Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Oh Brother: You Bought A Fixer-Upper

Sketching al fresco at the local patio bar.

My brother and his girlfriend had 30 days from the time their house deal was signed to the day they took possession of their new old house and started renovating it. During this 30 days they needed to come up with a new design plan for the entire house, get a contractor on board and start ordering new fixtures and selecting all their new finishes.

They literally didn't have a minute to waste, so here's what I tasked them with and would advise any new homeowner in the same situation to do:

WEEK #1:

Contact A Professional Designer:  You'll need budget advice, space planning expertise, permit plans and someone to guide you and a contractor thru the million and one design decisions as efficiently as possible.  Don't expect a Designer to be available immediately, unless she's your sister or your an existing client!  Its common that any Designer would need a min of 2 weeks to fit a new client meeting into their schedule.  Ideally, get them on board before you start your new home search.

Pre-Closing visits:   Schedule a house visit with your Designer asap.  You'll need to assess the existing conditions and your 'wish list' so you can start the planning and budgeting process.   I don't recommend inviting a Contractor at this point, with no drawings or design plans yet,,,you'll just be wasting both parties time.

Base Plans:  If your house didn't come with a set of floor plans, use a pre-closing visit to get a measure and set of as-is floor plans drawn up so the planning and budgeting process can begin asap.

Scope:  Determine the scope of work, timeline and target budget, a Designer can help you review your objectives and assess what's feasible and what's not and what's most suitable for the house and neighborhood.

Budget:  Prepare a preliminary budget based on the proposed scope of work.  If you're not working with a designer you'll need to do your own research to compile some typical renovation costs.

Proposed Layouts:  Start planning your interior layouts with regards to wall locations, kitchens and bathroom configurations asap.   The location of electrical appliances and plumbing fixtures will define the extent of new work required and help refine the budget.  With preliminary layouts in hand you can have a more productive conversation with contractors, and do quantity takeoffs for pricing/sourcing.

This 'to do' list might seem overly ambitious for the average homeowner but because my Brother and his Girlfriend are both experienced at site measures and CAD, the measure and base plans were completed by them within 2 days and sent to me for space planning.   By the end of the first week they/we had completed everything on this list and more.  

The most important item on this initial task list was the BUDGET.  Preparing a realistic all inclusive budget is key.  Going thru this exercise is enough to make most homeowners realize their wish list needs to be scaled back and their timelines re-assessed.  Better now than halfway thru a reno.  A budget should consider all of the following:
  • fundamental repairs/upgrades to; structure, roof, insulation and mechanical/electrical 
  • reworking walls incl. new beams
  • reworking all plumbing and elec rough-ins, 
  • supply and install of all new fixtures, fittings and finishes
  • all new doors, hardware and trim (often not feasible to reuse the old or mix old with new)
  • all new drywall in bathrooms and kitchens at least (not much left that's useable after demo)
  • factor in new subfloors and floor levelling as these are almost always needed 
  • smoothing ceilings (skim coating over stippled stucco)
  • garbage/waste removal and bin rental (this adds up fast!!!) 
  • Permit fees (yes, you will need permits)
  • key new furniture pieces so you don't have empty or unusable rooms
  • window coverings (at least basic layer for privacy and sun control)
  • ALL miscellaneous additional costs like taxes, delivery and shipping - with the Ontario HST tax of 13% now applicable to all labour, product and services, this is a substantial cost that can't be overlooked or you'll find yourself out of money with an unfinished house.  
Even from looking at the existing space or set of existing plans I can do a preliminary project budget before even starting on the design plans.   Here's a look at the existing floor plans for my Brother's new house that he drafted up.  Its a typical 2 storey, brick detached home with 3rd floor loft space.


A complete interior reno project (contracted out) will take on average 4 to 6 months to complete.  If you intend on working with a designer to preplan all the details and finishes and have several contractors bid on the work, add a few more months to this timeline.  Most projects I work on from initial meeting to move-in are 10 to 12 months duration.  In my brother's case, they will be moving in after only 3 weeks into this reno and living thru the rest of it, but ultimately hope to have everything finished in 4 months or less.

An average whole home interior renovations will easily reach $130-150k, conservatively for a small size 3 bed, 2 bath home (less than 1500 sf and not factoring in the cost of a Designer),  anything less than this is only achieved by getting very creative with lots of standard off the shelf products and committing to lots of DIY.  Adding more than a few high end products or custom builtins you could quickly reach $200k.  The more DIY you factor in,,,the longer it will take.  The more you hire out, the bigger the budget you'll need.   My Brother doesn't have the luxury of time to do much of this reno himself.   Therefore their budget like most is based on a creative mix of ready-to-go product and custom installations.

Now that we've had the *Budget Talk* we can move on to the space planning.  I'll share the proposed layouts with you next and some of the finish selections made in week #2.

All Images:  Carol Reed


  1. Seriously, does your brother realize how lucky he is to have you as his sister? I know you will guide him to a finished home sweet home.

  2. Lol - Let's keep reminding him shall we ; )


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