“I hope you’ll meet someone handy one day.”
That’s what my well-intentioned mother says whenever I share my dream of buying a house and flipping it. She can’t picture me breaking down walls, laying tile or replacing the shingles on my own and I can’t exactly blame her. When’s the last time you saw a woman tighten a leaky faucet on TV? Unless you personally know someone who does their own repairs, the representation isn’t really out there.
In the construction industry, women are also dramatically underrepresented. Despite being one of Canada’s largest employers (with 1.4 million people in the industry), women make up only 12 percent of the pie. And it’s estimated that nearly 75 percent of these jobs are filled by off-site administrators, managers, salespeople, etc.
But there are many women out there making moves (and building homes), both personally and professionally. I spoke to Annastacia Plaskos, the founder and CEO of Fix It Females, and Despina Zanganas, a Toronto-based realtor who specializes in working with women and renovated her home by herself, to share their experiences.
Photo: Fix It Females
Building a business from the ground up.
When Plaskos got her start in the construction industry 17 years ago, things looked very different for her then they do today.
“When I would work for other contractors, it was very hard to get hired as a female labourer or even in trades,” she says. “Guys would bark at me. When I would walk on-site they wouldn’t talk to me. If I had a male working with me, people would always direct their questions to them.”
Today, Plaskos runs Fix It Females — a renovation company in Toronto that was founded in 2004 and predominantly employs women. She was having trouble getting hired onto male crews and wanted to do what she loved. When she realized there were clients out there who were eager to work with female contractors specifically, Plaskos jumped into the new niche with both feet. “I created this company to provide a platform for women where we can do the work we’re good at, without worrying about being judged by the people we’re working for.”
In Canada, only 4.4 percent of current apprentices across 72 different skills are women. In British Columbia, 91 percent of tradespeople are currently employed with a median wage of $31 an hour, or $60,000 a year. This is a high-paying, skilled profession that Plaskos would like more women to view as a viable career path.
“It starts when you’re young,” she says. “This stuff is instilled in you when you’re a kid and I think if you have the acceptance that you need, that will help everyone.”
Plaskos never wants gender to be a deciding factor for anything. “I know Fix It Females is so female driven and I get people saying, ‘Oh, you only hire females’ and that’s not true either. We hire people all across the spectrum. The name welcomes people from all walks of life,” she says.
Breaking down walls and barriers.
Amelia Lee is the founder of Undercover Architect and has over 20 years of experience in the industry designing, building and renovating family homes. She recalled an experience in a blog post where two tradespeople showed up to install a fence. Instead of letting her brief them, they said they would just wait for her husband to come home.
With attitudes like these, it’s easy to see why companies like Fix It Females are in such high demand. “We have a client who is literally willing to pay for us to stay at a hotel while we do her renovation in Orillia,” says Plaskos. “She told me, ‘I’m so sick of dealing with the same person, different contractor.’”
“I’ve been doing this for 17 years and I still get mansplained on stuff,” says Plaskos. Instead of patronizing her clients, she likes to inform them. “I like to tell people how things work so that when I’m costing it out, they know why it’s priced that way and they know what work goes into it. It’s not like, ‘You know you’ve got studs in your home, right?’ Yeah, of course I know that. Now tell me what those studs do.”
Learning the nuts and bolts behind renovations.
Statistics from the US revealed that single women made up 17 percent of the American market, purchasing homes at twice the rate of single men.
More women are maintaining, repairing and renovating their homes than ever before and they don’t need anyone to “put a ring on it” to make it happen.
In 2004, Zanganas sold her condo and took a big leap to purchase a five-bedroom, two-bathroom semi-detached, built in 1904 and located in Toronto’s up-and-coming Little Italy neighbourhood. She stretched her budget and paid $456,000 for a fixer-upper, with the mission to renovate it almost entirely on her own. She gutted the entire first floor with the help of friends and family and brought her dad in to help with the electrical. “The stuff that I couldn’t do myself was structural,” she says. “Removing walls, I had to hire somebody. Same with plumbing. But I did everything else myself or with the help of friends and family.” Running a graphic design business at the time, she even created her own drawings to get a permit from the city.
“It’s the best decision I’ve ever made,” she says. “It gave me so much confidence that I own this property. To look at it and say, ‘I built this.’ It makes me realize you don’t have to rely on anybody — it’s all you.”
Zanganas completed the majority of the renovation over three years, learning along the way from project to project. She did this mostly by asking friends and family but she also watched a lot of Holmes on Holmes.
“I hate to say this, but the renovation shows did help me,” she says. “I know contractors don’t appreciate when people think they can watch a show and all of the sudden, they’re the experts. But one of the issues that we ran into is that they cut into the beam in the bathroom ceiling. Even before the contractor told me, when I walked into my washroom, I knew what was wrong because I’d seen it on Holmes on Holmes.”
“Those home renovation shows are great to get your head around the general way construction works,” says Plaskos. But she also emphasizes that the timelines are way off. “No bathroom in this world would take two days to complete,” she says. “It really hurts because people will come to me and when I tell them it takes two to three to maybe four weeks to complete a bathroom, they’re shocked.”
Plaskos stresses the importance of educating yourself on the process, regardless of gender. “I would encourage all people that if they want to buy a house, get some background on the home and learn a couple things about renovations so that you know that drywall isn’t going to cost you $30,000 for one room. Get some ideas about what you can expect.”