Renovating your Condo or House in East Vancouver

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East Vancouver has a lot of older properties – from condos built in the 1970’s to character homes that are over 100 years old – that likely need some renovations. Older condo buildings often offer larger floor plans which make for great reno properties.

The home renovation process is often long, tiring and costly, but it’s worth it when you get to live in a space that you designed to your lifestyle and sense of design. Not to mention, it’s often cheaper to buy a property that you reno yourself, rather than buying a property that someone reno’d previously. A renovation can involve everything some a simple update of the fixtures and finishings, to knocking down walls and changing the floor plan. Each reno will be slightly different, and each will have its own challenges and unexpected issues.

I have a lot of clients who have pursued a home renovation because they weren’t finding the type of property they wanted. They all talk about how tiring the renovation is, but how worthwhile it was when it was finished. There are a lot of factors to consider when thinking of doing a renovation, so here are some things to think about before pursuing the task:

Will you manage the Renovation or use a Project Manager?

Renovations are a lot of work – are you going to manage the entire process yourself or use a project manager? Managing a renovation includes everything from designing the space, finding the contractor, planning the timeline, choosing and ordering materials, organizing the plumbing, electrical, structural trades, demolishing the old space, getting rid of the garbage, installing the new materials, getting the permits from the city and strata and more.

The obvious difference in using a project manager vs managing the reno yourself is the amount of work you have to do and how past experience can make it easier. Sourcing materials and ordering enough of them, ensuring everything is renovated as per the city permits, finding and organizing the labour (i.e. plumber, electrician, etc) to come in when necessary (without causing a delay to the rest of the reno), the hands on work of demolition and install, among other tasks, all requires a lot of hard work, time, and answers. For rookie renovators, this can be very overwhelming.

Naturally, hiring a project manager will cost you. It’s well worth it in my opinion, especially if you want to get the project done quickly and properly, but it may come down to budget.

My advice is to interview a few different renovation project managers to get a sense of what they do for you and what they charge.

A few keys points to ask project managers and contractors prior to signing any contracts:

– Do they have a business license? Is their work warranted?

– What services to they offer? Will they be able to give you an itemized price list of everything they charge?

– Where do they order their materials from? Are there different levels of pricing when it comes to materials?

– Are the trades they use contract workers or do the trades work for their company?

– Can they give you an estimated timeline for start and completion?

Basic Renovation Process

Here is a very basic guide for renovating your home, and for the most part, one that requires city permits. If you’re just changing old materials to new ones, you won’t need a city permit. Keep in mind there are a lot of unexpected hurdles and issues that could come up at any point.

Determine the general scope of your project and, if necessary, submit a Renovation Request to the Strata Council. You strata council will need to approve the renovation before you begin (whether or not you’ll need city permits). You’ll need to give them an idea of what you’re doing, agree to follow strata bylaws with regards to renovations, submit plans and city permits and agree to use licensed contractors.

Interview Contractors or Project Managers (if going that route) to review the space. Get multiple quotes from different people/companies, and determine what the contractor will do (i.e. demolition, drawings, filing for permits, bringing in the trades, etc.). If you’re doing the renovation yourself, ask your friends if they’ve ever worked with a reputable contractor or tradesmen. Pull together ideas from the Internet and magazines so you can shows potential contractors, project managers and stores exactly what you want in terms of the finishings and look.

A quality contractor is of utmost importance when renovating. Ensure they have experience, good reviews and review the contract prior to signing it.

Get design plans done. You’ll need a design plan of the current space and one of the proposed renovation. The contractor might do this for you. Otherwise, Pixilink can do design drawings. Make copies of these drawings. The proposed renovation needs to show location of plumbing, electrical. This is something you will need to submit to the city to get permits, if you are removing walls, moving plumbing or changing electrical.

Apply for a Building Permit with the City of Vancouver. This is only required if you’re removing walls or changing the plumbing, removing old cabinets and replacing with new ones does not require a city permit. There is a lot of paperwork in this step. Take a look at the City of Vancouver’s site detailing How to Apply for a Building Permit in Vancouver. Going to City Hall to speak with someone there can also be helpful. Getting approval from the city then takes 2-6 weeks. If they don’t approve your request, you’ll have to make changes and re-submit (and wait, again)

While waiting for the permit, you can go ahead and order the new materials (i.e. cabinets, flooring, fixtures, etc) since it typically takes a few weeks. However, if the scope of your project can change significantly based on approval by the city, you may want to hold off on ordering the products. Remember, you’ll also need a place to keep the materials before you begin using them. Ordering products before you start is smart as it can often take weeks to get certain materials.

For example, a new Kitchen would require Cabinets/Counters/Lights/Backsplash/Paint/Fixtures/Sink/Floor/Appliances/Etc.

Demolish current space. The fun part! Though there will be A LOT of garbage, and unfortunately, you can’t just put this garbage in the building’s bin – you’ll have to organize separate collection and will have to make sure you don’t dirty or ruin the condo hallways or elevator in the process.

Install. Proceed with the rest of the renovation once you get permits. This portion of the renovation process requires a proper timeline. You need to know what tasks need to happen in which order. Sometimes your project can be put on hold because you’re waiting for one job to finish or materials to be delivered before you move on to the next.

Organization is a must here! Unless you’re using a project manager, you will need to organize all of the materials and labour. Keep good records of everything.

There is much more to say about materials, possible roadblocks, contractors and more. Renovations are a big project, but they can be worth it.