Room with a Loo

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Bathroom renos also provide return on investment

By Jim Peters

It’s known as the loo, the latrine, even the lavatory—to list just a few alliterations. Call it what you like, bathrooms not only enjoy the largest variety of descriptors but they’re also one of the renovations most likely to pay a return on investment. In addition, it seems to be the room in the house where homeowners are more daring and willing to experiment.

Patrick Bouska from Creative Bathworkx says, “Many of our clients will be bolder in the bathroom than anywhere else in the house—regardless of the home’s age or architectural style. And many of the contemporary finishes available for bathrooms today, for example, are as harmonious in dwellings that are 10 years old as they are in 100-year-old character homes. The bathroom is really the only room that offers that kind of flexibility and design choice.”

Creative Bathworkx has a nice problem to have. “Most of our work is by referral and word-of-mouth—we don’t do any advertising other than through the website,” says Bouska.

“We’re a smaller company and try to keep the quality of the work high so we don’t sub-contract anything. All of the reno work we do—including the wiring, plumbing and millwork—is done by myself and my apprentice. I find a lot of customers are interested in getting labour-only quotes, as opposed to all-inclusive quotes—which is what’s typical from some of the larger companies. Separating costs into labour-only charges gives clients the ability to control their overall costs for the project.”

Bouska points out that contractors with good reputations are typically busy, so people need to allow enough time to book them. He says, “I’m usually booking three months ahead, so I always try to make people aware of that. If you need a reno done for an important event—such as a party, a social, or wedding—you’ve got to allow enough time. And be wary of renovators offering the lowest costs—if you hire a contractor from kijiji you’ll probably get what you pay for.”

Bouska invests a lot of “up front” time with his clients before the saws and hammers appear to avoid misunderstandings. “Most people don’t have a budget to start with,” he says, “so it’s my job to find out what the client likes: is it modern or traditional style that they prefer, are there any preferences for in-floor heating, tile or vinyl? I usually finish with a couple of pages worth of details.”

He adds, “In all the years I’ve been in the business I’ve never had clients quarrelling over pricing. Many will ask pointed questions and get other quotes—which I actually encourage because there are very wide swings in quotations.” Bouska says it’s almost impossible to describe an average reno because each one is unique—a standard swapping out of fixtures can start at $8,000 and go from there.

Creative Bathworkx has forged a strong relationship with one of its preferred suppliers: Greenslade Bath. Managing partner Kelly Greenslade says, “We’re a supply-only store but people often come here hoping to get a lead on contractors as well. I’ve worked with Patrick a long time and so we have a natural symbiosis—I’m very comfortable recommending his workmanship and vice-versa.”

Greenslade makes regular trips out of town to visit or participate in trade shows and conventions because there’s always something new and interesting in the marketplace. “This is a business where clients really expect you to walk them through the latest choices and most innovative ideas.”

He adds, “When people are considering a bathroom renovation I tell them that the hardest part is actually getting the contractor into your home to do the work. Once you’ve done all the fixture shopping and planning and decision-making, you still have to get the contractor in your home—so make sure you get the right person.”

In terms of what’s trending up—or down in this case—Greenslade says people today are very interested in showers and the various fixtures now available to enhance the experience. “Clients don’t seem interested in tubs, other than for decoration. I think because there’s been so many advances in shower fixtures and enclosures and there’s so many options available, it really fits with today’s expectations. Steam showers and rainfall showers are very popular, as are floating vanities—partly because they make bathrooms feel bigger.”

And what isn’t in vogue these days? The once popular bowl-type sink fixtures appear to be on the downturn. “Too messy,” says Greenslade. “We’re also helping clients coordinate their finishes, doorhandles and millwork so there’s more consultations and esthetic judgements in the business than there used to be.”

Bouska says some homeowners have their own plans and a good idea of where they want to go but many don’t. “It’s about 50/50,” he says. “But I enjoy the challenge of looking at something with a blank slate and offering my own suggestions based on experience and knowledge of what’s available in fixtures and finishes. I always make a site visit before quoting—obviously an older home will typically take longer to renovate than a newer one. For example, in older homes you could be dealing with plaster or asbestos and the problems that plague both styles—shoddy workmanship from previous contractors that has to be fixed.”

Echoing some of the sentiments from Bouska and Greenslade, Angelika Lee from Winnipeg’s JTL Construction, says, “My husband Jeff and I have been in the business for 15 years and we’ve seen a growing trend in the idea of renovating bathrooms and people opting for ‘comfort’ fixtures, such as bubble tubs and steam showers.”

JTL also spends a lot of front end time with prospective clients. “We encourage clients to ask anything that’s on their minds—no question is a dumb one. It’s important that people are comfortable with you because you’re interacting with them in their own homes—sometimes for several weeks.”

No doubt about it—there’s an enormous number of styles and choices in today’s marketplace—whether you call it the bathroom, the washroom or the loo.