Why you might want a renovation coach

Earlier last year, I got a call from a man I know in the town nearest to us. He bought a beautiful century home next door to the one he lives in and wanted my help planning a complete renovation that’s in keeping with the home’s heritage. I don’t do this sort of thing often, but it reminded me of the value of a home renovation coach.

Seeing the possibilities

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If you have major renovations planned, it’s wise to find someone other than your contractor to help you see all the possibilities. A good renovation coach can also help keep you out of trouble — both financial and technical.


I regularly get impassioned emails from intelligent, successful people caught in renovations gone horribly wrong, so I know it’s a painful, costly and emotionally debilitating thing. Renovation nightmares are worth every effort to avoid, and this is one area where a renovation coach can help.

The best renovation coaches leverage years of contracting experience to function as an independent renovation advocate, helping homeowners achieve optimal renovations at fair prices. But, you might ask, isn’t this what contractors are supposed to do? Not necessarily. To understand why, you need to look below the surface of the renovation business.

First off, understand that I’m not here to bash contractors. Some of my best friends are contractors, and I know they work hard and deal fair. That said, the success of what they do depends entirely on their skill, good judgement and honesty. Take these three key attributes out of the equation, however, and you’ve got trouble. I know because I’ve seen it happen many times.


Renovation nightmares almost always spring from a lack of either skill, good judgement or honesty — or all three. As a homeowner, this should lead you to some important questions:

  • Do you really know a potential contractor well enough to trust him with your cheque book and a five- or six-figure budget?
  • Do you really know the building business well enough to see technical trouble coming and avoid it?
  • Are you well informed about the amazing materials, products and approaches that go into a great renovation?

Optimizing renovation details

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One of the most useful things a good renovation coach will do is introduce you to new products and design approaches. Few contractors have time to keep on top of these things, so you can’t necessarily rely on a contractor to give you the best advice.


For instance, the man I’m working with now was delighted to learn about a system of very simple, electric in-floor heating for areas of his home that have chronically cold floors. He also loved my suggestion for using wood-look ceramic planks over this in-floor heating. Ceramics conduct heat exceptionally well, but the wood-look option is still in keeping with the rest of the house.

A contractor’s role is to co-ordinate various trades, then charge you more than the cost of materials and labour. That’s how they earn a profit and there’s nothing wrong with this. Do you know enough to judge whether your renovation job has been priced with honesty or greed? Without experience, it’s not that easy to tell.

A good renovation coach typically saves more money than they charge by knocking financial fluff out of padded cost estimates and by streamlining unnecessarily expensive and complicated renovation approaches. Creating an effective contract, agreeing on fair prices, establishing equitable payment schedules and dealing with building permit issues and code compliance details are all areas where I’ve seen renovation coaches help.


There’s something else, too. A good coach can save homeowners from themselves.

Watch your behaviour

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While the incompetence and dishonesty of contractors may be fodder for successful television shows, this picture is not complete. At least as much homeowner grief is caused by homeowners themselves. Probably more.


Excessive enthusiasm, over-confidence, lack of a practical renovation vision and cheapskate attitudes are the four most common ways homeowners regularly shoot themselves in the foot. When you partner with a renovation coach, you’ve got to do it with enough humility to accept the fact that you probably don’t know as much as you think you do. Heaven help the know-it-alls.

Of all legal areas of our economy, the renovation business is by far the most dangerous and least regulated. Tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake on jobs everywhere, with deals often completed between virtual strangers on nothing more than a lot of hope, a quick handshake and a toothless piece of paper masquerading as a contract. Sometimes these deals work out, and sometimes they don’t.

Here in Canada, we’re used to government protection against risks of all kinds. But when it comes to renovations, it’s still the wild west in most places. Doesn’t it make sense to consider a little independent, third-party advocacy in the form of a renovation coach?


About the Author

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell has been helping Canadians with home improvement, gardening and hands-on living since 1988. Visit for videos, stories and inspiration.



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