David Rose helps clients complete renovations in Toronto. In over 35 years of overseeing renovation projects, he has “seen it all” and can anticipate the pitfalls that can come up during a renovation.
In our conversation, David talks about the number one things clients fail to understand about the renovation and remodelling process and how to get your off-track renovation back on the rails
Interviewer: I’m happy to have David Rose here and David’s website is yourrenovationmentor.ca. And David’s got a lot of experience in construction. And I wondered, David, if you could introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your business.
David: Sure. Gladly. The aim of my business is to provide guidance and information for people who are doing either planning a renovation or in the middle of a renovation. And the aim is to prevent the pitfalls and the…some of the problems that occur in the renovation process from happening to my clients. The idea is to…preferably is to start from the beginning, when the client has a thought in mind, something that they want to accomplish in their home, and then go through the design and then the implementation process. And the motivation, I guess, that I encountered on one occasion when watching one of the renovation disaster shows, was that the problems that a lot of people have in the renovation process are preventable. So with the correct knowledge and guidance, I’m able to help them carry out that renovation without falling into many of the problems and pitfalls that do occur in the renovation process.
Interviewer: Yeah, and we’ve seen some of those happen with our clients. Sometimes clients come to us after they’ve had some of these things happen to them. In your experience what would you say are some of the most common areas that these problems occur?
David: Well, I think it starts with not having a clearly defined scope of work, and when I say scope of work what I mean is that the actual method of carrying out the process in order to reach the goals that the client has, aren’t clearly defined. A lot of the homeowners will have an idea of what they want to do in their home, and they will call a contractor in, and that contractor will come in and will say, “Well, I can do this, this, and this, and it will cost you let’s say $50,000.” They say, “Well, $50,000…” maybe it’s not quite what we wanted to spend, we were looking to be a little bit more, so they call in Contractor B and they give him the same…the same story, it is what it is that they’re looking for, but Contractor B has some different ideas and he…and he will say, “Well, I can do this, this, and this, and that will cost you $40,000.” And then Contractor C will come in and give them some ideas and have a price in mind as well.
The problem is, is that while each of the contractors might have some valid ideas there is no consistency in the scope of work and in the actual work that will be performed between the three contractors, and therefore when trying to compare pricing, the homeowner really doesn’t…they’re really comparing apples to oranges. There is nothing consistent about it. And what I try to do is I try to guide the homeowners into a process where the first thing that they do is they establish the design and the criteria that they want the actual finished product to have, so that when they call in the various contractors, the contractors are all working with the same information. So that is one area that is quite commonly mishandled, I would say, by homeowners. They don’t have a clear scope of work and therefore they’re not doing an apples to apples comparison with the contractors pricing.
I find that a lot of homeowners are not very savvy on actual contracts. I guess the worst case scenario is when the contractor puts something together on the back of an envelope and says, “Okay, this is what I’m gonna do for you.” And the homeowner says, “Yeah, great, go ahead.” And then during the course of the construction the homeowner finds that the contractor really isn’t doing what it is that they want. And with the unscrupulous contractors, what they will say is, “Oh, that’s gonna cost you more money,” or if they don’t have any ill intent but it’s just a miscommunication, then typically what will happen is the contractor will say, “Well, you know, I can’t do it for that kind of money.” And it just ends up in either disappointment or a fight or, you know, just a very unhappy and unpleasant situation. So those are two common areas of problems that a lot of homeowners end up with when things go bad.
Interviewer: Yeah. And both of those…the underlying issue from a lot of people’s perspective is communication. And it’s funny that you assume you talk to a contractor that you’re communicating because you’re both speaking the same language, but often what a contractor hears is different from what the intent of the conversation is. So for an example in legal issues, there’s a whole set of procedures and language to very carefully describe what’s getting done, and the same goes for contracting. But a lot of the clients don’t understand that if somebody says, you know, “We want to open up this wall to create more space for a certain area of a house,” the contractor is thinking demolition, a beam, so that needs a structural engineer, that may be a flush beam, which, you know, may be steel and requires bracing and then, you know, on and on and on it goes, shoring, that sort of thing, where the client is only thinking about the end. So that they don’t understand that what they’re asking for is a very, very detailed and in-depth process. So the communication is so essential and the assumptions have to be extremely well documented to make sure, like you said, that the client is getting exactly what they asked for.
David: Yeah, precisely. The problem also…and you’ve brought up a good point as far as the steps that are involved, the technical issues that are involved in some aspects of a construction certainly aren’t apparent within the area of expertise or within the area of knowledge of most homeowners. So the result is, again there’s another area that is a potential problem area in that even if there isn’t a miscommunication, sometimes there is work that’s being done by contractors which is shoddy and the homeowner doesn’t really have the technical knowledge to know that it’s shoddy and those…that situation can end up with potential problems down the road as well. So it’s another area where the technical knowledge of the homeowner, really is a…with the lack of technical knowledge by the homeowner, is another source for the problems that can result in one of those bad renovations.
