Wednesday, March 14, 2012

#5 Permits Are a Girls Best Friend

Permits are a girls best friend! Now that you've married your Sheldon (if you've been following along at home), how can you tell his faithfulness to you?  

Why the analogy of a girls best friend? In my experience quoting jobs, it is because I usually meet with the woman of the household to quote a project, and it is her that tells me what she wants, and she is also the one that likes it when I say that I work with permits when required. Its the husband (or man of the household) that usually says its not necessary, normally because he's afraid it will be more expensive overall, and take too much time. They're also afraid of Inspectors snooping through the house looking for problems, but that's just not true, I don't care what your friend Jimmy told you about his friends' Dads' brothers' former room-mates' DIY reno-gone-wrong where they were finishing the basement and the Inspector made them tear the house down.  

Let's Discuss,
The issue of it taking more time: Using a basement as an example, generally a 4-6 week project, having the work inspected might add a day and a half to the overall time. If scheduled correctly, it actually won't make any difference, the day and a half extra is only because sometimes the inspector is not immediately available. Is 36 hours of a delay really worth the excuse to not get one for a 4-6 week project???

The issue of it being more expensive: A typical permit for a full basement renovation is less than $200, and an ESA (for all electrical) permit is less than $100. The drawings can be done by you or the contractor, you do not need an architect or an engineer (providing you're not taking out anything supportive) If the basement is costing $30,000, why wouldn't you want to ensure that the work being done is watched by a professional and up to code? For 0.33% of the budget?? That's too expensive!!??  
Whether the project is being inspected or not, the work should still be safe, made with the same materials, and made with the same care for your home and safety. If a contractor tells you it is significantly more expensive to work with permits and a pain-in-the-tuchas, then I would seriously question his daily work ethic...or simply turn and run.  

I often get calls from home-owners that did their own basements, bathrooms, etc, but need me in to check a leak, a plug that doesn't work, lights that flicker, etc. Sometimes easy, but often its an expensive repair, and they did the job without a permit, with an excuse of: "I didn't need one" or "I didn't think I needed one because I did it myself.". Now, you absolutely CAN do the work yourself, AND get the permits yourself. And again, permits are there to make sure you don't end up with unexplained leaks, plugs that don't work, and flickering lights. Inspectors make sure everything is Kosher, no matter who does it, and if they find something done incorrectly, they absolutely will give you the advice needed to correct it; inspectors are there to help you, not hinder you. Still have excuses to not get a permit? Read on.

 So what work requires a permit? Here's the link to the City of Toronto's residential building by-laws page for your review. It is important that you know your resources and understand what parts of your home need special attention by the City:
What does not require a permit? Check it out, and read the paragraph at the bottom of the page ;).

For YOUR Safety, Not For Our Profit

What do you get with a permit? You get a very experienced and licensed Inspector that works solely for the city (not independantly), coming to your home 3-4 times during a project, to inspect the demolition, the rough-ins, the installs, and the finish (called a Final Occupancy). He/she is there for as long it takes each visit to ensure the work is safe and up to current code requirements before it is allowed to move forward. This is done for YOU and for YOUR home and for YOUR safety and for YOUR future. An experienced contractor should never, ever, ever have an issue with getting or following through with permits.

What if there's a Problem?
So let's say permits are in place and the project is at the point where the first inspection is to take place (The Rough-In). Inspector comes, finds some issues related to the work performed, and won't let it pass until the issues are rectified. A little stressful, yes, but not your problem. Again, its the contractors (if you've hired Sheldon, which you should) responsibility to do the work up to code (its your responsibility to ensure permits are there, however, not necessarily to get them, but to ensure they're in place). And if the contractor says he needs more money because of this, tell him no way, he should have done it right to begin with.

Permits vs Cash Jobs: shouldn't make a difference. The loveliness of cash is so the contractor doesn't have to claim it, but that doesn't mean the work he does should be any different. Sure, when you get a permit there is a record of it, but Building Services don't talk to Revenue Canada! An inspector doesn't give a flying-hammer how the job is being paid for either, so don't let a contractor tell you that cash jobs don't come with permits.

Responsibility: it is those doing the work to ensure what they do is up to Code, however, don't think you as the client should just sit back. In the end, it is your home, your investment, and your project, and subsequently your final responsibility to make sure t's are crossed and I's are dotted. Let's say you're having your basement finished, and because you're afraid of time and money you agree with your contractor to do the work without permits. Let's say a neighbour is nosy and calls the city to check up on you. If no permit is filed, then a representative will come down and ask the job to cease immediately until a permit is applied for. If a penalty or fine is required, it is the homeowner that has to pay, not the contractor.   

"What if I ask for permits? How can I be assured my contractor got them and they've passed?" Great question you in the shirt, let me answer: some areas provide each permit with a large display code sign that has to be displayed at the street level of the house and in plain sight. If no sign is provided, actually either way, the permits are required to remain on site, during and after the renovation as they belong to the project and the house, not the contractor. So just ask to see them :). You can also call your local building service division and just ask nicely.

There's responsibility on both ends, and although you may think permits are a pain in the tuchas, if you've done your research on contractor, you should be hiring him because of his experience and workmanship, and therefore, permits shouldn't even come up as a blip on the overall project radar.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Blog The 4th: Revenge of The Blog

The Contract (enter Darth Vador theme here)

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

Blog 3: The Threequel

The Second Date With Your Suitor

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 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 Contract:  your best friend