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12/26 - Renovation

How Do Condo and House Renovations Differ?

What's the Difference Between Condo Versus Freehold House Renovations? |

Home Renovations: What to Expect

At the start of making any big change to your home, you’ll run into the usual laundry list of things to expect. You’ll find dust, delays, disagreements, scope creep, and last but not least…the unexpected. Now, hopefully the reason you’re going through all of this, is to get to the other side! A side where you’re pleased with the results and proud to show off your newly renovated home to family, friends and foes (yes foes: make sure they know you are winning). After all, renovations take hard work!


The Top 5 Differences Between Condo Renovations and Freehold House Renovations

Being a licensed carpenter and having run my own contracting company prior to getting into real estate, there are some must-know’s you’ll want to hear about when it comes to renovations. If you have not been through the process before, or have only made changes to one style of real estate without contemplating the other, you’ll want to keep reading!

Take a look at the top five significant differences between renovating a freehold house versus renovating a condo…


1. Who Gives Permission

When you want to do significant renovations to a condo, you’ll want to be in touch with property management. They will let you know the rules and regulations for what, when, and how you are required to do certain aspects of the project. In fact, property management will likely want to see:

  1. Your architect’s or designer’s drawings and your plans
  2. A project estimate for completion
  3. Trades’ licenses
  4. Contractors’ insurance
  5. Proof of passing inspections (i.e. ESA)

Remember, in a condo you share the building with other owners and tenants. This is why property management wants to ensure safety, as well as the right to quiet enjoyment. In certain instances, there might need a city permit for certain changes.

On the other hand, with a house, you are more likely required to get permission from the city. You ARE property management in this scenario! The city will also want to see your architectural or designer drawings and know what you are doing. If the change is significant enough to require permits, the city will review your request, make changes (if necessary), and grant permission when they are satisfied. Meeting safety requirements and the Ontario Building Code standards is a must. Throughout and at completion, you’ll need to call the city top inspection and close the permits. In certain instances, permits are not required (replacing flooring is one example).


2. The Extent of What You Can Do

This is probably the biggest difference: how much change can actually be done? With most houses, the skeletal-like framing of a home allows for easily accessible changes to plumbing, wiring and heating. With permission, you can tear the whole place down and build a new one. You might even be able to add an addition.

With a condo, you can certainly gut the entirety of the inside and start again. However, you are limited to what you can do within the space without having access to above or below. Most condos are built with slabs of concrete, and the wiring, plumbing and ductwork are likely designed to work with all units and then encased in the concrete slabs. Adding a toilet or shower, or even moving them, is in most cases not possible or worth it. The way that services come in and go out of a unit are largely fixed and not relocatable.

There are exceptions of course. A middle row-house has the connectivity to the neighbours to consider as a factor in their change. A townhome condo may have more versatility with regard to change if it is built more like a traditional townhome than a condo apartment.


3. Working Hours

In a condo, the rules and regulations of the corporation will dictate the hours that trades can be working in a unit and making construction noise. In my experience, this is typically 9am to 5pm. Quiet trades, like painters, can obviously stretch these rules if they are not bothering anyone. But, if your demolition crew plans to start at 7am, they are going to have to make an extra-long stop at Tim Hortons! They should not be starting until the specified time.

Pro Tip: Even if trades have permission to go up to a unit, remind them not to make any construction noise until the start time. If you receive a complaint or have the concierge turn into an enemy, things may start to get a lot more difficult for you.

In a house in Toronto, trades can work from 7am to 7pm. From The City of Toronto website:

The Noise Bylaw (Chapter 591, City of Toronto Municipal Code) permits operation of construction equipment ONLY during Monday to Friday 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Saturdays 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and no construction noise on Sundays and statutory holidays (amending bylaw 505-2006).

Even during periods when construction is permitted, noise levels should be minimized as much as possible out of consideration for your neighbours. This is an important part of being a good neighbour.

I’m certain many of you have lived next to a renovation or new home construction and cursed the noisy start of the workers, trucks and tools while you are still hitting the snooze button. Sometimes trades will stay late to get ahead or caught up, if there is enough light and what they are doing is not excessively loud or bothering neighbours. Here are the rest of The City of Toronto guidelines for being a ‘Good neighbour’.


