Monday, April 19, 2010

Profile: Condo Renovation First-Timers

For many, home improvements are a more attainable goal over climbing the housing ladder in today’s competitive real estate market, and can also be a practical way of quickly increasing property value. Condo units with original or otherwise outdated finishes in older buildings can hold a ton of potential for those who’ve caught the reno bug; not only were suites generally built larger prior to the surge of Toronto’s condo craze, but many of these buildings are situated in prime locations throughout the city core.

Renovations can be daunting for first-timers, and many people have no idea where to begin (or for that matter, where to end!) The LiveHigh Team recently sat down with Jaime and Ed, typical first-time homeowners and renovators, to talk candidly about their first renovation project – the highs, the (many) lows and everything in-between – and how they converted this former investment unit into their own personal haven.

Key Facts

Unit type: 1 Bedroom + Solarium, 1 Bathroom
Approximate size: 721 sf
Building type: High-rise condo
Building age: Approximately 22 years
Neighbourhood: Bay Street Corridor (Downtown Toronto)

The Plan: Complete overhaul of kitchen (with updated layout) and bath; new appliances; updated flooring, lighting and paint throughout.

Estimated project duration: 8 weeks
Actual project duration: 12 weeks

Estimated budget: $15-20K (a “soft” budget, due to inexperience)
Actual spend: Approximately $30K (including new appliances)

Most money spent on: Kitchen
Least money spent on: Painting

The Overall Experience

If you were to ask Jaime and Ed, it would seem that everything that could have possibly gone wrong with their renovations, did! While they may have encountered many unexpected issues and setbacks along the way, these first-time renovators came out of the experience with some hard lessons learned (now shared), increased property value and most importantly, a beautiful home – newly renovated from top to bottom – that will hopefully provide them with years of enjoyment!

Before the Renovations
State of unit:
All of the suite’s original features and finishes were intact with the exception of the kitchen flooring and shower tiles, which had been replaced about 10 years prior.

Major considerations:
When choosing features and finishes, Jaime and Ed kept potential resale value in mind. The most money was spent on renovations that could significantly impact property value, while the colour palette was kept neutral for versatility.

Permits and other requirements:
Permission had to be obtained from the condo board prior to making changes to the unit’s layout, and general condo board by-laws and regulations had to be followed for the renovation process itself. These will vary by building, but in this case, rules included a limitation on the hours during which work was allowed to be completed as well as requirements for soundproofing new hardwood floors. Jaime and Ed were also prudent in ensuring that the contractors they used were properly insured and/or bonded to avoid personal risk and liability.

During the Renovations

Unexpected issues encountered:
  • Kitchen:
    • Cabinet measurements twice taken incorrectly by a contractor, delaying final delivery for weeks;
    • Delayed granite countertop installation due to delay on cabinetry;
    • Flooding of dishwasher on first use.
  • Flooring:
    • Faulty materials and poor workmanship on initial installation of new flooring, which lead to a lengthy reconciliation process with retailer (still unresolved after weeks of attempted resolution), much frustration and subsequent reinstallation of final product;
    • Increased expenditure due to required reinstallation of new flooring and purchase of new materials.
  • Painting:
    • Additional work and expenditure required due to issues with flooring.
  • Logistics:
    • Inability to move into new home on schedule due to four-week delay on completion
    Work completed:

    Kitchen: Part of the existing wall was removed to open up the previously enclosed layout, with the kitchen now overlooking the dining area. The entire space was then remodeled with new maple cabinets and brushed nickel hardware, granite countertops and an undermount stainless steel sink. Original condo-size appliances were replaced by new, standard-size stainless steel units, swapping the original placement of the fridge and stove. A new microwave range hood was re-routed and installed in the new location, and existing tiled floors were finished with more modern tiling.

    Bathroom: An existing shower wall was removed and replaced by a full glass shower stall. All tiling was updated, and an updated vanity was installed with a new countertop. The existing toilet was replaced, but the existing bathtub was still in good condition and left intact. The existing stacked condo-size washer/dryer unit was replaced with a gently used, standard-size set.

    General: The existing broadloom (carpet) was replaced with dark engineered maple flooring throughout the unit. All walls and ceilings were repainted, and existing light fixtures were updated with more modern fittings.


    Most Important lesson learned:
    Without any contacts for contractors at the outset of the project, Jaime and Ed didn’t hire a personal contractor to manage the overall project. They instead used different contractors for each of the renovation jobs completed, hiring the kitchen, granite and flooring contractors through the respective retailers from which they’d purchased their materials. Separate contractors were also used for the bathroom reno and painting. In hindsight, they realize that it would have been more efficient to hire one personal contractor to either complete the work themselves, or to manage sub-contracted parties. This would not only have increased job accountability, but also reduced the number of headaches endured as a result of the unexpected issues that arose! In addition, hiring someone independent of the retailers’ supplied contractors could potentially mean significant discounts on materials and labour.

    If they had to do it all over again…
    Jaime and Ed would have been sure to hire a personal contractor, and may have opted to save money on the maple cabinets installed in the kitchen by utilizing a more cost-effective material such as MDF which can provide the same level of impact, aesthetically speaking.

    Best advice they can offer to other first-time renovators:
    • Hire your own contractor to manage the overall project, increase job accountability and potentially decrease costs;
    • Ensure that contractors are insured and/or bonded and licensed for electrical and plumbing trades (where applicable). Follow up on references provided and be sure you feel comfortable with anyone you hire; they’ll be spending a lot of time alone in your home while you’re away. To budget projects, requesting quotes from at least three parties should give you a pretty good idea of where you might expect to land.
    • While they realize that their personal experience with renovations was a little extraordinary, Jaime and Ed recommend that anyone considering home improvements add a minimum two-week buffer to their timelines to account for any unexpected setbacks;
    • Factor this buffer into plans for alternate accommodations; as you’ll most likely not be living in the unit while renovations are being completed, it’s important to remember to plan for such unexpected delays;
    • Remember that most condo buildings require residents to book service elevators in advance, each and every time substantial equipment, materials or refuse need to be transported.