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How to Hire a General Contractor or Renovator for Residential Construction Projects

In the last 10-15 years, the industry of Residential General Contractors has taken a beating by the media. Television, maganizes and articles have waged war on the image, credibility and trust of General Contractors. This is something that as a Home Owner, you must first be aware of.

15 Years ago, there were 3 shows that dealt with residential construction:

-This Old House
-The New Yankee Work Shop
-Bob Villa’s Home again

These 3 shows gave Home Owners an “inside” look into construction techniques and methods, offering plenty of advice, knowledge and wisdom. I suppose they had a loyal following amongst hobbyists, contractors and weekend warriors. But it didn’t appeal much to the general masses. After all, not everyone is interested in learning how to cut Crown Moulding or how to select the best router bits.

Along came a show on HGTV called Holmes on Homes. The entire permit drawings brampton premise of the show was to unearth the misdeeds of shabby, unethical and unprofessional contractors while at the same time portraying the Home Owners as the innocent victims in a “deal gone bad”. Along comes our saviour, Mr. Holmes, to save the day and right the wrongs.

THE PROBLEM – Are there unqualified, unprofessional and unethical contractors out yet? YOU BET! At the same time, one could ask…are there unqualified, unprofessional and unethical Lawyers? Doctors? Police Officers? Real Estate Agents? Mortgage Brokers? Accountants? And so on? YOU BET there are! Every industry has the good, the bad, the mediocre, the excellent and the horrendous. That’s life, that’s people.

This show sent a subliminal message to Home Owners – Other contractors BAD…Mike Holmes GOOD. Mr. Holmes is a smart man. He knows how to make money and promote himself. Good for him! However, his show has unjustly tarnished the image of an entire industry, done a great deed in misleading home owners, and started a trend of “contractor bashing” that has prevailed since. For all of Mike’s talks about “License, Insurance and permits”, I find it ironic that Mike Holmes himself is not licensed to carry out the work that he performed on the show. The Ministry of Housing and Municipal Affairs has a clear mandate for licensing and Mr. Holmes himself is NOT a licensed Carpenter. Technically, every time he modified any structural wood element of the house or sold carpentry services he was doing so without the appropriate licensing, breaking the law and casting himself into the dim shadow with which he so readily labels so many other contractors. Hypocrite.

Furthermore, though it is true that many of the home owners on that show were essentially ripped off, misled or cheated, most of the time and most of those Home Owners brought it upon themselves. How do I know? I can guarantee that most of those Home Owners chose their contractor based on price. The ever so tempting taste of a “good deal”. Of course, they don’t tell you that on the show. It kills the “victimized” position.

Speaking of things they don’t mention on the show, ever notice how Mike Holmes usually ends up gutting almost all of the work and then not only building it back up the right way, but going way over and beyond to make it look that much better? Talk about misleading…all of that translates to dollar signs in real life. “GIVING” the home owners glass shower doors, custom cabinets, granite countertops, heated flooring, marble flooring and so on is all great, but what they fail to mention is that in real life somebody had to pay for that. In this case, it was most likely the production company and they received free material from sponsorships. But it’s misleading to take an original renovation where the Home Owners had a $20,000 budget, dump what would equal $150,000 in real life into the home and stand back and say “There…that’s how it should have been done” without telling the viewers about that nagging issue of $130,000.

An entire generation of TV shows continued on with this trend. What you have to know is that ALL of these shows receive sponsorships. A basic premise of most of these shows are “Look, we did all these renovations and it only cost us $X”. They conveniently forget to tell you “Oh yeah, we received 50-100% off on all the materials through our sponsors and we’re not calculating the labour realistically”. Never mind the fact that they probably never got permits for the work, nobody was insured by WSIB, nobody carried Liability Insurance and many other factors.

It’s television folks…it’s entertainment, and production companies and networks do not care about the accuracy of the information on a show that was intended to entertain and keep viewers.

So now that we have reiterated the bias of the media and the years of misleading information that Home Owners have been bombarded with, let’s get on with the meat of the topic at hand. How do you navigate your way towards finding a professional.

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