Our Top Tips To Avoid When Renovating

Our Top Tips To Avoid When Renovating

Property Renovation, especially an older property, can be a great way to achieve your dream home that is suited to your needs. It is a great way to get on the housing ladder, but it can also be a minefield for the wary.

Renovating a tired, old, unloved property into a fresh modern home can be an amazingly rewarding experience. However, unlike building from scratch by simply purchasing land, renovation projects on an existing build can cause several different complexities and challenges.

It is easy to make innocent mistakes and find yourself burning through money a lot quicker than you expected. You could even find yourself living in a building site for a long time. Our handy guide breaks down some tips we encourage you to avoid.

Picking The Wrong Property

It does not matter how organized or experienced in renovating properties renovating is always stressful and is an extremely time-consuming process, so unless the property is guaranteed to give you your dream home or be a good investment you are looking at purchasing the wrong property. If you want to renovate, not do a complete rebuild, we never recommend buying blind – do your research and try to see the property before.

But more experienced and savvy builders will often commission a preliminary survey to flag up any hidden dangers, defects, and structural botches, work where consent should have been obtained but was not previously as well as location risks such as obscure rights of way, flooring, and radon.

If you are buying an old building it is highly important to check whether it is listed as this will severely limit the number of changes you will be able to do. Plus, as a new owner of the property, you are legally liable for rectifying any past illegal works which is often a huge expense. We recommend unless you have a bottomless budget, we recommend avoiding properties build to substandard quality, such as cheaper Victorian terraces built without firebreak party walls in the loft, with worryingly thin single break rear additions – which can cause problems with mortgage lenders. It is recommended to avoid any properties that have suffered botched alternations such as chimney breast and any internal walls that have been illegally removed without building regulations consent.

Anything likely to need expensive structural work is best avoided or your budget will vanish surprisingly fast on hidden defects to drains and roof structures rather than fitting and finishes. Instead, try to find a house in a shabby decorative condition that looks a lot worst than they are – they could need a decorative makeover with updates to the kitchen and bathrooms.

Buying Without A Survey

Do not wait until you have bought to discover there is dampness, rot, subsidence, or other major structural defects – it can be too late and can be costly. Find out as much as you can about the property before you buy or start any work. A building survey, undertaken by a charted buying surveyor will provide information on the type of construction and materials used and will give you details of any defects found, their remedy, and an indication of their likely cost.

It is also worth commissioning a measured survey of the building, providing you with a detailed set of floorplans and elevations upon which to base your proposed design alterations.

Ignoring Rules & Regulations

There is no point ignoring the requirement of the law, it will eventually catch up with you and can cause a lot of stress and money which is unnecessary. It is worth first checking out the following information:

  • Do you need planning permission?
  • Do you need Building Regulations approval?
  • Do you need to notify neighbors? Check the Party Wall Act.
  • Do you need to notify leaseholders or get permission from others? Check your deeds for restrictive covenants, leases, or other overriding interests in the land.

If you fail to get planning permission, you can apply retrospectively, but if this fails you may need to undo any alterations of extensions that you have started. Altering a listed building without consent is a criminal offense. If you do fail to get any building regulations approval you will have to prove compliance. This may mean undoing completed work.

If you do fail to observe the Party Wall Act, it can lead to an injunction and delay in your project whilst an agreement is put in place. Breaching a restrictive covenant or the terms of a lease can lead to an injunction and you may have to make a financial settlement or remove your alterations or extension.

Poor Cost Control

Last-minute impulse purchases are not recommended, especially if the property is a long-term investment, it may not be worth it. It is important to look at investments. Once work has also been started and a quotation done it can play havoc with costings.

  • Keep a generous contingency sum, say 10 to 20 percent of the overall build budget.
  • Try not to lavish money on expensive frivolous fittings such as designer ‘tree stump’ radiators.
  • Do not waste money on unnecessary work, such as ineffective damp treatments.
  • Make do and mend — in older properties repair can often be a better option than replacement and is normally a lot cheaper.
  • Keep the design simple, eschewing complex custom-designed vaulted zinc roofs and suchlike.

Keeping a lid on costs also depends on good communication, this is key. Make sure you are in regular communication with your builder, schedule meetings, and keep updated to date with texts and phone calls. This will help to prevent any misunderstandings over small details which can allow for disputes and disagreement.

Before the build starts it’s very important to think about details such as light switches, sockets, radiators, taps, basins, and so on so the builders know exactly what is going on.

