The Reality about Reality Home Renovation Shows

So you’ve just finished watching the latest reality show on home renovations and you’re all set to start on your own home construction project. You’ve worked out your colour scheme, and style and based on HGTV’s latest show you have your budget – that is until you call up a contractor and get a huge reality check.

Realistic Renovation Costs

We all know what we see on television isn’t real, however, a steady diet of home renovation shows over the last decade or so has influenced everyone’s expectations. The costs of TV are not realistic! With a number of these shows, you may see a complete renovation of the main floor of a house for $35,000 or a high-end kitchen installed for $5,000. What you don’t know is that these shows have really tight budgets and in all likelihood, a number of the trades on the show are donating their time to help gain some exposure or companies like Lowes are donating materials to help promote their products.  

In order to make a realistic budget for your own project, you need to do some research before you commit to a number. If you’re not informed on what materials and labour costs then don’t set yourself limits yet.  A number of people who call me think a kitchen renovation will only cost $2,000.00 because they saw it on a TV show. Then later after I give a quote and talk them through the project that they envisioned they realize it will cost a lot more than that, and of course, they don’t want to do it right because they’re set on that $7,000 budget.  This happened to me recently when I got a call from a guy wanting to make his basement into an income suite, his expectation was that it would only cost $7,000 for a couple of bedrooms, a small kitchenette and a bathroom but the materials alone would of cost over $10,0000.  

Although you may of gotten a set number in your head it’s really important to remember that simply picking a tradesperson based on them giving you the lowest cost that suits your budget could cost you way more in the long run.  There’s a number of people in Calgary doing construction work who are not working as a legitimate business, they have no insurance or bonding and if they do things to destroy the structure of your house, or if something goes wrong or they take a deposit from you and disappear you have no recourse.  

I recently found an article to help give you some idea that what you see on the shows isn’t realistic pricing.  A company called Money Sense asked a couple of contractors to price out the same job Scott Macgillivray from the show Income Property did for Scott and Aime on a 1,200-sq-ft basement renovation to turn it into a fully furnished three-bedroom income suite.  Of course, these prices will vary depending on the quality of material, what materials cost at the time (for example the cost of plywood is going through the roof at the moment due to the change in government in the USA) and your location (if you live in Calgary prices for trades will be different at the moment than places like Toronto or Vancouver).  

Some of the current cost you can expect for Calgary for Trades

The prices listed in the article were given back in 2013 and they’re based on prices in the Toronto area but to give you an idea on current renovation (Feb 2017) costs in Calgary I put together a little guide for you.

Basement Renovations – Low-end basement developments start around $40 per square foot. These are often called “Builders Grade” and are basic. High-end Basement Developments will cost around $70 per square foot and higher. Again it depends on what you want, how much custom work you want to be done and how high-end you want your materials.

Kitchen Renovations – With a conservative budget, you can complete a kitchen renovation for around $25,000. If you are prepared to supply items yourself and also do some of the labor, then costs can be reduced. However, if you want replace all the cabinets, flooring and appliances, it is easy to spend $50,000 or more.

Bathroom Renovations – A typical bathroom that is around 5 feet to 8 feet wide can run around $5,000 to around $10,000 and on up depending on your cabinets, countertops, tiles, glass for your shower or that expensive cast iron tub you want. 

Typically when your hire certified tradespeople such as a plumber some of the best pricing I have seen lately starts around $80/hr for a plumber. Depending on if they have a help and a stocked truck with parts onsite, you may end up paying more usually around $90/hr.  With electricians they usually run around $95/hr and up, you can hire a junior apprentice to help pull wiring with rough-ins and they usually come in at a much lower rate. However, if you need to move your electrical box you will need to hire a licensed electrician to pass inspections.  With tradespeople who handle HVAC and refrigeration the lowest I’ve seen is $85/hr but most usually run you around $95/hr.  

