For the majority of people, a home is much more than a place to live, it’s often their largest investment. The renovation decisions you make today can impact on your future living costs, quality of life and future property value, so you want to make sure you get it right.

When you’re planning your renovation it’s easy to focus on the short term, ‘i.e. What is my budget right now?’ But when you think about it, features that enhance resale value, improve comfort and reduce bills may be worth paying a little bit more for now.

Below are some of the most common mistakes that we see people make when renovating and some tips on how to avoid them;

1. Renovating without a Plan:
Whilst this seems simple, its still the number one cause of problems for people renovating. Ensuring that you have a clear plan to follow for your entire renovation can reduce the chances of your budget blowing out and the renovation works taking longer than necessary. Working professionals are usually time poor; being busy keeping up with their day jobs they can fall into the trap of not spending enough time upfront on planning the project. Lack of planning and lack of time to co-ordinate their renovation often leads to mistakes and budget blowouts. Many people start small scale renovations without considering how the property works for them as a whole and what future changes they may want to make. For example, it would be costly to renovate a kitchen only to want to relocate it a few years later so it faces through to the new outside deck that you just built.

Identify what’s already in the house that can be reused, for example doors, windows, timber, cabinetry, flooring. Make a note of the rooms or parts of the home that may irritate you – what design changes would most improve the lifestyle and well being of the occupants? So when they might eventually renovate a kitchen or bathroom there is no double up on costs redoing or changing a short time later.

2. Underestimating Costs:
Renovation works usually costs more than people initially anticipate or budget for. This is largely due to the fact that some problems are not identified until they start work and uncover them, but mostly because items are forgotten and left off the budget estimate (again lack of planning). Professional renovators tend to leave an incidental fund of between 10-20% to cover these costs and fully expect to have to spend it. To assist with preparing your own budget, start listing all tasks, the materials required, and who is going to do the work. You can then go out and get quotes for the materials and trades required. Have someone with experience look over your budget before you commence.

Make sure you allow for skips, scaffold hire, equipment hire, and tools. You should also allow for interest cost if you have borrowed money to do the renovation and are looking to repay the loan through sale of the property.

Another big problem encounted is when the final invoice from the builder or tradesman exceeds the original quote that they gave. Builders are often asked “how much do you charge to put in a new kitchen and bathroom”? Well that is the same as – “how long is a piece of string”?

Where possible, supply your builder with drawings, pictures and examples of what you want to achieve; provide them with detailed specifications of the the look, colours and materials that you want. So when they quote, they don’t have to allow a buffer for what they don’t know and can provide you with a written fixed quote that accounts for the materials that you want and the time required for installation.

3. Ignoring Rules & Regulations:
There is no point ignoring the requirements of your local Council, as it may eventually catch up with you. The Council can ask you to un-do any work they deem to be illegal, so do not undertake any work without first checking the following:

– Do you need planning permission from your local Council?
– Do you need Building Regulations approval from your local Council?
– Are you carrying out the renovations yourself? If so, you will likely require an Owners Builders License if the work is valued at over $12,000?
– Do you need to take out Public Liability Insurance?

Some smaller developments may be “Exempt Development”, i.e. they do not require Council approval; this can include some decks, carports and pergolas. Whereas other developments, called Complying Development, require certification prior to the works being carried out. All other development requires consent. To obtain development consent, you must lodge a Development Application (DA) with your local Council.

4. Builders Experience and Quality of Workmanship:
Renovations can turn into a nightmare if your builder or subcontractors fail to do a good job. Always be wary of a quote that is significantly cheaper than all the others, or someone who is available to start work immediately. Ask for references, speak to their previous clients and have a look at their quality of work.

Make Sure Your Builder;
– Is confident and experienced of undertaking the required work.
– Understands what you are trying to achieve with your renovations.
– Provides details of previous renovations and clients for you to contact.
– Supplies you with a copy of their builders license and insurance details.
– Supplies you with a building contract if the work is valued at over $12,000.

5. Wasting Existing Space:
Before making plans to add an extension to an area of your property, consider how you may be able to use the existing space. There are many measures that will help to make a property feel more spacious and which will add to its value, yet which cost a fraction of the price of extending. An Architect through clever design may be able to save you the cost of building larger and less flexible spaces.

6. Taking on Too Much DIY:
Undertaking some of the work yourself may lower your costs, however trying to do more work than you really have time – or the skill – to complete successfully could end up slowing the whole project down. This could lead to living in a building site for years, which can in turn lead to family conflicts and potential accidents.

A bad DIY can cost you dearly, slowing down the other trades, wasting materials, sometimes causing work to be done twice, and ultimately devaluing the property if it is not put right. You can become so tied up in DIY work that you lose focus on running the project and keeping up with decisions. It is illegal to carry out electrical and plumbing works when not qualified.

7. Know the Area and Your Target Market:
It’s vital to know the house prices in the area where you’re doing the renovation. If you get this wrong, you run the risk of making a loss rather than a profit on your renovation or over capitalising your home. You must be aware of the property market. Selecting the right inclusions is important, for example; installing a large internal laundry in a one bedroom flat in the inner city would likely be a waste of valuable space and money as opposed to putting a washer / dryer in a smaller space.

8. Living on Site During the Major Work:
Living on site can offer many advantages such as improved security, being on hand for weekend or out of hours deliveries, being available for early site meetings, being able to keep an eye on the work, or having the project close to hand for those DIY task. The downside is that the project is always there and you cannot escape it. It is often best to move out of the property at least whilst the major work is being undertaken, such as major demolition or construction, particularly if you have children or pets.

9. Leaving Builders to Make Decisions:
Renovating involves making countless decisions, from which improvements to make and the choice of fixtures and fittings, through to the route for new services such as plumbing. Many of these decisions need to be made quickly so they do not hold up work. If you leave such decisions to builders, some may choose whatever is the easiest and quickest for them. The finished job may as result look inferior and become quite upsetting if this is not want you had in mind. The trouble is, once the work is done, you have to pay twice if you later want to make changes. A good builder should warn you well in advance of the decisions that they need you to make. Listen to them, spend time on site visits, and keep up to speed with the progress. Do not be afraid to seek clarification from the tradesman if you do not understand something.

10. Ignoring the Garden:
Don’t forget to leave some money in your renovation budget for landscaping the garden, driveways and paths. If you are renovating a long-term home you can leave this until time and money allow, but if you are planning to sell on, an unfinished garden can have a serious impact on resale value, no matter how nicely the property is renovated.

11. Getting Carried Away with Fixtures and Finishes:
As you reach the second stage of the project, it is easy to think you are on the home straight, under budget, and that you can start splashing out on designer bathrooms, taps, expensive handmade tiles, luxury showers, chrome sockets and switches. The trouble is you probably still have a third of your budget to go, and you can easily run out of money. Keep track of your budget throughout the entire project and always have an idea of how much you have left. If you do come in under budget, or you have planned for high-quality finishes, then no problem, but make sure you do not run out of money which is needed to pay for work or bills still to come.