Photo: James Bombales

We love home makeover shows for the instant gratification. In a single episode, you can watch a dilapidated crack den transform into a farmhouse-inspired family abode. But according to interior designer Cynthia Soda, Principal of Soda Pop Design Inc., some renovators could use a reality check. Here she shares seven truths about home renovations that the cameras won’t show you.

1. Renovations take months, not days or weeks

Photo: James Bombales

While an episode of your favorite home makeover show only runs 30 minutes, in reality, the renovation process takes much, much longer. “A whole-house reno takes five months, and often clients are surprised by that,” says Soda. “Everything takes time, we can’t just wave a magic wand and make it all come together!” However, those unexpected problems and expenses that arise are very real. “On a recent project of mine, we ordered a sink four months in advance and it still wasn’t delivered on time,” says Soda. “The counters didn’t get to template and the entire schedule had to be pushed back. Once one thing gets pushed back, everything starts to snowball.”

2. Renovations often cost much more than what you see on TV

Photo: Ken Teegardin/Flickr

An entire kitchen makeover for $1,000? Dream on, says Soda. “While it’s true that contractors and designers can help you find the best price for materials, they’re not going to score things for free,” she adds. “We can do beautiful work on a budget, but homeowners need to be realistic.” Home improvement programs often do not disclose the products or labor they recieve for free in exchange for all that TV publicity, which can drastically distort the final budget.

3. Remodeling a ‘fixer upper’ takes a lot of elbow grease, knowledge and experience

Photo: James Bombales

“Because there’s so much out there in terms of inspiration, like on Pinterest, Houzz and Instagram, people look at a project and think, ‘Okay, I could do totally do that in my place!’ says Soda. Retiling your kitchen backsplash with the help of a YouTube tutorial may save money on labor costs, but rookie DIY mistakes could end up costing you more in the long run. “Do your research ahead of time and make sure you know what you’re getting into before you begin,” says Soda. “You might consider yourself a ‘handy’ person, but it’s quite another thing when you’re dabbling in an industry where professionals are paid to install cabinets or hook up a dishwasher. At the very least, have someone that you can go to with questions if you run into trouble.”

4. The return on investment for your reno may not be astronomical

Photo: James Bombales

A sparkling new kitchen may attract potential buyers to your open house, but it’s no guarantee the property will sell over asking — maybe it’s a buyers market, or the neighborhood lacks top-notch schools. “If you’re buying a place to flip it or rent it out, make sure you’re sticking to your budget because you’ll want to make back your investment immediately,” says Soda. “But if you’re going to live in the home for five to 10 years, then the real ‘return on investment’ should be that you get to live in a space you’re proud of,” says Soda. While she warns it isn’t wise to overspend or ignore the market completely, Soda believes your reno decisions should make you happy.

5. Flipping homes isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme

Photo: James Bombales

“I don’t know too many people who have a pile of money sitting around that they can use to purchase a lot and invest money in upfront,” says Soda. Flipping houses often requires capital from an investor, and very few are willing to fork over that cash with no strings attached. “It’s a partnership and if your investor isn’t happy with what you’re doing that can lead to longer lead time, which could mean you have to hold onto the property longer,” notes Soda. “Again, it’s one of those situations where you really have to do your research. Have an understanding of what could potentially go wrong, and evaluate all of your risks before jumping in.”

6. Your permit has to be approved before construction can begin

Photo: teofilo/Flickr

When was the last time you saw a TV host haul their cookies down to City Hall to secure a building permit? Paperwork is boring, which is why it doesn’t get a lot of airtime. “If you hire a designer that has their BCIN [Building Code Identification Number] they can stamp your drawings and have them go to permit,” says Soda. “If you’re looking to do an extensive renovation, like adding another level to your home, you’d have to bring in an architect and an engineer to make sure you have all your T’s crossed and I’s dotted.” Depending on the type of renovation, you may need to hire additional specialists, like an arborist or geological expert. “Technically, you should wait for a permit to be approved before starting construction. The last thing you want to is to begin demo, only to find out that your permit has been denied!”

7. Constant visits to the site are not recommended

Photo: James Bombales

On TV, it seems like the homeowners are always stopping by the worksite — delivering baked goods to the trades and spewing one-liners for the camera. “I know it sounds weird, but if you’re working with a contractor and design team, stay out of their way as much as possible,” says Soda. Instead, she suggests visiting the site at the end of the day after everyone has left and relaying any notes you may have to the contractor. “Visiting the site to chat with everyone holds up progress, and you’re only hurting yourself at the end of the day,” she says.

Designer Cynthia Soda will be sharing more reno advice at the Toronto Fall Home Show. Catch her on the main stage on Saturday, September 29, 2018.

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