Not Ordering Enough Materials

As expected, you should not be wasting money on over-ordering materials that are not actually needed. But it is a false economy to order too few materials and risk work being held up due to the shortage.

Most materials come in standard pack sizes, so quantities of insulation, bricks, and blocks may need to be rounded up. Contractors understand allowance should be made for any breakage in delivery and on-site. Reclaimed materials for renovation projects have an even higher wastage factor.

You may need to over-order by up to 20% on second-hand bricks, slates, and tiles compared to around 5% for new ones. It is better to over-order than not enough; you can always sell this on or return it.

Underestimating Costs

Renovation work always costs more than you expect. This is because some problems are not revealed until you start work and uncover them. But mostly because items are forgotten from the budget or because you change your mind and alter the design or specification.

Professional renovators always leave a contingency of between 10-20% to cover these costs and fully expect to have to spend it. There are also a lot of ‘hidden’ costs that people sometimes forget to include which often are not included in the quotation this includes:

  • professional fees for surveyors, architects, and engineers
  • fees for planning and Building Control.
  • fees for arranging to fund.
  • VAT

A lot of new homeowners are only discovering halfway through the works that their plans are completely unachievable on their budget. It is highly important to research prices beforehand, remember to shop around for the best price.

Drawings need to be translated into a list of materials and labor. Materials are easy to check online and shop around for the best price however labor rates are harder to predict varying considerably depending on market forces, how busy builders are, and the postcode of the property. Obtaining competitive quotes based on clear drawings and specifications should help you to pin down costs in advance.

Before you start to predict costs, you must have a good idea of your proposed plans, your specification for fixtures and fittings, and a clear idea of which jobs are being carried out by which firm. To estimate costs especially if you are new to the game is to look at what else has been done like your project and how much work was done by them and how much was done by professionals. Labour and materials fluctuate fast so it can change the final pricing quickly even within a few months’ prices can increase.

Alternatively, you can get a builder’s estimation, this builder’s best guess of what your renovation project is going to cost, based on what they are able to see and the information that you have provided them with. This however often is not the final quote and can change, the builder can not be held to it. But an experienced builder will be able to give you a fairly accurate guess and is normally always around to answer any questions that may arise.

Finally, it is worth preparing your own budget. Look at anything you want that is unique or more expensive and be realistic. Do not go for something you can not afford. A list will also mean you can get a rough estimate of how much each section is roughly going to cost.

Blowing The Budget On Unnecessary Work

Aspiring renovators do sometimes get so focused on the desired result with amazing kitchens and fancy appliances that may not be within the budget. This then runs the risk of using money that could be used in unforeseen circumstances, especially on older renovations. It is important to prioritize key works such as leaking rooms, structural issues, and timber decay. It will not be long before quick fixes you may have made do not last.

Many renovators do also tend to underestimate the level of work required to upgrade existing services such as electrics and heating systems to make them fit for purpose. A lot of unnecessary work can be done in period properties renovations by adopting a repair does not replace approach.

Overhauling original doors and winos and retaining period features is often cheaper than replacement, adding value in the process by enhancing period character. In many cases, the original door and window timbers and joinery were of far better quality than today’s equivalent.

Picking A Cheap Builder

When the housing market is buoyant there is usually a high demand for building services making it harder to find good builders at a reasonable price. It can be tempting to pick the cheapest who can start in the next week. We have previously written a handy top tip article that discusses how you can avoid these bad builders, check it out here. If a quotation comes in that is a lot under then you will expect there is often something wrong with the quotation, ask the right questions to see if it is too good to be true. Often it is!

Either way, the builder will realize that they are working at a loss which can mean they stop the project altogether. Which can mean you are left picking up the pieces in hunting for a builder who can finish the job. It is often better to choose a mid-range builder so you can trust the builder to finish the work. If you know of friends who can do the odd job for ‘mate rates’ this is also extremely useful and often they will want the work!

Hiring Cowboy Builders

Renovation can quickly turn into a nightmare if your builders or subcontractors fail to do a good job. It can make it even more expensive to find another builder to fix the problems that the first builder has made. It can always be suspicious of an estimate or quote that is considerably cheaper than all the others or someone who is available for work immediately. Remember to ask for references and look at their reviews. Reviews are left by previous clients and often are a good indicator of how previous work has gone.

