items such as plumbing and electrical, especially when inspected, should be at least 5 years. Personally, I give 5-10 year warranties, but I use Master tradesmen, and I know how to build to make things last.
8. Signatures: make sure the contractor and yourself print your names, give signatures, and dates. Have a PAID/DATE column that you both can initial or sign every time a payment is made.
9. Additional Info: really its miscellaneous and generally a little blip about the company itself, but here's where things that can make the client more comfortable and get to know a little deeper. For example, I list the names of all my trades and labourmen and what they do, so the client never has strangers in their house and everyday they know who is there with me.
10. And we're done! :) Stay tuned for the next one, Blog #5: Permits Are A Girls Best Friend
Thursday, March 1, 2012
So the first date went great, good conversation, nice candle-light discussion of where to place the bidet, and how to improve the flush on your toilet. You've talked to your friends, you checked the references, possibly have seen some work first hand, and the numbers given jive.
Now, not every contractor is like me, in fact, most just want money and don't give a flying-framing-hammer about your house or creating a relationship with you outside of your bank account. But that's what the previous Blog was about: making sure you do work AND relationship checks on your suitors (I'm assuming you have somewhat of a good judge of character). I love what I do, I adore every second with my tools and your home, and I also love the fact that I get paid to do it. To me, this is not a job, its a life-long hobby that fills me with great satisfaction, while filling my fridge with food and my bank with enough to pay the bills. And knowing that when its all over, people all around Toronto and the GTA can enjoy what my hands have given...my little mark in this life if you will. This Blog is how to keep me happy :)
A Few Simple Rules For Dating Your Contractor
1. Can I Have Some Money Now?
Have the funds available for the entire project BEFORE it begins. Renovations are expensive and the money goes out in a very short amount of time. I always send my clients the payment schedule and contract well in advance of requiring the first deposit, that way they are fully prepared and there are no surprises. Please do not hope that coming paycheques will time perfectly with milestone contract payments. I've been there many times, and stopping a job because the client cannot pay instantly decreases my faith in any future relationship with that client. Unforseen circumstances that decrease cash flow can happen as well, such as vehicle repairs, medical bills, property damages, etc. I would rather go through all the motions with you knowing you need to save the money, than get a first deposit just to find that you never had the rest.
2. Get a contract damnit! Do not hand over a dime until pen hits the paper. Next Blog will focus on the details of the contract itself, stay tuned. The contract makes sure you know exactly what to expect and when, and on our end, makes sure you know exactly when to have payments ready, so please read it before signing, and review it daily.
3. If no official start date has been set, for whatever reason, but you have said "yes" and want commitment in return, then expect to pay a deposit anywhere from 1 to 5%. This secures his time, his trades' time, and helps give a little towards doing extra things like multiple meetings, completing drawings, obtaining permits, etc. Just you saying "yes" is not a commitment, in fact, in our world, its absolutely meaningless. Contractors get screwed more times than you think (just this past year for me, and 4 times over 15 years), so we tread lightly in deep waters, after all, it's us that needs to earn your trust and jump the hoops to gain you as a client. So how do we know that we can trust you? Would you let us do a background check on you? Would you provide bank statements to show us you actually have the funds to complete the project? Probably not, so really it is the contractor taking the leap of faith in the relationship, as you have all the tools you need to research someone properly. Therefore, you need to commit, and in this industry, $ is the only proven symbol. My family does not have shelter or food from good intentions and pleasant conversations.
4. Always Kiss On The First Date!
If a firm date has been set, then expect to pay anywhere from 10 to 30% of the contract. 30% sounds like a large amount, and it is, and if it's a $10,000 bathroom, for example, that's a $3000 payment before any work actually begins.
Daunting, scary, downright frightful, but here's why it can be so much and why it needs to be paid: in a typical bathroom renovation, 20% of the reno budget is spent the first day! Plumbers and Electricians are the most expensive trades and you need both day one, and usually they're there for the day, along with general labour for demo, and disposal fees. As mentioned before, Contractors get screwed often, so the daily budget requirements need to be available in order to keep the project moving forward at all times.
5. However you've discussed the payment schedule is how it should remain, on both sides. He should not ask for money until ready, and you should not give it until satisfied. However, don't be relaxed on it: if he requests the next payment at the end of the day, make the effort to get it to him, as most of the time that money is needed to pay for labour and pick up materials for the following morning. There are many contractors that will not continue until they've received the next deposit, and based on some experiences I've had, I don't blame them. Personally, most of the time I keep progressing anyway, as there's always something booked in after, so I'm always on a deadline.
