Top 30 tips to survive a property renovation

Top 30 tips to survive a property renovation

Renovating a home can be one of the most rewarding but stressful experiences. Everything from building an extension, digging down deep with a basement conversion, or extending into the loft, takes both time and money. So how do you survive a renovation? We asked our experts for their advice. 

Richard Carpenter, Fine & Country St Neots, is currently renovating his property with a friend. After taking it on after a period of neglect, they have been working to completely overhaul the interior. One of their key issues has been managing the tradespeople and getting a high-quality finish. He shares his tips based on what he has learned. 

1) Prioritise. Think about the rooms you use the most. For me, the sitting rooms and bedrooms were the priority. After a long day we needed somewhere we could relax and sleep. Even if you just ‘make good’ it offers a safe haven to retreat to. 

2) Dust. All renovation works seems to create a massive amount of dust. Use plastic sheeting and tape to seal off rooms, where you are doing work and protect what you have done. 

3) If you are going to live in it for a long time, think carefully about the renovation and make it your own. However, if you are selling for profit or will need to move soon, then think about attracting the largest number of buyers. Elephants Breath is the new magnolia. A grey/neutral that won’t offend many. Keep it simple, light and, inoffensive. 

4) Have a contingency fund. Something will go wrong or cost more than you expect. For example, boilers or leaky roofs. A good survey before purchasing should bring up any major issues.  

5) Don’t under estimate how much work and energy is required. Even if you’re not doing the work yourself, organising contractors and making the endless decision required is very tiring. 

6) At the end, call me back out for a valuation, see what you’ve added. Call me while you’re doing it and see what is selling well. 

7) Do it once and do it well. The ‘finish’ is very important to buyers. 

Melanie David, an attorney and part of Fine & Country Linksfield in South Africa, has advice for people to looking to renovate a property in her country. 

1. Set a budget for your renovation, and add a 20% contingency to the total.

2. Consult professionals before you start renovating: town planners, contractors, attorney, project managers, the bank. 

3. Check zoning, building lines, by-laws and regulations before you decide on any additions to the property.

4. Investigate funding options. Using the banks money (building loan or access facility) vs your own, and redecoration vs renovation.

5. Visit your neighbours before your plans are drawn up and have a discussion with them about what you want to do. This will save unnecessary objections later. 

6. Visit your chosen contractor’s previous sites, and ask the property owner about their experience.

7. Choose a contractor who is registered with NHBRC preferably. This may help with your funding applications, and offers further protection. 

8. Have a proper legal agreement drawn up to cover timelines, delays, payment systems, costings, and disputes.

9. Do not build or renovate without approved plans. The council has right to demolish a building.

10. Consider hiring a project manager to oversee building work and don’t forget to visit the site regularly to ensure the work is carried out to a high standard as well as delivered on time and within budget. 

Simon Bradbury, Fine & Country St Neots, has some practical tips for planning your renovation. 

1. Do your research. The internet now gives access to nearly unlimited information on property renovation – use it, and take your time. Ask the experts at various shows and exhibitions. My favourite is the Home Building & Renovating Show ( which is on tour throughout the country at different times of the year (Somerset, 19th and 20th November). 

2. Use social media to contact others undertaking a similar project – it’s amazing how helpful people can be online. Twitter accounts such as @renovationexpts are a great source of ideas. Some people even show the progress of their projects on a regular basis, so you can learn from their successes and failures. 

3. Use professionals to do the job. Don’t go down the DIY route, no matter how tempting it may be. Have written agreements with suppliers and seek out personal recommendations.

4. Budget carefully – and add an extra 10% to those costs for unforeseen expenditure. I have rarely seen a renovation project that, once completed, does not end up costing more than originally anticipated.

5. If you’re looking to extend as part of your renovation, it is often possible to add a basement underneath the property. This can add both value and extra space. 

Guy Watson-Smith, Fine & Country Cannes, France, survived a five-month renovation while living in the property. This is what he learned. 

1. Proper planning. Many renovations are not properly planned, which can lead to higher costs and a less rewarding result. The stresses and strains will be far greater without planning as the project will be forced to adapt, change in mid-stream, or work will have to be re-done because an important step was missed. It pays to plan. If you’re not qualified yourself, hire the services of a professional architect or decorator, depending on the project.


2. Establish good relationships. Bricklayers, to plasterers, to tilers, painters, plumbers and electricians; they are all important. It is important to establish good relationships with as many of the tradespeople, particularly the foreman, early on. Know their names and treat them with respect, thank them for good work or any perceived extra effort when you see it, and generally treat everyone on the site as you would like to be treated if the roles were reversed.

I recently renovated a property over five months while living in it. We couldn’t have managed it if the team had not been on our side. Very small things made a difference: we rotated bottles of cold water so that as one finished it was replenished and went back in the fridge. We also, purely by chance, offered the team an apple each at lunchtime when they were eating their sandwiches in the shade one day, and that went down well, so we made sure we always had a bag of apples, and every day anyone on the site was able to help himself to a lunchtime apple. It was a trifling gesture that became a joke on the site, but it was appreciated, and over five months cost a few bags of apples. The point was that it made people happy, especially so when the weather was hot and the work dusty, and it was not perceived as patronising which in some instances it might be. It just worked with this team and this is simply an example of how simple it can be to establish goodwill.


3. A clean site. Even if it’s a simple renovation and you’re not living there, a clean site is a happy site. Cleanliness will improve the final result, and will lead to fewer issues in the renovation.


4. Partition. If there are different areas being worked on simultaneously, it pays to use heavy plastic sheeting taped or nailed across doorways, archways and any connecting passageways to contain dust and noise. If tiles are being cut in the kitchen, or walls are coming down in the bathroom, keeping the dust and sound contained is very useful to keep the rest of the property clean. 

5. Cleaning. If possible, cleaning should be constant throughout the job. Take away dust as it accumulates and vacuum as much as reasonably possible. When drilling or cutting, hold a vacuum cleaner suction below the machine to catch the dust before it falls. For picture hanging and smaller drilling, a little hand-held vacuum cleaner below the drill is a good investment, and a big vacuum works for the bigger jobs. The workers are happier working in a cleaner environment because they don’t like breathing dust either. Any measures to contain it are welcomed.


6. Tidiness. At the end of every workday, all tools and equipment should be tidied away or stacked in an orderly fashion, the floors cleaned, and rubbish taken out. It takes the workers ten or fifteen minutes to clear up before they leave, and it is time well spent.

Charles Eddlestone, Fine & Country Fulham:

1. Make small jobs fun. Improvements shouldn't be a chore, they should be enjoyed. If you are painting your home, do it room by room and make sure you're organised. There's nothing worse than starting to paint a room without all the right materials. 

2. For larger jobs, unless you're a professional tradesperson, it's always best to get a pro to do the work. You'll save time and money in the long run by contracting someone who knows exactly what they are doing. 


If you are looking for your dream renovation property or one that is perfect already, start your search with Fine & Country

11th Nov 2016

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