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OakWood RenoTalk

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

PART 6 of How to Avoid a Renovation Disaster:

“Written references are 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.

Think about this for a second. Nobody is going to give you references for a project that they made a complete mess of. Even the worst contractors will do good work sometimes.

If you are going to do reference checks make sure the reference is for work completed in the last six months to one year: you only want recent references.

Don’t accept the written references at face value: be sure to call each of the references provided and if at all possible, go and have a look at the renovation.

See for yourself what the quality looks like. Would you have been happy with the craftsmanship?

Consider going and visiting a renovation project that is underway. Does the job look organized and well managed? Is the job site clean? Has the contractor taken precautions to safeguard the homeowner’s property and home? Seeing how these projects look while they are in progress gives you a good idea of what to expect when the contractor shows up to do your work!

While recent written references may provide you with some peace-of-mind, you really need to go further.

Check your renovator’s credentials.

A more reliable indicator is whether your renovator is a trusted and respected member of the local industry with recognized credentials. At minimum, we recommend looking for RenoMark and GOHBA (Greater Ottawa Home Builder’s Association) designations and if they are a member of the Ottawa Better Business Bureau (BBB).

The Renomark program is dedicated to raising the level of professionalism in the local building industry. You may be surprised to learn that currently out of over 430 so called Renovators in Ottawa, less than 7% actually meet the qualifications established by the RenoMark program.

GOHBA represents recognized home building and renovation professionals in the Greater Ottawa region and supports the professionalism of its members.

These logos are the marks of a professional: look for them on your Renovator’s website, proposal or promotional material:

Have they won any awards?

Awards are a different type of credential and a good indication that your contractor has been independently acknowledged for excellence in some category – and they will provide quality workmanship. However, not all awards are equal in terms of the assurance they provide you, the homeowner!

One of the most important awards in our industry is the Consumer Choice Awards ( We consider these awards particularly important because they are unique in North America. A contractor can’t enter these awards. It is done by an independent consulting company using telephone surveys to businesses and consumers. Winners are selected by homeowners, not a panel of judges.

That’s why these awards are so much more meaningful and a good indication of the quality and professionalism of the Builder: they are based on the consumer experiences.

Must ask questions:

  1. Is the renovator a member of the Ottawa Better Business Bureau with an A+ rating and zero complaints?
  2. Is the renovator a member of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association Council?
  3. Does the renovator meet the elite standards of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association Renomark™ program?
  4. Has the renovator won any major industry awards such as the Consumer Choice Awards (for Best Home Designers and Home Renovations company), or Ontario Home Builders Association or Ottawa Home Builders Association awards?
  5. Can the renovator show examples of designs and completed projects for relevant renovations with before and after photos of the actual completed renovation?
  6. Does the renovator offer an in-house design service with 3D-renderings so you can see what you are purchasing?

Getting straight answers to these questions will help round out customer reference checks as part of your due diligence – and ensure you also get an objective industry assessment of your Renovator’s trustworthiness.

In part seven of this 8-part blog series, we’ll look at how your Renovator’s financial stability can affect your renovation and why this should be a key part of your selection criteria for avoiding a renovation disaster.

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.