Renovating an old property is one of the most satisfying projects you can do, especially when it’s all finished and you have the creative satisfaction – and hopefully the financial rewards – of restoring a rough diamond to its sparkling best.
However, renovating can also be a minefield. You’re inevitably dealing with older properties, which will have ageing electricals and plumbing, possibly asbestos and almost definitely a range of unforeseen problems you’ll need to set aside extra time, money and patience to resolve. That’s why you should always allow a contingency of 10% for any budget.
Here are my top five tips for first-time renovators:
Target highly visible changes
First time renovators would be wise to cut their teeth on a small cosmetic renovation rather than launch straight into an ambitious structural renovation that could financially spiral out of control. Things like changing the flooring, updating lights and window furnishings, painting throughout, and modernising the kitchen and bathroom, can absolutely transform a property. And they’re quite manageable projects for first-timers as long as you’re highly disciplined with your budget and time management, and have a good team of tradies by your side (see my tips on how to find good tradies).
DIY vs outsourcing
DIY can be a great way to keep costs down on a renovation, but you have to be selective about what you take on yourself and what you outsource. Dodgy work is easy to spot, and will likely be picked up by potential buyers, so rather than save money, you could actually devalue your property. Tradies will tell you that Monday is usually their busiest time, as weekend DIYers swamp them with requests to fix botched projects. Unless you’re an experienced handyperson equipped with a good set of tools (otherwise there’s more money blown on purchasing or hiring tools), then perhaps limit yourself to the more straightforward jobs, like painting. And NEVER attempt to do any plumbing or electrical work yourself. It’s not only illegal, but highly risky.
Any property built or renovated before 1987 potentially has asbestos somewhere. It was commonly used as wall linings, and externally, on eaves, roofs, fences and as wall cladding. DIY renovators must educate themselves about where it’s typically found and what to do if they suspect there’s asbestos present. I’m an ambassador for the Asbestos Awareness campaign and have made a video that specifically explains where to look for asbestos in older properties.
Retain, recycle, re-use
Even though the first instinct might be to demolish, you’ll save money – and help the environment – by instead looking at what could be recycled or retained. If you’re pulling up old brick pavers from the front of the house, think about whether you could re-use them out the back. Plants can easily be moved rather than pulled up and discarded. If you can’t re-use your old roof tiles, put an ad on Gumtree and give someone else the opportunity to. Even if you don’t make money on the transaction, you’ll save on skip costs.
On the subject of retain and re-use, you’ll save big dollars on kitchens and bathrooms by doing a “cosmetic refresh” of surfaces, rather than ditching the lot and starting from scratch. There are specialty products for everything from painting tiles, cabinetry and benchtops, to giving old appliances the stainless steel paint treatment. White Knight and Rust-Oleum have a range of products specifically for sprucing up old bathrooms and kitchens.
–Cherie Barber is the director of Renovating for Profit, a company that teaches everyday people how to buy and renovate properties for a profit.