Good help is not so hard to find
As I point out in this week’s Hot Home Products column, Canadians are doing lots of reno and repair work these days. We’re also among the heaviest internet users on the planet. It’s no surprise, then, that we’re increasingly going online to find home improvement products and services, and people to install and deliver them. My column focuses on two new entries, but they are by far not the only ones in this rapidly expanding category.
Renomark is one of the grand-daddys. Joe Vaccaro, acting president of Building Industry and Land Development Association explains that the service was launched in 2001 in response to a growing need by consumers.
“The Association (at that time the Greater Toronto Homebuilder’s Association) decided there needed to be a professional renovation brand to help consumers identify high-quality and well-qualified renovators,” says Vaccaro. “The defining factor was that members would have to agree to adhere to a code of ethics that required them, among other things, to provide warranties, carry liability and WSIB insurance, and follow permitting regulations. We wanted to raise the bar, so that people could have confidence in who they hired.”
Part of the initial goal was to educate consumers, many of whom were too tightly focused on price. “Often you ended up in conversations with a consumer who wanted to know how to save a few bucks,” says Vaccaro. “That reasonable, but a good pro can help you do that so that you don’t undermine yourself. For example, you need building permits – there’s a reason for them. If you build a deck and tie it into your house, and there’s no permit, when it comes time to sell, a good real estate person will ask that question, and it could affect your resale value. If you finish a basement and don’t inform your insurance company and then, say, are affected by flooding, your insurer may not pay because as far as they are concerned, you have an unfinished basement. But a professional renovator will flag issues like that.”
Using a recognized service is about more than just providing you with good workmanship, adds Vaccaro. “It’s about the peace of mind that comes with warranties, and with knowing that you won’t be liable if a worker has an accident on your property.”
Renomark is now endorsed by 32 local associations across Canada, and is poised to expand further. That, says Vaccaro, shows that it’s benefitting both consumers and contractors.
“What’s really striking is that it’s generally perceived that industry pushes back from standardization, and too much regulation. But they have embraced RenoMark because they see the value.”
Education will continue to be a big part of what they do, especially around issues such as the underground economy. “It’s still a challenge,” says Vaccaro. “But as the costs of projects grow, consumers become less willing to take that risk. They need more than a “red light warranty” – that’s the one where your warranty lasts as long as you can still see the red taillights of the guy’s truck as he leaves your driveway! You may save money in the short-term, but you really need to think about whether it’s worth it to give up all the protection that you have a right to, to expose yourself to liability and to affect the quality of your living space.”
Other sites include:
eRenovate, a free online community built for homeowners with user-friendly tools with a heavy emphasis on ideas and inspiration, as well as expert advice. Screened trades people can be accessed and will provide online quotes.
CasaGuru Another free web community that connects homeowners with local house experts, or “gurus” who provide advice on everything from designing, building, renovating to decorating a home. Experts are top drawer, and include the likes of Steve Maxwell and Janice Lindsay. As with the other sites, there are often prizes, contest and rebates. Currently, for example, CasaGuru is giving away about $25,000 worth of home-related loot. My sources tell me that CasaGuru is about to announce expansion plans. No word yet, but watch this space for news.
HomeStars was designed as a virtual word-of-mouth referral service, and is where homeowners can find renovators, repairpeople and retailers by searching an extensive database. They can then write reviews based on their experience. Business owners are also free to respond to both positive and negative reviews. Homeowners can also talk to each other and share information and advice on the site’s forums.
Zoomission Similar to uknowa, Zoomission (featured in my Hot Homes column) lets you gather quotes, compare contractors' profiles and read customer feedback before hiring.
CanadianHandyman is a source for the handyman and home repairs industry in Canada. There, you can explore manufacturers' websites, find local businesses and get quotes for residential or commercial projects. It’s all free.