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Where OakWood’s Renovation Experts Share Insights, Tips, and Successes

PART 3 of How to Avoid a Renovation Disaster:

“A short quote is all I need”

By John Liptak, CEO & President, OakWood
This 8-part blog series reveals how customers make assumptions that lead to six big (and often costly) mistakes. Each blog shares “must ask” questions you can ask to avoid being taken advantage of by a dishonest or unqualified renovator.


Here’s a nasty little insider secret:

Most renovation projects go an average of 27% over budget.

How does that happen?

Unfortunately our industry is famous for providing skimpy quotes – often just a few pages for massive renovation projects. This is exactly how many bad contractors, con-artists, and fraudsters are able to price their quotes so much lower: they simply leave details out.

Owners are held hostage

Here’s what the Wallstreet Journal says about the approach taken my some dishonest or unqualified renovators to win your business: “Construction firms often make unrealistically low bids to get jobs…but they can count on finding plenty of reasons later to jack the price up enough to allow for a profit. When the building is underway, it becomes prohibitively expensive to fire the contractor and start anew. The owner has become a hostage.”

Wall Street Journal

Get it in writing

The fact is, if a specific product, finish or task – such as clean up, removal of old materials, getting appropriate permits, etc. – isn’t in writing, you can count on seeing these as “extra” items later in your project. Some call it “project creep.” It’s deceptive and pre-planned by many renovators.

Here’s how it happens

You meet a renovator who is usually the owner of the company or a “salesperson”; and they are a master at selling you. You get a quote that you look at quickly. Everything looks good because you have very little time and you would rather look at a small, short proposal instead of a long detailed one.

You really love the price because it’s the lowest of the bunch!

You sign off. And your heartache begins – because the renovator priced their services low to win your project. Then they count on extras to ensure sufficient profitability. That’s how they stay in business.

Short skimpy proposals are effective for one reason

Most homeowners just don’t like long, detailed estimates. They much prefer to get a ‘short and sweet’ quote.

At the heart of this problem is the fact that most of us are just too darn busy to do what’s required to determine if a renovator is actually qualified to take on their job.

So we don’t take the time to make a true ‘apples to apples’ comparison.

Hands down the easiest way for you to make a useful comparison and ensure you are getting good value for your money is to insist on a fully itemized, unconditional quote from each renovator.

When I say “insist” I mean it. It’s your home, your renovation, and your dollars.

You should know exactly where your renovation dollars are going, right down to the paints, finishes, and clean-up.

What you need to see is every product with a brand name and description itemized AND every service – such as permits, clean-up, and removal – that is OR isn’t included.

Details are your friend

The point is this: you need to know what you are signing off if you want to make an ‘apples-to-apples’ comparison. And if you want to have 100 percent confidence that the price you are quoted is the price you will actually pay at the end of your renovation.

Slow down

Mike Holmes has lots to say about picking the wrong contractor – simply because all too often he has seen homeowners pick up the tab for bad workmanship. His advice:

“The first thing I always tell homeowners is to slow down. Take your time. Make sure you hire the right pro for the job. And don’t just look at price. Good work isn’t cheap, and if you think hiring the right contractor is expensive, try hiring the wrong one. You’ll be paying for it for years, over and over again.”

4 “must ask” questions

  1. Will the renovator provide a written fixed-price proposal with a fully itemized breakdown and price guarantee for the work specified once your design is complete?
  2. Will the renovator include scaled drawings for the work being done?
  3. Does the quote include applying for and purchasing all Permits including: building, plumbing, and electrical permits?
  4. Does the renovator guarantee in writing the price they have quoted is the price you will pay unless you request changes in writing?

Asking these 4 questions will help you side-step the short quote trap and avoid surprise ‘extra’ costs once your renovation begins.

In part four of this 8-part blog series, we’ll look at why “lots of experience” doesn’t always guarantee you will get a quality job.

John Liptak is CEO and President of OakWood, an Ottawa-based renovation company. Established in 1956, OakWood is a fourth generation family run business. Under John’s leadership, OakWood has grown to become Ottawa’s largest and most established full service renovation business and Ottawa’s first and only Mike Holme’s approved renovation partner. A winner of numerous awards, OakWood has been voted Ottawa’s Best Home Designer and Renovation company every year since the Consumer Choice awards were introduced in 2007.