Whenever I share a renovation horror story in this column I get e-mails from readers sharing their own, often shocking, experiences. I'm frequently asked what recourses are available to homeowners when a contractor or tradesperson messes up royally, doesn't deliver, or behaves unprofessionally. There are the usual channels like reporting them to the Better Business Bureau, filing a complaint with any professional organizations they might belong to, and suing them.
I have the added advantage of being able to vent my frustrations by writing about ne'er-do-wells. Any time I'm sitting at my computer, hotly pounding out invectives about the latest incident of contractor-gone-bad, I always imagine the perpetrators reading my column, recognizing themselves, and turning over a new leaf, sort of like the character in that new television comedy, My Name is Earl. Only in my imaginings it's contractors going around chastened and fixing everything they've ever botched for customers. For free. But now back to reality.
There's a new, much-needed, resource that consumers in the Toronto area can use to both find reliable trades people and warn others about those who haven't measured up. It comes in the form of an on-line directory called HomeStars.ca and is billed as a website aimed at "keeping the trades honest" through reviews posted by consumers. Launched six months ago, this service is to the renovation world what Zagat is to the food and hospitality industry.
It's definitely a different animal from websites that merely list contractors, trades people and suppliers who have paid a fee to advertise on the site. While those sites are helpful in finding contact information, there's usually no indication whether the companies listed are recommended, highly or otherwise, by past customers. HomeStars.ca gives us that in an on-line directory where "consumers can read and write real reviews on renovators, retailers and repairmen" in the greater Toronto area. Could the establishment of this Toronto focused forum -- 10,000 companies and 2,000 plus reviews posted so far -- be a catalyst for similar sites serving other major Canadian centres? I hope so. The renovation gods know we need them nation-wide, not just in the GTA.
HomeStars.ca founder Nancy Peterson says consumer feedback to the site, "has been overwhelmingly positive. There is a real need to find reliable and trustworthy companies. Homeowners are telling us regularly that they are hiring companies based on the reviews they read on our site."
I love anything that promotes peer reviews and so I, for one, am going to get busy having my own favourites added to the HomeStars directory of star performers. I've also been touting the site to people who've voiced complaints about service providers.
If you don't have access to the Internet, look for the HomeStars.ca directory in book form available through Mortgage Intelligence, Royal LePage Real Estate, Johnston & Daniel Division, or call HomeStars.ca at a 416.488.0312 for more information. And, if you like, e-mail me about your experiences, especially the bad ones. I love an opportunity to vent.
Elizabeth Rand-Watkinson is the principal of Terrier Group, which specializes in interior design. Reno Adventures appears weekly, covering all aspects of home reno-
vation. Send your feedback and suggestions to ERand-Watkinson-