These are just base guidelines which change constantly due to the boom or bust going on in Calgary plus the fluctuations in material costs based on trade agreements so it’s a good idea to research the price of materials you want and to call a number of trades that have been recommended to you or that can supply references so you can get a fair idea on what prices to expect and please remember cheaper doesn’t mean better. 

Realistic Renovation Time

The other thing that reality home renovations shows have done has given a number of people the impression that renovations will only take a few weeks to complete.  Unfortunately, if you have a big reno project it could take a long time for you to see it completed.  Most construction companies in Calgary will start a project with you but they’ll have 4 or 5 other projects going on at the same time so you only see your renovation crew for a few hours during the week which means your renovation project will take a number of months for completion.  Although at Tara Construction we work a little differently, if we start a project with you we will finish it before our team moves on to the next project.  That ensures your project is completed quickly once we start working for you.  The best plan is to draw up a timeline with your contractor so you’ll know what to expect. This will give you a baseline for discussion if things take longer than expected. If you need permits, be sure to build in extra time to get them from city hall.

It’s also important to realize that quality contractors aren’t necessarily available right away. Often times people will just assume we sit by the phone waiting for their phone call and that we can start tomorrow. We generally book from a week or two to two to three months out or longer during busy times, depending on the job. And no, even though the television programs show five or six trades working side by side, in reality, you’ll usually want to schedule things so only one contractor (or two at the most) is in your home at once.

To keep things running smoothly, buy all your materials ahead of time, and remember it’s common for items to be out of stock, some items can have long lead times or for the wrong product to be shipped. Give your contractor a green light to buy other materials as the need arises—even if he marks up the cost by a few bucks, it’s usually worth it to keep the process running smoothly if you aren’t around to react quickly.

DIY Reality

DIY isn’t as easy as it looks. Watching some of the contractors on TV might inspire you to break out your own toolkit. Sometimes in the shows, the hosts even get hapless husbands to do some drywall or drilling, but sadly, nothing is as easy as it looks on TV. You need to make an honest assessment of what you can do yourself. If you have all the time in the world, you have the right tools and some experience it’s quite realistic to do your own renovations, however, many people don’t really have the time to learn things properly and they don’t have someone to take the time to show them the ropes which can lead to some DIY disasters they could diminish the price of your home significantly. 

If you decide to do some work on your own, make sure to get help from a buddy with some experience. It’s not realistic for someone to just watch a Youtube video and then do their own renos properly, although it can work if you have someone to help steer you in the right direction and make sure you do things right.  Even so, you’re probably better off leaving plumbing, electrical and structural work to the pros especially if you need some of your work signed off by city inspectors.

Renovations are Really Meant to be Boring

Properly planned renovations are boring. TV renos are rife with dramatic moments where the contractors suddenly encounter surprises—for example, panic ensues after a wall is removed, revealing that a crucial support beam has been damaged. But while many renovations do encounter unexpected snags, a properly planned project won’t create major drama. At Tara construction, we try to make our renovations lack that dramatic stress you see on the shows. There’s no excitement because everything’s well planned and if we are tearing down a wall we inform the homeowner that we don’t know what’s buried behind it. It seems like on the TV shows they purposely don’t do that to create that little bit of extra stress.

Putting in the time to find the right contractor will reduce surprises. People get very scared because all they hear is that renovations are a horror show, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Homeowners have to take some responsibility for the contractor they choose and for doing their homework. If the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Also, make sure you never give the contractor all the money upfront—stay in control by paying in instalments.  If you do pay a deposit make ensure the company is bonded they’re the only companies that can legally accept deposits upfront and they’ll have you sign a legal contract to ensure you’re protected.  

Start Your Realistic Renovation Project

Tara Construction is bonded, and insured with WCB.  Our team has over 18 years in the building industry, we will ensure your renovation project is done right and promise we’ll be honest with you about the entire process including costs and timeframes.  We’re happy to provide references and proof of our previous work and qualifications.  We look forward to working with you on your construction project.  Call us today to get a free estimate at (403) 991-2813.

Tara Construction Inc.
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