Using The Wrong Materials

The golden rule when refurbishing older buildings with solid walls is to use more traditional materials that are compatible with the way they were originally built. For example, Lime-based mortar renders and plasters rather than anything containing modern cement.

Older builders with shallow foundations are affected by seasonal ground movement and because cement is extremely brittle it will often develop small cracks. This can allow for rain to penetrate which is then unable to escape. Modern paints applied to walls can also cause trouble by blocking natural evaporation.

Trapped damp can then precipitate serious frost damage in masonry walls. However, not all builders are familiar with lime, often they will prefer to stick with mainstream products. You need to make sure the builders you use are clear on the materials that they must use.

You want to avoid creating any new damp problems, especially after you have paid so much money to get it fixed.

Being Tempted By Miracle Cures

When renovating a property, it can sometimes be tempting to give in to the heavily advertised ‘miracle cure’ treatments. But if you are choosing to renovate a builder which is older and more damaging it can often be very misleading.

Spray on renders and polyurethane foams can block crucial ventilation paths into walls and roofs, despite claims to the contrary offer virtually zero insulation benefits. Instant damp sealants are rarely effective and can trap dampness in walls. Always remember if something is too good to be true it often is!

Spending Too Much or Too Little For The Locality

You may be a genius renovator, but you can still become a cropper. Every street has an invisible ceiling that dictates how much buyers are prepared to pay, no matter how many tennis courts or basement gyms have been added. The quality of fittings needs to be closely geared to the expectations and demands of the market sector the property is likely to appeal to.

At one extreme, it would obviously be a false economy to deck out a historic Georgian townhouse in the opulent end of town with cheap MDF joinery and foam ceiling tiles. Conversely, the best house on the worst street syndrome is a recipe for disappointment. You need to find a middle ground for the renovation.

Removing Period Detail

Removing original period windows and exterior can destroy a period property’s character and its value unless they are sympathetically replaced. Authentic replicas are expensive so always consider repair as a first option. Cheaper, off-the-shelf joinery is rarely appropriate and is unlikely to fit the original openings, and will look wrong. If the original external joinery has already been removed, research neighboring properties or books to fix some appropriate styles. Try to avoid modern hybrid products such as front doors with build-in fanlights.

Try and observe the techniques and materials used in the building’s original construction and try to repair or replace them on a like-for-like basis. Internally, try and preserve original doors, floorboards, fireplaces, and plaster moldings if they are still intact.

Many features are not purely decorative but also have a practical purpose either structural or cosmetic and removal is only likely to necessitate an alternative solution. Conservation is cost-efficient and ecological.

Bargain Materials

Buying materials that are incredibly cheap is usually a false economy. For a start, anything obviously ‘cheap and nasty is likely to detract from the value of the finished property. To comply with building regulations, the drawings will specify the correct strength class of timber, concrete blocks of the correct required density, and thermal efficiency that can support loadings and meet energy targets. So, you cannot just use any old stuff that you find to build the house.

Quality can be difficult to determine from online product pictures that are often blurry. It is also not uncommon for stolen goods to be flogged off cheap online and without your knowledge, it can be reclaimed by the original owner at your expense if found.

Sourcing cheap materials from overseas can also quickly become a minefield, specifying UK-compliant materials and logistics problems, not to mention the time it can add.

Negative Value Improvements

Avoid spending large amounts of money on misguided works which could reduce the property’s value. Kerb appeal is obviously fundamental when it comes to attracting buyers, so doing anything that messes up an older building’s appearance no matter how well-intentioned it can be counterproductive.

The prime example of this artificial stone cladding glue to the walls, which apart from looking dire has a tendency over time to start cracking with bits dropping off, blocking windows and air vents. As well as widening and enlarging window openings it can create an instant ‘character transplant’ and putting fasciae and windows into period buildings is the quickest way to lose money and slash their market value.

Taking On Too Much DIY

Undertaking any work, yourself can allow you the opportunity to control costs and quality, however, remember to not be over-ambitious and plan more work to do than you really have the time or skill for. You could end up living on a building site which in turn can cause more issues than solving them. It can also mean that the job may need to rectify if you are unable to fully complete the job at hand.

DIY done incorrectly can cost you dearly, it can slow down any of the other work you are doing on-site, and waste money, and materials. And if the job is done incorrectly, you may find yourself needing to get the job redone by a professional. It is important to not take on any work you can not handle.