Interviewer: Yeah. And what of the…I wouldn’t say of the false, but a lot of the renovation shows tend to portray a lot of these as easy solutions or, we only took four days to open up a wall, close it up and do all the finishes. Where in reality it’s very complicated work, and a lot of the complexity is hidden in a lot of these shows. Or it’s done on what they call TV time where they’ve got folks that are donating time and are working and they’ve got large crews, but with most projects budget is definitely an issue and most clients don’t have unlimited funds to throw at a project and so it does become a challenge to translate what potentially a client has seen on TV into something which is real world in terms of the scope that you mentioned. So that understanding there’s drywall work, there’s structural, there’s repaired tiles, a whole host of other things that go into simple, relatively simple thing like removing a wall. So, I think that working with a professional who’s had experience really does help in terms of clarifying what’s going to happen in terms of the scope of work and the actual contract between the clients and the contractor.
David: That’s true. That’s true. One of the things that I do is I try to put myself into the homeowners position of…in a position of relatively, let’s say naive or uninformed position about contracting, about construction, and try to put it into layman’s terms if the contractor hasn’t done so. If I see that there doesn’t seem to be a clear understanding of what the process will be, then that’s one of the things that I try to do in order to make sure that the client has a much clearer understanding of what the steps will be and what’s gonna be happening in their home while the construction is proceeding.
Interviewer: Now you’ve had over 35 years overseeing renovation projects. Maybe you could let us know what some of the most…I don’t know, the most interesting things that you’ve seen in those three decades of work.
David: Interesting. Well, there’s been quite a shift in the types of work that are…that clients are asking. I think one of the things that has changed quite a bit in my time in the construction business, as you alluded to before, is the renovation shows, and there is a lot on the internet that people can look up. I think it’s been both a benefit but also a drawback. The drawback, well, what you referred to earlier, the expectation of completing a project within 30 minutes and… But the other thing is, is that the people are a lot…seem to be a lot clearer as to what it is that they’re looking for, they may not know how to actually get it, but they are…they do seem to be a lot clearer in their expectations having seen perhaps something either on the Internet or on TV that they like and they would like to copy. So that’s the education, I guess, that has resulted from the changing technology, certainly has been a fairly significant change in the way people are able to relate to the contractors and get closer to what it is that they really want. So that’s been I think a fairly significant change within the past…in the time that I have been involved in the construction business.
Interviewer: And that’s something which we really encourage our clients to do, is use tools like Houzz or Pinterest where they can collect images of what they find is inspiring or their end goal and that helps us step into their shoes and understand what they’re going for and then start to pull together what some of the implications are. So we’re always trying to set expectations and prioritize needs so that, you know, if a client wants to do something like, you know, remove the back wall of their house to create more light, that we could let them know that there’s certain implications not only for that floor but perhaps the floor below it as a result of doing that work. And then we can then take all those big priorities and set them up so that they understand that, here’s potential cost and impact of this one to the other one, and if necessary, you know, usually because of budget, we can prioritize which one is the most important for your end goal and then on and on from there.
David: Yeah, it’s correct. Thus, what I found is that in a lot of cases, when people don’t have a clear understanding of what it is that they want, they have a list of things but they haven’t been able to prioritize them. And one of the things that I’ve helped them with is prioritizing their…what they’re trying to do and then establish a program for them to…maybe not do everything all at once but perhaps spread their construction over maybe a two-year period where they do the items which are the highest priority and then work their way to other items of lower priority.
Interviewer: And that’s also a thing which is very, very valuable for clients to understand that even though they may wanna get everything done all at once their budget may not allow it, the timelines may not allow it and so it’s very advantageous to give them options for being able to afford what they want and get it in a reasonable timeline, because if…like most clients of ours they’re in their home for a long period, that timeline of construction in the overall time they have owned their house will not be that long. And so if they get a chance to do the…do it right or do the project over a sustained period, then it, in a lot of ways will actually benefit them long run versus trying to, you know, rush the process along.
David: True enough. True enough.
Interviewer: David it’s been fantastic chatting with you today. Maybe you could let us know how clients can get a hold of you.
David: Sure. Well, through my website is probably the easiest way. There’s the information on the website as to how to get in touch with me by email, but I will go through it now with you as well. And as you mentioned earlier my website is, yourrenovationmentor.ca. And my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And my phone number is 416-890-3631. So those…you can get in touch that way. On my website there’s also a contact me page, so if you have some…if you fill out the form with your name and email address and perhaps a little bit of a description of the project, then…and click on the submit button, then the send message button, then I will get that. I do offer also as well a free one-hour initial consultation so that if somebody is contemplating a renovation or as I mentioned earlier, I sometimes get calls from people who are in the middle of a renovation and unfortunately are encountering problems and don’t know how to handle those problems and get out of that uncomfortable situation they’re in. I have dealt with situations like that and to try to help them as best I can with those situations. So, those are the ways, the best ways to get in touch with me.
Interviewer: Fantastic. I’ll put those in the description below. And once again, David, thanks very much for coming on today and explaining a little bit more about what you do and the construction process.
David: Thank you, and it was a pleasure. Thank you very much.