Better Business Bureau

Renovating? What you need to know

July 16, 2015

By Sheryl Smolkin

You are expecting a new baby and the house feels too small. Your kitchen and bathrooms look shabby and you want something more up-to-date. You need a home office. 

In all of these circumstances you may be tempted to sell your home and buy a new one that has the features your family needs. However, when you consider the costs of moving and what you can get for your money, you may decide that renovating makes more sense. 

But everyone knows someone who has experienced a renovation nightmare. The project that was supposed to take two months stretched to six. The $50,000 budget doubled. The contractor disappeared before finishing the job. 

The more planning and care that goes into the renovation in advance, the better your chances of having things turn out to your satisfaction. Here are some tips from the Canadian Consumer Handbook[1] that can help you hire the right people to do the right job properly.

  1. Scope of the project: Make a detailed list of what you want to accomplish. Any contractor you hire will base their quote on your specifications. If the scope of the project changes or you request extras, the renovation will cost more and take longer.
  2. Permits: Check with your municipal building inspection department to find out which permits you’ll need before you start work (this is not your contractor’s responsibility unless that is spelled out in your contract) and check which inspections you’ll have to arrange part-way through or when the project is finished.
  3. Find a contractor: Ask friends, relatives, neighbours and local business associations for recommendations. Talk to at least six prospects and interview three. All subcontractors or tradespeople like plumbers or electricians should be certified. Contact your local Better Business Bureau or business association to see whether any complaints have been filed against firms that you are thinking of hiring. Ask for and call references.
  4. Get quotes: Provide each supplier with the same specifications so you can compare apples to apples. Ask for a written estimate of all costs including labour, taxes and any extra charges. Paying cash “under the table” for a job is not a better deal. If you pay cash you have no warranty, no recourse for poor workmanship and the added risk of liability if an injury takes place on your property.

The Contract

Make sure you and your contractor have a written contract. Don’t sign it until you have fully reviewed it, are satisfied with all the terms and are sure that the contractor is capable of meeting your needs.

Ask the contractor to include a detailed description of the work to be done. Get him to list specific information about products, manufacturer, size and colour of materials and equipment to be installed.

It is a best practice to even include product numbers for items such as carpet, tile, countertops and hardwood floors etc.. The more details that are contained in the contract, the less room there is for error.

The contract should include the following information:

  • The type and amount of work to be done.
  • Who is to complete the work (including a list of any subcontractors and who is responsible for their payment and when).
  • Who is responsible for ordering and paying for materials.
  • Who is responsible for permits.
  • The total cost.
  • What percentage is the deposit  and whether it seems reasonable.
  • The start date and date of completion.
  • Who is responsible for clean-up afterwards.
  • The business and GST/HST number of the contractor.
  • The name and address of the contractor and your name and address.


For more information on what to do when hiring a contractor, visit the Get It In Writing website, run by the Canadian Home Builder’s Association.

Surviving your reno

Hiring the right contractor and nailing down the cost and the duration of the project can help facilitate a successful renovation, but don’t forget other practical considerations.

Can you still live in part of your house while the other part is being renovated? If not, you may have to factor in a short-term rental for your family. Will your neighbours be inconvenienced because workers are parked on your street day after day? Talk to them to be sure they understand what you are doing and ask for their patience.

Be prepared for surprises. If your current home is not compliant with building codes, unexpected structural work like rewiring the house or removing asbestos from the walls may be required. In these situations you will have to either come up with more money or re-think the scope of work you can afford.

Finally, take heart. A renovation is a little like having a baby. Once the project is finished and you have a beautiful home addition to show for it, the birth pangs will quickly be forgotten.

ALSO READ: Consumer Tip – Contractors, Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice and Attorney General

[1] Produced by the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Consumer Measures Committee

The latest scams and how to avoid them

November 28, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


Many people believe that fraudulent schemes are isolated incidents that could never happen to them. But if you’ve read Will Ferguson’s 2012 Giller prize-winning book 419 about Nigeria’s Internet scams you’ll know better.

Cons intended to separate you from your money are big business. The Better Business Bureau and partner organizations investigate thousands of scams every year, from the latest gimmicks to schemes as old as the hills. So does the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), a joint operation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Ontario Provincial Police and the Competition Bureau.  The agency collects information and criminal intelligence on “mass marketing fraud” aimed at multiple victims.

