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Our guide to help you navigate Internet reno purchases

By Stephen Smysnuik

Online shopping is convenient, but it's a marketplace that requires that buyers beware. Researching merchants is critical. Look them up on Google or through the Better Business Bureau. Pick merchants with live telephone support. Check specific information

- names, addresses, phone numbers, etc.

- and Google them to ensure no frauds have been connected with that person or company.

Buying online means customers are typically dealing with an unknown merchant.

'You want to make sure you're getting what you're ordering/' said Lynda Pasacreta, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of B.C. "A lot of it is just a photo. We've heard of many, many scams where somebody just takes a photo of a legitimate dining suite and uses it in a scam."


Customers who buy online can't always know the quality of their purchase. So potential buyers need to look for high-reso lution photos to inspect furniture, especially for wood products. It's not the same as physically inspecting the furniture, but it's the best the medium can provide. It's also important to check a product's size and dimensions. Pictures are often misleading.

"A lot of what goes on is people buy a couch or an office desk or something that

Revolution, for example, has set up its website to showcase its showroom.

"Our site has been designed as a tool to help people, to give them an idea of what to look for/' said company president Alan Wilson.

Buyers in North America can even "test drive" the furniture. They have seven

"We've heard of many, many scams where somebody just takes a photo of a legitimate dining suite and uses it in a scam''

- Lynda Pasacreta, president, Better Business Bureau of B. C.

doesn't fit through their door. You want to check those dimensions/' Pasacreta said, adding that most reputable firms will provide this information.

Sales tool

Many Vancouver-based furniture retailers don't specialize in online shopping, but use the Internet as a sales tool. Industrial days from the day of receipt to return or exchange items. And insurance included in the price of an Industrial Revolution product covers it if it's damaged or lost in transit. But it's up to the customers to pay shipping costs if a return or exchange is needed.

Pasacreta recommended buyers seek such information from suppliers to

Top 10 tips for shopping online:

1. Deal with known merchants if possible. If the merchant isn't well-known, verify important information on Google - name, address and phone number.

2. Deal only with merchants with live support.

3. Be cautious Craigslist. Look for local sellers and meet them in person to ensure what you're buying really exists.

4. Most online merchants provide their security measures in writing. If the site has a privacy statement explaining how they'll protect private information, they're likely a good choice. Also look for an "s" in "https," which indicates that you are on a secure site, or look for the "lock" logo in the web browser.

5. Check the size and dimensions of the product, especially for couches or dining room or office sets.

double-check terms and conditions of the sale. For example: How long will shipping take? What's the refund and return policy?


Security is the biggest issue facing online consumers. Fraud happens daily, so make sure that the dining room set really exists. Never provide personal or credit card information if a transaction hasn't been initiated or if a site isn't secure. Secure sites have "https" in the payment page's web browser address. If that URL has only "http," Pasacreta said it's best to cancel the transaction.

But no site is ioo% fraud-proof, and scams occur regularly, particularly or online auction sites.

Cpl. Louis Robertson of PhoneBusters, a Canadian anti-fraud agency, said they handle more than 100,000 calls every year and up to 40,000 e-mails per month.

He advises online shoppers to keep close attention to credit card statements. If anything seems amiss, act on it immediately, he said.

Most card companies watch out for their cardholders. For example, Visa's new "E-Promise" has been set up to welcome more customers to the online environment. According to the Visa website, cardholders can cancel or reverse a transaction if they've cancelled their agreement in accordance with the merchant's policy

6. Read the terms and conditions, refund and insurance policies closely. Most people run into surprises when they want to return something and must pay the shipping costs.

7. Know the price of the product, the amount of tax charges and all shipping/delivery costs before finalizing a transaction.

8. Keep all transaction records. Always check monthly statements. You'll need both in case you don't get what you've paid for.

9. Expect six to eight weeks for shipping. Mark the date of purchase and expected arrival dates in a calendar. If the package is late, don't hesitate to call the merchant. Things get complicated if you wait too long.

