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Home Improvements
Four Atlantic Renovators Share Their Insights

By Judy Penz Sheluk

John Roberts Trimmer Homes, Inc.

Newfoundland: John Roberts Trimmer Homes, Inc., Paradise
John Roberts, Owner / President
I have been in business for 30 years, specializing in medium to large residential renovations and new home construction, as well as small to medium commercial renovations and new construction. Budgets for larger residential renovations, which include substantial interior and exterior work, usually range from $100,000 up to $500,000. It is commonplace for initial expectations to exceed budget constraints in this industry. The key to making them come together successfully is communication and, in some situations, educating the client.
The challenges are plenty, but some stand out more than others. City regulations and permit approvals are one such challenge renovators face. Permit approvals have taken up to six months. During this time clients may be displaced. With our improving local economy over the last number of years, this problem is becoming all too common. Day-to-day challenges of managing sub-trades is also ever present. We have secured professional sub-trades that know our work ethic and productivity standards. This ensures inefficiencies do not play a factor in ballooning costs for our clients.
One of the greatest opportunities facing renovators today is technology. The ones that invest in technology reap the reward of more efficient crews. More efficient crews, coupled with secured professional sub-trades, ensure a company stays as competitive as possible.
The trends that we are seeing when it comes to renovating homes are adding on to the existing home or purchasing older properties and completely renovating the older home. The customers that we are seeing renovating the homes are mostly between the ages of 35 to 45. Your readers might be surprised to find that the average renovation cost for our Newfoundland based company is $150,000 to $200,000.

New Brunswick: Harold Kaye Construction, Lower Cove
Harold Kaye, Owner
We have been in business since 1975 and a company since 1986. While we don’t have a specialty, per se, many of the renovations we undertake are the result of an underlying issue, versus just a cosmetic upgrade. For example, recently we were called to a home where ice damming had caused water to leak through the roof to the outside walls, causing mould. There was so much involved to resolve the issue, it just made sense to gut the bathroom and start over. Of course, our goal is also to make sure the “after” is beautiful and functional.
The most common areas for renovations are kitchens, bathrooms, roofs, replacing and/or repairing floors (ceramic and hardwood are currently the most popular), siding and windows. The budgets typically fall between $10,000 and $40,000. Of course, clients want the most for the least, and are seldom realistic with their budgets. I think that is primarily because they don’t see the little costs in a job, which can add up to additional costs. To manage customer expectations, I let them know about these costs, explain in detail what could happen, and try to be really accurate on an estimate before the job starts. But I always stress that it is only an “estimate.”
I think the biggest challenge facing professional renovators today is the rising cost in building materials and labour. There is also limited availability of experienced carpenters in the Sussex area, especially for smaller companies. There’s just a lot of competition for experienced skilled trades.

Nova Scotia: ShireBrook Developments Inc., Halifax
Andy Parsons, President; Keith McMaster, General Manager
Andy Parsons and Keith McMaster
Keith McMaster: Andy Parsons has been a builder / renovator for so long that he claims he “helped build the house he was born in.” We met when he built my first home in 1987. In 1993 we began Shirebrook as a land development company and Andy was building the homes on the properties. In 2002 I joined on a fulltime basis and we focused on new construction and renovations.
By having two owners involved on a daily basis we offer a great deal of expertise to our client. We are able to provide leading edge technology to our customers when they are considering a renovation. Our carpenters are a diversified, knowledgeable group and they understand that our clients expect a high level of quality service.
We also perform a number of renovations on older homes in the Halifax – Dartmouth area. Many of these properties are 100 years old or more and can offer their own challenges. It is imperative that you have an understanding of how they were built, materials used and an awareness of on-site concerns (asbestos, wiring, old plumbing, framing methods used, etc,). We acknowledge and appreciate that a large part of our success is the professionalism of our tradespeople, along with the engineers and designers we work with.
We do a variety of projects but two of the most common requests are bathrooms and kitchens. It seems that most people want to spend $10-15,000 at the low end on these projects or it goes to the opposite end of the spectrum. The upper range can be $25-50,000 per kitchen. On these projects it seems that clients have a reasonable expectation of costs.
Where we often see unrealistic expectations is in the larger renovations and additions. People are often surprised at how much an addition or a complete gut and reconstruction costs. I think it has something to do with the fact that many built their homes 15-20 years ago and are equating those construction costs to today’s project. Costs have significantly risen. To address this we try to get an idea of what a person has for a budget. Many don’t want to give this to you (I think they believe we will charge as much as your budget is, which isn’t true), but we need to tell someone upfront that their expectations are unrealistic.
Our biggest challenge continues to be having sufficient numbers of competent, highly trained labour. We have taken the approach that we will develop most of this expertise in-house, by offering training, maintaining a competitive wage and benefits plan and making ShireBrook a place people want to work at. We believe that loyalty is a two-way street and it is a win-win-win for us, our employees and, most importantly, our clients.

Prince Edward Island: L & L Home Improvements Ltd., Alma
Larry Adams, Owner
I’ve been in business for 23 years now. About half of our business is renovations and the other half new home construction. When it comes to renovations, the most common jobs are basements, bathrooms and kitchens. When it comes to kitchens, the average budget is in the $15,000 to $20,000 range. Bathrooms range from $5,000 to $10,000; basements from $10,000 to $15,000.
Most of the time, our customers’ expectations are realistic, however, occasionally they are not. When that happens, we do our best to work with the client to change the project enough so that it will work within their budget and still give them a final product that they are happy with. Most times, however, I am finding our clients are becoming far better informed as to products and installation than they used to be. Because of this they are willing to spend a little more money to get a better and longer lasting finished product.
Probably the biggest challenges we face in our area is an aging workforce and a shortage of new, younger people getting into the trades. I suspect this is true across Canada.

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