Renovating Your Home

Home repairs and renovations

Planning a few renovations to your home? Whether it’s a major project or simple repairs, good sense will help you get top value for your dollar. Here is some useful advice obtained from Ontario’s Ministry of Small Business and Consumer Services’ website to help you protect yourself and your home while living through renovations.

Quick tips Expand/Collapse

  • Before you do anything, make sure you know exactly what you want. Jot your ideas down on paper. If you plan to redo the entire house over a period of time, put together an overall list of your renovation projects in order of importance. Changing plans in the middle of the project will cost money and cause headaches for you as well as the person doing the job.
  • Don’t be talked into having work done just because the rest of the neighbourhood is doing it or because the price is a bargain. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Keep in mind that renovations do not automatically add to the value of your home. If it’s a major project, get the advice of a professional before the job is started. An architect or engineer can provide expert guidance on design by recommending the most efficient and inexpensive way to make your renovation dreams come true.
  • Unless you’re a qualified “do-it-yourselfer,” hire a capable contractor recommended by friends and neighbours. You may also be able to get the names of reliable home renovators from your local building-supply store. Contact the Ministry of Government Services to see if any complaints are on file.
  • Start by contacting a few companies. Ask three companies to look at the job and give you a written estimate. Never accept an estimate over the telephone or without the contractor inspecting the area. Many consumers find they get good service when they deal with local firms. If repairs are needed and the company’s equipment is far away, you may have trouble enforcing the warranty.
  • Be sure to ask for references and check them, even if someone has recommended the company to you. Check to see if the people they give you as references have had similar work done to the renovations you want.
  • If someone has recommended a contractor, find out whether the firm has changed owners. If it has, you may want to call new references. Follow up on references both from the recent past and further back in time. Sometimes, problems do not surface for a while. For example, most roofing and paving problems arise within a year after the work is done, so if work done last June is still in good shape, chances are it will last.
  • Expect to be asked some questions. The company should know your requirements in terms of the quality of materials. In driveway paving, they should ask whether or not heavy vehicles will be parked on the driveway and the age of the house. Owners of new homes are often advised not to have driveways paved or major landscaping done until two years after construction, to give the ground time to settle.
  • Keep down payments to a minimum (about 10 per cent) and never pay the full amount of the contract before the work is completed. This helps ensure that the contractor will stay to finish the job and protects you from financial loss if the company declares bankruptcy before completing the work.
  • Don’t let the contractor talk you into making a large down payment “to pay for materials.” Respectable firms should have enough credit to buy the materials they need.
  • Although some contracting firms will spread your payments over a period of time, it may be wiser to arrange your own financing. You not only save on interest charges, but you also control payments to the contractor in case of trouble. Remember that the costs of borrowing can vary greatly, so shop for credit as carefully as you do for other goods and services.
  • If a company asks for a very large deposit or the price sounds too good to be true, find another company. Fly-by-night operators may disappear with your cash.
  • Never sign a blank contract. Does the person who arrives at your door with printed business cards and prepared contracts always represent a legitimate company? Perhaps not – those materials may just be part of an attempt to deceive you. When you are ready to sign a contract, make sure all the prices are broken down and that the materials and work specifications are spelled out. Always get a written contract before the work begins and make sure it includes the name and address of the contractor.
  • Ask about the warranty. Make sure it is clearly spelled out in writing.
  • Better Business Bureaus, chambers of commerce, local licensing commissions and municipal building inspectors keep records on home improvement contractors. Check with any or all of these to find out if the firm you pick for the job has a record of reliability.

Your rights Expand/Collapse

If your agreement includes an estimate, under the law, the final price of the goods or services cannot be more than 10 per cent over the original estimate. If new work comes up, your contractor should discuss it with you and you should be asked to approve a “change order” that includes the new work and a revised estimate to cover new goods and services.

The Construction Lien Act establishes important protection for consumers in their renovation contract. Let’s say you make a purchase or sign a contract in your home. If the deal is worth more than $50, you have the right to cancel within 10 days. It’s best to do this by registered mail or fax, to get your money back. The only exception to this cooling-off period is in a case of emergency home repairs, where the consumer must have approached the seller and requested the services to be provided within 10 days of receiving the written contract.

Consumers are also protected against unfair business practices such as deceptive promotional and sales tactics. If an unfair practice has occurred, you can rescind the agreement within one year. One way to do this is by sending the seller a registered letter.

Under the Business Practices Act, it is illegal for a contractor to hold onto your belongings to renegotiate a higher price. Unless conditions change, the original agreement stands.

The door-to-door game Expand/Collapse

A common sales ploy in the home repair business is the offer of a “good deal” by a door-to-door seller because “we just happen to be in the neighbourhood with all our material and equipment.” The contract usually must be signed right away to get a special price. Don’t fall for that pressure tactic. Here are some precautions to take when dealing with a door-to-door contractor:

  • Be on guard. Ask about the contractor’s experience, business address and telephone number.
  • Get estimates from three different contractors.
  • Don’t rush into anything. At the very least, a contract should be drawn up so that the work to be done, price, materials required and requisite time frames are clearly outlined.
  • Avoid paying any large up-front fees or deposits. All deposits should equal no more than 10 per cent of the total cost.
  • Never pay in cash; always keep a record of payment.
  • Always conduct a background check and ask for references.
  • There are other door-to-door tricks to watch for. A salesperson may offer to “inspect” your furnace, chimney or roof, free-of-charge. Afterwards, you are told that immediate and expensive repair work must be done. Of course, the individual offers to do the work and has a contract ready for signature. If you suspect repairs are necessary, choose your own company.
  • Don’t be tempted to sign just because someone is already at your house.

Contracts Expand/Collapse

Once you’ve selected a contractor and have a cost estimate, get all the details in writing in the form of a contract. Before you sign, make sure this lists:

  • Any extras (additional items or services that would not be covered in a standard contract);
  • The type and amount of work to be done;
  • Total cost;
  • Start date;
  • Date of completion;
  • Who is responsible for clean up after the job is finished.
  • Read the fine print to make sure all subtrades are covered and listed in the contract. That way, you’ll avoid a nasty surprise when you are faced with a hefty bill from an electrician or plumber on top of the price you thought covered the entire job.
Check warranties and guarantees carefully. The contractor’s reputation and length of time in business are important. A “10-year” guarantee is worthless if the contractor goes out of business next month.

If a large amount of money is involved, it is best to have a lawyer go over the contract to advise you of your rights and how the contract operates. Do this before you sign.

You may need a building permit for certain renovations, so check with your city or town hall before signing the contract. It’s your responsibility for getting the building permit. If you want the contractor to get the permit, make sure this is spelled out in the contract and don’t allow construction to begin until you’ve seen the permit.

 

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