Another "Renovation Month" is behind us and it's time to ask, "What have Canadians learned about renovating their homes?"

Each year the Canadian Home Builders' Association (CHBA) sponsors "October is Renovation Month" to provide Canadians with information on home renovations and to showcase construction professionals, products and services.

Did you take advantage of local seminars and home shows to avoid learning about renovation the hard way? If not, circle October 2002 on your calendar so you'll be ready next year. In the meantime, contact local chapters of CHBA and the following organizations to get your questions answered.

The Appraisal Institute of Canada

The Appraisal Institute of Canada (AIC) reminds Canadians that all renovations are not created equal. Renovating does not automatically guarantee an increase in property value, nor does spending more ensure your property will appreciate more.

AIC appraisers suggest the best potential for "payback" at the time of sale lies with a range of projects. Their top 10 renovation projects with reasonable average potential return on investment were:

  • Painting and decor, interior 73%
  • Kitchen renovation 72%
  • Bathroom renovation 68%
  • Painting, exterior 65%
  • Flooring upgrades 62%
  • Window/door replacement 57%
  • Main floor family room addition 51%
  • Fireplace addition 50%
  • Basement renovation 49%
  • Furnace/heating system replacement 48%

Don't take those figures as absolute. Style, quality, functionality and "what's in" -- vital aspects of any successful renovation -- can reduce or enhance these figures for individual properties.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

Canada's federal housing agency, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) supports CHBA and consumers by providing additional information on renovation. This fall's activities included CMHC promoting its free renovation information, like the Before You Renovate guide and About Your House fact sheets on projects such as windows, roofing, kitchens, bathrooms and more. CMHC describes itself as "the most reliable and objective source of housing information" in Canada.

CMHC also funds several federal repair assistance programs that help low-income Canadians, including seniors, people with disabilities and Aboriginal people, live in decent, affordable and accessible homes. For instance, the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program (RRAP) provides loans and grants to low-income homeowners bringing their homes up to health and safety standards. The program may also be used to make homes accessible for disabled residents, enabling them to live independently.

If this is your first renovation, save yourself some grief. Talk to family and neighbours who have lived through similar renovations. Find out what they learned the hard way and what they wish they had known before hand. Be prepared for inconvenience and unexpected problems, especially if your home is more than 10 years old. Arrange estimates from at least three reputable renovators. Ask for references so you can inspect the workmanship yourself -- your standards may be higher than theirs.

Beware of the "friendship factor" when dealing with renovators, architects, interior designers or other construction professionals -- or accomplished amateurs, for that matter.

  • One homeowner used an architect who was also a friend and got a tremendous shock when the bill was twice the agreed-upon budget. The architect had taken advantage of the friendship to get "on the go" approvals for spending increases to cover his poor planning and scheduling. No attempt was made to keep the homeowner up to date on costs and overrides because the architect felt he knew what the homeowner could afford.
  • Another homeowner now faces the hassle of court costs and legal fees to recover payments made to the "best friend of a friend" interior designer who took the money, did not order all the materials and then quit the project leaving the homeowner in the lurch financially. The biggest problem was that the designer bowed out before the kitchen was a functional room again.
  • Keep everything on a business level. Ask for estimates, budgets, contracts and everything in between in writing so there are no misunderstandings and you have something to take to court if the other party lets you down.
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