In the first six months of 2012 the CAFC received almost 21,000 complaints of mass marketing fraud with losses of over $30 million. Another 11,500 claims related to identity fraud/identity theft and cost victims $7.5 million. “These calls represent only about 5 per cent of the people who have been duped,” says Det. Con. John Schultz who is part of the CAFC team.

The Better Business Bureau has compiled its list of the biggest scams of the year, showing that something that seems good may not live up to its promises.

  1. Top advertising scam: If you place an ad on a free site like Craigslist to sell your car, you may receive a call from unlicensed telemarketers offering to help sell your car. If you accept their offer, you will pay a fee of about $500 for posting to online classifieds you can post yourself at no charge.
  2. Top love scam: You meet someone through a social networking or dating site who turns out to be from a faraway place. They fall in love with you in a very short time. The person gains your trust and asks for money to travel or help with a family emergency. Victims usually send money through wire transfer.
  3. Top financial scam: Here the person earns the trust of an influential member of a group, family or workplace to use this connection to get their hands on their money. The investment is a fraud, you lose your money and your relationships could be irreparably harmed.
  4. Top online scam: Online financial fraudsters send e-mail spam or they approach you on a social media website or a web forum. The target is consumers who go online for financial advice. Some spam will lead to an internet ad, designed to gather your personal information. A fraudster will later approach you directly about the phony investment.
  5. Top sales scam: “Curbers,” buy old or damaged cars and sell them from parking lots or curbsides, advertising in newspapers and online ads. The buyer is out-of-pocket after realizing the vehicle has a long history of damages, a lien against it or the odometer has been rolled back. In some cases the vehicle may be stolen.
  6. Top youth scam: You receive a text message that invites you to participate in a contest for a great prize. The target is smart-phone users with web-browsing capabilities. You are asked to enter the PIN and later an email address with a link to another site to apply for a credit card. In the end you never receive a credit card and have given out personal information.
  7. Top computer scam: Consumers receive a call with a warning that your computer has been infected with a virus. Then an offer is made to clean your computer for a fee. The target is homeowners who have a computer with an internet connection. The result is that the scammer gets remote access to your computer and will also ask for credit card information for payment.
  8. Top business scam: The business receives an invoice that appears to be past due, when in reality your company has had no dealings with the business listed on the invoice. The target is business owners and busy employees handling accounts payable. The result is that businesses pay a fake invoice or receive more threatening letters about the credit consequences of non-payment.
  9. Top home improvement scam: Rogue door to door contractors will come to your home to seal or repave your driveway or fix your roof with product left over from another job. In some cases they offer a furnace repair that wasn’t requested or a free “inspection.” Targeted home owners are then out-of-pocket for unnecessary work or a poor job that has to be redone
  10. Scam of the year: An email that mentions the Better Business Bureau and says something like “Complaint against your business.” You are asked to either click on a link or open an attachment. If you click on the attachment, you may download a malware virus.

If this list isn’t enough to make you weep and you want to know more, Competition Bureau Canada’s 36-page The Little Black Book of Scams is a helpful resource full of information on how to avoid being caught up in a scam and on how to report fraud to the appropriate authorities.

How can you recognize a scam?

The CAFC says if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. For example, you’ve won a big prize in a contest that you don’t recall entering. You are offered a once-in-a-lifetime investment that offers a huge return. You are told that you can buy into a lottery ticket pool that cannot lose.

They also suggest that you watch for these warning signs if you suspect that a relative or friend is being targeted by unscrupulous telemarketers.

  • A marked increase in the amount of mail with too-good-to-be-true offers.
  • Frequent calls offering get-rich-quick schemes or valuable awards, or numerous calls for donations to unfamiliar charities.
  • A sudden inability to pay normal bills.
  • Requests for loans or cash.
  • Banking records that show cheques or withdrawals made to unfamiliar companies.
  • Secretive behaviour regarding phone calls.

Have you, a family member or a friend ever been scammed? Share your tips with us at and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

06-Dec Holiday decorations A real tree or an artificial one?
13-Nov Holiday gifts Ways to save money on winter driving
20-Dec Transportation Ways to save money on gas