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​Common home renovation pitfalls you MUST avoid!

Johannes van Graan Johannes van Graan
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Transforming a tired and run-down structure into something fresh and fabulous can be a hugely rewarding experience. But like everything worthy in life, that magnificent renovation is not going to come easy. Besides, makeover projects differ significantly from new constructions, where you have the luxury of kicking-off that job with a clean slate. 

In reality, it’s all too easy to make innocent mistakes and find yourself stuck in a house that’s not up to scratch safety-wise, busy battling a lawsuit with workers and/or neighbours, or even living in a half-finished World War 2 bombsite.

To prevent these (and other) nightmare scenarios, take a look at 10 of the most common home renovation pitfalls and how to avoid them.

1. Picking the wrong property

Don’t choose to refurbish a home that’s in a too-hopeless condition. You want to renovate, not rebuild.

If you’re buying an old building, check whether it’s listed, as this will severely limit the changes you can make. And remember that, as a new owner, you’re legally liable for rectifying any past illegal works, often at huge expenses. 

So, unless you have a budget sponsored by the Rothschilds, avoid: 

• Properties built to a substandard quality, such as some cheaper Victorian terraces built without firebreak party walls in lofts.

• Those that have suffered botched alterations without Building Regulations’ consent.

2. Terrible cost control

Before you commence that project, think about the necessities: light switches, sockets, radiators, taps, basins, etc. That way, the builders know exactly what’s required.

Last-minute impulse purchases, plus design changes once a quote has been accepted and work is underway on site, can leave a budget severely shaken. 

• Keep a generous emergency sum (about 10 – 20% of the overall build budget).

• Try not to lavish money on expensive and unnecessary fittings.

• With older properties, repair can often be a better option than replacement and is normally a lot cheaper.

• Communication is key, so schedule regular builder-client site meetings.

3. Ordering too few materials

Of course it’s a waste of money to buy more stuff than you need, yet doing it the other way around can also cost you some cash. 

Most materials come in standard pack sizes, so quantities of things like insulation, bricks and blocks need to be rounded up. Contractors know that an allowance needs to be made for breakage, both in delivery and on site.

Remember that it’s better to order too much than not enough. Any surplus can usually be sold or returned after the project is done.

4. Way-too creative budgeting

Zinc-clad Bay Window Extension:   by ArchitectureLIVE
ArchitectureLIVE

Zinc-clad Bay Window Extension

ArchitectureLIVE

Being very keen to ‘just get on with the work’ usually means there’s a temptation to rush the budgeting stage, which may very well result in writing down the lowest possible prices.

A renovation project is always less predictable than a new build, which means you need to factor in the risk of unwelcome surprises by setting aside a pretty contingency sum (between 10 – 20%, remember?).

And don’t forget about the ‘hidden’ costs which often aren’t included on quotes, such as: 

• Professional fees for surveyors, architects and engineers.

• Fees for planning and Building Control.

• Fees for arranging funding.

• VAT.

5. Going with the cheapest builders

  by PHU Bortnowski

Don’t be tempted to pick the cheapest builder who can start next week already – if a quote price is too cheap to believe, there’s usually a good reason. Either they forgot to include something, or simply got their sums wrong.

If this is the case, the builder will soon realise they’re working at a loss. And with them walking off your job, it will cost you time and money to get a new one in to finish the project.

6. Using the wrong materials

Extension and renovation, Wimbledon SW19: modern Houses by TOTUS

When refurbishing an older building, never forget the golden rule: use traditional materials that are compatible with the way those old walls were originally built (such as lime-based mortars, or renders and plasters) instead of anything containing modern cement.

And remember that modern paints applied to walls can also cause trouble by blocking natural evaporation. Trapped damp can then precipitate serious frost damage in masonry walls.

Be clear from the start that the tradespeople you hired have the necessary knowledge for the job at hand.

7. Disrespecting the original features

The rule of thumb is that you’ve pretty much got a free hand with anything post-war. But with older properties, it makes sense where possible to retain or reinstate original features

This not only saves a lot of work and expenses, but should also add to the value. So think twice before sacrificing old fireplaces, cornicing, floor tiles and decorated ceilings. 

Remember that certain builders can be very quick to advise taking down historic lath and plaster walls when they can be repaired.

8. Opting for bargains left and right

If it’s too good to be true, it usually is… And anything ‘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, as well as concrete blocks of the required density. Thus, bear in mind that you can’t just use any old stuff just because you like the attached price.

9. Going DIY

Not to burst your bubble, but are you really that great at DIYing? If you’re learning new skills while completing that renovation, it could take at least twice as long to finish the job.

So, before cracking your knuckles and getting your DIY routine on, ask yourself:  

• How time-critical is the project?  

• Are you tough enough? Sitting at a desk all day doesn’t build physical strength, meaning you’ll struggle to work anywhere near as fast as the professionals. 

• How much time can you commit? DIY generally takes longer than you imagine. 

• What are your skills? Maybe you should only focus on the decoration towards the end when there’s less time pressure.

10. Ignoring your builder’s advice

Despite late payment and awkward clients giving them grief, most builders actually try and deliver decent results. And the truth is that individual tradespeople can actually provide a wealth of valuable experience.

Of course the bad apples are always out there, but it’s often the case that the person tasked with doing the job will know a better, less expensive or simpler solution in a specific area than designers focused on the bigger picture. 

Remember that trades also tend to have a useful knowledge of materials and local suppliers, potentially saving you time and money. So don’t be too quick to disregard advice from the person doing the job.

Maybe this would be a good time to refer you to our: 20 home improvements that don’t need planning permission (part one).

How else can a renovation project run smoother?
Whitton Drive:  Terrace house by GK Architects Ltd

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