Whether you’re planning a full-on renovation of your house, or minor refurbishment of your flat, you’re almost certainly in for some degree of challenge. However, it’s a challenge that can ultimately be very rewarding on many levels, and here we share an array of tips and advice on how best to do it…
1) Always budget for more than you expect to spend
The first and most important piece of advice. Irrespective of the scale, the costs will usually be more than you first projected. Whether you’re a first time buyer or have refurbished a few times before, it’s impossible to foresee every little extra expense that creeps in as a project evolves. Try to be precise and realistic with your budget, and even then add a contingency of approximately 20%.
How much will a renovation cost? As a rough gauge, in the UK it’s approximately £250 to £500 per square meter, depending on the extent of the work, who undertakes the work, where you live in the UK, and the quality of the materials, fixtures and fittings used.
To give you a flavour, some very approximate costs for professionals working on a typical three bedroom house in the UK are as follows:
2) How much do you want to take on?
The first question to ask yourself is what type of project you’re best suited to. The practical skills you possess, the time and money you’re prepared to spend, your work and family commitments – all of these factors and more should be carefully considered before you decide the extent of the challenge you take on.
Are you willing to tackle any structural work, either remodelling the existing interior layout, or going one further and building outwards or upwards, with extensions? Such projects are certainly towards the more ambitious end of the scale, but remember that a great deal of transformation can also be achieved by thoroughly modernising an existing structure, whether it be a Victorian house or a 1970s / 1980s property.
Therefore, if you’re looking for a challenge and sense of accomplishment, this doesn’t necessarily need to involve moving walls, floors and ceilings.
3) Location is all-important
A key tip is to almost try to find the worse house in the best street. Irrespective of how well you renovate or refurbish a property, the location will still largely determine its value, and so try to focus your efforts on somewhere that will reap the most rewards from improvement.
4) Remember the ceiling
Not in this context the expanse above you, but the valuation ceiling of your property. Every house or flat has one and, irrespective of how much time and money you put in to it, there is a limit to how much value you can put on it. Plan accordingly, and in particular don’t go overboard with lavish fixtures and fittings that are beyond the specification of typical properties within the area.
5) Know what you’re letting yourself in for
Ensure you get a full survey before buying any property – as well as minor issues, it should highlight any major structural problems, plus things such as damp or infestations.
If a number of faults are found, try to use this as a bargaining tool to achieve a reduction on the price. After all, it’s quite possible that you’ll need to use some of the money saved to address issues identified in the survey. If there are structural issues, be very wary, or you may even want to reconsider, as these can be particularly expensive.
6) Don’t make changes prematurely
Live in the property for a while first, to get a feel for what you do and don’t like about it. You don’t want to rush the process, and giving yourself at least a few weeks to settle in will help you get a perspective on the priorities.
7) Think big
If it’s financially viable, try to be ambitious in your thinking. If you make improvements in the right way, you’ll create more space, a more comfortable living environment, and you’ll add more value to your property.
Perhaps you’d like to extend up or out (generally the cost of the former is cheaper), or maybe moving some internal walls will enhance the layout? Moving / removing walls is usually possible, although of course the cost depends on whether they’re load-bearing.
8) More space for less
Consider the potential scope of the property – for example, could the garage, loft or basement be converted? These will add extra space (and value) to the property, and are generally much cheaper than extending out. For example:
9) Consider the longer term picture
Countless new homeowners have spent good money making alterations to a property when they first move in, only to rip things out and start again just a few years later, when personal or financial circumstances change. When you first get the keys, before rushing straight in and making improvements for the present, think about the future and how this might change things. For example, if you’re considering starting a family perhaps you would eventually need more space within the home.
If in future you’d like to extend the property, or remodel it, but you don’t quite have the time or money yet, then try to avoid spending in areas that would be affected by the future work.
10) Think about future resale
Unless you’re adamant that it’s your home for life, think twice about making any changes that might be considered too left field. Always try to keep one eye on the resale potential.
11) Consult a professional
If you’re stuck for inspiration, consulting with a local architect or building designer will give you a broad idea of what’s possible.
12) Get ideas from other planning applications
Browsing through your local councils’ website for previous planning applications can give you ideas on what other local residents have applied to do, and also which of these your council did / didn’t approve. Names of local architects and building designers are also often given on submitted plans, and so it’s also a useful way to get contacts and/or go and see some of their work.