10. If you're not comfortable with the transaction, leave it and move on.

or if the purchased item was not received or was different from what was ordered,

Ultimately, however, it's up to consumers to do their homework when buying online, d

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Online "colour game" adds dash of fun, demystifies selection

Great colour is everywhere. You see a rich golden yellow on an autumn hillside and want to wrap yourself in that warm glow at home. You want to bring the o o drama of that red wall in your favourite restaurant to your own dining room. But how do you reach into the sea of paint chips at your local home decor centre, and pull out the colours that are right for you;

"We recommend that you start with The Color Sense Game™ at voiceofcolor. com," says Dee Schlotter, Colour Brand Manager for Pittsburgh® Paints. "We o o can only express about five per cent of our colour personality. The Color Sense Game helps us tap into the other ninety-five per cent."

Responses to the game's questions identify two colour families from Pittsburgh Paints' Harmony Collection™ that express your unique colour personality. The nine families have evocative names like "Tapestry and Mosaic," "Water Beads," "Leather, Stone and Wood," and "Desert Spice." Each family includes five to eight palettes.

"If you play the Colour Sense Game, you discover colours that express your personality, not someone else's," says Schlotter. Sometimes, the outcomes are surprising, but she recommends trusting the results. "Often, the colours we love in clothes or restaurants or other people's homes are not colours we can live with. The game is all about finding the colours o o that will feel right in your living or work space. Many designers ask their clients to play the game as the first step in design collaboration."

Schlotter explains that Harmony palettes were created by designers to pull in all visual elements of a room, not just paint. Pittsburgh Paints' five-colour palette chips allocate dominant, intermediate, or accent proportions to each colour. Schlotter is quick to point out though, that you can mix them up and choose any one of the five colours to be dominant. "The key is to apply the 60:30:10 rule, where one colour is applied to approximately 60 per cent of your space — usually, that's your walls — another colour to 30 per cent, and the other three to accents."

Schlotter then recommends wrapping colour around the room. "No more white ceilings!" she advocates. "Something that o o is painted white screams for attention." Don't paint your trim white unless it's an architectural feature, and remember to account for your floor colour — even hardwood — in your palette. "Wood is not neutral," she cautions.

Each of the Pittsburgh Paints Harmony palettes will yield very different looks, simply by switching proportions, as seen here. Applying the same palette in different proportions in adjoining rooms creates colour "flow" in your home. You can also get it by choosing palettes from within one Harmony family. "Any of the Water Beads palettes, for example, can be painted in connected spaces and will work really nicely together," explains Schlotter.

Finally, she advises readers to invest in good-quality paint, brushes and roller covers. "A good paint will make you a better painter, and make it much more

One Harmony palette, three different looks.

likely that you'll be happy with the result. Premium paint takes fewer coats to cover and stands up better to daily life." For the eco-conscious.

she recomme nds :

VOC Pure Performance.® "It's excellent paint, and it's extremely low-odour, so you can paint your room today and sleep in it tonight." A Pittsburgh Paints dealer can o o help you choose the right sheen.

Colour tips

• Play the Colour Sense Game™ at voiceofcolor.com to discover your colour personality.

• Choose a dominant colour for 60 per cent of your room.

• Chose an intermediate colour for 30 per cent of your room.

• Use a maximum of three accent colours for the remaining 10 per cent (pillows, art, etc.). Repeat an accent colour three times in the room.

• Don't paint the ceiling white unless white is a dominant colour in your palette. Go two shades lighter than your wall colour, or use your intermediate colour.

Not every reno ends up as a horror story: but why is it so many do?

BySaraNewham f you find you are butchering a goat in your backyard for supper, it may be a sign your home renovation project is not going very well.

That - amazingly enough - was what happened to one Vancouver family whose kitchen renovation lasted so long they eventually had to sell their home.

And yet the project started out simply enough, experienced home renovator Chris Campbell said of his friends' project.

"A man has three children and he wakes up one morning and decides he wants a new kitchen/' said Campbell. "He completely guts the kitchen. The wife knows nothing about it. He takes the cabinets down to bare walls, ceiling. He's definitely got electrical issues, got plumbing issues. There's no consideration for permitting. Decides he wants to do all this himself. No planning, no designs, he starts in"

Still living without a kitchen a few years later, the inexperienced renovator stuffs a goat into the trunk of his car, slaughters it out back and the family eats it for dinner.

Other stories may not be so dramatic - or bloody - but home renovations can definitely take on a life of their own.

White Rock homeowner Lana Panko started her renovation with the intention of taking down two walls to open up her i970s-era home.

"I wanted to open up the doors, not thinking about what else would be involved" said Panko, who said her renovation cost twice as much and took twice as long as she had hoped.

