Most people renovate only once or twice in their life and learn their lessons the hard way. Alex Brooks asked experienced renovators to share their renovation regrets and highlights and Inside Out magazine published them.
“Choose a tradesperson you like, not with the guy who is the cheapest. These people will be in your house and in your life so if you can’t stand the sight of them it makes life hard. Occasionally you can find a gem. We have a builder who went totally out of his way to reduce costs for us. They were in our yard for three months and are almost like family – I actually miss them, but more importantly the job was done in exactly the time they said it would be, for the exact cost and they were nice to boot.”
“I would never renovate in summer again. It’s too hot in Brisbane and I felt so sorry for our tiler working in that heat. How can you expect people to do a great job when they are dripping in sweat?”
“We renovated in Darwin, which isn’t our home town. I wish we had asked a real estate agent to come and give us some advice before we started renovating. We had already painted the inside of the house before I invited an agent over for his opinion in regard to overcapitalising and potential re-sale price. The one thing he said would really make a difference would be the line the inside walls with gyprock to get rid of all trace of the besser block brick work. It offers high returns for a low spend. Of course, for us it was too late. We had spent money on paint for the walls and the floors were down – by then I couldn’t stand the thought of more mess.”
“The contract you have with the builder is the key to ensuring things go smoothly. There is one thing I would make sure was in my builders’ contract if I renovated again – larger final payment instalments. In our case, our final payment was for a very small amount which meant we didn’t have a lot of leverage to make the builder finish off all the small fiddly things at the end of the job. I would suggest making your final payment for a larger amount, which would motivate the builder to finish all those things like tiling or window frames before they go on to the next job.”
“Beg, borrow or steal another $20,000. Renovations always cost more than anticipated and now we are living in a house that doesn’t have any carpets or curtains. We’d already spent our stash of cash and couldn’t afford the final finishing touches. Chipboard flooring isn’t really that nice to walk around on. Mind you, our kitchen is completely gorgeous and it always makes me feel great to walk into it.”
“If you’ve got the money, it’s probably a lot easier to renovate with an architect who can oversee the whole thing. But I had fun choosing my taps and my tiles and my timber and I don’t know if I’d want an architect to steal all the pleasure.”
“Installing floorboards in our living area made a real difference to the house. But I’d do a lot more research if I had to do it again. We spent $6000 laying the floating timber floor in our townhouse. It was only after the floor was down that I found out it was a timber veneer rather than solid timber. The veneer scratches easily and it’s hard to sand it back to repair the damage. Solid timber apparently would have cost a similar amount, but would be easier to maintain.”
“I would think long and hard about renovating again. I honestly don’t think I would do it. If we had put the $180,000 we spent renovating our terrace into the mortgage, we would have virtually paid off the house. We had to sell the terrace once our son was born, because the house was just too small. If we hadn’t renovated, we probably would have more money in the bank now to buy a bigger house.”
“I’d stand my ground on paint colours. My husband and I always compromised on colour, and both of us ended up hating the colours on the walls. Next time around, we will let one person have their colour choice in the lounge room and the other person can have their choice in the bedroom.”
“Dealing with the local council nearly defeated me. I would take much more time at the beginning to find a sympathetic and senior person at the council to take me through the process and tell me exactly what I would have to do. I would then document every conversation, confirm everything by email and letter and keep my filing system in perfect order. It took us four years to get approval to build a house and we received a lot of conflicting information. The council staff can act like warring fiefdoms. And don’t be afraid to call in the mayor or their local councillor if things start getting difficult.”
“I would live in a house for at least a year before I decided to renovate. The plans we devised ages ago are definitely not the right plans now that I have seen how we use the rooms and the way the light falls into the house.”
“Whenever I walk into my shiny new bathroom I wish I’d replaced the entire toilet instead of scrimping and replacing only the cistern. I should have bought a new toilet that sits closer to the back wall – it would have given me at least 30cm of extra floor space.”
“I would definitely hire an architect again. You have exactly the same amount of walls to paint and windows to put in and floors to lay, so you may as well make sure the design is right from the start. The extra cost is one of the best things you will spend money on.”
“Don’t get pregnant while you’re renovating. Big mistake. Not only could I not get on site every day because it wasn’t really safe, but it meant there was one less pair of hands to do things like painting and cleaning.”
“I wish I had pre-cooked a lot of meals, because when you come home from work everyday to a houseful of dust, the last thing you feel like doing is cooking.”
“I would take the local council to court straight away rather than waste time trying to negotiate with them. It was two years of headaches and hassles and ultimately we went to court anyway and won.”
Roger van den Hoek.
“Next time I renovate, I will think a lot harder about window treatments. I spent lots of time considering the colours on the walls and the floors, but I think the way you dress a window really has the most design impact on a room.”
This article was first published in Inside Out magazine.