By Michelle May
You’ve seen the renovation TV shows – fixing up an old property to look fabulous looks relatively straightforward and fun, right? It can be, if you approach the project in the right way and avoid the many pitfalls. I’ve renovated many houses, and made plenty of mistakes, so here are my top 10 tips to avoid a renovation full of regret.
Location, location, location
It doesn’t matter how much potential your fixer-upper has, the one thing you won’t be able to bash into shape is the location. As with any other purchase, the location has to be your starting point, then work backwards. It’s very easy to get starry-eyed about the property itself, but if the location is a dud, you won’t get the result you’re looking for.
Buy a house with good bones
It’s a phrase you hear a lot but buying a renovation project with solid foundations is absolutely crucial. Unless you really are starting from scratch, the subfloor and the roof have to be in good condition because those are the most expensive things to fix. People say you should buy the worst house in the best street, but I don’t actually agree with that. It could be the worst house for a good reason; maybe there is something seriously wrong with the bones, or it has a floor plan which may be impossible to fix.
Get the full picture
Some people don’t bother to organise reports if they’re planning to renovate, but make sure you organise a building and pest inspection at a minimum – and do not rely on the one provided by the vendor! Also, get an independent plumber and electrician to take a look and give you some realistic advice around your plans.
Consider the too tricky tax
Factor in things like difficult access at the property you are going to buy. If tradies are going to have problems getting in and out of the property, they may add a bit more to the quote for the inconvenience. If you are planning to buy a terrace (where everything has to go in and out of the door) or if there is no parking, then your costs may climb.
Spy on the neighbours
Okay, maybe don’t literally spy on them, but they are the experts in terms of what works and what doesn’t, as they will have already done the hard work. So, look at some recent sales of similar properties and see what the floorplans are like. Maybe they thought of something that you didn’t. This is also a great way to ensure you don’t overcapitalise on a property. Do you really need that fourth bathroom, or can you perhaps spend your money more wisely?
Avoid amateur hour
You’ve seen the renovation shows and project managing everything yourself doesn’t seem that hard. Bad news: real-life can’t be edited to look like a walk in the park! The renovation is going to take over your life, so you’re about to embark on a steep and expensive learning curve. It’s worth thinking about getting a project manager in from the get-go.
Don’t dream too big
If you’re faced with two properties, and one has the right floorplan but is in worse condition, I’d probably go with that one. Having the vision to shift the kitchen from one end of the house to the other is one thing, doing it is a whole different headache.
Investigate local development applications
All councils operate differently, so it’s well worth digging into the local development applications to see what has been given the green light and what’s been refused. You don’t want to see your dreams in tatters at the hands of the council.
Keep it tasteful
Taste is subjective, of course, but if you’re planning to flip your property and are a fan of yellow tiles and purple walls, you’re going to minimise the appeal to any potential buyers coming through the door. Make it easy for people to fall in love with the place.
Bolster the budget
Lastly, I would strongly advise factoring in an extra 10 to 20 percent of your estimate, as costs always get out of control. Little costs here and there quickly add up, and you need to be ready for it. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who’s said, ‘My renovation came in way under budget’.
–Michelle May is the principal of Michelle May Buyers Agents in Sydney.