Mark’s Top 10 Tips for Planning a Renovation

He’s a wise one…

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There is a list as long as the amount of episodes I still have to watch of Married At First Sight Australia as to why Mark is brilliant, but something that I’ve only really truly appreciated over the past couple of years is his ability to plan and execute work around the home. His background is in Engineering and Project Management and seeing as he spent every weekend as a kid playing with tools in his Dad’s garage he is just so bloody handy. Whether it’s helping a friend install a light fitting, or creating a GANTT chart to lay out the schedule of our renovations for our house – IS THERE ANYTHING THIS MAN CAN’T DO!?

So I sat him down, picked his brain and we chatted about everything we’ve learnt so far when it comes to renovations. We renovated our last flat over five years and made a profit on it when we sold it, which was our goal. We did some of the work ourselves, but the majority we contracted out as we both work full-time and didn’t fancy playing Changing Rooms every darn weekend, and thankfully our budget allowed for that. We’re now in a house that requires some serious renovations, mainly on the outside and Mark has done a brilliant job at lining up a 12-month+ schedule of work, getting quotes, working out our budget and basically being Kevin McCloud. Here are his top 10 tips when it comes to renovations…

Scope, time, cost, quality. Mark tells me that these are the four pillars of project management. Having a firm grasp on all four is what you need for a successful and smooth-running renovation. So here’s the breakdown:

SCOPE – A survey is a good place to start (see below), but you want to have an outline of the work that you’d like to complete and be as specific as you possibly can. The more specific you can be with a tradesperson, the more likely you are to get what you want and the less likely to are to get a fluctuation with the cost.

TIME – I mean it’s an obvious one, but Mark says that 99% of things will take longer than you expect. Account for that and allow for things to run over as they most likely will (this has been the case with every single thing we ever did to the flat!).

COST – Read the final tip for how to realistically budget. But basically account for every single penny you have at this current moment and how you plan on using it. Again, it’s time to be specific and put the guesswork to bed.

QUALITY – Good quality means using high-wearing, well-made materials and the right people to create and install them, which usually means a higher cost is involved. It’s all about compromise and where you’re happy to do that. For example you might not wish to compromise on the structure and build, but fixtures and fittings you might wish to. It’s all a balance.

Do a survey. This tip might not be relevant for you if you already live in your property, or you feel like the structure and bones of the place are good and it’s just internal renovations that you’re prepping for. But if you are buying a property – especially if it’s old, say over 50 years – it’s a great idea to sort out a survey after your offer is accepted. There’s more information here on the different types of surveys available – we had a Homebuyer’s Report done on the flat, but opted for the Building Survey for the house we’re currently in. Use at as a checklist to create to-do list for each room of the property and the exterior – a daunting task, but it allows you to be really specific which will be helpful when it comes to marrying up your plans with your budget.

Work from the outside in. If your property needs work doing to the outside of it, consider doing this first as there’s a general rule of thumb that it’s best to work from the outside in when it comes to renovating (it’s also said that it’s best to work from the top down, especially if you’re dealing with damp – so tackling any issues with the roof first). So although it’s the boring stuff, things like the roof, chimneys, outside render, windows, any issues with air bricks or drainage – are important things to do first, before you start on the inside. Or else you might end up redecorating, only for a huge patch of damp to rock up and ruin the whole thing.

Finding the right people. Even if you want to do most of the work yourself, the chances are that there will still be a few parts of your project where you need to call in the professionals. This was one of the hardest parts of our first renovation, as no one in our family or friends had renovated on the scale that we wanted to at the time and so recommendations were few and far between. Annoyingly that’s still the best way to find tradespeople to trust. We personally haven’t had much luck with Check-a-Trade, but review sites like that or Google Reviews are the next best thing. All you can do is meet them and get as many quotes as you can for work, giving you a chance to compare them and see who you vibe with best.  Also – the good people are booked up months in advance, so plan ahead – it’s a good sign that they are booked and busy.

Quality takes time. Drill it into your mind that quality takes time. Basically if something is super speedy – whether it’s labour or materials – just consider whether it might be too good to be true. Sometimes we need a quick fix with plumbing or drainage and speed in those cases is very important, but when it comes to labour or anything that’s being crafted or finessed in anyway, then you’re looking for detailed-orientated people who put care and time into what they do. Promise it will be worth the wait.

Don’t overestimate your own abilities. Ok this sounds like a major burn and I have no doubt that we can all do pretty much anything when we put our minds to it. YouTube can teach you many skills, but what it warps is the time that it can take. We got it so wrong when we renovated our flat. We both were working full-time in London and drove down to Brighton at the weekends to renovate it whilst we waited for our notice to end on our place in London. It gave us like 10 days in total to scrape off wallpaper, repaint four rooms, scrape off paint from the red and purple painted original sash windows (*CRIES*) and repaint those too, along with trying to sort out some basic bits of furniture, pack and move. Basically we had severely underestimated just how long the labour takes. If you can, test out your skills in a small room and time yourselves to give you a better idea of how long it might take in a larger room.

Why are you renovating? It’s an important question to ask yourself. Are you planning to stay at your property long term, say for 10 years or more? Or will be planning on selling up and moving on in 3 years or so? Perhaps you’re renting and just looking to make your rental a bit more homely? Each of these situations have different considerations. For those who are looking to stay at their place long-term then you’re renovating for you, your lives in that home and might not be so concerned with the resell value (ultimately you never want your renovation costs to not be recouped when you come to sell). If it’s more a short-term property for you then you might want to look at keeping your reno costs down to increase your potential for profit. Renters will want to keep their costs as low as possible as there’s no chance for a return on investment (check out Grillo Designs for some brilliant rental DIYs).

Don’t rush into things. In our old flat Mark decided that he wanted to start taking off the lining paper in the hallway. He did one patch, realised that the wall was in much worse condition underneath than we first thought, gave up and then we had an eyesore in our hallway for the next 12 months until we got decorators in (who eventually had to re-line that area with wallpaper before they painted over it – doh). Moral of the story, if you feel the itch to do a bit of DIY one weekend think twice and make sure that you have enough time to complete the task at hand, or are prepared for what you might find once you start. Basically, don’t start a task that you couldn’t live with if it remains incomplete for longer than you expect.

Ask around about prices. I know it can seem gauche to some to talk about money, but without asking friends and family how much their wardrobes cost, or what their rewiring quotes came back at, it’s hard to budget for your own plans and to know whether you’re being ripped of or not. We’re always more than happy to share costs with our friends – as they are with us – and it just helps us to gauge whether we’re in the right range when it comes to our expected outgoings on a particular project. Hey – if you don’t ask you’ll never know, right? There’s always a way to word it so it doesn’t seem to ballsy and if friends are asking you for costs, I find that the more specific the better; breaking a bathroom cost down into the cost of the bathroom furniture, tiles, fixtures and fittings and the labour.

Be realistic with your budget. I’ll finish off with an obvious inclusion, but perhaps the most important one of all – be realistic with your budget. Mark is so brilliant at this and has a spreadsheet with every penny that we currently have, along with our income for the next two years (obviously that might not be possible for everyone to have that forward-planning, but if you have a steady income, include that forecasting in your budget). Plan ahead and plan to the penny – you can never be too rigorous. Work backwards from this and set your renovation costs from your budget – never work it out the other way round, that’s how you end up with some Grand Designs style budgeting fails.

Photos by Mark Newton