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Basement renovation nightmare: our reader shares her story

We strive to educate and inspire our readers with home renovation ideas, projects, DIYs and more. Now it’s time to hear from you. One of our loyal readers reached out to us to share her story on what she was hoping would be a successful basement renovation. In fact, quite the opposite happened. Laila (last name withheld) tells us what went wrong and what she learned along the way.

The Backstory

Early last year, Laila decided it was finally time to renovate her already finished basement, which she wanted redone. It was a project she wanted to undertake since moving into the home almost 9 years ago, but waited for when the time was financially right for her. She hired a friend of hers who was a general contractor to do the work. Her friend was already familiar with her home; prior to moving in, Laila had him do cosmetic work to the main floor, which turned out fine.

But there was one small red flag: Laila was responsible for purchasing and delivering or picking up all of the material such as flooring, kitchen cabinets, bathtub, shower kit, vanity, taps etc. In hindsight, Laila now realizes this was a bad sign, that it should have been the contractor who was in charge of arranging for the material pick-up. Still, she didn’t think much of it at the time.

The Problemsreno7

No one starts a home renovation with the expectation that the project will falter after a few months. Yet, from the beginning, Laila saw things weren’t going to go very well and had that sick gut feeling.

“He was supposed to start 3 years prior I rushed out and bought all my flooring, then he put it off until March [of last year],” she says, adding he didn’t actually begin until two months later. “He ripped out everything in about a week.”

Laila had a clear idea of where she wanted what positioned in the basement. “[I’d say] This is where I’d like the tub, shower and toilet. In the kitchen, I want a double-oven and gas cooktop. He said anything you want, no problem,” she says.

She was promised drawings and sketches, but the contractor she hired was unable to produce them for her, so she took it upon herself to sketch out drawings of how she wanted the basement layout to look and made a point of telling him they’re clearly not to scale and that he needed to redraw them to scale, he never did.

The back-and-forth process put a strain on their contractor-and-client working relationship, leading to the contractor yelling at Laila, making statements about how she was being difficult and constantly changing her mind.

When it came to purchasing material for the job, Laila was once again responsible for all of that.

“I bought the appliances, I bought everything and it was in my garage stored away waiting and ready to be installed,” she says. “Clearly I wasn’t the one delaying the project.”

Three months into the project, now in the summer months, there were still no drawings and her basement sat ripped apart. Laila said the contractor decided to begin framing the basement. “His guys framed it out in one day.” She thought to herself , they’re either really good and efficient, or really bad and it isn’t done properly. Laila was stressed out with the sick feeling in her stomach.

“I think [this was] the last straw,” Laila says, adding he hadn’t even been to her house to conduct any work since the basement was demolished. “He said that’s because I kept changing my mind, and I hadn’t changed anything.” We had a yelling match on the phone over the kitchen cabinets because I ordered them to his specs and picked a delivery date that was three weeks out, he laughed and recommended I should get a storage unit to have them stored in since they’re far from installing them. I was shocked and asked him what his timeline was, he yelled some more and blamed me repeatedly for the delays and then hung up the phone in my face. He texted me later to say he had to get off the phone before he said anything worse.

Keep in mind – Laila’s equipment, appliances and material were still sitting in her garage at this point and nothing was outstanding to hold the job up.

The Right Renovation – Not Her Home

While Laila was dealing with a home renovation nightmare, the exact opposite was happening at her parent’s house.

“My parents were having their bathroom renovated and through a friend, I heard about On Centre Design Build,” she says. “I hired them because I was the one who was in charge of making sure my parents got what they needed.”reno1

Laila says Andrew Bridi, owner of On Centre, provided her with a drawing for her parent’s bathroom the day after they met about the project. As Laila was working with Andrew, she asked him about the situation she found herself embroiled in.

“I told him what happened. He said don’t let him [the contractor] back in your house and that he’d come and look at it.”

