Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A hot spring for home renos

Owners updating, adding space

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Ivan Plett, project manager for Rempel Builders, poses for a photo in a kitchen that was recently renovated.  EMILY CUMMING / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

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Ivan Plett, project manager for Rempel Builders, poses for a photo in a kitchen that was recently renovated. EMILY CUMMING / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The coldest winter in more than 100 years and another late-arriving spring have failed to cool Winnipeg's red-hot home-renovations market.

One local home-renovation specialist -- Rempel Builders -- saw a 25 per cent increase in revenues in the first three months of 2014.

"This year, the phone has been ringing off the hook all winter long," Ivan Plett, project manager for Rempel Builders, said in an interview Monday. "And our spring and summer are booking up fast."

He and company owner Larry Rempel noted the firm already has four or five $100,000-plus projects on the books.

"Normally, we don't have that many big jobs lined up this early in the spring," Plett added.

Rempel said he was expecting another busy year, "but to be honest, it's been more than I thought."

Manitoba Home Builders Association president Mike Moore said Rempel Builders isn't the only renovation contractor that's expected to have another banner year.

"The guys are all busy," Moore said. "It (2014) is shaping up very well."

Ralph Oswald, owner of Oswald Construction Ltd., said 2014 is looking like a carbon copy of 2013 for his company.

"I would say the phone has probably been as busy as last year, and last year was quite busy."

Moore said Winnipeg has historically been one of the country's busiest home-renovation markets and for good reason.

"We have the third-oldest housing stock in Canada after Montreal and Halifax, and old homes means renos."

He also cited a recent Canadian Home Builders Association survey that showed Winnipeg is tied with St. John's, N.L., as the major Canadian city with the highest percentage of homeowners -- 58 per cent -- who plan to renovate their homes in 2014.

Rempel said the two main reasons most homeowners renovate is to update their home and to create more room.

One of his firm's customers, who asked his name not be published, said both of those reasons were behind his and his wife's decision to undertake a major renovation of their 1950s-era Tuxedo home.

Their project, which got underway last fall and should wrap up by early summer, includes building an addition onto the back of their home to extend both the kitchen and master bedroom, extensively renovating both bathrooms, opening up the wall between the kitchen and the dining room, building a large backyard deck and painting every room in the house.

He said they briefly considered buying another home, "but we really wanted to stay in the neighbourhood. We love it here." So renovating seemed like their best option.

Rempel said the majority of his company's customers are professionals between 30 and 50 years of age, with a smattering of empty-nesters preparing for retirement.

Kitchen and bathroom upgrades continue to be the most popular types of home-renovation projects for most contractors, Rempel and Moore said. "And anything that makes your house bigger," Oswald added.

A recent CIBC survey shows that's the case across the country. After basic home maintenance -- such things as painting, new flooring and general repairs -- the two most popular home-renovation projects this year in Canada are bathroom and kitchen upgrades.

The CIBC survey also found Manitoba/Saskatchewan homeowners and Canadian homeowners plan to spend an average of nearly $20,000 this year on home-renovation projects. That figure is essentially unchanged from last year for Manitoba/Saskatchewan homeowners and up nearly $5,000 for Canadian respondents.

A senior CIBC official said a number of factors are helping to fuel the ongoing home-renovation boom in Canada.

"Canadians have been diligently paying down their mortgages and lines of credit and are now in a position where they see interest rates are still low and the housing market remains fairly stable," said Barry Gollom, the bank's vice-president of secured lending and product policy.

"So, our poll shows that homeowners have confidence in the housing market but also that they see the value in safeguarding their investments by either maintaining or upgrading their homes."

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 22, 2014 B6

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