Thought Starters: New Home or Cottage Design-Renovate-Build

If you have decided to build a new home or cottage, or renovate your existing home, there are a lot of considerations to make.This is especially true if you have never gone through the process before!

Home Contractor Talking With Clients

Key Takeaways

If you have decided to build a new home or cottage, or renovate your existing home, there is a lot to consider. Especially if you have never gone through the process before.

Building a new home or cottage or investing in a large renovation, is both a major financial and lifestyle decision. There are so many things to think about, from design and budget, to partners, timelines, and finishes. The list goes on and on and it can feel overwhelming very quickly. However, it doesn't need to.

Spotlight Home and Lifestyle can help you with several thought starters that you should consider before even beginning of your journey. So, gather your family around for the conversation. You will definitely want input from everyone who will be directly impacted by the planned changes to your living space.

1. Thought Starters

There are key questions you should ask when planning a new build or renovation, and with a seemingly endless list of options and possibilities, discussing the following talking points will help provide you and your family members with a solid starting point.

Why do we want to do the project in the first place?

Prioritize the different reasons that prompted you to want to make a change to your home or cottage. Are you tired of your current environment? Is the space too big or too small to fit your family’s needs? Have you come into some money and want to upgrade your lifestyle? Are circumstances such as retirement allowing more flexibility to live further away from a city center? Can you trade the urban cost of living for acreage out in the country? Ensure your motivation is powerful enough and makes sense before embarking on this huge life event.

How will we use the space now? How about five and ten years from now?

Considering a loft above the garage or an in-law suite? How about a brand-new build with an extra 1,000+ square feet compared to your current home? Now is the time to think about how the space will be utilized down the road. Perhaps you have a full house at the moment, but the kids will be off to university in a few years. There could be an unused bedroom upstairs that can have its walls knocked out to provide space for your dream en suite and walk-in. Try to think ahead to ensure your design, renovate, or build project will make sense not only in the moment, but in the longer term. 

What do we dislike about our current space? Ask everyone in the family.

You might dislike the direction the kitchen island faces in your home, or wish you had walk-out French doors from your master bedroom to a plant-filled patio outside. Perhaps your open concept living area allows too much noise to travel through the house, or the location of your teenager's room is too close to yours for sound and privacy needs. Whatever your dislikes are about your current layout, write them down to help with the design phase of your project.

What are our must haves”?

Now is the time to think about what would really make your space an environment you would absolutely love to live in. What would make your life a lot easier? What changes would help the family function at a more optimal level? Don't leave anything out, no matter how "pie-in-the-sky" it seems. You can always cross some things off that list in the next section of our thought starters.

What are our nice to haves” but could live without?

Have you always wanted a residential elevator? Is it more for the novelty or convenience of it, or for actual functionality for someone with limited mobility? Perhaps your own knees are getting a little more painful with age and you foresee stairs becoming a struggle in a few years. Maybe having twelve-foot ceilings and wall-to-wall windows would help bring nature into the home, offering you peace and tranquility. However, if the budget is not available, could you live with lower ceilings and compromise with a few over-sized bay windows instead? This part of the list should include all of your wishes, with a touch of reality aligned with your actual budget.

What is our budget? (Do not forget HST)

Budget is the reality check part of the process. It helps determine your limitations. HST needs to be included, which is 13 percent in Ontario. Always allow a buffer for changes and surprises. We have all seen renovation shows on television when something inevitably comes up during the build or renovation that requires additional funds. While the budget should be in line with what is contracted, it is always good to have a 10 percent margin for extra peace of mind.

When do we want to do the project? (Keep in mind a good contractor could be booked several months or even a year out.)

A substantial amount of planning goes into a quality build or renovation. It might take over a month just to source a reputable contractor who you are comfortable partnering with, let alone physically starting the project. Be realistic with your timelines and scope of work. Will you have to move somewhere temporarily while the project is underway? Will weather play a role if building in the winter? Is your preferred contractor booked for projects before yours? All things to consider when planning the timing.

What are our top three goals for the project?

Define your top goals in priority sequence to help you plan and budget. Perhaps you’re thinking about an open floor plan, room to grow, or being more energy efficient. Prioritizing helps ensure your top wants are checked off. Anything else on the list can be viewed as a bonus, if budget allows, but it is important to hit your number one (and hopefully two and three) reasons you want to embark on the project in the first place.

