More and more people in the Toronto real estate market are finding themselves trapped in a starter home, unable to move to a larger house when more space is needed. Now they are looking for new ways to create space.  As a result, the number of renovation/rebuild projects in Toronto has grown substantially.

Given the main drive is a quest for space, the size and complexity of these renovation/rebuild projects are often larger than most homeowners are familiar with. These aren’t your parents’ kitchen remodels. They are reconfiguring different floors, lowering basements and building additions on homes that are 75-100+ years old. If you don’t plan properly, the ramifications can be high stress, spiralling costs and overrun timelines. Unsure whether you have an adequate plan? Here are three questions you must ask yourself.

Have I considered the real condition of my old home?

Many Toronto houses were not built to last. Coupled with our harsh climate and varying quality of maintenance over the years, these homes create a lot of headaches and expense for renovators. I shudder remembering when our 100+ years old foundation wall crumbled during our rebuild project. It had been penetrated by tree roots. Fortunately, we weren’t planning to use it to support the rebuilt house structurally. But what if we had been? Yikes!

Besides their age, old homes have probably been renovated before, which adds unknown risks. Unfortunately, frugality or inexperience of past homeowners means the work is not always done properly. These substandard renos create additional headaches for today’s renovator as they are discovered during a project.

While you will never be able to rule out the possibility of unpleasant surprises during a reno, you should do your best to assess your risks before embarking on your project by bringing in an expert to fully assess the structure of your home once your basic design concept is established. Inspections where pilot holes have been made, so the structural engineer can look behind existing surfaces, are best.  They allow a more in-depth assessment. Keep in mind this won’t rule out the possibility of structural issues. You still need to have a large contingency budget for anything that isn’t readily apparent. Structural issues aside, you could also uncover issues like galvanized pipes or knob and tube wiring that you should address during your renovation.

Or, tear it down and rebuild – then the condition of the old house it not an issue.

Have I considered my housing type and how by-laws apply?

While your dreams may be big, the type of housing you own and the applicable zoning by-laws may place limitations on your renovation vision.

First, if your home is anything other than a detached house, any work that involves the party wall (shared wall) will require permits for the neighbouring property, as well as yours. What you can and cannot do with the party wall will be impacted by this neighbour. This can impact the overall project cost, timeline and concept, as well as your relationship with your neighbour.

Second, the zoning by-laws governing your property impact what you can build on it. They include limitations on where a building may be situated on the property, plus its overall size and height. While homeowners can seek variances to the applicable by-laws, this adds cost, time and uncertainty to a renovation or rebuild project. Not all requested variances are granted. It would be wise to understand whether your desired renovation is likely to be by-law compliant from the outset.

Does my financial plan cover all project expenses?

In my experience, prospective renovators usually start their journey with an idea of what they want and a dollar figure that they are prepared to spend. This is not a financial plan.

More details than most homeowners can imagine need to be included, and often the idea and real dollar figure are not well-matched. Major renovations require a team of professionals and include much more than construction costs. For example, if you want to make changes to the exterior of a home, including additions, it starts with a legal survey of the property which can cost between $1500-$3000. What about a contingency budget? We were advised to make ours 35% of the construction cost when we considered renovating our old home. This is one reason we chose to rebuild instead.

To ensure your renovation/rebuild project is financially viable, make sure you can pay for all the different aspects of the project — not just the construction cost. To do this well, you need to really understand how these projects work and where the additional costs come from.

Need some help?

Wondering how to move forward and build a good plan? We can help.