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Penguin Basement

Penguin Basements recommends that you read this before you close

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Penguin Basements recommends that you read this before you close

Congratulations. You just bought a home from a builder off a plan. Before you close, you may want to take advantage of an opportunity most people fail to consider. If you have any future plans to finish what would otherwise be a standard roughed-in basement, it’s time for you to draw up a plan of your own.

So, what does that plan look like? Think it through. How many kids do you presently have? How many more will you have? Will you need a nanny suite? Will the basement serve as a rental property or an office? How conducive is the home to building a walkout or grading for enlargement of windows? These are some good questions to ask yourself well before the house is built.

It’s the perfect time to determine aspects such as the ceiling height, potential layout options, where your windows go, the placement of the furnace or plumbing rough-ins, type of floor, custom finishes and more. If you talk to a basement renovator to explore your design, scope and costs, you can have a basement build that uniquely reflects your needs.

Let’s look at some advantages

It’s cost effective. Build from scratch and save money by doing this at the plan stage, not when you’re settled in the house. Add the cost to your mortgage. Some contractors also offer financing.

Enjoy your basement from day one. Why have a roughed-in space sit there unused when you can reap the lifestyle advantages of a custom-finished basement, not a cookie-cutter version? Your kids will thank you.

Avoid living through a renovation. Why suffer through the disruption of dust, noise and upheaval while you and your family are living in the home? Move in when it’s perfect. Even if you have to delay your move by a few weeks (which your contractor can help you with) it’s worth it.

Finally, another thing to consider is how much more house you can buy if you finish your basement to generate income as a rental property. Many basements in southern Ontario can rent for upwards of $1,500 a month to offset as much as $300,000 of your mortgage. That’s attractive math.

It all starts with a reputable contractor

Find a contractor that specializes in basements and has an established process for new builds. Get a credible referral. There’s never a need to go through the multiple quotes process as that only becomes about price. Quality, trust and track record are the true measures of whom you should consider. A contractor can even work off a sales brochure floorplan and possibly even visit the site before closing.

Once you have an idea of what you want and what you can afford, talk to your builder.

Get the basement you want, not the scaled-down, unfinished one you’re given. It’s smart from a financial and a lifestyle sense.

If you think about it, your new house isn’t finished until your basement is.

Guy Solomon is the founder and CEO of Penguin Basements, Canada’s leading basement renovation company.

He is also creator of The Second Suite Solution, a wealth-building strategy designed to help homeowners create strategies for unlocking enduring value in their property.

As a leading innovator in the area of construction solutions, Solomon is a sought after speaker and authority across a range of building related subjects.


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Reno Advice: No Permit, No Way!

No permit? No way

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No permit? No way

Would you have someone fix your brakes without knowing if that person was qualified to do so? Would you be fine with driving off without knowing if the job was properly inspected? Well, if you’re thinking about doing a renovation without a building permit, hit the brakes. It’s a car crash waiting to happen.

Short-sighted savings

No permit? No problem. That’s what some people believe. They couldn’t be more wrong. It’s a costly disaster in the making. Permits exist to protect you and your biggest investment – your home. A permit is your insurance and peace of mind. It is not something to be avoided.

People may sidestep the permit process thinking they will save time and money. That couldn’t be further from the truth. If a neighbour or unhappy tenant complains and an inspector shows up, redoing the work will be way more costly and time-consuming. Or worse, a fire starts because electrical work wasn’t done to code. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen scenarios like this play out first-hand, since my company is often called in to remedy this complicated mess.

Keep it above board

Don’t do it. And don’t trust a contractor that would. Anyone with a sound reputation as a builder would never risk doing a job this way. Only a fly-by-night outfit would even consider doing a job without a building permit. Besides, they – and you – are breaking the law. Would you have faith in someone willing to do that? Would you entrust that person to do your renovation properly? I didn’t think so.

Proper measures protect your property

Building according to code and standards is also civically responsible. Permits protect property owners, but moreover, maintain the integrity of our world-class city. Safe, sustainable buildings are the very foundation of vibrant communities.

The last word

Here’s another cautionary tale I know all too well. We’ve seen this movie before. Think about what will happen when you want to sell your house. A home inspector will surely point out any building infractions or discrepancies. This will undoubtedly lead to a slew of unwelcome surprises like untold expenses, delays and stress, at a time when you are likely making a critical life move and expecting to reap the benefits of the equity you’ve worked so hard to build. Forget the open house, you’ve just opened up a can of worms. The very things you’re trying to save – time and money – can come back to haunt you tenfold in the form of a dreaded redo. Building without a permit is saving pennies today only to lose dollars tomorrow.

GUY SOLOMON is the founder and CEO of Penguin Basements.


