As usual, Mike Holmes is angry. "What is the percentage of contractors who give a shit?" he demands. "If you're lucky, 15 out of 100 contractors are good. And developers? I'm sorry, they really don't care. If they did, they would be building better and bragging about it. How many times are we going to keep banging our heads before we start doing things better?"
That's more than a rhetorical question to Holmes, the most outsized Canadian to cross the border since William Shatner. This bluff, plain-talking contractor with cropped baby-chick blond hair and "Make It Right" tattooed on one of his mighty arms aims to use his status as a cable TV and magazine personality to encourage homeowners to educate themselves and demand that builders create better living spaces. And he wants LBM dealers to join his crusade.
If you keep your TV tuned to the sports programs, you might not have heard of Holmes or his weekly show, Holmes on Homes, on the HGTV cable channel. But there's a good chance your wife or your female customers have. HGTV declines to release viewership numbers for the show, which began airing on the U.S. cable channel in late April 2009, but it's already one of HGTV's top 10 programs and has been dubbed the channel's "breakout hit of the year" by HGTV executive Kenneth Lowe. "We expect his popularity to grow in the U.S. as viewers get to know him," network publicist Emily Yarborough says.
His American fans hope Holmes will reach the rock star status he already has achieved in Canada, where Holmes' show has aired since 2001. There, a May 2010 Reader's Digest poll of the 10 most trusted Canadians placed Holmes second, above the Queen, the prime minister, and even Michael J. Fox.
Holmes on Homes is a 30-minute drama built on a recurring theme. First, Holmes visits a property (usually near Toronto, his home) where hapless homeowners have been the victim of work by contractors whose misdeeds run the gamut from simply incompetent to criminally negligible. Marching from room to room, Holmes calls out contractors who've done shoddy work. "This is not acceptable" is one of his favorite, less salty comments; other remarks not so suitable for the viewing public are drowned out in a sudden revving of power tools.
Then Holmes not only fixes the listing decks, buckling foundations, and leaking bathrooms, but keeps up a steady stream of explanations, demonstrating the right way to handle the issue. Never have thermal breaks, Ditra, and mold-resistant drywall been such compelling viewing. Through it all, Holmes seeks not just to fix problems but to do the work the way it should have been done from the start. Most episodes he will find the camera, dismiss the contractor's lousy work, and then ask: "Why didn't they just make it right?"
Why indeed. It's a question most homeowners have asked during the course of building a new home or renovating an older one. And Holmes' rescue tactics make him a white knight that many a customer in distress would love to have come her way.
But Holmes doesn't see himself as an avenging angel so much as a teacher and proselytizer. He wants people to get smarter about what they look for in a home, and he believes the recession has opened a massive opportunity for suppliers to start helping builders amp up their knowledge base. The contractor spoke with ProSales recently during a break from filming on location in Canada with his new show, Holmes Inspection, and in classic Holmes fashion he did not mince words:
"We are looking at this bass ackwards, building from the inside out," he says. "Forget the pretty cabinets and the granite countertops and think about what goes on the outside." Unfortunately, he says, "we act on vision, not knowledge. We do it on illusion. 'Oh that's beautiful; I want that.' We act on the visual." To avert future building system failures ("There is not a '1-800 Help-I'm-Screwed' number for homeowners to call," he says), pro dealers can stock better products and help educate builders on their merits and how best to use them.
"Everyone is sick and tired of replacing a roof after 10 years when it's guaranteed for 15 to 20," he says.