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Finding a reliable contractor

After renovating many of her own properties over the past 15 years, Toronto's Brenda Royce has seen it all from unscrupulous contractors.

"One was putting in a bathroom for me, and he tried to vent the toilet into an adjoining wall instead of up and out the roof, which would've cost him a lot more. That would not have been something I would normally check, but I knew toilets had to be vented properly, and I caught him on it," she says.

She wasn't always so knowledgeable -- the first house she and her former husband bought and renovated together didn't go as smoothly. One night they came home from work to find their contractor had walked off the job and left a hole in their roof where a skylight would go, with nothing but a tarp sheltering them from the elements. "We came home cursing at each other because it was pouring rain, not only on the third floor, but the second floor as well. Both floors were swollen and lifted. It was a disaster. I remember that morning crying and saying, 'What have we done?'"

New DIY renovators across the country may be feeling that pain while trying to cash in on the Canadian Home Renovation Tax Credit before the Feb. 1, 2010 deadline. Renovators who spend more than $1,000 but less than $10,000 may be eligible for the maximum tax credit of $1,350. However, first-timers may also be easy prey for opportunistic contractors trying to make a fast buck.

"A dishonest contractor will cut corners if they think they're with someone who hasn't got a clue, especially if you happen to be a woman," says Royce. Thankfully, there are a few simple steps you can take to avoid renovation nightmares.

Who do you hire?
While getting a recommendation from a trusted friend who has had similar work done is a good start, it doesn't always work out. "I had a popcorn stucco ceiling that I wanted shaved down, and my friend Dana said, 'Don't worry, I'll send Mikey over.' At first, Mikey was into it and doing a good job, but by the third day, I waited for him for two hours and he never showed up," says Royce.

That's why it may be better to get a referral from your local homebuilders' association. "They will normally have a subset group of renovators who meet frequently. There will be some sort of continuing education and they will have all the appropriate insurance and worker's compensation coverage," says Mark Salerno of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

But long before settling on a contractor, it's important to understand your wider goals and needs for the project in question. The best way to do this is to hire some sort of designer. Whether an architect, an architectural technologist or an interior designer, it's someone who will work with you to interpret your family's needs and what makes the most sense.

(continued on next page)
-- Posted: Aug. 28, 2009
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