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The five quotes trap

The five quotes trap

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The five quotes trap

Avoid the risk, fallacy, and the utter waste of time of getting five quotes on a renovation job. It’s just plain wrong.

Yes, you read that right.

It may sound prudent, but inviting a parade of salespeople into your home to quote up a storm is about as impractical and misguided as you can get. Believe it or not, you are actually exposing yourself to risk, while being under the impression that you’re mitigating it. More quotes do not equal more savings, or getting a better handle on the project. Rather, they equal more uncertainty with no way of knowing which sales rep – a trained master manipulator – is being straight with you.

The con-testants and the con-test

So, let’s imagine this contractor contest for a moment. There’s the doorbell. Bring in the first contestant. Now you’re the judge. How do you know who is telling the truth? What’s the real scope of the work? When you eliminate the lowest quote, do you legitimize the second lowest? How do you know you’ll get quality service and labour? Do you have the expertise to know the answers to any of these questions? Or do you just feel lucky?

Consider the source

Oh sure, you’ve read reviews online. Plenty. Do you know these people? Can you trust them? Are they even real? Have you seen the work they’re glorifying? You get where this is going.

Let’s look at it another way. Would you look for five quotes if you needed dental work? Based on reviews you have no way of vetting? No, you would seek out a credible recommendation from someone you know and trust.

More than words

So let’s break down why getting multiple renovation quotes makes no sense.

For starters, quotes and salespeople will tell you what you can easily find out yourself, the material costs. Just ask Mr. Google. You’ll get the same numbers.

What about labour? How can a quote guarantee the competency, professionalism and skills of the labourers? Let alone confirm things like criminal background checks or WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board) clearance. It can’t.

As for service, these master manipulators will promise you the moon. What happens in practice may be an entirely different story. There are no guarantees.

Bet on your lead horse

So, the five quotes odyssey is really an exercise in futility. Don’t go down this path, it’s a crapshoot. The greatest risk you run is not having a bona fide referral. When you have that, you have your lead horse. Not a shady sales merchant competition. In a fraction of the time it would take to form a list of renovation outfits to quote and meet with, you can ask people you know and trust to point you in the right direction. That’s time well-spent.

A qualified referral from a trusted friend or acquaintance is priceless.

So, focus your energy on getting the winning referral. You’re not after a quote – you need a contractor with a reputation built on a long-standing track record, one that executes a consistent process, with scale and provides a proven systematic method of accountability. You’re not going to find this with online roulette.

So, word to the wise – keep the master manipulators out of your home. Go with a lead-horse strategy recommended by a trusted source and tilt the odds in your favour. Beware of the five quotes.

GUY SOLOMON is the founder and CEO of Penguin Basements.


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Insight - Penguin Basements

Add value, and your personal touches, with an existing condo

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Add value, and your personal touches, with an existing condo

Buying a shiny new condo is exciting. Common elements such as swanky pools, games rooms, rooftop patios, fitness centres and all the other bells and whistles can be very seductive. Not to mention all those bespoke finishes you can choose from. New can be pretty appealing.

But, buying an existing or recently built unit, and modernizing it to your liking, is also worth considering.

For starters, with an older condo, you can get in the market for about $700 per square foot. A new unit, on the other hand, can run you anywhere from $1,100 to $1,200 per sq. ft. As you can see, there can be a significant cost implication in going the new route.

To be sure, new condo showrooms are impressive, with elegant, lifestyle-rich brochures and other displays that highlight the irresistible common elements. But here’s the thing. When you consider an existing condo, there are other advantages. For instance, you will see exactly what the space and building look like. Nothing is left up to the imagination. For some people, that’s reassuring.

Moreover, with a fraction of the money you save by buying an existing unit, you can renovate the bigger space you acquire, with the contractor of your choice. Also, you can work with your contractor to find the exact finishes that suit your tastes and budget. And, importantly, you’ll get a real sense of how design changes will play out with your floorplan, because the unit already exists.

So, you can afford more space, get a customized renovation, and have control over what that looks like by going with an existing unit. It’s an alternative way to think about it.

Another consideration is that a Purchase Plus Improvement Loan can give you even more buying power. If you wish to renovate, the value that would add to your unit will increase its overall value. With such a loan, you can borrow up to 10 per cent of the total price of your property to fund the improvements. Your contractor will work with you to break down the scope of the work and all associated costs.

Those attractive common elements in brand new buildings are great. But if you’ll spend the majority of your time in your unit, renovating it and adding your own personal touches can make buying resale a compelling option.

GUY SOLOMON is the founder and CEO of Penguin Basements, started in 2011 to bring a standard of process and professionalism to a burgeoning industry.


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