13) View other houses on the market
If similar properties are on the market, viewing two or three of these grants you access to inspiration. Additionally, viewing a few local new build show homes can also provide ideas that you might wish to emulate during your own refurbishment. New build show homes adopt the latest styles and trends, and viewing a few gives you exposure to fresh ideas.
14) Get friendly with the neighbours
To a greater or lesser extent, many of your neighbours will have renovated or refurbished over the years. By seeing inside their homes you’ll be able to take inspiration, or conversely decide what you definitely don’t want. Your neighbours will also be able to share advice and tips with you, based on their experiences.
15) Browse Pinterest
This section is always a recommended source of ideas and inspiration.
16) Have a documented plan
Firstly, as the army saying goes, ‘pre-planning prevents poor performance’. Lack of planning when making home improvements can result in frustration and extra cost, and so do take the time to sit down and map out a timeline of what’s needed and by when. Whilst the plan doesn’t need to be exhaustive, and can of course be altered along the way, try to break the key things down into sections and sub-sections.
When creating the plan, think carefully about everything you’re going to be doing and the most logical order to things. As just one example, if you paint walls and then have a ceiling skimmed, even with the tidiest of plasterers, remnants are likely to be left on your newly-decorated walls.
There will also be a critical path – to use the previous example, the ceiling needs to be skimmed up to two weeks prior to being painted, to ensure there’s sufficient time for the plaster to dry. Allow more than enough time for everything to be completed, thus ensuring the project’s critical path isn’t disrupted. Especially as tradespeople can be booked up weeks or months in advance, you’ll need to be confident that materials and other things are ready in a timely manner, so that you’re not forced to reschedule them.
Finally, remember that carpets are always best fitted last – it’s surprising how often this is forgotten.
17) If appropriate, make big changes early
If you’re going to make major alterations to your house, its usually best to do this relatively early on – you’ll have the enthusiasm to do it, having only recently moved in, and you’ll also enjoy the benefits of the remodelling for years to come.
18) Be clear on whether you need planning permission
The Government’s website provides more details on this, but always be 100% sure before proceeding with work.
19) Address the fundamentals first
Before thinking about the more aesthetic elements, firstly ensure that the property is warm, dry, secure and safe.
Get the electrics, gas and plumbing checked and if, for example, it transpires that the property needs rewiring, or a new boiler and central heating, bite the bullet and get it done. These might not be the most exciting elements within a renovation (and they’re often the most costly). However, these are fundamentals, and you certainly won’t want to make the mistake that some do, and be forced to belatedly address them once the renovation is finished.
20) Don’t try to do everything at once
It’s a common mistake, and many overwhelm themselves by gutting the whole place immediately and then regretting it. Tackling things in phases will be much more manageable, especially if this is the first time you’ve taken on anything of this nature.
It’s often advisable to leave rooms that are in the best condition until last. That way, if you run out of enthusiasm or money for refurbishments, at least it will still be in its original state, rather than being stripped back and unfinished.
21) Preserve where appropriate
Ensure you don’t strip out anything that would actually be better preserved or restored as a feature, such as timber floors or old fire places. This is especially true if the house is akin to a pre-1930s property, or perhaps even Victorian.
Equally, be decisive and rip out anything that will take too much time and effort to restore to a good standard. It’s often best to just start again rather than patching up things.
22) A book is often judged by its cover
Go on, admit it - deep down you’ll probably want to impress friends and relatives who visit your newly refurbished home in the future, or at the very least make the neighbours envious. On a more pragmatic level, if you ever come to sell, many buyers have subconsciously decided about a property before they’ve even walked through the door.
Therefore, don’t skimp on the exterior when doing up a house. New render, cladding and landscaping can transform the outside of a property, and can be relatively inexpensive.
23) Consider extra parking
Creating a new driveway at the front of your property, on your existing front garden, will have obvious practical benefits, and if done well will add a few thousand to the value of your home. However, bear in mind that planning permission may be needed, and permission to drop any curbs in front of your property will also be required.
24) Pick the best seasons
It’s much more comfortable to endure the upheaval of a renovation in the milder months of the year, and so if the timescales allow, try to avoid the winter period. This also affords the added benefit that your Christmas period won’t be disrupted.
25) Improve your DIY skills
If perhaps you’re a first time buyer and/or haven’t had a great deal of experience before, take the time to research how to do things properly. Don’t be too proud to ask relatives or friends for help and advice. Alternatively, Youtube is of course a great source of information.
Finally, basic DIY skills can also often be learnt from local education providers.
26) Know when it’s best to hire somebody
DIY can be enjoyable, and saves on the cost of tradespeople. However, you’ll want the best finish for your home and so, dependent on your level of skill, know when it’s best to call in the professionals.