6. Ch-Ch-ch-changes. If you've added work, or an unforeseen issue needs to be brought up to code, it should be handled with a Change Order, or a written amendment to the contract, ask for this. Generally we like to see these payments taken care of immediately so they don't get muddled and confused with the original contract, or forgotten about altogether. If you'd like to make it a cash deal (oh don't be so prude) then make sure its not a code issue: pay for those on the books so there's recourse just in case something happens.
7. Ending with a Smile, and showing your contractor why he should work for you Again.
Legally you should be holding at least 10% of the contract as the final payment. This Payment is given at the end of the project on your satisfaction. A couple days before the projected completion date, your contractor should go through the finishing details with you. This is where you will create the Deficiency List (a whole other Blog coming soon): the items required in order to gain your full satisfaction, and subsequently the final payment. Generally they are items such as paint touch ups, maybe a little ding in the wall, etc. Because you have already made a list, these items should be completed on the last day with no problems. Make sure that when you put the list together you are specific and cover everything, so when the last day comes and he wants his money, you're not springing anything on him. Nothing is more frustrating to a contractor than a client that continues to make lists, especially at the last day or the night before, and surprises it on him (also a Blog to come). So be as good to your contractor as he is to you, and create a long lasting relationship. You prefer to use the same mechanic for your vehicle, right? So apply those reasons to your contractor and your home :)
Next Blog: The Prenup....er....The Contract: your best friend
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Well, since this is the first Blog of what will hopefully be many for years to come (not to mention the first to help launch the best selling book, the magazine, and movie rights...possibly t-shirts, mugs, tape measures....), I guess I should say “Welcome”....so....WELCOME!!! Thank you for reading, enjoying, and not throwing anything until your finished. As being the first, I would like to start at the beginning of the journey for all home-owners taking the plunge to deciding on their renovation(s), and hiring a contractor/renovator (yes, there is a difference between the two, we’ll save that for a different rant...er...Blog).
Part 1 Focusing on Your Renovation
The first thing to do is focus on your needs. Let’s assume you’re renovating for you, and not to fix up to sell (that’s a whole different situation and future Blog). So you already know you want a new bathroom, for example, but what is it about the current bathroom that is not working for you? Is the tub too small? Too shallow? Wrong location? Does the bathroom need to be bigger? Two sinks or one? Etc. Those you will focus on first as they will be the priority. The next is what will be required for usability and for future-proofing (expanding the family, renovating in a desirable neighbourhood, future design considerations for other rooms are things you’ll want to think about). Just like the little graphic on the TV shows, write a list of what you need and what you want, and have that ready when meeting with potential contractors. Don’t think you’ll be able to answer all the questions yourself, and don’t get overwhelmed, as the right contractor for you will be one that can help you figure this out. Although I can’t tell you what you want, and in the end the decisions are yours, I always help to define the best decision, and keep you up to date on current trends, long lasting designs, and where to focus certain percentages of your budget. It’s important to have your potential client feel like they are the boss, as well as the student at the same time.
The second part of focusing is on your budget. This can get complicated depending on your situation, but let me try and keep it simple: are you looking for quality? Long lasting? Comes with a warranty longer than 2 years? Then please be prepared to spend some money. And I’ll be perfectly honest here: if you didn’t put a checkmark beside each of those 3 details, then don’t renovate, you’ll waste your effort, time, and your investment dollars. Keeping with the bathroom theme, a Powder Room will start at $3500-$4000 including materials. A Main Bath will start at $8500. These are starting points, for simple tear-outs and re-build, nothing structural. If you want high quality, long lasting, and full warranties this is where you’ll begin. Remember that bathrooms done well will be giving you at least 150% of your investment back, so a $10,000 Master Ensuite will increase your home value by $15,000. Not bad for an investment that takes 3-4 weeks.
What if you can’t afford it but REALLY want it? The easy answer is wait until you can afford it, and at risk of losing work, is the advice I usually give, as you will end up cutting things out of the budget that are expensive but necessary. However, there are options if you’re willing to take on a bit of credit. An example is taking a Line of Credit, normally offered around the 4% annual area. If you’re doing a $10,000 renovation, you will make $5000, well worth the 4% annual interest rate on the original investment.
The third part is focusing on your time: when is the right time for you? Do you have a vacation coming up? How available are you on a daily basis? Is it a major renovation? Need it done for holidays, a party? When is your contractor available? Will you need to have temporary accommodations? These will determine the best time for you as only you can answer these questions. However, if you’ve found the right contractor, generally you will be worked into his/her schedule, so you may not have a choice at risk of waiting too long and losing their time! I’ve lost potential contracts from people that wanted it done right away and I wasn’t available, as well as people that have said they would wait for me, and after warning it may be 4-6 months, still lost them over waiting too long.
Thanks for reading the first!!! Send me comments, questions, virtual high-fives, and smiles J
Next Blog: Part 2 - The Right Contractor