How will our new space ideally enhance our lifestyle?

Visualize how your new build or renovation will make your everyday life better. What quality will it add? Will you be happier with tranquil surroundings, more motivated with crisp and efficient design, or cozier with warm and inviting finishings? Idealizing how you want to feel in the space will help during the design process. 

What ideas do I have?

Bring your own ideas to the table. You might not be a professional designer, but you do have ideas that inspire you, and in turn can help inspire your design, renovate, or build partners to bring your dream to fruition.

How will we select the right contractor partner?

This is one of the more critical areas of the journey - perhaps the most important part of embarking on a renovation or build project. That is why we have devoted the entire next section of this article to that question.

2. Sourcing A Contractor

Forging a partnership with a professional, reliable and reputable company is critical in ensuring an enjoyable experience and great outcome. Ideally you want a contractor who will manage the entire process from design to completion — not just bits and pieces.

A few starting points for sourcing a contractor:

  • Ask friends, neighbours and colleagues at work, who have actually used the contractor and not just “heard” about them
  • Check the membership directories of your local Home Builders Association and Chamber of Commerce
  • Look for reviews on sites like Google or Houzz
  • Check out websites of potential candidates
  • Look for credentials such as TARION registration, EnergyStar, R2000, or Healthy Housing
  • Look for mention in the community or media
  • Do they have an actual office versus working out of a vehicle or from their home

3. Qualifying A Contractor

Building or renovating a home or cottage is a large financial investment. It is important to qualify a contractor to ensure you find the best fit for you, your family and your project. The following are key things to look for and ask during your initial contact with a contractor:

  • Do they have an office you can visit and if so, how long have they been operating from it
  • What is the scope of services they provide; are there limitations to that service
  • Do they have a defined design process and if so, what does it entail
  • What types of projects are they currently working on
  • Do they have a core group of employees or do they sub-contract out to others
  • How do they select their trades and employees
  • Can they show proof of liability insurance and Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) registration. If building a new home, are they registered as a builder with TARION 

By the end of your initial contact, you should have a solid impression about whether you feel the contractor is going to be a good fit for your project. This process will help you narrow down your candidates to two or three potential partners. Below are some additional questions that should help narrow your selection even further:

  • What is their process for starting and completing the project and how do they handle project management
  • Will they provide you with a detailed quote that includes scope of work, chronological schedule of key construction elements, allowances for selections, detailed terms, payment schedule, management of changes, insurances carried, warranty terms
  • Will they apply for and provide all required permits
  • How do they manage changes to the project
  • Will there be a key contact available to field your calls and get back to you on time
  • Can they provide references 

4. Meeting The Contractor

If you have successfully gone through all of the above questions during the phone interview, you have likely been able to narrow down your selection to a front runner. Now it is time to take it to the next step and meet them in your home. This next meeting will help you determine if you feel comfortable with this person and have a good rapport with them.

Below are some things to look for in that meeting:

  • Were they on time as booked, or if they were running late, did they call to let you know
  • Do they present themselves professionally
  • Do they have a business card to confirm who they are, and do they present their company professionally
  • Before you even discuss the project, sit down with them and run through some of the same questions that you asked over the phone to ensure consistency
  • Clarify the purpose of the meeting and what each of you wants to happen by the end of the meeting
  • Ask about the history of the company and evaluate how passionate they are
  • Ask about their current employees and how the company is structured
  • Is their vehicle clean and does it appear well maintained

Once you are comfortable with the person and their style, it is time to start to discuss the project. This is where all of your homework pays off. Now you are well positioned to provide the contractor with a good sense of who you are and what you want. 

Ensure you are both on the same page. The contractor should give a solid impression that they will meet your expectations and maintain open and ongoing communication. They should make you feel like you will be as much a part of the process as they are. After all, it is your vision they are bringing to life. They are professionals who should offer advice and guidance to you through your project's journey in true partnership.

Learn more...

If you would like more insights and tips about hiring a contractor for your design, renovate, or build project, download a copy of the How to Hire a Design, Renovate & Build Contractor guide.