The Real Renovation & Rescue

The next day, Bridi surveyed the basement and noted that the framing work that the contractor did was off measurement and not to code. The walls were angled wrong, and as a result, the flooring would not have been straight, the corner shower wouldn’t have fit into a 90-degree corner and the kitchen cabinets wouldn’t have sat on the walls correctly. The floor needed to be leveled too, something the first contractor never even mentioned; the bath tub certainly wouldn’t have sat well on an unleveled floor.

“Initially when I walked through, I automatically figured it was sort of an amateur, do-it-yourself type of contractor she had – if he was a contractor to begin with,” says Bridi, adding there were code violations throughout the work that was done, as well as technical mistakes that would otherwise not exist if a person knew what they were doing. “Bulkheads are supposed to be of consistent measurement. He had three to four different types of measurement.”

Bridi says he typically doesn’t start working on a project mid-way, but when he saw the project, he told Laila she needed to hire someone else to fix it, even if it wasn’t him.

“For the most part, the workmanship was really poor,” he says. “We tore down almost everything. We could barely salvage anything.”

reno3Bridi contacted the city to ensure Laila had the right permits to have a double oven and gas cooktop installed in her basement, permits that should have been taken care of by the previous contractor. Laila didn’t even know she needed a special “basement apartment” permit to have a double-oven or gas cooktop installed in her home. Not only that, but such equipment results in way higher insurance costs, and fire proofing the basement another detail she was not informed about during the renovation process until Bridi came into the picture.

“I’m a single homeowner. I can’t imagine anyone who didn’t have the help of someone like Andrew to talk me through what I needed to do, what to look for.It would have been a disaster,” she says. “I probably would have still been in that mess.”

Laila says as a result of the faulty work completed by the first contractor, her entire summer was ruined because the house and backyard were a disaster and she was unable to entertain company.

What’s unfortunate and frustrating is the fact that Laila had to pay a lot of money to fix the damage he had done in the first place.

“I paid at least 50% more for plumbing and it wasn’t even 50% completed. I really was ripped off.”

Still, she doesn’t have any regrets about the way things turned out thanks to Bridi and the On Centre Design team.

“Andrew was incredibly reasonable,” she says. “They really saved me big time.”

Laila said she never had to worry about what Bridi was doing when he and his team were working in the house the way she did with her contractor and friend of over 13 years.

Sneak peak of the finished product!

Sneak peak of the finished product!

So, why did this basement renovation go south? We don’t have an answer or know if Laila can answer the ‘why’ question herself. What she can do is share some of her tips for future renovators:

  • The contractors should be responsible for buying necessary project material.
  • Make sure you receive permits and drawings for the work you’re getting done in your home.
  • Visit the eieihome website to find a good contractor, then ask for their references and take the time to check them out.
  • Don’t be shy when you’re renovating your home. It’s probably the biggest investment of your life – speak up and in return save yourself wasted time, stress and added dollars.
  • Follow your gut. If your stomach is in knots about a project, chances are good you need to make a change.
  • Whatever you do, don’t pay a dime upfront. Pay as the contractor completes each task.

When it comes to Laila’s last tip, Bridi couldn’t agree more.

“Our clients don’t do that,” he says of clients purchasing and picking up their own material. “I don’t let my clients purchase anything. It’s not my business model.”

Bridi says he can’t control a project or keep it organized and on time if clients are doing that kind of work. It’s simply not their responsibility.

“My clients don’t do anything but pay the bill. They pick their colours and tiles,” he says. “Plus, I think it’s a bit of a warning sign if the contractor says to you to go out and buy everything. A legitimate organization should be able to finance their own project.”

Furthermore, Bridi says he won’t even take a deposit from a client until his workers are on site – with material – and working.

Besides, if clients were to purchase their own material, the warranties may be void.

“If my plumber’s installing a toilet and he’s not the one that supplied it, they generally won’t warranty it,” he explains.


Laila's finished basement thanks to On Centre Design Build.

Laila’s finished basement thanks to On Centre Design Build.

Need a general contractor? Check out On Centre Design Build‘s profile on our website for more information.

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