Jeff: I have with me Lawrence who is in the middle to end stages of a renovation on his property. Lawrence, I wonder if you could tell us a little about yourself and your renovation.
Lawrence: Sure. Hi Jeff. I’m Lawrence. I live in the East End in Toronto in the beaches area and we’ve lived there for over seven or eight years now and we wanted to stay in that area, in the neighborhood, but the only way we could afford to stay in the area with the house that we wanted was to basically do a renovation. So, we bought a 1 and half story 1940’s bungalow, 2 bedroom and there’s 3 kids and 2 adults so, clearly, that wasn’t going to be the space we needed. And we embarked on doing a top up and back addition. And so, right now it’s been over half way into the project right now and although it’s taking some time, a little longer than we want and a little bit more than we wanted, it’s good to see progress. We’re at the framing stage where we can see the structure of the house and see what it’s going to look like.
Jeff: Super. Now you talked a little bit about this, but did you ever consider an alternative to your addition renovation?
Lawrence: Well, we looked at – either – we did some of the math to see whether we should be or should we renovate and definitely, we wanted, basically, a 5 bedroom house, which is rare on the beaches. And that would’ve been a fair amount of money and so, from a math perspective, it seemed to be the right way to do this, to buy basically a house. In this case, this house had not been renovated for probably 40, 50 years. So, this worked out from the math perspective. Obviously, the location was fantastic. It was exactly what we were looking for. And those were our big drivers on why we want to do this. So, far, we’re pretty happy that we’ve gone down this path. For alternatives, I guess, we did definitely have lots of discussion and debates around, “Do we do an addition or do we actually demo the house and start from scratch?” And to this date, I still don’t know what the right answer is. We had a couple of constraints. The lot isn’t that wide, it’s about 34 feet wide and really we weren’t going to change the footprint of the house by very much. We decided, if we’re not changing the footprint, we’re going to go back and we’re going to go up, then maybe we just keep the foundation. The foundation was quite solid and the building was inspected and it was in quite good shape, so there really wasn’t a good reason to demolish it and I think we saved ourselves some money by not doing that. Maybe Jeffrey, I’ll ask you if you have any opinions on demolish or renovate.
Jeff: Well, I would say we had a recent client who asked us the same thing. They had a very solid home in Etobicoke and we talked to a contractor and he said given the solidity of the foundation and what you’re trying to do – similar thing we were going to do a top up – and we weren’t going to increase the size of the floor plate,so he recommended that saving the existing foundation, on this particular project which saved about $60,000. So, your mileage may vary but in some cases it can actually save money. Now, on the project that we just finished in a different part of the city, it ended up that because the foundation wasn’t in great condition, the owner was going to have to spend quite a substantial sum waterproofing. Then it made sense to take out the existing block foundation and go new. So, again, it’s a case by case situation. So, did you work with design professionals from the start of your project?
Lawrence: Well, it’s an interesting question. When we first started it we were quite new to the reno space. We went to one of the builders – a one stop shop – and basically, a design/build company, but basically they do cookie cutter approaches to doing additions and so, I like that because from a dollar perspective, it was pretty economical but they definitely downplayed the design aspect of it in using an architect. So, we went down that path. We actually even went to community adjustment based on here is from a cookie cutter perspective. but that wasn’t going to be a back addition but only a top addition and it was only going to be 4 bedrooms and they were going to be pretty small. Also, we got along the process there and we weren’t necessarily that happy with their responses and their turn around times, so basically we just got past the design and the community adjustments and we decided to actually stop and say, “Look it.” We weren’t necessarily that happy with how things were progressing, both from a relationship and from a feedback and we weren’t, we actually think we wanted a bigger house. So, we stopped and said, “Let’s go to an architect,” and so there happened to be an architect in the neighborhood. and we started chatting with her and we really liked what she was – the way she approached things – and to this day, she’s been phenomenally valuable.
I did not know this at the time, but not only does she come up with the designs, which I think are great, she’s also validating all the work done by the contractors . So, she helped us with the drawings for tender, she drove that. She vetted it out to a couple of different contractors and so, she does all of the, check work. So, we’ve got a lot more confidence that things are getting done, built to spec that she wants and we’ve never looked back. So, obviously we’re not planning to change, we like what we have. But that was definitely, it’s none of those things where even if you’re in – we were probably, $10,000 in – and it’s going to go a lot further, so it’s so much better to put the shovel down and do a reset. So, definitely recommendation would be talk to an architect. They don’t just do the drawings, they actually can help you through the process, through, she did help us with the community adjustments and other stuff which was phenomenal. So, that was my experience and that’s my insight there from what happened to us.
Jeff: Yeah, that’s something that we try to talk about with our clients as well. It’s not only just the plans or what’s used to get a building permit, but also the other services we provide in terms of getting space organization which you’re going to be happy with, helping you prioritize what needs to get done and also then, like you say, working during construction to really act as an advocate for our clients and really make sure that things are carried out according to the drawings and according to your wishes as a client.
Lawrence: Here’s what’s important: from a time perspective, I don’t have, I don’t have the time or I don’t have, really, the skills to do the validation of the work. It’s good to have that third party do it for us, that was great.
Jeff: Super. And final question: what’s been your biggest frustration about the whole process? And i think you touched on it a little bit, but maybe you can elaborate.
Lawrence: Yeah, the biggest problem was the time to get the permit process completed, going through adjustments. We had Urban Forestry, if you don’t know who they are, you’ll know after you do a renovation. We had a lot of challenges. We’ve got two trees on the property. We had to create our production zones but there’s a lot of back of forth. We were off by six inches and had to debate to no end of what we needed to do to get past this not to injure the tree or to injure the tree. So, there’s a lot of dimension there, so it took us about a year to do all the paperwork, to get all the permits in place from start to finish. And that would obviously mean designs, adjustments, Urban Forestry clearance. That was fairly significant. i wasn’t really expecting that to take that long so that’s why – we knew it was going to take long but I didn’t think it would take that long.
Jeff: Yeah, super. And again, working with someone who knows the process can help you not only just get things through, but set your expectations in terms of what it would take to get a project like this, of this magnitude, through from start to completion.
Jeff: Definitely, okay. Well, thanks Lawrence, I really appreciate your time and I’m sure people value your contribution and your experience. So, thanks again and had a great time chatting.
Lawrence: Okay. No problem Jeffrey. Thank you.
Jeff: Take care, now.