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Condo renovations – is it a good idea? Is it worth it? Should we move into a home versus staying in our condo? Can you even renovate a condo? If you’re currently living in a condo but torn between renovating or moving, we may be able to help.

In 2018 we went through the entire process of renovating our condo – from a down-to-the-studs shell, to a totally finished, beautiful condo. We learned a lot, experienced highs and lows, and because of our experience, we thought it would be worth sharing. So, we’re embarking on a five-part series that will hopefully educate, entertain and inspire you to do the same.

Living in a Condo vs a House

The first step of your “to renovate or not to renovate” debate should always be the consideration of your long-term living situation. We had been in our King West penthouse condo for 10 years and the thought of moving into a house intrigued us. But after going out and looking at several properties – from reno projects to totally finished masterpieces in our favourite neighbourhoods we quickly realized that a house was just, well, too much house for us.

It’s just the two of us – no kids, no pets (yet), and each and every time we went into a house, we both immediately wondered what we would do with all of that space and all of those rooms! We love our condo, our building and the ability to travel when we wish and simply lock the door without worry. We’re lucky enough to have amazing city and lake views, as well as an outdoor terrace that is about the same size as some of the backyards we saw. We’re very fortunate that our early investment decision made us happy condo owners for many years.

First Steps in Planning for Your Renovation

Once all options are weighed, it’s time to decide – if you’re going to give the green light to move forward in creating your dream space, there are a number of things to consider as a first step. The most important thing you should do first is to discuss your plans with your building manager and condo board to find out what you can and cannot do.

Can You Renovate a Condo?

There are so many condo renovation rules in Toronto that you will have to adhere to so it’s critical to talk with the right people – start with your building manager who will have all of the written condo renovation rules and regulations, then chat with the head of your board who can fill you in on past experiences with other residents and any foreseeable building issues.

Our board informed us of the process for renovation proposals, and what we need to supply to them before starting. We needed to submit an outline of exactly what our contractors would be doing, any structural changes we were planning and any building shut-offs that would impact other residents. We put together a simple one-pager that outlined room-by-room what we had planned.

We wanted a full gut – a down to the studs renovation that included new flooring, a full new kitchen, redoing the two bathrooms, changing the den into a walk-in/dressing room, pot lights – you name it, we wanted it ripped out and redone. It was a lot, but we were all-in with our condo renovation.

Our Top Condo Renovation Tips: Get the top 10! 

Design Inspiration and the Dreaded Budget

Once you know what info you need to supply to the board, and after a first-review there are no major red flags, the fun can start! This is where our Pinterest board exploded, and we couldn’t go a day without pinning everything from kitchen inspiration, lighting fixtures and paint colour pallets to bedding and accessories.

Once we had a solid idea for the direction we wanted to take the flooring, kitchen and bathrooms, it was time to make a decision around hiring a designer to help us. We had a very strong opinion about colour pallets, and overall aesthetic and the general vibe of what we wanted. We lived in a penthouse with builder-basic finishes and we wanted it to look glamorous and chic, yet timeless so in 10 years we wouldn’t regret anything. We likely could have done this ourselves but who would want to?? We couldn’t even imagine how long it would take for us to do the research, source materials and make decisions. So, we decided to hire a designer, and boy are we glad we did. More on that later.

The most un-fun part of this first phase is talking numbers. With a real estate background and past experience of seeing so many wins and fails in the condo reno world, it was easy for us to decide that a full gut would be best. We’d get a solid ROI on making the entire place look brand new, even though we had no intention of leaving. You still need to make sure what you’re doing is going to pay back. Talk to people who have been through it.

Talk to experts and don’t be afraid to ask questions. And be realistic. Also build in a contingency number for any extras and overages, because no matter how hard you try, there are always going to be unexpected costs. Getting your condo upgrade price list and making sure that the budget is what’s going to drive most of your decision making so it really is one of the most important conversations of the entire process.

Part 2: Finding The Right Designers & Contractors for Your Condo Renovation