This of course certainly applies to things such as gas and electrics, which need to be managed by qualified professionals, but you should also consider outsourcing for skilled areas such as plastering, which is harder to get right than it looks.
Another aspect to consider is that, even if you can do something yourself, is it the best use of your time? Push pride aside, be completely logical, and if it makes best sense, commission a professional.
27) Allow time to find good tradespeople
We live in a culture of immediacy, where we can usually get most products or services from companies within days. However, it’s often a surprise to many people quite how long it takes to find good tradespeople, and indeed how long their waiting lists are. Most good ones are booked up for weeks or months in advance, and so do take this into account when planning.
28) Try to use tradespeople who are recommended
Finding good people is not easy and depending on the scale of your improvements, you could need all sorts of trades, including:
Ask friends and relatives – people who’s judgement you trust – for recommendations. Also, neighbours will probably have had work done over the years, and so they could be another source of good contacts.
If you can’t get any recommendations, wait until you find somebody that you like and trust (and who returns your calls). You’re letting this person into your home, trusting them with important work and paying them good money at the end of it, so you should feel comfortable from the onset.
A good relationship is especially important if you’re looking for a professional that will be integral to the project – for example, a builder. In these instances, obtain and thoroughly check references (speak to previous clients and try to see the work). Also try to ensure the builder signs a fixed price contract.
Finally, if you find a good tradesperson, they’re more likely to associate with, or know of, other tradespeople with similar professional standards, and so it’s worth asking them for recommendations.
29) Always try to get three quotes
A cliché, and sometimes easier said than done, but it really does pay to obtain comparative quotes. The obvious benefit is that you’ll be able to gauge what a reasonable price is for the work, but it also gives you an opportunity to assess what it’s like to deal with a variety of tradespeople, prior to committing to one.
30) Larger scale projects need professional guidance
You may need an architect, designer or project manager. These specialists will come at a cost, but often this is offset by the value they bring to the project, and the time and stress that they save you.
For example, an architect can offer great ideas in terms of layout and design, and will also be able to provide a full specification, which can in turn be used to obtain an accurate quote from a builder. Sometimes the architect can also project manage.
Costs vary greatly, but typically you can expect an architect to charge approximately 5-10% of the build costs.
31) Skips and trips to the tip
Even if you’re updating a modestly sized home, don’t underestimate quite how much you’ll have to dispose of.
A skip is often the easiest and most practical method of dealing with the array of waste. It’s easier and less time-consuming than numerous trips to the tip, and indeed tips can charge you for disposing of some types of waste, such as rubble and soil. If you do opt for one, it’s best to go for the size up from the one you think you need.
Alternatively, if you’re planning regular visits to the tip, then consider buying a trailer for your car, or perhaps even buying an old estate car. Not only will it allow you to ferry rubbish in a car that you don’t really care about, but it will also help you to transport things back from DIY shops and builders’ merchants, all whilst being in dirty or paint-splattered overalls.
32) Avoid clutter
Negotiating furniture and other non-essential household items during a renovation can be a frustrating experience.
Undertake a thorough declutter before you start any work, and try to keep most furniture and possessions within one or two designated rooms whilst the work is underway. Not only will it make things easier for everyone, but your possessions won’t end up covered in dust and other dirt.
If you’re pushed for space, consider temporary storage.
33) Be prepared
Depending on your plans, whilst things are being ripped out and replaced, you may need to go without items that you usually take for granted. Some quick tips to help:
34) Safety first
If you’re undertaking any of the work yourself, always remember that safety is paramount. The type of work involved might not be what you’re used to and so be extra vigilant. Where appropriate, use such things as safety goggles, gloves, ear protectors and safety helmets. A first aid kit should also be readily available.
If the property was let out to a successive number of previous tenants, consider changing the locks.
36) Driveways and gardens can take a hit
These can often be damaged by all of the other work, especially where skips and debris are involved. Therefore, bear in mind that these might need attention afterwards, even if they were ok before.
37) Choose the right paint
Think carefully about paint choices – many people spend considerable time pondering the colours, but not enough time researching and considering the type of paint to use. There are a variety of options, and as well as traditional matt and gloss, light-reflecting paint is becoming increasingly popular, especially if you’re trying to add extra illumination to a darker area.
Ensure you paint kitchens and bathrooms with moisture-resistant paint and, finally, find out how wipe clean a paint will be, if little hands might be leaving their mark in years to come.
