Real life renos - MoneySense

Real life renos

Three Canadians share lessons learned after undergoing extensive home renovations.


At home in the kitchen

When teacher Anthoula Di Gennaro designed a kitchen for her new home last spring in Maple, Ont., she already had some experience, as she had done extensive kitchen renovations in her previous home. “We had heard a lot about contractors not being done on time and after-sale service not being good, but both times, our company was on time and if we had any concerns, everything was fixed very quickly,” she says.

Di Gennaro spent a lot of time looking through design magazines and paid careful attention to her own behaviour in her existing kitchen. She asked probing questions to find out the proper order to get the work done. The process went smoothly, except the doors on the cabinets above the fridge were the wrong size, a problem quickly corrected by the installer, Selba Kitchens & Baths. The total bill for the kitchen was around $52,000, fairly close to what she budgeted for.

The end result: a beautiful kitchen featuring white and glass cabinetry and a marble-covered island. “I walk into my kitchen every day and I’m really happy in the space.”

Room for a growing family

After having kids, photographer Clay Stang and his wife wanted to renovate their house in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood to better suit their needs. Their five-year old son Otis was sleeping in the former TV room, so they decided to combine a tiny office/spare bedroom and a covered sun porch on the second floor into a big family room. “The porch was a useless space,” says Stang. “Plus we were worried the kids could potentially fall off.”

Stang called three contractors and avoided the ones who gave quotes without bothering to do measurements or contemplate the details. He chose the contractor who followed up with a detailed quote, even though he wasn’t the cheapest. “He really broke it down well so we could see where every penny was spent.”

The contractor knocked down the brick exterior wall and extended the room by 7 1/2 feet. He rebuilt the ceiling so it was higher, put in larger windows, and added insulation to warm up the formerly cold floor. The project came in at close to the budgeted price of $20,000. “The space now is by far the warmest, biggest and most inviting space in the house.”

Updating an older condo

TJ Kang and his wife Grace, both lawyers, moved to Vancouver from Calgary with their one-year-old son Jackson in 2011. They bought an older condo in Yaletown, figuring that even after spending $130,000 to fix it up, it would still be cheaper than purchasing a newly built unit.

After drawing up a budget, the couple decided to cross off some projects on their list, such as moving the location of the washer and dryer. “We didn’t want to put too much money into the condo renos because at the end of the day, if you were to sell you wouldn’t get the full value of money you put in,” says Kang. Their interior designer Anna Dhillon also helped by finding lower-cost cabinets and mirrors that fit the clean aesthetic the couple was going for. The project ended up on budget but took four months to complete—almost twice as long as it was supposed to.

If he were to do it again, Kang would spend more time preparing the project in advance. “It’s amazing how much detail you don’t really think about,” he says. “It’s important to think through exactly what you want.”