Some common home construction questions
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What about building a new home vs. renovating an existing house?
There are few open lots available on the North Shore. Even if you want to build a new home, you may have to buy a lot with a house already on it. And if the foundation and geo-technicals (soil and drainage) are okay, it can be less expensive to renovate based on the existing structure.
As well, there are new set-back bylaws that will apply to a newly built home and could mean it will have to be smaller or not situated where you want it on the lot.
Also, if the home is not too old, a renovation can often let you avoid some of the high-cost plumbing and electrical work.
So renovation is less expensive?
Usually. Keep in mind that you probably have champagne tastes and would prefer to maintain a beer budget.
Once you've started upgrading part of your home, though, you're going to want to do it right and you'll want the rest of your home to be of the same quality... and that means a budget for imported beer.
But a high quality renovation on the North Shore continues to be a very good investment.
Are there other factors?
The main thing is to plan ahead five or 10 years, or more. Will the home accommodate your changing family needs? It's important to invest in quality for the long term.
Is there any one thing that’s paramount in deciding whether to build or renovate?
Everything's important... Making sure the work can be done on time, on budget, with the least disruption. But overall, it comes down to ensuring the final result will meet your living needs, protect your investment and have the lasting quality that gives a homeowner a real sense of pride.
Will I have to move out during a renovation?
For major work, having the site unoccupied can increase the builder's productivity, saving you time and money. For smaller jobs, keep in mind that there may be times when the electrical or plumbing services are limited. Also, you can reduce the amount of moving involved by using inexpensive portable container storage.
How do you charge? Does the work always cost what you’ve estimated?
We can work on a fixed-price basis, on a cost-plus basis, or somewhere in the middle.
It's important to recognize that any building project -- especially a renovation -- is like peeling an onion: you can't know what's on the inside until you start removing the layers.
So if you hire contractors on a fixed price, and they run into unexpected problems, they may be tempted to cut corners to ensure themselves a profit.
When you're paying on a cost-plus basis, you need to have trust that your contractor has the experience, ability and honesty to control spending.
Whatever the basic agreement, the main thing is to be clear at the beginning about the scope of work, how unexpected factors will be handled, when you will sign off on extras, etc.
How can I budget for a building project where there are unknowns?
You should know approximately what the work will cost. A good contractor will be able to advise on contingencies -- what surprises there could be.
Then it's a matter of ensuring your investment will still be sound if extra work is required, and having the financing in place to handle those costs if they're needed. Most financial institutions will recommend you have a 15 to 20 per cent buffer.
Do I need extra insurance?
We cover our worksites for liability involved in construction. But you should notify your home insurer -- in writing -- that you are having the work done, the value of the work, and that equipment and workers will be on site.
Can I do some of the work?
If you want to do the general contracting work -- scheduling and managing trades people, project management, etc. -- don't hire a general contractor. It's the kind of work where it's important to have only one chef in the kitchen.
But working with a general contractor, you should be able to control the design and be involved on a daily basis in ensuring we're creating the look and feel that you want.
That said, many clients find they enjoy helping on-site -- on demolition, painting or staining wood, etc. And that's not a problem. We'll advise you to get proper safety gear, and to avoid any physical risks.
Also, we have Workers Compensation coverage for Shakespeare staff, and sub-contractors have their own coverage. But you won't have WCB coverage if you're hurt doing that work.
There’s a lot of news about the shortage of tradespeople in construction. Does this affect the decision?
It can. But a good builder will have put a lot of effort into developing long-term relations with the best tradespeople. If they know they'll have a well organized worksite and a chance to do a high-quality job, our experience is that they'll be available, show up on time and do awesome work.
So, no problems getting the work done?
Well, don't expect to call a builder and start work the next day. After your basic decision, count on at least a month to work with a designer, more time for a survey -- it's often required -- another few weeks for the municipality to check the plans, and another month to get the permits in place.
But if your builder is involved from the start of that process, he'll be able to schedule his people and the trades to start when you're ready.
What part do designers play in a client’s decision?
They usually come into the picture after your basic decision about the general scope of the build. Then it’s important to have a structural designer or architect involved in developing your ideas and creating sketches to help you make specific decisions.
For structural design, drawings and blueprints we're lucky to have an excellent designer on staff. She can also help with the basic decision about whether – and how much – to renovate.
Shakespeare Homes has also completed remarkable renovations with other structural designers, and we also often work with interior designers, ensuring the details will work out in terms of colour schemes, lighting, flow, etc.
Should you rely on contractors for advice on building or renovating?
It depends on their financial stability and consulting experience.
I took a few years away from construction to help launch a high-tech product into the number one seller in North America, which meant dealing with Fortune 500 companies. That has given Shakespeare homes the financial stability to be able to focus entirely on our client's needs – we don't have to panic about cash flow.
That experience also gave me the background to work through any issues professionally. As well, I was raised on the North Shore. I live here and build here. I can help people understand how their building decisions will affect their home's value in the local market as well as their satisfaction with it.