This reno had many "extras" but still left the owner only "80 per cent satisfied"

This reno had many "extras" but still left the owner only "80 per cent satisfied"

Once she got underway, there were "extras": One wall had to be completely rebuilt to accommodate a French door and create a new pantry and space to relocate a fridge; all existing counter-tops had to be replaced; and the flooring had to go.

Although she is about "80 per cent" satisfied with the project, Panko said there are still little functional glitches, such as the French doors not closing properly, one cabinet door dragging because of the weight and floors that are unfinished. The $10,000 she spent was also not enough to purchase new cupboards for her kitchen.

"It just feels really unfinished. With all the renovations, everything looks really nice but the floor looks so rough/' she said.

Panko explained that she went with a relatively inexperienced contractor who had a reputation for doing woodwork and

"Every question you don't ask will cost you thousands of dollars'

- Chris Campbell, renovator had done painting for her friends. "I always go by a good word from someone else, like another person who had used another person/' she said, adding that she hired him in part because he was available.

Photo: Lana Panko home makeover February 2009 31

If you're doing anything more than fixing a light fixture or changing an electrical outlet, you need a permit. But even then, paying for an electrician can save you months of grief.

Panko said that communication is a big key and advises people to get a written quote with as much detail as possible so they will not be as shocked as she was over the price of their reno.

As well, smart renovators always have the permits they need. Acquiring the right permits can be a hassle, Campbell says, but worth it to avoid ending up like the

Do it yourself

Renovation advice from those in the know

1. Get a permit. It may expose non-permitted work done previously, but it also ensures new work is done safely and minimizes your insurance and legal liabilities in the event of a claim or if you are selling your house.

2. Don't do it alone. Have someone else help you with the project.

3. Plan, plan, plan. Have a solid idea of what you want your project to look like and sketch it out to scale.

4. Put out your own detailed tender documents and have at least three contractors bid on the project. This provides terms of reference for the potential contractor and gives you more options.

5. Ask questions, communicate. The more questions you ask, the less money your project will cost you.

6. Question your financial ability to do the work. Can you really afford this and do you have a contingency plan in place?

7. Check your emotional state. How strong is your relationship? Can you maintain your sanity while your house is under renovation? If not, think twice about it.

8. Know what you know - if you're not Bob Vila or Mike Holmes, perhaps it would be better to hire a professional contractor who's a RenoMark member.

9. Do not work with a contractor that needs to be paid up front. They tend to be hand-to-mouth, do not manage well and could walk out, leaving you without your money and with an unfinished project. Word of mouth counts for nothing in this case.

10. Create incentives. Offer extra cash if they finish early. It may even save you money in the end.

family who butchered a goat.

"They're a pain in the butt, but you can save yourself a lot of grief" he said.

According to the British Columbia Safety Authority, if you are doing anything more than fixing a light fixture or changing an electrical outlet, you need a permit.

"Basically, any time you're adding on to, breaking into the electrical wiring system or making some changes to it that involves the wiring itself you need a permit to do the work" said Pearse Walsh, leader of business development at the Safety Authority.

He explained that, ideally, homeowners ought to work with professional, licensed contractors, rather than do the work themselves, to avoid safety hazards and to protect themselves against any insurance or legal issues that may come up in the event of a loss or If you're selling your home. Walsh said that many people do not hire licensed contractors or try to do it themselves to save money or for the pride of doing a job oneself. Some people looking to save money buy electrical gizmos at dollar stores or purchase electrical outlets with false certifications, which could pose a fire hazard. The majority of people, however, buy the legitimate ones at large retailers, he said.

Planning is also important and it's something Panko learned the hard way. Campbell suggested having a solid idea of what you want to accomplish in your home, sketching out the design to scale, developing a tender document and getting at least two or three contractors to bid on the project. He said ask tons of questions of each contractor.

"Every question you don't ask will cost you thousands of dollars" said Campbell.

But even when you ask plenty of questions, it's advisable to do projects in small chunks. He recalled the story of a couple who decided to do a massive home renovation project in one fell swoop. He said that though the couple took vacations throughout the project, they lived and breathed the project the rest of the time and it ended their marriage.

'The moral to the story is plan [renovations] very well, do them in small achievable chunks," said Campbell, noting that it is ideal not to live on-site during big renovation projects. "Don't rush, take one or two rooms and do those rooms and do nothing for a year. And then take one or two rooms and do them for a year: D

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