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Pro Panel: 8 Reno Blunders and How to Avoid Them

By Laura Anderson
The last thing you want when you’re renovating is to make a rookie mistake that will set you back time-wise, or add unnecessary costs to your budget. We’ve asked three renovating experts to reveal the most common errors people make when they’re renovating, and to give tips on how you can avoid them. Plus, to add a little design inspiration into the mix, we’ve illustrated each of the points with examples of beautifully designed homes to show you what’s possible when a reno is done right.
1. Blunder: Assuming DIY will always save you money
Unless you’re an expert handyman or tradie, it’s likely that any of the more challenging projects, such as sanding and polishing floors, installing a kitchen and building a deck, will take you three times as long as a pro – and won’t look half as good. Plus, you’ll probably also have to fork out for hire equipment, tools and materials. And let’s not forget that an amateur job will probably actually devalue your property.
2. Blunder: Automatically ripping everything out and starting from scratch
A smart renovation starts with a carefully calculated budget. If the budget is low, retaining and recycling as much as you can will save you serious money. For example, rather than ripping out a perfectly good but dated kitchen, you could just change the handles, cupboard and drawer fronts for a fraction of the cost of a new kitchen. Your updated cabinetry will look brand new. If the bathroom tiles are dated, simply paint over them with specialist tile paint (it can be tinted to virtually any colour). The same goes for the old bath and sink – there are epoxy paints you can use to re-enamel those pink and green relics so they look contemporary.
3. Blunder: Not understanding the correct order of works
If you’ve decided to project manage a kitchen or bathroom renovation yourself, it’s vital to know the correct order in which things need to be done. You need to know which materials need to be onsite when, and at which stage the various trades are required. Labour is a huge expense in any renovation, so the last thing you want is tradies standing around with nothing to do because the tiles haven’t arrived or a crucial piece of work hasn’t been done.
Solution to all three blunders: Pre-planning
Thoroughly research, plan and budget your renovation before any work starts. For a standard cosmetic renovation, I recommend budgeting no more than 10 per cent of the current value of your property – that’s for a total revamp, inside and out. Too many people get carried away with the idea of renovating, yet put little or no effort into pre-planning. At the very least, use a spreadsheet to plan out your renovation, set timelines, and track and manage expenses.
4. Blunder: Cutting costs on labour and workmanship
Cutting costs can cost you more in the end. Quotes can vary heavily between renovation companies, and it pays to double check what each one is offering in terms of experience, qualifications and overall scope of works. It’s easy to cut costs on fittings and fixtures, but cutting costs on labour and qualifications will cost you dearly in the end. You need to ensure that the company you choose is qualified to handle every part of your renovation. For instance, many tilers will offer to waterproof your bathroom, but waterproofing is a licensed trade and should be completed by someone qualified.
Solution: Do your research
Always get two or three quotes for your renovation and compare the scope of works and qualifications of each company.
5. Blunder: Starting without a confirmed design plan
Spend the time before your reno begins to design the space so that it really works best for you and your family. Time and again I see clients attempting to change the layout of a kitchen or bathroom mid-way through the renovation, with costly results.
Solution: Start with a good design
If design and spatial awareness are not your forte, employ someone who is trained to help you. Renovations cost a lot of money and you want to get the best design and floor plan to suit your family’s needs. Designers can also offer fantastic ideas that you may not have thought of. This is always best done before you start renovating to avoid any costly variations.
6. Blunder: Having an unrealistic budget
People often pluck budget figures from strange places. The worst scenario in my view is when they base their figures on low-quality, mass-produced project homes they’ve seen in the newspaper. These figures are unrealistic when compared with high-quality, bespoke homes.
7. Blunder: Not being prepared to pay for what you want
There’s often a disparity between a client’s budget and their brief. Many clients will say they want something, but they’re only prepared to pay a pay a certain amount for it. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. It’s only when you’ve gone through the full design process and the project is costed that you’ll know what your wish list will cost. As architects, we design to a brief and then figure out how much it will cost. In the early stages, the figures are loose estimates. But as the detail gets laid over the design, costs are firmed up. Then a full tender takes place when we find out what the real market rate for that design will be. It is a process, and it’s important to remember that everything is malleable – if costs are higher than you can afford, we can reduce your scope and do a redesign.
Solution to both blunders: Set a realistic budget before you begin
It is important to arrive at your budget in a rational and methodical way. Seek the advice of an architect, builder or quantity surveyor early on, to get a better understanding of the budget before you get too far into the process.
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