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As I was reading a recent report by the CMHC on Renovation spending I was impressed by the number of homeowners that continue to invest in their homes. 1.7 Million of us spent money on projects in 2011.

But a creeping feeling came over me as I went further into the details.

Of the many homeowners who completed projects over a third of them went over budget.

Now I know the feeling of a project going over budget. Its getting that dreaded call from the contractor that they found something in the wall that they hadn’t anticipated. Or it could be that sinking feeling halfway through the project when you realize its not looking like you had imagined. Maybe its one of the sub trades not showing up to your project throwing your timeline (and budget) out of whack! These frustrating scenarios don’t have to be the norm on a project and there are some things that you can do that can help you smooth the process.

1.           Stop pulling out your hair

In construction there are many problems that can cause a homeowner’s hair to stand on end. Especially in renovation work its difficult to know what you will find when it comes time to open up the walls. You might find that there’s an existing condition like outdated wiring that requires putting a halt to the project while the contractor finds an electrician that can perform the necessary work.

Or there may be a host of problems caused by poorly performed past renovations. I have experienced this first hand on my own house! A quick and dirty renovation done some 40 years ago left numerous problems that had to be fixed. One of the most worrisome was when a joist was hacked out on the second floor to put in a bathtub leaving the tub supported on adjoining joists and bits of plywood! It required some creative thought to determine how to fix the deficient member without tearing the whole bathroom apart!

In our current project the contractors missed a section of the drawings that showed a difference in the foundation that left it too thin for the brick detail we are putting in place.  But experience and creativity can help here as well. Instead of having them tear out that section and lose time and potentially incur costs, we suggested an alternate solution that minimized the work to fix this area, and kept the project sound and on track.

2.           Time is precious -wouldn’t you rather spend it with your family?

Lets face it. You are busy with work, family and a host of other commitments and you don’t have time to setup and monitor the project on your own. It would be nice if all of us had access to a reserve of time (like a bank account) that we could draw on to devote to a special project like a custom house! But the reality is that you can use professionals to get back some of that time that would otherwise be spent learning and perfecting the process.

Some clients think that they don’t need help with their house project. And some clients can manage the entire project from start to finish especially if they have some prior experience with the process (or have a relative that is willing to give them a helping hand!)

In reality what usually happens is that what looks like a manageable amount of work blows up to consume all of a client’s free time. On a project that can last 8-12 months – it could take up an entire summer of weekends dealing with project issues rather than going to the cottage and relaxing at the beach!

3.           If a lawyer is your legal advocate, who is your building advocate?

For most people a new custom home or extensive renovation is one of the largest investments of their lives. It can be on the order of six or even seven figures to get the results they want!

Of course there can be day-to-day stress in the process just like watching the stock market. Sometimes the market is up, sometimes its down. For most people their financial advisors have given them sound advice- they should put a plan in place and trust their professional team will look after the short term so they can focus on the future.

That’s where an architect and his team can help. They will not only help you with the preparation and planning but they can act as your advocate on the project because they understand how the process works. They work on your behalf and they don’t have a financial stake in the construction decisions. Their objective is to support their clients and their goals.

The first step is working with a professional to help you figure out what’s important to you and your family. Then they can help you understand what the implications of those priorities would be in construction.

Say you love completely open spaces in your new custom home. An architect would be able to tell you why you might end up spending a fortune on joist framing to get the look you want.

In that case they could help by finding creative solutions to give you the look you want (open spaces) without the cost and complexities that might entail. They might suggest offsetting one of the walls so you could embed a post in that wall.  That could dramatically reduce the cost of the framing without negatively impacting the open feel of the room.

4.           Make the most of your time

Lets recap. The construction process is complicated and much like using a lawyer to protect your assets, you should consider an architect to protect you and your project.

  • Think about your goals and try to prioritize them as much as you can. Then work with an architect to figure out the implications and perhaps suggest ways to get what you want while avoiding potential problems down the road.
  • Try to think about your timeline. Are you building your dream house to live in for years or do you think that you’ll only be there for a relatively short time? Either situation will affect how you think about your project.
  • Talk to people who have gone through the process. Chances are those who have done it before will recommend you find a professional that you can work with, who shares the same values to assist you in realizing your imagination!

Your dream house can be the setting for joyous times spent with family and friends. Consider investing in a professional that can give you peace of mind and provide a strong start to many more years of happiness.


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So, what do you think ?