Thursday, Sep 27, 2012

How to choose a renovator
By Jim Vanderhoeven, Sun Media

It's best to be prepared, with clear expectations of everyone's roles and responsibilities. (Comstock)
With a clearly defined list of wants and needs, a realistic budget and product research completed, you're ready to interview renovators.

The main objective is to find a professional renovator with the skills to accomplish the range of work in your renovation. Keep in mind you'll be opening your home to the renovator you select for weeks or months, so look for someone you want around your home on an extended basis.


The initial meeting helps you get to know a renovator and discuss your plans. You're laying the groundwork for your project, so take your time and don't be rushed. When the renovator arrives, pay attention to little things.

  • Were they on time?
  • Do they have a professional appearance?
  • Do they respect your home?
  • Do they give direct answers to your questions?

It's best to be prepared, with clear expectations of everyone's roles and responsibilities.

Homeowner's responsibilities:

  • Know what you want to do.
  • List your priorities.
  • Set and explain a realistic budget.
  • Research products and designs.

Renovator's responsibilities:

  • Be on time.
  • Provide information about their company and services.
  • Comment on the customer's ideas, especially in light of their budget.
  • Outline the next steps for the homeowner.
  • Supply references and work photos.


At the second meeting, each renovator will prepare an estimate/proposal that includes a written estimate, a specifications list and maybe a few rough sketches. There may be a fee for this.

The one thing that is hard to judge from a proposal is overall quality of workmanship. The best way to tell if a renovator can do what he promises is to check references.

Look at past projects and talk to homeowners. Some people skip this step, figuring renovators will only offer up positive references.

But some renovators may feel that poor references are better than none at all. And some may try to bluff with false references. Always check!

Also, make sure when looking at estimates that you're comparing apples to apples. Get enough detail so that the level of service and quality offered by each renovator is comparable. A lower estimate may seem more attractive, but not if it doesn't provide the same quality process and end product.

Homeowner's responsibilities:

  • Check references before the second meeting.
  • Research the companies online, with the Better Business Bureau and London Home Builders' Association.
  • Make comments about what you like and dislike in the proposal.
  • Let renovators know where they stand; don't keep them on the hook.

Renovator's responsibilities:

  • Make sure the proposal reflects the homeowner's wants.
  • Provide as accurate and detailed an estimate as possible.
  • Get any additional information necessary to produce a final quote.


This is the last step in selecting a renovator. Once you're satisfied with the references and estimate, it's time to get a firm quote. To provide this, the renovator must have a design.

The design sets out the specifications. This is a written recipe for the job. Along with the plans, they explain what's to be done in enough detail so that different renovators working from the same design would produce the same result.

There's typically a fee to produce the design, which usually can be applied to the total project cost.

Homeowner's responsibilities::

  • Make sure the specifications (especially quality of products) are accurate.
  • Make your final comments on the proposed work.
  • Make your final decision and hire a renovator.

Renovator's responsibilities:

  • Make sure the design is accurate and complete.
  • Specify levels of finish and quality of products.
  • Make sure the project can be completed as described.
  • Indicate the earliest possible start date.
  • Estimate completion date and when major project milestones (e.g., cabinet installation) will occur.

Once you've selected a renovator and you are both clear on what's to be done, the next step is to draw up a detailed written contract. I'll have more on that next week.

Jim Vanderhoeven is president of the London Home Builders' Association.

Renovation archive

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