4. Limits of Materials and Access

Often in a traditional condo apartment, the two means of access are the stairs and the elevator. This means, materials of excessive size, length or weight may have to be rethought, re-engineered or compromised, in order to make the project happen. I have been on two projects where materials were craned to the terrace of the unit, at no small cost! One was a large sculpture and the other, tens of thousands of dollars of exotic hardwood planks.

I bet you have guessed that with houses, you do not have the same problems with access and material sizes. So long as the city has given approval for what you want to build and how you want it built, beams and large items do not create the same headaches for house owners as they do for condo apartment owners.


5. Exterior Space

With a condo balcony or terrace, there will be rules and regulations about what you can put outside, such as:

  • Patio furniture may need to be weighted down
  • Deck boards may need to be checked to ensure they don’t compromise the railing height
  • Drains can’t be blocked
  • Plants, BBQs and/or lights may not be allowed

…the list goes on. You should also be aware of these rules before buying into a building if redesigning the outdoor space is part of your plan.

With houses, there are still rules and regulations about what you can do, primarily for safety reasons. Inspectors might point out:

  • Missing or ‘climbable’ railings or fences
  • Items that obstruct views at driveways or sidewalks
  • Plantings or construction that are too close to a fire hydrant, etc.

In fact, sheds, garages, carports, and even ground cover materials can come under scrutiny. This is especially true if a complaint is made and found to be in violation of building code or dangerous. Even though there are rules for houses, they are certainly, typically less restrictive than condo terrace rules.


Condo Renovations vs Freehold House Renovations: Considerations

If you are just about to start planning a house or condo reno, here are some other things to think about:


Condo Renovations

  • Do not make enemies with property management or concierges
  • The job may take longer than you think because of the time it takes to get to the unit from the street, and contractors may charge extra if parking is challenging
  • Delivery problems (service bay and loading dock etc. as opposed to a front door)
  • Elevator booking requirements
  • Trades may need to use separate entrance
  • Measure the dimensions of the elevator to calculate for deliveries
  • Leaving tools and materials at the jobsite: they will remain safe and secure when unit is locked up
  • Climate controlled (makes for a good winter project, no rain/snow/cold delays)
  • Less city inspection problems
  • Less surprises (especially structural)
  • No exterior elements to consider (siding, brick, stucco, roof, shingles)
  • Windows and exterior doors and hallways doors typically stay the same (cost savings)
  • Typically, no working at heights issues (renos are largely single storey all interior)


Freehold House Renovations

  • Less work time restrictions
  • Easy street access (typically)
  • More control over all project aspects
  • Control over curb appeal and landscaping
  • No concierges or elevators to worry about
  • Can tear house down and rebuild or add an addition
  • Can move plumbing/HVAC/electrical with more ease
  • Weather can play a factor in length of project and problems/delays
  • Site security issues (overnight and otherwise: I had tools stolen mid-day once while I was on the site!)
  • Workers at heights (roof, openings between storeys)
  • Possibility of larger issues with location (soil conditions, ground water)
  • Old and possibly dangerous materials (buried oil tank, asbestos, lead paint, structural issues)


Ready to Start Your Renovation?

Anything is achievable with enough time, money and the right people on your side. But, you’ve got to play by the rules, follow the condo guidelines and the Ontario Building Code. Fox Marin helps clients who are buying with the intention of renovating all the time, and we meet with past clients and selling clients to discuss the impact of renovations on their value. If you are thinking of buying a home to flip it, or buying a home that needs some work in order to save a little, give us a call. If you’re thinking of selling and want to know if making improvements before you list is a good idea, we’re happy to meet and discuss that too. We love real estate want to help you to succeed at all aspects of it!



This article is written by Fox Marin Sales Representative, Ian Busher. With an extensive background in carpentry and contracting, Ian is our resident “Renovations Expert”! He takes pride in his ability to assess the quality and condition of a house. This, in tandem with his talent for speaking to the feasibility and cost of potential renovations, and his eye for the aesthetic details of a property, makes him a powerful partner for anyone looking to buy a home in the Toronto real estate market.