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  • Writer's pictureAlisa Aragon-Lloyd

Renovation Reality versus Reality TV

By Alisa Aragon-Lloyd, as seen in "Reno + Decor" magazine, December 2022/January 2023

Home renovation shows are one of our favourite shows to watch. Not only are they entertaining, they make renovating a home look so easy and exciting. Programs like “Love it or List it Vancouver” can be especially appealing since we can recognize certain landmarks or streets.

Although fun to watch, we all know the shows are highly edited and don’t reflect the reality of the renovation process. Nonetheless, we do learn about design and the latest interior finishes and stylish open interiors. To help you bring your home renovation aspirations to fruition, we’ve listed some of important “reality” factors to consider when thinking of a home renovation.

First you need the money

Most home renovation shows do not talk about the money or financing aspect of a renovation. Before you commit to any home renovation project, meet with a mortgage expert to help you assess your financial situation. Every person’s financial needs and options are unique. When asked, most people say they are financing their renovation with a line of credit. With this form of financing, you are only required to make payments on the interest and some people believe they can manage paying the interest and go ahead with the renovations. The “reality” of using a line of credit is that eventually, the principal has to be addressed and you end up paying huge interest costs.

A home equity line of credit (HELOC) will give you a lower interest rate… if you currently have one. If you don’t, you will need to have at least 35 percent equity in your home to qualify for one (based on the current mortgage rules by the Bank Act). As of now, you can refinance up to 80 percent of the value of your home for a mortgage based on the appraised value.

Another thing to consider if you are unable to pay off the debt quickly is that you might be better off refinancing your mortgage. It might be more beneficial to get a one- to five-year locked mortgage below three percent by saving interest up front and using your lender’s pre-payment privileges. If you currently have a fixed-rate mortgage, find out what the penalty would be for paying it out early. It might still be worth it to refinance.

Now you need a budget

Sometimes on TV, the designer has $80,000 to renovate an entire main floor, including the kitchen and finishing the basement. Are those numbers realistic? The “reality” is that viewers are not made aware of what has been factored into those numbers, such as design fees, permits, labour, finishes and material costs.

In order to have a budget you can work with for your renovation, do research before you commit. Some people get a specific number in their head without knowing what is involved in the total scope of the renovation. It is critical to work with a professional renovator to reduce any surprises. Don’t know where to find one? A great source for qualified and proven renovators and builders is to inquire at an association such as Homebuilder Association Vancouver (

A professional renovator will work with you to create a detailed budget and timeline for your project so you know what to expect. Once you start selecting materials, take the budget with you so you stay on track. What you don’t want to happen is to run out of money midway through your project because you made too many changes along the way or selected more expensive materials.

What’s a timeline?

On TV, renovations seem to be completed within a few short weeks. The “reality” is that sometimes it can take up to eight weeks just for the kitchen cabinets to be built. Before you start your renovations, prepare a timeline with a renovator so you know what to expect. This will give you an exact idea of how long it will take to do the tasks so you can plan accordingly.

Also, it’s important to remember that quality, professional renovators aren’t necessarily available right away. Some are booked months in advance, depending on the project. In order to stay on track, materials have to be bought ahead of time and certain items could be out of stock. It might take additional time to get them or in some cases, replace them. It’s important to remember that even a quick project will take a few months, while bigger projects can take up to a year to complete.

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