Not Listening To Your Builder’s Advice

There is a certain amount of paranoia when it comes to using builders. The fact is most builders try to do a decent job often despite late payment and awkward clients as well as the stick that they receive. They do come with years of experience.

Of course, sometimes there can be ulterior motives to drum up more business. But it is often the case that the person who is doing the job will know more due to their experience and will understand whether this suits the final look of the finished project. Traders also tend to know where to source products for a cheaper price and can offer you a discount.

Leaving Builders To Make Final Decisions

Renovating no matter, the scale includes making countless decisions, from which improvements to make the choice of fixtures and fittings and down to the route for new services like plumbing and how details should be finished. Many of these decisions need to be made quickly and you do not want to make the wrong decision for a project that can cost you money.

If you do choose to leave these decisions to builders, they will be invariable to do whatever is easiest and quickest for them but cannot suit the project. Issues can then arise quickly as once the work is done you will have to repay for any changes. It is important to have good communication with your builders and project manager to stop this issue from occurring.

Scrimping On Design

A good design scheme can completely transform a property and its value, it can be worth every penny. Poor design or no design at all can cause multiple different problems.

  • Ill-judged applications could prejudice the planning process, leading to refusal and planning blight.
  • Poor design can squander potential, waste space, and fail to maximize value.
  • Over-complicated design can add unnecessary costs and delays.
  • Failing to listen to your brief and objectives can lead to an unsatisfactory result, wasted time, and fees.
  • Lack of detail or errors can cause delays and complications on-site and expose you to charges for variations to the contract.

Taking The Wrong Energy-Saving Measurements

The energy saved by simply installing double glazing in place of single glazing can not only save you money but also has an extremely long-lasting effect on the property. If you are choosing to stay in the house it is a great cost-safe solution however, if you are choosing to sell the property this may not be the best cost-saving solution. However, you can look at other cost-saving solutions that can work:

  • Draft exclusion
  • Energy-efficient light bulbs
  • Hot water tank and pipe insulation
  • Loft insulation
  • Cavity wall insulation
  • Upgrading to a condensing boiler

It is also worth investigating whether your local authority operates any grants to help with energy-efficiency measures. Grants and VAT relief can also be available on some energy efficiency measures. It is worth investigating with EST.

Making Piecemeal Additions

It is not advised to renovate your property by making small, half-hearted additional. It is common to find an old cottage that has had several small extensions added, often looking very out of place. Such additions do eventually cripple a property, not only affecting functionality with the layout but the overall value of the property. Although it can be difficult it is often the best approach to take a few steps back before forward. It can be good to start demolishing such additions and take the building back to its original form.

Unfortunately, sometimes this previous legacy of improvements has added just enough value to make their removal unviable financially.

Wasting Existing Space

Before making plans to add any additional space to your extension consider how it is best to use the existing space. There are many measures that will help to make a property feel more spacious which can add value and can be at a fraction of the price of extending. Think about converting the attic, garage, or cellar. The following ideas can be applied to any property but are extremely useful when space is an issue:

  • Reuse wasted circulation space
  • Use carefully positioned mirrors
  • Use a space-efficient staircase
  • Create mezzanine levels
  • Improve the flow, adding doorways
  • Change the direction a door swings in, or use sliders or bi-folds
  • Remove walls and remodel
  • Use space-efficient furniture with dual purposes
  • Add patio doors to create the illusion of the garden being part of the house
  • Improve lighting design
  • Use informal room dividers
  • Use space-efficient storage
  • Combine rooms — such as open plan kitchen/dining room layout
  • Use borrowed light
  • Install space-efficient heating

Working In The Wrong Order

A typical hierarchy of works for the renovation is key, going in the wrong order is not going to solve any issues and can make it a lot worst. If you choose to employ a builder this is what they will do in the plan and procurement. It is their responsibility to carry this out fully.

Making Unsafe Structural Alterations

Removing structural elements such as load-bearing walls, chimney breast, lintels, columns, piers, or buttresses or cutting roof timber without compensating for the alteration can lead to disaster. The building may not collapse but this is not unheard of. It can however lead to major movements in the building, followed by a whole manner of problems with stuck windows and doors to warped floors and partial collapse of walls, roofs, or chimney stacks.

Any experienced builder will be able to identify which components are structural and how to compensate for their removal. The building inspector will want to know of any changes and how you propose to deal with them. And they may request calculations from a structural engineer.


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