I know it's been over 8 months since the basement was finished but life and work have been so busy that it's challenging to find time to just sit down and do things like a full review. Overall we were satisfied with the completion of the job and I'd likely recommend Penguin Basements to other people but there were some interesting learnings just like many big home renos often have.
To start, definitely take your time when choosing a company to do your reno and don't fall for any kind of "sign today or else I can't guarantee the price later" kind of things. Also, make sure you are completely happy with the design of your basement. We have the tiniest regret with the placement for a couple of things and wish we had had a bit more time to think our layout through but we're still enjoying the finished product.
I think the biggest let down from the whole reno was actually the sales portion. Sales rep started off great but things sort of turned sour between us and him mid way through the project. One of the things that we didn't like about the sales portion was the initial consult. It was supposed to be three hours and you would go through a few design iterations using their tool on an iPad but our rep was in our home for about 5 hours! And we really only got one design where we moved an island back and forth and not two or three different ones like their website seems to imply. When the pricing was worked out, we did think it was a bit above our initial budget but then we always seem to budget lower than what reality is. The rep mentioned that they have a program where after the project is completed, you allow them to showcase your basement for a Saturday and you save $10K of the project cost. They also furnish it or whatever for the day in case you don't have any furniture yet. Our area was apparently very targeted for doing renos so they really wanted to have a showcase for the area. Seems like a no brainer or a sales pitch. Thinking back now it was likely more of a sales tactic because we asked to think about it until Monday and he said he could only do it today. He even gave us 15 min to think on it for signing there and then. We signed even though they weren't the cheapest quote. We did like hearing afterwards that a couple of others we know used the company and seemed happy with them.
A day or so later we were contemplating the design because we didn't think we had come up with the best solution for the whole space. We tried contacting the rep about making changes and the price difference but he never returned our calls. Tried contacting the head office and after many tries they eventually got him to return our call. The issue was that we were still within our 10 day grace period to cancel everything and we had hoped that it wasn't being done on purpose so that we would be stuck with either proceeding with the project or losing our deposit. The rep said that we could do our changes when we do the initial walk through with the demo crew the following week so we were stuck waiting.
When we met with the demo crew and PM, we did our walk through and discussed making some changes including moving a bathroom from the original design. It worked out in the end and we agreed on the new design and that we would get to approve the cost differential shortly that week. Well, it took over two weeks of not knowing how much it would cost. Meanwhile, the demo would start and things would be underway. We didn't like not knowing how much more we were on the hook for other than "it shouldn't be more than about $6K" that the rep said that day. Eventually we did get the new additional pricing and of course it was way more than what we were told, a little more than double. We brought this up with the rep and he was able to reduce it to be closer to what he told us but we were still over by about $1K-$2K. Not good and we still had options and upgrades to pick out. I also had to confront our sales rep on the type of wall insulation being used as we were told that the product was of a particular name brand but what was being installed was certainly not it. The fact that the team installing it also claimed that it was that name brand also didn't help and was a flat out deception to the customer which I also pointed out.
That was really the last that we dealt with our sales rep until construction started. The demo, the drawing of the lines and initial construction started and went fairly well. Demo took a day and a half but was also because they worked to about 9:30PM the first night until I had to tell them to go home because it was very late and kids had school. The same guys that did the demo also did the insulation and luckily I caught a small mistake on their part when they covered up a stove receptacle! The site super had to get them to cut a hole around it but that's what happens when you rush through. The crews they had coming and going were really fast and mostly did a great job. If I recall correctly, framing was done within a day or two. The only thing I wasn't a fan of was that due to how much they framed away from the wall and insulation, we lost quite a bit of square footage. Not sure if this is the norm with basements but thought I'd point it out.
It was really great working with our site supervisor (Vince) who acted as someone who genuinely cares about the customer and wants to do the best for them. It's great seeing some of these other reviews and him being pointed out which goes to show how great he is. He was someone we could always call and bounce ideas or concerns off and always had our best intentions at heart. I will also point out that when our cabinetry for the kitchen area was delivered, it was scuffed up to the point where you could easily see it. Vince was on it and arranged for us to be compensated and even fixed it up by himself so that you couldn't even tell that it had any damaged before. Vince also was great when we discovered that the fridge would not fit correctly in the area we had chosen. He single handedly moved the whole counter and uppers and fixed up everything beautifully.