38) Try to keep the neighbours onside
Major home renovations will often involve some degree of upheaval for the neighbourhood, such as noise, extra traffic from tradesmen or deliveries, and unsightly skips. Even lighter house refurbishments can cause minor disruption and so a charm offensive with the neighbours never hurts.
39) Be ready to accept chaos
Even relatively minor refurbishing brings some disruption to domestic life. If it’s a major house renovation, then ready yourself for all of what that will bring.
Most projects will impact your social life and free time. A larger project can put a temporary strain on you personally and professionally, and can have an effect on family relationships. Ensure that you’re truly ready and prepared for the upheaval.
40) Give yourself a break
Literally and metaphorically. It’s important to recognise that you’re undertaking something that’s stressful and demanding. Therefore, don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t always go according to plan.
Be sure to still ringfence time away from the project with your partner, children, family or friends. You’ll be more productive as a result and, more fundamentally, life is more important that anything you’re doing to your home.
41) Keep things in perspective
Try to retain the perspective that, when all’s said and done, it is only a house. Any refurbishing or renovation project naturally becomes a big part of your life for a while, taking up much of your spare time and money. For some, it becomes all-consuming.
However, always try to remember that it should be a means to an end. You’re aspiring to an improved and more comfortable domestic life, but don’t risk compromising that by over-investing emotionally, physically or financially. Keep things in perspective – it might be dominating your thoughts now, but in a year’s time you’ll be pleased that you didn’t spend three times as much on those bath taps, even if they did seem lovely at the time.
42) Preserve one room
Whilst there may be tools, dirt and debris in most rooms, keep one room apart from your bedroom clean, tidy and habitable. You’ll value this retreat, and it’s also a place where you might be able to work from home, or welcome visitors.
43) Consider living elsewhere
If it’s an extensive renovation, give serious consideration to living elsewhere whilst the major work is underway. Many people underestimate quite how disruptive and uncomfortable it can be effectively living within a building site, and it can also cause extra complications for the tradespeople trying to do their job.
Whilst a caravan in the garden is a romantic notion, the practical, cold and cramped reality can soon set in, and so consider either renting somewhere modest, or perhaps moving in with relatives for a short time.
44) Have a working party
Having a day or two when friends and family convene to help out can often expedite progress. Do ensure you keep them well fed and watered and, as tempting as it might be, best not to ask them too often.
45) Plan a concerted effort
If you’re undertaking some or all of the work yourself, attacking the project for a few days at a time is often easier and more productive than, for example, chipping away at things after work, night after night. Booking a week’s holiday can advance things tremendously.
46) Get the best value from DIY stores
You’re likely to be a very regular customer over the coming months, and ensure you keep all receipts. Many stores have extended return windows (often several months) and you will invariably purchase things that you never actually use, and can therefore return and obtain refunds for.
Additionally, if you or someone you know is 65+, at least one notable national DIY chain offers 10% off one day of the week.
Finally, it’s also worth remembering that DIY stores aren’t always the cheapest way. ‘Pound shops’ stock all manner of items you’ll need (e.g. brushes, painting suits etc), often for much less than the DIY shops. And if you need dust sheets or older clothes to work in, charity shops can be an ideal, low cost solution.
47) Waste not, want not
If you’re stripping things out, remember that whilst you don’t want something, somebody else might. You can boost the renovation fund by saving some items from the skip, such as old kitchen units, and selling them.
Also, if you have material such as unwanted soil, you can advertise this free on a local listings website, to anyone who wishes to collect. This will save you the hassle and expense of disposing of it.
48) Time your purchases
Make big purchases like kitchens at the end of the month – in some larger and independent retailers they’ll have monthly targets to meet, and so you’ve got more scope to negotiate a discount.
Another way to save money is to consider ex-display kitchens and bathrooms.
49) Hunt for the best deals online
The high street certainly isn’t the only way. Sites such as eBay are a great source for all manner of items that you might be looking for.
50) ‘Buy cheap, buy twice’
Finally, whilst the materials, fixtures and fittings you choose should be proportionate to the value of the property, don’t try to save money by cutting corners on quality. Very cheap might seem very attractive, but it’s a false economy if you’re replacing things within the first few years.
Improving any property is rarely easy, and the necessary investment of time, effort and money should never be underestimated. However, ultimately, renovating or refurbishing can be tremendously rewarding on many levels – providing you with a better standard of living, a unique sense of accomplishment and usually a property that has increased in value.
By being realistic about how much you can truly take on, and not being too hard on yourself along the way, you should end up being very house proud.