Condo renovations should be simple since they’re a smaller space without structural changes. In reality, they require a lot MORE planning, quick thinking, organization, paper-work, patience & MONEY.
Yes, money! Condo renovations are typically more expensive than similar renovations in a house. This is simply due to the restrictions & logistics of being in a condominium building.
I’ve listed out a few things to consider before you begin planning your renovation to make sure you don’t wind up SOL!
What Do You Own?
The first task when planning condo renovations is determine what you own & what you’re allowed to do. Know what you own BEFORE you begin planning, talking to decorators or contractors. It’s better than finding out when you’re asking for approval that it won’t be possible! Save yourself the time!
Can you mount a tv? Can you put in pot lights? What flooring are you allowed? Owning a condo means you only own what is inside the unit, not the exterior or structure.
You don’t own your ceiling, so it’s very common unit owners aren’t allowed to add additional ceiling lighting. That’d mean drilling into the building’s concrete. There are limitations on flooring & under-padding since you don’t own your floors. They must meet certain sound specifications. Don’t go flooring shopping until you know what specs are required!
And yes, the mounting a tv thing is A THING. If it’s an interior wall, mounting shouldn’t be an issue. When it comes to joint exterior walls, in some buildings you own a percentage of the drywall (crazy, right?). If mounting a tv requires added supports or drilling into studs, you’re technically changing elements that don’t belong to you. You could get fined.
A contractor may say an interior wall is non-supporting & can be removed. You have to check with management & building plans to make sure there’s nothing structural or belonging to the building. Regardless, removing any wall requires approval.
Baclonies! Them too? Yup! Most balconies are what is called “exclusive use.” This means you have the exclusive right to use them but you don’t legally own them so you can’t make any major changes.
In short, condos are weird & you can never be safe enough when it comes to checking what is yours & what changes you’re allowed to make before starting the process.
Everything you do requires condo board approval. Condo corporations will have a Renovation Request form that will outline the scope of work, materials & will require signatures from you & hired professionals. Some even want to meet the contractors. Talk to your property manager to find out your building’s requirements, they’re all different!
If you’re planning to open up the kitchen, turn 2 bedrooms into 1 master or make any electrical or plumbing changes, this process could take a while. Many boards only meet once a month & will require consultations & advice from industry professionals before making a decision, especially if it is an improvement that has not been done before.
You might purchase a unit thinking you can fix it up in a month & move in, then be delayed because of the condominium board approval process. This is nothing against you, it is just policy to protect all of the unit owners & ensure all condo renovations maintain a certain standard!
Another item the property manager or board will look at are the materials being used. They won’t care what granite counter slab you pick or whether you go with Benjamin Moore or Sherwin-Williams paint. But they definitely care about flooring.
Every building has flooring spec requirements to preserve the quiet enjoyment of other unit owners. Without under-padding, your downstairs neighbours will hear you stumbling in at 2am in your 4″ heels or hear every scratch your dog’s nails make on your new flooring. It’s a nuisance when you’re the one paying more per square foot for under-padding or a higher grade panel. But, you’ll be grateful when your upstairs neighbours have to do the same before moving in with their toddler who’s battling toy rage.
Generally, construction can only happen weekdays from 8am & 5pm. Different buildings have different rules & leniences, however major noise (just about always) must be done during daytime hours. This vastly limits the amount of work that can be done in a day, especially with contractors working on multiple projects at once.
Sometimes buildings will allow contractors to continue working until 9pm. (Given the work being done creates minimal noise such as painting or touching up small damages.)
Don’t show up the day of demolition & expect to use the elevator without having it booked & a deposit submitted! The property manager probably won’t put it on service for anything more than a few paint cans. Or it could already be booked! You’ll need a timeline of use & a substantial damage deposit
Service hours for elevator use are limited, similar to construction hours. You may get a lot of the loud stuff done during the day time, anticipating removal of the demolished pieces quietly in the evening. Surprise, surprise… after 5 you can’t have the elevator on service! Do your research to avoid this nightmare.
Use a contractor who knows, does & UNDERSTANDS condo renovations. I can’t stress this enough!!
You WILL pay in the long run when you choose your family friend who only does basement touch ups but reassures you “this is an easy reno & I can cut you a deal.”
Don’t be shocked when the building asks for the TSSA numbers & clearance certificates for all of the contractors you’re bringing in. They shouldn’t be shocked either (cue your family friend freak out). If you receive pushback from your contractors having to provide credentials, they have NO idea how the condo process works. You’re in for a rough ride.
I’ve heard horror stories of contractors providing quotations, finding out they need credentials, then threatening to add 30% to the quote. Clearly they weren’t planning to declare the work & freaked out about having to pay income tax! STAY AWAY! You’ll only get screwed in the long run. Even if you find ways to get past that first hurdle, they’ll shortcut the reno or find extras to make up for the added costs.
Do it right. Not just condo renos, but all renos. And GET A DETAILED CONTRACT (with timelines & payment schedules!) It doesn’t pay to be cheap!
Is there a place for your contractors to leave a bin for a few days while they work on demolition? Does garbage need to be removed daily by truck? This can cause huge issues & a vast increase in the budget.
In an ideal scenario, there’s a back loading dock to park a bin for the duration of the demolition. This may not be possible, especially in buildings located in high traffic, dense areas like in downtown Toronto. Often with multiple renovations there isn’t enough space for bins. Find out (& let your contractor know – BEFORE receiving a final quotation)!
With Toronto condos becoming more expensive, purchasing in an older building that needs a wall down or some new counters is a great idea! As long as you know what you are getting in to, have the conversations necessary to develop an accurate depiction of the process & hire smart, you’re set!
Use this as a guide to get the answers you need to successfully bring an older space new life!
Lara Stasiw • Real Estate Agent & Home Design Connoisseur
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