The crews were your general trades people with some who are contracted out by Penguin and others who might actually work for Penguin. The site supervisors certainly do work for them. This was another thing we were sort of misled on by our initial sales consult. The rep made it a point to say that they don't hire just any guy working out of the back of his truck and that all of the workers are Penguin employees. I would strongly disagree with this statement. I saw some crews that were definitely contracted out as some told me flat out they were. There were even a couple of guys that were so new and barely skilled enough working in the basement at some points. In fact, one person that was doing the door trims did such a horrible job that I had to have the site supervisor come in and see the bad workmanship and get the crew to redo it. Apparently the guy that was doing the work was someone new who the site supervisor had never dealt with before so he was not happy about finding that out. There were a few times I had to point out some mistakes in the workmanship and it seemed to always be with the one same crew. How do you mix up door handles between six doors in one basement? Others appeared to be employed by Penguin as they seemed to drive their vehicles and only did jobs that were from Penguin orders. Again, don't tell potential customers that everyone is a Penguin employee when they in fact are not. For the most part, the trades treated our home with respect and didn't leave too much of a mess. Vince even had them lay down a taped cardboard path from the basement door on the main floor to the powder room so that they wouldn't mess up the area.
I want to point out that this company works with itemising everything that they do. The initial quote had almost every little thing itemised and how much it costs and such. Extras or changes are communicated to your PM or site supervisor and then both you and the company have to sign off on them. This also includes the consultation to pick your options like bathroom vanity, tiles and shower. BTW, be prepared to spend a little more than the quote as the quote is only for the base items. A lot of times you will not like the base and will want to upgrade which means more money. We probably spent an extra $5K in upgrades alone. It's a great concept but at the same time it can also be a little like nickel and diming you for every little thing. You never know when something you want done is being done as part of the quote or if it's an extra and you have to pay for it. Again it's the first time experiencing a company that does this so I'm not completely knocking it down but just pointing it out. It technically should weed out all those tiny little extras that people always ask for during a reno. There are a few sign offs that need to be done throughout the project which is good as it keeps everyone on a level playing field. If you're not happy with something at that stage, then you don't sign off. There's also an interesting form/contract you have to sign just prior to the construction commencing. This is the one mentioned on here before about providing a bathroom, access to the home, etc. The bathroom one was funny because they told me that they added it in because on one project, the homeowner only provided a bucket for the trades to relieve themselves! Some people...
Eventually we got to a problem we had with our sales rep when it came time to do the cabling (tv, ethernet, etc). We don't know why but during the initial quote, only a single run was quoted and shown itemised for RG6 & CAT6 cabling. He said that once it came time to run the cables, just let the guys know how many you need and they'll do it. Seemed like it was just a single cost item regardless of the numbers. We were very wrong about that even through I'd brought it up a couple of times of many many drops I would need. They wanted to charge per run and I needed over a dozen runs when all was said and done. They expected over $1200 just for cabling which we had not agreed to and this was something that I was willing to do myself if they couldn't work it out. The sales rep didn't like that because it would delay the project and in the end, he gave in and just ate the cost of doing the work. The relationship basically soured at that point after a heated conversation but this is the problem with perhaps rushing a quote too fast and not fully explaining things to a customer on how charges would stack up. Felt bad for the crew as they were kind of stuck in the middle of an argument between the customer and sales. Tried to make it up to them by buying them case of beer later on.
With regards to the showcasing of the basement, it never happened. While we ourselves did go out to a showcase basement one weekend to check out the company's work, it was nowhere near what we expected. The basement still had some unfinished trim and walls that should have been tidied up. There were no furnishings to fluff the place up either. We saw some minor defects and were left wondering why they would showcase it? It was not worth the 40+ minutes to drive out there. I made sure to tell our site supervisor about that experience and that we hoped we wouldn't see something similar with our basement. As for our basement, I'm guessing that we were never offered a showcase date likely because we had had the falling out with our sales rep. At least I hope that's the reason and it wasn't just a sales ploy to get the sale. Kind of thankful for that in a way as I didn't want to have strangers going through our home.
One cool thing that the company does is that it uses a website and an app (Buildertrend) to keep you up to date on the project and for communicating with your team. It worked out mostly well for us and wished more companies used a similar method. The one negative I will point out is that after the initial demo pictures to show proof of work, there were never any additional pictures loaded to the site. But every other communication, design, quotes and approvals/rejections were there. Payment and trades schedules were also shown on a calendar and were mostly accurate.
With regards to your team, I will say that at first it was a little disorienting in knowing who you were supposed to be talking with. We had something like half a dozen different individuals to communicate with and I have no idea why that many were needed. There was an initial demo supervisor, then the project coordinator, the site supervisors, the design consultant (that one is ok) and your sales rep. Seems like a bit much and I was told towards the tail end of our work that the company was planning on restructuring this which is a good sign.
In the end, the basement did end up turning out beautiful, was somewhat just over our budget and the work was completed in record time. Four months from start to finish and it was technically late because the cabinetry was late. I use the basement every single day as part of my office and this past winter we had no problems with being down there as it was as warm as any typical basement that's been properly finished. Despite some sour points (sales rep, rushed design layout and some workmanship issues) we think that Penguin Basements should be given your consideration. But as the homeowner always keep an eye on the work and try and get a guy like Vince on your team. Personally, I would reach out to Penguin as one of your last quotes after you have an idea of what you want and roughly how much the project is likely to cost you so that you can see how much higher there's is and if it's worth it.