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8 common renovating mistakes

A lot of people make these renovating mistakes. They are in no particular order, but they are all to be avoided.

1. Don’t start renovating too early – make sure you have a master plan

Many people start small-scale renovations without reviewing the property as a whole. Take time to take stock of what you have. You need to see the big picture to make sure that when you renovate the bathroom or kitchen that it is in the right place, so that when it comes time to do a more substantial renovation – by you or the next owner – the recently updated bathroom or kitchen does not need to be relocated.

2. Don’t confuse fiction with reality

Television lifestyle shows are not real life. Projects take a long time to complete, can be messy and involve a whole lot of people. Renovators should be aware of the realities before they start building – how long it will take to complete, how much it will cost to complete, the effort it will entail and the disruption it will cause. Professional advice is invaluable, so you should consider hiring an architect. Remember this could be the once-in-a-lifetime renovation, the kind that dramatically changes how you live, that energises the whole household and – let’s face it – makes the neighbours jealous.

3. Don’t forget to do your homework

Start a file of cuttings, and collect or photograph anything that takes your fancy so you can work out what you like (or don’t like) and what you want. Pinterest and Houzz are useful resources too. Use our questionnaire to assess your needs and what you can afford, prioritise, then decide what you want to achieve – and don’t forget some poetry – so you can clearly brief your architect – the building should play a role in structuring relationships between the people inside the house and their environment.

4. Don’t avoid design work to save money

Architects are not for everyone. If your project is limited, perhaps cosmetic work to a bathroom or kitchen that is in a reasonable position in a house up to maybe 30 years old, then your project may not need an architect. If your project needs some structural work, with additions or work on reorganising a plan that no longer suits contemporary life, then you should certainly involve an architect. Even if you are planning a budget renovation you are likely to need good advice first. It is easy to do something well when you have plenty of money to do it, but the best advice is more important when you have less to spend. Find out the best way to achieve what you want first and then look for ways to do it within your budget. Or – if you can delay that gratification – wait to earn enough to afford what you want to do.

5. Don’t be impatient – building takes time, and so does design

People sometimes try to save time or money by cutting short the design process. Instead you should allow enough time for the design to evolve. It is important to consider all the aspects of your renovation project and progress through each stage from concept to design development to council approval to tender. Design is an iterative process, and the more the design is refined the better the result. A well-considered and documented project will be easier for a builder to price and quicker to complete. Make sure your architect is involved all the way through the process, as the design work does not stop when the builder is on site – there are many decisions that are still to be made, so don’t leave them to the builder.

6. Don’t use council drawings for getting prices and building

Drawings submitted to council for development approval are not the full description of the building that a builder needs to provide a complete price for the project. If you go to tender with incomplete documents it may be unclear what you are contracting the builder to do, which can mean that you might not get what you expected. This is likely to lead to a dispute with the builder, and leaves you at risk of paying more for changes or additional work, or – worse – not getting what you thought you were getting.

7. Don’t just think for the short term – design for the future

People are often warned to avoid overcapitalising on a property, but that is mainly a concern if you intend to sell the property for a profit soon after renovating. The average length of time a family holds a property in Australia is nine years. If you are looking at a property as a long term home for you and your family, there is less need to look for a return in the current housing market, no matter what the local real-estate agent tells you. It is always good to think long term about the future for your property, and how it may best suit your needs over time, or the needs of a future owner.

  • How can your property be designed to suit the changes in your family over the years, from meeting the needs of young children to the different needs of older children (and their friends)?
  • Will it allow you to work from home?
  • Will the extended family be moving in, and what will happen when the children grow up and move out?
  • How will the house use energy over its life – is it efficient and is it adaptable?

These are questions that future owners will be as interested in answering as you are. A well-planned design can save you the cost of building larger and less flexible spaces. Rooms will serve a number of purposes during the life of a home, and flexibility can be designed into the house. For example, you could consider building a larger bedroom that can be shared by two young children and double as a sizeable indoor playroom. This can then be divided into two bedrooms later on with joinery units or sliding doors. Sliding doors can also be used to allow for living areas to be enlarged when the weather is warm or if you are entertaining. These can then be separated into smaller areas when you want to shut out noise from the next room, or when it is colder, to create more intimate spaces.

8. Don’t undervalue your property or your future happiness

Live in the house for a while before renovating – learn where the light comes from in summer and in winter, which rooms are too hot and which are too dark, and know what it is that you want to do. Renovations that are well-considered and well-built add significant resale value to a property. Think about the day-to-day experiences your family can enjoy from a well-designed home.

Hire an architect to maximise your resale and, most importantly, your daily enjoyment.

by Peter Hill

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