TORONTO - With Canada's housing market showing signs of cooling, prospective buyers need to stop looking for their "dream home" and be practical, says celebrity contractor Mike Holmes.
"We need to buy with a solid mind, meaning, is the area smart to buy in?" the construction and renovation expert said in a recent phone interview to promote his new series, "Holmes Makes It Right," debuting Tuesday (at 9pm ET/PT) on HGTV Canada.
"What is the area? Does it contain asbestos, does it have termites in the area? We can find all this out before we look but we're not doing that little bit of homework that is so necessary, even trying to find the right home inspector before we buy," he added.
"When it comes to your home, one thing that's really clear: this is about the most money you're ever going to spend in your life — don't you want to spend your money right? Buy with a proper conscience of what you need to buy and not of what you think you want."
In "Holmes Makes It Right," the beloved, brawny Toronto native does what he did in his previous series, "Holmes on Homes" and "Holmes Inspection": he comes to the rescue of distraught homeowners suffering from contracting work gone wrong.
Only this time, he's also taking on larger projects, including the redesign and build of an arson-destroyed High Park playground in Toronto, and the construction of an accessible outdoor deck and dining area for a paralyzed teacher.
"The storyline in 'Holmes Makes It Right' is so much bigger and I'm the type of guy, I can't turn a blind eye to something," said Holmes, who is still in touch with many of his clients from past episodes and often gets thank-you presents and cards from them.
"So if I actually walk in the house and I see a lot more wrong with it, I'm my own worst enemy because then I'll say, 'We need to look into this, we need to look into this,' and before we know it, from what is scheduled to be a three-week job turns into six months of construction and a half a million dollars later."
Holmes said when he first agreed to be on television over 10 years ago, he vowed it would just be for two years because he's too busy.
"And 'Hotel California' stepped in where you won't let me go," he said with a laugh, noting that out of the 100,000 emails he gets from viewers a year, "probably 60,000 of them are begging for help and are in real turmoil."
"That I can't help everyone is the hardest thing that I face. I wish I could. A lot of these people may go bankrupt, lose their home ... (go through) divorce — I call it divorce dust. But I'm doing what I can and I'm trying to teach so they don't fall in this trap."
While Holmes may hear from viewers often, that's not the case when it comes to the contractors whose shoddy work led to the disasters he sees in homes.
"Out of almost 200 shows that I've finished by this date, there's only two contractors that I've heard from," he said. "They put the tail between their legs and sort of run. It's a shame but it's expected.
"They realize they were wrong and I can only hope that the majority learn from what they saw on television."
Holmes figures his services are so in demand because of "an epidemic" of poor construction.
"We're building wrong in the first place," he said. "We're building with minimum code and not even trying to push above that or at least educate as so why you should."
Holmes often hears about minimum-code problems from condo dwellers who tell him they can hear — and smell — their neighbours.
"STC means Sound Transmission Class and that's around 50 when it comes to a condo," he said.
"The truth is, we knew the sound transmission class of 50, you can hear your neighbour and more than likely you'll smell them too. Don't you think you'd want them to up it a bit, shouldn't the condo guys be upping it? I would, and brag about it."
One of the biggest pieces of advice Holmes has for prospective buyers is to look for the year in which the home was built.
"Anything before 1980 has a possible 50/50 chance of containing asbestos in the plaster, tile and attic insulation. And if you just knew that, that's education."
They should also insist on getting a home inspection, even if the real estate agent discourages it in order to secure a strong bid.
"Don't buy the house without it," said Holmes.
"How many times do I see a real estate clipping that says, 'All new electrical, totally renovated, just gorgeous, move-in ready.' Meanwhile, did (the real estate agent) even check to see if there were permits pulled or did they even care?"
When it comes to hiring a contractor, homeowners should look for a passion in the person they're hiring.
"It's about caring and I always do it in a simple equation — we've got two cooks, one loves to cook, one hates to cook. What burger do you want to eat? Really simple, right?" said Holmes.
And with the cooler temperatures setting in, Holmes advises homeowners not to wait until the last minute to do seasonal maintenance: make sure the furnace is working properly, the ducts and fireplace flue/chimney are clean, and the roof is in good condition.
"When it comes to your home, learn what you need to do. Start from the outside, work your way in. Do not start from the inside and work your way out. I can't say that enough."